Saturday, January 31, 2009

Desktop vs. Laptop

I've been bouncing back and forth with this topic for a good number of years now, and I think I've finally seen enough in the market to give the thumbs-up switchover to laptops.

As the computing industry improved over the years, technical miniaturization and economies of scale have caused a shift towards laptops so much so that they are now actually the better of the two in terms of money spent. Back in the day, an average, medium gaming desktop would cost around $1,300 to build while a laptop at a bare bones level would cost well over $2,000. It just wouldn't make sense for any normal person to blow money on a laptop unless they really needed it for business or if their employer purchased it for them. The laptops would usually have a smallish-crappy screen, the battery life would not be able to complete a whole DVD movie without pooping out, and the processor was usually some piece of shit lower-voltage thing that would be stripped of any extra cache or would have a hella reduced front bus speed (FBS), making it a lame duck. Many improvements have been made since then and now desktops and laptops are pretty much on the same playing field.

Hardware
In terms of what you get, these days you pretty much have the same thing. Intel's introduction of the Core 2 Duo Processor changed the rules as they were able to make the same core processor for laptops as they used in desktops. Yes, the laptops are usually a tad slower and/or one generation behind in FBSs, but all-in-all they were about the same from the usability standpoint and in most benchmarks. Every other portion of a laptop is on par with their desktop counterpart: Gigabit NICs, DDR2 memory, LED LCDs, 7200RPM HDDs, etc. The only part that can't be directly duplicated is the video card just because they are monsters in a desktop and usually drain a bucketload of power. "Gaming" video card chipsets have been produced but they still aren't as good as a desktop, but for non-gamers, this wouldn't make any difference at all.

Electricity
If one was out to save money, they would easily be able to compare the power drain between 2 average machines. My last rig drained 118 Watts while idle and 227 Watts while gaming. Compare this with a laptop at 18 Watts while idle and 46 Watts while gaming. I didn't even figure in the fact that a desktop system would still need an external LCD that drains around 25 Watts by itself. Considering that most of the time a computer would be closer to idle than hardcore gaming, a 84% savings in electricity use is not a bad tradeoff.

Portability
Lets face it, everyone needs to access a computer every waking day of their lives. Not being connected sucks, and sometimes you won't be at home, may that be a trip, a family gathering, or when zombies attack and you have 20 seconds to grab shit before needing to escape. Having the ability to toat your laptop around wherever you go is a huge advantage over that of any desktop system. Sure, there might be some people who will never need to go anywhere, like if you're a decrepit senior citizen, but for the rest of the populace, it's a huge plus to have a laptop.

Resale
For any Ebayers such as myself out there, resale means a lot since you always want to recover any money from objects that have little to no worth to you. Piecing out a desktop system sucks ass because the second you install everything, nobody really trusts used parts on the open market. There is just so much that can go wrong in terms of having defective items, the person on the other end being a fucking idiot who doesn't know what they are doing, or absurdly overclocked video cards and processors. In a one-liner, you would be very lucky to get half of what you paid for, for a desktop system after 3 months of use.

But with a laptop, it's a completely different story. I remember when I had a Thinkpad X31 that I purchased for $1,000 and 1 year later I sold it off for a little more than $800. For some weird reason there is always a market for laptops. Yes, Apples and famous PC models like the Thinkpad line do hold their value better than others, but even old-ass Dell Inspirons can sell for hundreds of dollars many years later. It's kinda like a car. You will still be able to get at least $1,000 trade-in for an old-ass piece of shit jalopy, just like you will always be able to get at least $100 for an old-ass laptop...but usually it's higher around $200-300. Compare that with trying to sell off desktop parts. With a laptop all you have to do is to explain the condition of the laptop, what works and what doesn't, how long the battery will last for, and what software it comes with. Someone somewhere will buy that thing even if it doesn't work.

