As you may recall from one of my previous blogs entitled Agatha Christie meets Dr. Who, a couple of weeks ago on a trip to England I dropped my trusty old notepad computer and smashed the poor little rascal’s screen (a little tear is rolling down my cheek as I pen these words).
I spent the rest of the week lugging my brother’s old flat-panel Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) around with me. For the first couple of days I could be seen wandering all over Sheffield (well, up to my mom’s house and back) with this little scamp tucked under my arm. And when I eventually headed down to London to speak at the Embedded Live conference, it was with my brother’s LCD in my suitcase (don’t worry; I had purchased a nice new monitor for him before I set off on my travels).
I arrived back in Huntsville, Alabama, USA, late in the evening on Friday 22 October. Since I was already scheduled to fly out to California on the Sunday, this meant that I had only Saturday available to purchase a new computer. This then is the tale of that fateful day (queue sinister sound effects)…
Actually, before we plunge into the mire, we need to go a little back in time to Wednesday 20 October, when I met up with my old chum Joe Farr in London. After visiting the London Science Museum to see the Charles Babbage exhibit (I know, I know, I promised to write a blog about that and post some pictures … I will do so as soon as I have a free moment), we wandered into a Public House to quaff a beer or three.
To be honest, I was a little bit out of touch with regard to the current processor offerings. The old machine I broke had an Intel Centrino Dual in it, while the little netbook that hangs out on the couch at home boasts an Intel Atom. So I inquired of Joe as to the current state of play, at which point I first became acquainted with Intel’s Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processor families.
Good grief, this is confusing. The simplistic view is that the Core i3 is the new low end of the Intel performance processor line; the Core i7 represents the high-end of the performance curve; while the Core i5 is a mainstream variant of the Core i7.
But it’s not that easy (it never is, is it?), because there are all sorts of additional considerations such as the clock speed, the size of the L3 cache, and the number of cores, all of which can vary within a single family (excepting the fact that all Core i3 processors boast only two cores). In the case of the Core i5, there are two and four core versions; in the case of the Core i7, there are two, four, and six core versions.
To cut a long story short, Joe told me that he had recently purchased a dual-core Core i5-based machine that he described as being “Screamingly Fast.” So, armed with this newfound knowledge, on Saturday 23 October I headed down to my local Best Buy store to see what was on offer.
Truth to tell, there wasn’t a great selection, at least not with regard to my personal requirements. There were a couple of dual-core Core i5-based machines, but they all had rather small screens, and since this is my work machine that I carry around with me I prefer to have as large a screen as possible (I plug it into a 24-inch screen in my office, but I also do a lot of work at home and in airports and hotels).
In fact, the only machine of interest to me was a quad-core Core i7-based machine – a Sony VAIO – with 6 GB of memory, a dedicated graphics card with another 1 GB of memory, a 600 GB hard drive, a Blu-ray reader-writer, and a 17-inch display. Very, very tasty!
Of course the computer itself is only the start. My previous machine was running the Windows XP operating system. This new beast was pre-loaded with Windows 7. I wasn’t particularly happy about this, but after thinking about it for a while I decided that I had to upgrade sometime and now was as good a time as any.
Similarly, I decided that this would be as good a time as any to upgrade to Windows Office 2010 (on my old machine I was running Office 2007). Also, as part of my writings, I create a lot of line-drawings and graphics in Microsoft Visio, so I decided this would be a good time to upgrade to Visio 2010 (my previous version was from the dark ages). Last but not least, I’ve spent the past few years using PaintShop Pro to crop and resize images for use in articles and suchlike, so I pulled a copy of the latest version of the shelf and added it to my shopping cart.
Since that time I’ve been working my way through the various nuances and discovering the ups-and-downs associated with Windows 7 and these new application software packages – I shall share all with you in my next blog. For the moment, I want to mention just one more thing – my new backpack, which I also purchased from Best Buy.
As you can imagine, I was a tad disgruntled with the failure of the strap on my old backpack, which had caused the loss of my original computer. On the other hand, it’s only fair to note that this old backpack was not intended for portable computers and had no padding or protection to offer.
Initially I was planning on purchasing a padded computer case type thing, but I really do prefer to use a backpack when I’m travelling. Thus, I was delighted to find something called a Swiss Gear IBEX Computer Backpack, which is capable of holding any notepad up to a 17-inch display.
Don’t ask me how much this cost. By this time my lower lip was quivering and I was bravely trying not to cry at the thought of all the hard-earned money that was about to slip through my fingers (thank goodness for credit cards is all I can say), so I didn’t even inquire as to the price. This was the backpack I wanted and I simply threw it into my shopping cart and then made a break for the checkout and the door before the folks at Best Buy could extract any more money out of me.
Whatever the backpack did cost (and no, I’m not going to look at the receipt, which is even now sitting on my desk waiting to be filed away), it was well worth it. The next day I traveled out to California with my trusty backpack on my back, and I have nothing but good things to say about it.
This little beauty is padded and protected and is just really, REALLY well designed and implemented (even the handle on the top has a steel cable running through it). Your computer itself goes in a specially padded and reinforced area in the middle of the pack, but there are numerous other pockets all over the place to hold papers and power supplies and travel documents and … all of the stuff you end up carrying around with you when you travel.
Funnily enough, the guy who owns the company where I have my little office was wandering by my door earlier today and – upon seeing my backpack – exclaimed “I have one just like that; I can’t imagine how I ever lived without it!”
I know just what he means.
In fact, just a little while ago I was chatting on the phone with Andy Shaughnessy, who is the editor of PCB Design007. Andy asked how my new computer was running and I mentioned my backpack. It seems that Andy recently returned from some trade show or other, and he said that he had noticed that even businessmen in suits where strolling around with backpacks. Hmmm, it may be that once again I am at the forefront of fashion (I’ve found that if I wait long enough, the fashion of the day tends to cycle back to whatever I’m wearing [grin]).