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Affordable Laptops

Searching for the affordable LAPTOP (i.e. dirt cheap) an 8 month saga. Note this is a little of VISTA and a little General Hardware. If an admin wants to move it to a better location go for it. I mainly wrote this in reaction to the Ultimate Laptop thread here in general hardware.

It all started when my wife said hey look at this, when I was at Office Depot in April. A laptop for $450, that was $150 cheaper than anything I had previously seen. Would have walked out of the store with it but it had YUKKIE! VISTA Basic on it. So that meant $150 for more ram and maybe another $80 to put a legit copy of XP Home on it.

But now I was excited since being bed ridden for 3 month over three years had made me laptop lustful. So I went looking for a cheap laptop with XP... No such critter. I gave up after a few weeks.

Then Dell showed some real balls and started offering XP on new systems. So I got excited again, only to find out that they were using XP as a draw into their more expensive systems and nothing low end was available with XP.

Then the really good news hit. As people admitted we were in or near a recession laptop and system prices dropped radically again this summer. Compaqs at $379 and Toshibas at $350. AND NO REBATES! Cash at those prices! A buddy got the Compaq for his daughter and I went for the Toshiba because the Compaq keyboard grey on grey gave me a weird vertigo feeling.

He is not as gullible or masochistic as I am, so he wiped VISTA within minutes of trying it out and installed XP.

He then found out the XP drivers were not on the web site, BUT... Compaq is nice to customers. His first help call got him a knowledgible assistant who directed him to sites with all the needed drivers. He was up and XP'ing in no time. LAPTOP performance was very pleasing with XP installed.

His major complaints:
-Slow as crap until he added a 1 gig ram upgrade to total 1.5 gig.
-Having to ask "mother may I" and logging in as admin for every minor change or install.
-Software incompatibility for school work software.
FISH jump in here if I misquoted you or missed anything important.

The Compaq major spec's:
-1.5 gig CPU, on board video, 512 mb ram to start immediately upgraded to 1.5 gig (which is really mandatory), 60 gig HD, lan, wifi, 3 USb, etc.

My experience with the Toshiba A135-4656 started out great, in spite of my "hidden" wireless lan at home giving me connection fits. But thanks to node Walter next door that was not an issue until I got around to fixing my wireless. I really need to talk to Walter about how to secure a network... Everything was set and ready to go, AND no spyware or crapware preinstalled!!! Go Toshiba. They also included VISTA upgrade disks and a restore disk as well as a restore partition on the HD.

System specs:
-Price $349 no rebate required, and a $50 off deal for any printer which I used to get a good $99 Epson MFC for $49 to replace my wife's clogged head. Important spousal tip - Note, when buying an expensive new toy for yourself make sure the spouse gets something too. Hey eyes bulged when she saw the built in copy fuction and the print from camera w/built in lcd display on her new printer.
-Celeron M 1.6 gig intel 520, on board 845GML Mobile chipset and video, 512 mb 533 RAM
-Atheros b-g wifi which is fabulous compared to any desktop NIC I had previously tried, 5 times the signal strength!! I had no idea how many of my neighbors were using wireless with those old NICs. :rolleyes:
-3 USb, firewire, card reader, PCMIA slot, ilink (whatever that is),
-Svideo, VGA D Connector
-DVDBurner, man is this thing flimsy, I can see hving to replace it someday.
-even a dial up modem!
-crappy 6 cell battery, 1.5 hours of continuous usage (optional 9 cell for $$$)
-Synaptics touchpad warrants special mention - I had not realized good pads had built in scroll bars on x and y axis, special keys built in for click and double click at certain locations, and programmable key functions. This touchpad makes an external mouse unnecessary. It's as efficient as one of the mices with 10 buttons.

Once I verified everything was working (while sitting on the patio grilling the labor day feast :) I grabbed a stick of no name 1 gig 533 sodimm for $49 at Office Max (no rebate required) to see if it would cure the abysmal VISTA boot and shutdown times. CPUz tells me this no name ram is actually faster than the Toshiba supplied RAM (1 gig from Toshiba costs $139) and cpuz claims it is even running in dual channel mode which I did not think the celeron M supported.

RANT! OFF means OFF, it does not mean spend 3 minutes saving data! GATES learn this fact!

I spent 3 days in VISTA land and once I learned the key tricks life was acceptable:
-1.5 gig RAM is a must have!
-Hibernate, never shut down!
-Sleep when plugged in!