Gaming
Since this is where I started down the road of computing, it should be where I make my transition out of it. Having a badass SLI rig that is able to play the latest FPS is good and all, but the shitty thing is that #1 You rig won't be shit 3 months later, #2 Fewer and fewer "good" games are coming out for the PC, and #3 any good game that does come out does not really require your rig to be the best out there. Constantly having to upgrade to the next best video card financially sucks and there is not a lot of payback for it. Again, considering that most of one's time is spent screwing off online and not gaming, it becomes a waste of money to spend so much on a video card that only gets to see real game time 10-15% of the time. Look at WoW....so many people still play that game and it came out in 2004. Do you know what type of video card you need to run it? A very low-end one by today's standards can still maintain a decent FPS rate...very low-end. So yeah, with that being said, any half-decent laptop with a dedicated video card will be able to run most fun games of the current generation, assuming that maxing out Crysis is not a big priority.

Warranty
All types of equipment have a lifespan, may that be a cell phone (2 years), a car (10 years), a house (50 years), or a computer (2 years). If you get a laptop and get a 2 year warranty, that's one less item that you'll have to worry about because at the end of those 2 years, the laptop will be so old and used that you'll want a new one anyway. Being able to sell it off and buy a new one makes it all the more better. As a system builder, having to deal with a plethora of different warranty times with computer parts sucks. 3 years with a retail Intel CPU, 5 years with a Seagate HDD, and 1 year with most motherboards. Sure, you might find good lifetime deals through XFX and eVGA, but overall it's more of a hassle to have to troubleshoot which part is broken and then having to replace said part. Having a full warranty with one company is so much easier to handle. Of course you'll have to have a backup laptop, but isn't that what netbooks are for?

Battery
There hasn't been as much research and development taking place in the lithium-ion arena for laptop batteries. These days you can probably get 3.5 hours out of a regular-sized lappy, but usually that's with brightness turned all the way down and having your system run on a skeleton crew. It is nice to have your very own built-in APC though, for those rare days when you're doing something important and the power goes out.

Cost
Now we get to the heart of the matter: $$. I got my lappy brand new for $825 right before Christmas when crazy deals were happening everywhere. It's fully loaded with 4GB of RAM, a 320GB HDD, a LED LCD, and a gaming Nvidia GeForce 9650M GT w/ 1GB RAM. I could probably build a similar desktop rig for around the same price, but you don't get any perks afforded to you by having a laptop. With the price point of being under $1,000, if you're a smart shopper, there really is no reason not to get a laptop unless you're are a crazy-happy gamer who loves FPSs.

Soothsaying
I foresee a huge migration towards laptops in the future and a steep decline in the sales of desktop systems. They just aren't practical anymore. It's kinda the same thing that the Xbox 360 did. $250 and now $199 is the ballpark price point for a console system. The second the retail price hit this range, their sales skyrocketed. Sony really needs to get with the program to stay alive. That and I think I want a PS3. It saddens me to think that consoles have taken over the gaming arena from that of the PC, but I don't think I would care as much knowing that 2 years from now, a newly released console game will play exactly as it should as opposed to a PC game, where any new requirements will make your rig outdated overnight.

Max Payne (Action 2008)

Well I may be in the minority here, but I didn't think this was half bad. I remember playing the game way back in the day and the famous bullet-time associated with the gameplay. They used some of that in the film but nothing ridiculous.

The story in this one very loosely followed the story from the game. I don't remember a lot of it because I never finished it but oh well. The movie had a lot of walking and a lot of action. The gun battles were entertaining enough and that's about all you need in an action flick.

Others whom I watched this with had differing opinions, but I'll stick with mine. It did its job in having some sort of plot and a bunch of killing to be the filler.
Rating - B

Babylon A.D. (Action 2008)

Yeah I know...but when your expectations are already low, you can't really be that disappointed right? This movie was one of those where everything you see in previews = exactly what is in the movie. There's no additional cool scenes or anything because you've already seen 'em all.

The plot was kinda like Children of Men in that Vin Diesel had to escort a chick to a final destination. It was not like that movie because virtually everything else about it sucked. The hand-to-hand fighting scenes sucked, one snowmobile chase was fair, but the dialogue and special effects were highly lacking. Michelle Yeoh is an O.K. character actor, but as a primary she's kinda too boring. Mélanie Thierry thinks that she's hot, but really her puffy lips make her look like a victim of a cheap surgery.

