Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Death of a Laptop

My laptop, Ran11x, has alas ceased to be useful as a laptop. It is an m11x, a model of laptop that Dell has now discontinued. It served faithfully for about 2 and a half years. Like many 1st generation m11x's it developed hinge problems that resulted in it ceasing to be very portable and with an update last night, it ceased to display anything on its screen.

As a result I am currently extracting my data from it and trying to decide two things: What to do with it and what to replace it with.

What to do with it

The laptop still actually works, I can plug it into an external monitor and use the projector shortcut to get it to use that display. Given that I have a desktop I really don't need it on my desk, I don't have a spare display and even if I did, I would rather use that as an extra screen on the desktop.

That said, it is a separate machine which means I can use it to experiment with things, one idea is to install Windows 8 on it. I can format it and do a fresh install, I don't need to worry about update woes and I don't need to care if the new machine isn't quite so useful. I had actually already planned on doing this sometime during my holidays.

Since it takes HDMI I can plug it into the TV as a media PC. We already have one running Linux in my house and we have a spare wireless mini-keyboard and mouse. It seems a bit silly to have two machines set up to do the same thing, but this means that we can use them for different things. The Linux machine is there to play media and to access remotely via SSH, Ran11x can be used for gaming. It has a 500GB drive which isn't quite enough to fit all of my Steam games on it, but I can try to pick games that can either be played with the mini keyboard and mouse or games that can be played with a 360 controller. This is option is especially tempting because I can even use it for Artemis which is a game that I really would like to play with friends before I move out.

I should be able to do both of these. I can still play around with Windows 8 on the TV and have a set up for TV gaming. Does anyone have any other cool ideas? Everything other than the screen appears to work without difficulty.

What to get to replace it

I don't necessarily need to replace Ran11x, I could instead try to repair the screen, I would rather get the parts and try to do this myself if I can do it cheaply. The laptop is now old enough that this isn't really a priority, I probably won't really need a laptop until I head overseas later this year.

Whilst I have my Transformer Prime, it is not quite good enough to be a laptop replacement. As I found earlier this year when going away with just the tablet, Android is simply too limiting to be my only OS. Having only mobile and webapps can be really painful. Especially if I am trying to use office. The mobile versions of Google Docs are awful. They are slow and have really strange behaviours at times and I have regretted trying to use them every time. The limitation of having only 1 application on screen at any time is surprisingly annoying even when using a small screen.

I really would like a PC of the same kind of size, about 11". Ideally one that can play a good selection of games (because it is my primary hobby) and one that can run real apps. I guess this is what ultrabooks are intended for. Does anyone have any recommendations for good 11-12" laptops that can run modern games at a decent framerate?

The other thing that I conceptually find really tempting is the Surface Pro, tablet form factors, still has the ability to use a physical keyboard, an OS with a fair amount of work put into the touch interface that still has a good keyboard and mouse interface that lets me run office, steam and any other desktop apps I want; provided that it has decent battery life and isn't too noisy or hot it seems like a great idea to me.

Ideally I would like to replace Ran11x with a new laptop before I head to Europe in December. Probably close enough to the trip that I can claim back the GST.


  1. None of the current laptops run games well dude, the video in ultrabooks is crappy.

    I like the asus or the apple at 11 inches - getting a SSD makes it uber fast, but neither will crank any fps in games. That is quite uniquely Alienware.

    Could you use your android when remotely connecting to your desktop to get nice apps u want? :P Some guy wrote a blog about how he doesnt need anything but chrome and skype for his work ->


    1. I don't think it is uniquely alienware. Intel's graphics offerings have made a reasonable amount of progress in the past few years, and you tend not to have a huge resolution. Besides I know that there are ultrabooks out there using optimus, meaning that they do have a discrete card in there.

  2. I have heard good things about Splashtop. They have an Android version coming out, which apparently streams at 30fps with acceptable latency. They cite Diablo 3 and WoW as working fine. Once Splashtop 2 comes out for Android I'll be giving it a go. Would be great to get some pc gaming happening on my little Nexus 7!
    Otherwise,the Surface Pro would be my next choice.