VISTA issues -
-There is still much software out there that is not VISTA compatible.
-It locked up on me so bad once I had to pull out the battery pack! This is intolerable for novice users.
-It is much slower compared to XP on identical hardware. I did not realise this until I installed XP. So if you want to be happy with VISTA do not use XP on the same machine.
- I get damned tired of telling VISTA that yes, that was what I REALLY wanted to do no matter what you think.

Performance was acceptable so I loaded Office. Ooops, my first bad. I grabbed the wrong disk and put 2000 on by mistake. VISTA does not like 2000 and some work arounds and hand file copies were required. Office performance was acceptable and most of my usual software toys worked fine (cpuz, ccleaner, etc). Screen Print, my screen capture freeware, was not compatible :cry: and a critical peice of software for VPN connections to work was not compatible with VISTA yet. Also, the installed 30 day McAfee AV and VISTA firewall seemed to slow down boot significantly, especially
Mcafee so I'll be switching to AVG. DVD videos played fine and for laptop speakers the HD audio was tolerable playing my music. There was no skipping noticed on video or audio playback! :)

So now I started to get bored with the new toy so it was time to see what I could get away with. Dual boot time. Fortunatelty that extra 20 gig on the Toshiba vs the Compaq worked out great! 5 for recovery, 40 for Vista, 20 for
XP and 10 for Linux (someday). Setting up the reduced partitions was trivial with the VISTA disk shrink/expand options under disk management. I then folowed the googled instructions: Install XP on E then use easybcd to
restore the VISTA Boot Record and name the assign the new partition. Note the instructions were a little vague at one point. You have to assign the XP partition as C even tho VISTA already owns C, this was scary, but VISTA was restored and then you go back and give XP the E designations and dual boot works! :)

Now it hit the fan. Toshiba WILL NOT support XP drivers on laptops shipped with VISTA claiming it can't be done (LYING *******S). There are multiple 9 month long threads on how to defeat the bastards for various models. Of course mine is new and not on the list, but there was suffcient guidance to pretty much get there. The trick being to use chip maker websites (Intel, arethos, synaptic) and then find similar older Toshiba models and sometimes use the VISTA drivers. This was not trivial and my power reduction software and advanced video features are still not up although everting else I can test is working fine. IF ANYONE HAS ANY SUGGESTIONS LET ME KNOW!

HOT DAMN! With XP installed this Laptop is as fast as I could possibly want. Turn on and shut down speeds are great. All my usual software works fine.

The construction seems very rugged, especially the friction lock on the display hinge, except for the battery locks and that fragile DVD tray mentioned above. We'll know in a few months. Then again at this price I can replace the laptop every 18 months.

Summing it up -
It's a tough call between the Toshiba and the Compaq. The extra Toshiba HD space makes dual boot trivial but the Compaq supports the XP install. I also don't have the hands on experience with the Compaq so things like battery life and wifi range are unknown. I guess at the price it really doesn't matter too much. This is dirt cheap mobile computing for the masses. We are talking PC prices that are approaching the PC for everyone initiatives. Anyone looking for mobility and budget constrained, or just a more energy efficient computing can't loose with these low cost offerings.

RANT! People MUST quit calling going from VISTA to XP a downgrande. It is an UPGRADE! Once I have everything installed on both boot partitions I will run some identical benchmarks and see what VISTA is really costing in performance on this laptop.

For now:
-Boot time with VISTA is approx 3 times longer than XP.
-Shutdown time with VISTA is so bad I have not timed it. I just hit OFF and walk away.
-There is a major file transfer/delete bug which makes moving even a tiny file sometimes take forever. This issue is not always consistent.
-I am doing most of my plugged in work on XP. I use the VISTA install when I go portable since it has the power conservation working at max.

The next great adventure - can I setup to triple boot into VISTA, XP and Linux?
ANYONE TRIED Triple Boot yet? Speak up.
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F@H - Is it in you?
Staff member
Political User
Yes, I tried triple boot. Vista, XP and Ubuntu.

Don't use the other 2 anymore and wiped them off my drives after a few weeks.

After a few weeks of experimenting I found out the biggest problem with VISTA performance was running the pre-installed Macafee Security Suite. I ditched it for AVG and Zonealarm Free versions and now boot and shutdown times dropped in half.

The XP install is complete but I was forced into two add on freeware programs for power management - RMClock for CPU throttling and GAPA for a hotkey display dimmer. I'll live with these limitations when running on battery until I get the energy to dig into making the Toshiba Power Management work.

Note: Neither of these machines will ever really support the VISTA upgrades (Home Premium, Aero, etc) unless MS makes a major performance improvement with the upcoming VISTA SP1.

PS Thanks for the feedback on installing Linux, Ubuntu works fine even off the Live CD.
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