In the end, the film was totally pointless. It's one of those that doesn't have a good ending and didn't have any story to build up on. It's like watching a whole movie consisting of a camera pointed at a checkout clerk at a grocery store. It's pointless and very much a waste of time.
Rating - D

Ip Man (Foreign Chinese Action 2008)

This movie was a tad disappointing. It was about Ip Man, a Chinese Wing Chun grandmaster who had to live through the Japanese occupation during WWII. He's famous cuz it used to be the teacher of Bruce Lee back in Hong Kong. Yeah I tried out this martial art for a week back in college and yeah...like all martial arts they spend way too much time on forms and too little time on real practice. It's one that you definitely can't train for alone because the "sticky hand" core movements require an opponent.

As a movie it wasn't all that. They tried to have some signs of a plot, but mainly the director tried to show that this guy was a badass and the Japanese were horrible people. The latter part of the film was all about stoking the fires of nationalism and patriotic fervor for the Chinese audience. The action was O.K., but it had all been done before. These films have to be more of story and less of action in order to be truly successful.
Rating - C

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nokia 3120 Classic

So after the disappointment with the E51 , I decided to go for a cheap and simple bar phone to do the basics. I ended up buying this phone, selling off the E51, and pocketing some cash, not much though.

The phone is very simple and light. It has all of the functions that a celly should have without any fancy selling points other than it's a quad-band. In my opinion if you want to get something fancy, just go with an iPhone instead of screwing with all the peeps trying to pump out something that ultimately tags out as the loser.

Buttons
The keys have a consistency of glossy plastic and that makes it feel like a toy. That's certainly something that I could've lived without but oh well. The D-Pad as well as the side keys are are all pretty average with nothing special to comment about. There is also a camera on the front of the phone, but it doesn't work...WTF. I guess it only activates if you have some cool network infrastructure feature that probably only exists in Japan.

Connections
I use Bluetooth to sync with Nokia's software suite which then syncs with Outlook's calendar so that's a neat feature. Note that the Nokia software will NOT work with Vista x64. The phone does have this ass-small micro-USB plug. I've never seen this plug before I got the phone. It's smaller than the USB plug that is commonly used in the smaller external HDD enclosures. Why they decided to use a plug that almost nobody has a cord for is beyond me.

Battery
The battery is average. With regular use/recharge times, I've never had a low-battery beep sound off.

Software
The OS is an older Symbian version and something about it is slow. You click a button and there is a .5 to 1 second delay. It's annoying as all hell when you're used to everything being lightning fast, like when typing on a keyboard. A good analogy would be web-surfing on an Apple or minimizing/maximizing for that matter. There is what I call "The Apple Delay" and damn is that annoying. The only difference between Symbian and Apple on this similarity is that Apples are slow because they want things to look pretty while Symbian is slow because their programming sucks.

Overall
So if you want a simple quad-band phone that can be used anywhere in the world then this $70USD cell fits the bill. I got it off Ebay from some store in HK since all US postings were all around $130.

Pros
  • Cheapish
  • Quad-Band
  • Does the job
Cons
  • Micro-USB slot
  • Glossy keys
  • Non-functioning front camera
  • Delay-filled UI

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (Action 2009)

Oh boy I just love this series. It could be better though, but it's still the closest thing we have to vampire flicks these days.

This film was a prequel of sorts, describing the drama that initiated the chain of events leading up to the original movie. They made a good pick by casting Rhona Mitra, who looks very much like Kate Beckinsale if you take a quick glance. Kate is hella hotter though...hella.

The story is exactly what you expect it to be. Same dark, Gothic atmosphere with a lot of werewolves and armor/swords. I say this because there was not a lot of vampire stuff in the sense of vampire super powers. They all used medieval weapons and wore cool-looking armor. Most regular vampire flicks love showing the bat/wolf transformations, claws, and a lot of bloodsucking, but this movie didn't have much of that at all.

It was fun and enjoyable to watch though, if you're expecting a bunch of action and a bit of story. They did leave room for another prequel film to fill in more gaps, but we'll see if they'll continue down that path. Hopefully they do.
Rating - B

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bangkok Dangerous (2008 Action)

Nicolas Cage in solo movies just aren't that good. His lack of real acting skills really show as opposed to when he's running something double like in Face/Off or The Rock.

