The financial markets have been on a tear lately. Those who supported President Bush will tell you that it’s all due to his electoral victory last Tuesday. But my own feeling is that the markets were just happy to have a clear winner. They probably would have performed well even with a Kerry win as long as it was unchallenged, but that’s just speculation on my part.
If conventional wisdom holds sway, we’re in the opening years of a secular bear market that, despite the recent gains, will see stocks headed downward over the long term. But for the moment, I’m doing pretty well, and to celebrate I took some of the money and bought myself a new laptop computer.
I haven’t owned a laptop since the mid-90s. It was a Compaq Armada 1100T powered by a 90 MHz Pentium processor. I think it had 64 megabytes of RAM and about an 800 meg hard drive. At the time, it seemed downright ‘pimp’. Eventually the hard drive died and I never got around to getting it fixed.
Eventually I donated it to charity for the tax write-off, but I’ve wanted another laptop ever since. The thought of being completely out of touch for two weeks during my flight training session in Las Vegas was a convenient excuse for taking the plunge. Besides, laptops are far more useful today. It’s such a piece of cake to setup a wireless network and just sit outside or on the couch and take care of writing emails, browsing the web, etc. Battery life is improved, the screens are larger, and the price has come down dramatically.
Picking a model was tough. I was tempted to go with something from Dell. The devil you know, right? The problem is, all their machines come with a paltry 256 MB of memory. Between upgrading that to 512 and adding on a few other goodies, the cheapest thing I could get was in the $11-1200 range. And that was with free shipping.
I purchased my 3.2 GHz P4 desktop machine from MicroCenter about a year ago, and it’s been working like a charm ever since. So I went over there and took advantage of the one thing Dell does not offer: the ability to try before you buy.
Somehow I ended up settling for a bit of an oddity: a Winbook A130. It’s the first non-Intel machine I’ve owned since the Apple IIgs back in 1988. The Winbook has an AMD Athlon-M 2200+ processor. I was a little worried about compatibility issues, but consoled myself with the fact that there were quite a few AMD powered computers at the store. The A130 came with 512 meg of memory, a DVD/CD-RW drive, 802.11g, and a 14.1″ active matrix screen. The video is bare bones (Intel Extreme with shared DDR memory) and the hard drive is somewhat small at 40 GB, but for what I’ll be doing with it, it’s great. And the price was certainly right.
I also got a Linksys wireless cable/DSL router and now have wireless internet and LAN access throughout the house. I spent a good deal of time setting up the security features of the router to keep out unwanted wireless users. Normally I wouldn’t care, but I do have this wireless network setup as a LAN. Plus, I know the folks next door could tap in, because I’ve inadvertently done that with their wireless network before. When I had Lesley’s notebook over here, I found that I could hook into their box through the walls.
Despite the fact that this makes them potential digital intruders, I like the fact that they have a wireless network. If mine ever has a problem, I can tap into theirs temporarily to get basic internet access. It’s unfortunate that so many wireless users — like my neighbors — fail to setup even the most basic security features of their routers. It would be easy for someone to sit outside your house and do something illegal over the internet using your network. When the authorities started looking into it, they’d trace it back to your IP address.
So far the Winbook has been an enjoyable addition to my high tech toy box. I don’t plan on doing any flight simulation, heavy digital photo editing, or other intensive graphic work on this thing. But for the basics, it seems to be a fine machine.
I’d forgotten how long it takes to get a computer loaded and configured the way I like. There’s the intial startup, then the multiple Windows Update runs, the software installation, the disabling of unwanted Windows services, and so on. The Winbook is slow compared to my desktop machine, but that’s to be expected. The laptops that can keep up with my desktop aren’t really laptops at all. They weigh in at nine or more pounds and are as bulky as a well-rounded opera singer. For what I’m doing, the Winbook is just about the right combination of price, and performance.