This movie, I'm sure, was stolen from some Asian flick because the ending was very non-American. The action wasn't anything to write home about and of course the acting wasn't very stimulating. The only thing I really noticed was that he, being the main character and all, didn't even get some. Sad world buddy.

Obviously it isn't worth seeing because no part of it was even the slightest bit memorable.
Rating - C

An Empress and the Warriors (2008 Foreign Chinese War Drama)

The poster looks pretty cool, but it quickly ends with that. This film was advertised a bunch while I was in China, but the theaters there never seemed to have it playing. Now that I've seen it, it was probably released and then quickly pulled and shipped to DVD.

The movie was your average power struggle that takes place after the death of a king. A general was appointed to be the successor while a nephew wanted the throne instead, so he created a mini-civil war. In the middle was a princess who was asked to take the reigns of the kingdom instead of the general.

The movie's plot wasn't very good. There was a story but it had no bulk to it. The action was fair at times, but nothing like what came out of Three Kingdoms. It was a plotless action film with only mediocre action. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
Rating - D

Monday, January 12, 2009

Steelseries 3H (Random Product)

I've used and tried out countless headsets/headphones in my life and I always seem to go back to 2 types of standby models, namely the ones that wrap behind the back of your neck and regular Sony earbuds. Almost every other type of headphone sucks pretty bad for one reason or another.

For the heck of it I wanted to try out a newer model of a regular type of headset just to see if any improvements had been made. I chose theses Steelseries 3Hs because they were under $20 and had a retractable microphone. Was it everything I thought it was? Yes. The quality is good as well as the portability of the set. It collapses down to a pretty damn small size and can fit in any bag pocket easily, without taking up a bunch of space. The collapsible microphone was pretty neat too. It does what it's advertised to do. The wires on the device seem fairly robust and feel thicker than usual, so this means that it will probably be able to withstand a good number of accidental jerks before breaking.

For the negative, the headset gets uncomfortable after around 30 minutes of use. I consider my ears to be average or small in size but these headphones squeeze the hell out of my ears and pin them down.

For the money it was a good buy, but they can't be used for long-term gaming or chatting. I would still say that it was worth it but it does have its limitations.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Traitor (Action 2008)

This movie was your run-of-the-mill terrorist/federal agent type of flick. There have been so many like it that it's hard to tell them all apart.

The action was average as was the acting. The story wasn't that original since anybody with half a brain could already see through the whole plot, twists and all.

Don Cheadle did a good job and his Arabic sounded pretty good too. Guy Pearce had a pretty good Southern accent as well, so much so that I completely forgot that he was English.

All in all, this movie has been seen before with only slight plot variations and with different actors. I didn't think it had anything that stood out. This doesn't make it bad, just unoriginal.
Rating - C

City of Ember (Family Adventure 2008)

See this movie was what The Golden Compass was supposed to be, a family adventure that was actually enjoyable.

The story seemed to be taken straight from Fallout, a post-apocalyptic, underground city that housed the remnants of civilization. But at the same time it was similar to Logan's Run in that escaping to the surface was the driving force that coaxed the plot along.

The story was O.K., as were the actors. The main guy was annoying though so be forewarned. The movie didn't try to make it anything more than it was, so that won it some points. Directors these days seem to have issues with making films simple and to the point. I saw this on a plane so yeah...anything was better than nothing. Who knows if I would've had a different opinion had I been back at home.

One thing that made me think was that Bill Murray was in the movie and he really didn't do anything at all. He just stood there with his Dr. Peter Venkman face while a camera filmed on. He did this during Lost in Translation too. How can a person get paid actual money for doing nothing? Man...the life of an established actor...it must be good.
Rating - B

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Man, what luck

So it all started last Saturday when I arrived back in the US. My stomach was a rumblin' for some odd reason but I assumed something I ate was bad during my last night in Shanghai. Anyway, I had to use the loo but there was this odd pain that occurred. This odd pain was in my lower right side below my belly button. I thought nothing of it of course because my stomach always seems to have a mind of its own. As the day dragged on with me waiting in various lines and waiting for a plane to arrive, I continued having these odd pains where I did or did not have to go to the restroom. This continued on for the rest of the day. About every 20 minutes I would get a 1-2 minute wave of pain like a person was stabbing me.

The next day was more-less the same. Of course I thought that my tummy just had to get over something I ate, but it was kinda odd that even during the evening of the second day my stomach was still fucked up, considering that I had returned to my original diet.

The 3rd day, Monday, was still pretty rough. In the back of my mind I thought something might be wrong because yeah, nothing ever lasts for 3 days with me. 2 is the max, but I usually go back to homeostasis in one 24 hour period. I waited 'till the evening to see if the pains would go away but it didn't. There was also some blood...yeah so I told good ol' paps about it and he thought it might be something of concern cuz it was localized in only a certain "special" location.

So I got hauled to the emergency room to have tests run on me. I'll just say that waiting in the ER sucks ass. It took over 9 hours to get from me giving them my name to me going into surgery, just an FYI. So after sitting in the nurse triage, getting vitals, and waiting forever, I finally got a back room. There I got my blood drawn, pissed in a cup, and waited for the results.

The blood tests came back as normal. They were wanting to see if the white blood cell count was high which would be indicative of some sort of infection, but it came back normal, if not a tad low. My dad pretty much told the PA to give me a CT scan cuz that was the main reason we were there.

The CT scan machine experience was nutty. They had me drink this huge bottle of colored, splenda-filled liquid that would help out with the coloration of results. They then took me into the machine room and hooked me up. Yeah I dunno what was in the IV fluid, but whatever it was, it seemed to have magnetic qualities or perhaps that was my imagination. When the machine started up my legs and midsection got this odd, warm feeling to it, and then when the machine scanned my stomach area, it felt like that scene from X-Men where Magneto extracted the iron from the guard's blood.

The scan results came back and yeah, I had an inflamed appendix. Great...surgery for me. The second the results were positive, everyone at the hospital became much more proactive in getting me some damn service. It was as if they think that all patients are full of shit unless some result comes back saying otherwise. They got me into surgery pretty fast, like 40 minutes or so and yeah the rest I barely remember.

Recovering in a hospital sucks. The nurses come in to poke at you every hour or so and the IV machine always beeps up a storm. I had to stay for an extra day cuz my GI system was not moving at all. That sucked even more cuz the hospital didn't even have WiFi so I literally sat there looking at the wall for a fuck long time, just like in the recent plane flight.

An appendicitis is just another one of the many freak occurrences that I was never made aware of. What haven't I ever heard of this being a random thing that can happen and it not "caused" by anything really. All I can say is that it is very odd for this to have started on the day I arrived in back in the US. If it would've happened in China I'm sure there would've been a much more interesting story, but with a more depressing ending.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Exchange Rates

If you've ever wondered which places in an airport give you the best exchange rates for foreign currency, I got some info that may be useful. I had a crapload of Chinese RMB that needed to be converted into USDs. The airport in Shanghai had a pretty fair exchange rate, being 1:6.90. Unfortunately they would only let me exchange $1000USD and my passport was recorded. I'm guessing you could use someone elses' passport and exchange even more money, but I was flying solo at the time.

Next, I got into San Francisco International Airport. After leaving customs, I was still in the international terminal when I saw a money exchange stand. They pretty much gave you a crappier rate of 1:7.78 and they charged a $5 fee. After I got into the central hub of SFO, there was yet another exchange desk. They gave out a better rate of 1:7.70 and didn't charge me any odd fees. The going current market rate is 1:6.82 so that should give you a standard to see how much you're getting screwed.

The end results to maximize your exchanges goes as follows: If you are able to deal with a real person you know, exiting or entering into a country, you can probably get the market exchange rate with them. If you can't find anyone, then finding a Friendship Store (Beijing) also is a good place to handle this task since they never had an exchange limit or any hidden charges. If you can't find a Friendship Store then exchanging money in a Chinese airport is better than that of a US one even though there is a limit. And lastly, wait until you get into the regular domestic hub to exchange money since the international ones will rape you.