Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

The death of a laptop and what to buy next?

Posted by shannonclark on March 23, 2007

So today has been highly unproductive for me (though thankfully not so for my business partner so we are still making rapid progress towards launch). Since a few days ago my laptop has suddenly taken to halting completely, to blue screening repeatedly with page faults and other fun error messages, and in general showing signs of serious, perhaps fatal errors.

I have tried more than the usual fixes – repeated chkdsk’s, updated antivirus/spyware scans, running in various “safe” modes – and yet the problems keep repeating. One error dump generated the not so helpful information from Microsoft that it “might” be a memory problem (however further testing of memory didn’t show any faults there) – I did remove my extra 1gb just in case, and the machine promptly froze on reboot.

So late this evening I am trying yet another tact – to at least keep my functional use of the system (if not the hardware) – I am attempting to convert my removed laptop harddrive into a Parallels virtual computer on my iMac desktop.

This is, however, easier said than done. If my laptop were still booting and running safely, I could (in theory) achieve this effect by downloading and installing the Parallels Transporter software on the PC, and then running it – sending the image either to an attached USB drive, or directly to my mac over the network. However as my machine is now booting unreliably – and I’ve already removed the hd and put it into a spare external USB disk enclosure, this option is not ideal. (not to mention that in Windows XP Safe Mode with networking WIFI doesn’t appear to work – so I would have to connect via cable to download the software, then disconnect, connect via a local switch to my iMac and then try to run the Transporter software (and hope that my laptop doesn’t halt or crash while moving some 50 gb or so of data).

So with that as the current last resort what I am trying first is a bit complicated – but may yet save (at least part) of the day.

I have connected my old laptop HD to my iMac via a firewire cable.

I am now creating a READ ONLY image of the windows XP partition on the iMac (I tried to create a read/write image but that failed – I think due to disk errors).

When (hopefully) this process is completed, I will then CONVERT the READ ONLY image into a read/write image.

According to at least one website, I can then RENAME that .dmg file to a .hdd file – and thus fool Parallels into reading it in and using it to create a virtual computer running Windows XP with all my data & applications installed.

At least that is the plan.

Now you may be asking – why go through all this bother? (haven’t even gotten to what I will be buying next – have not idea about that at the moment).

1. My current printer, a Panasonic network duplex printer does not have any mac drivers – this means only my (now dying) laptop can print. It is a great printer so I do not really want to replace it (but if all this fails may have to)

2. My laptop has my Outlook files (archives are on a seperate NTSF formated HD more on that in a moment) which contain all my work for the past 7+ years (not to mention all my contacts – though they are also mostly replicated to Google Gmail and Plaxo)

3. My iPod is currently configured to work with my laptop (which means it is formated for the PC)

4. All of my media files are in iTunes on my laptop (organized there – 110gb of them are, however, on a separate external HD).

5. My podcatcher (and thus podcast history) is on the laptop – and I have not found anything usable for the mac (and no – iTunes does not cut it for me). By “usable” I mean – a podcatcher that organizes each podcast into a SEPARATE playlist inside of iTunes, automates the REMOVAL of podcasts based on my action (in my current case rating them 1 star), does NOT change the id3 tags, does NOT put podcasts into iTunes as “podcasts” – which means they are no longer manageable via the normal tools (smart lists etc in particular), and critically because I do also still use my Shuffle does NOT mark all the podcasts as “do not shuffle” – a “feature” I find useless as it means I can’t put those such files onto the shuffle! Not to mention iTunes apparent tendency (for me at least) to not download the full file often – and not to give you ANY way to manage or redownload old episodes if something has failed).

6. I have multiple external drives that are formated as NTFS disks, this means that while my iMac can READ those drives, it cannot WRITE to them – thus while they are perhaps useful as archives, they would be rendered useless as places to write unless I have a windows machine running (and yes, perhaps installing Vista on my iMac under Parallels might work – if I can also get the USB drivers etc working well)

So all this leaves me with a few concerns about what to get next. One option is to buy a large laptop HD and try to figure out a way to migrate my data from my current (failing) HD to the newer HD and see if that is all it takes to make my laptop purr again – but that assumes the only problem is the HD – possible, but if there is a motherboard or memory problem (with the built-in, on motherboard memory) then that just means I end up with an extra large laptop HD and have wasted a bunch of time (and yes, I do already have a USB/firewire case where the drive could find a home).

Another option is to buy a used laptop identical to my old T40 and swap stuff around (however my T40 was a rare model – had a much higher res screen than most and a larger HD etc).

A more likely option is to buy a new PC laptop. Which then leads to lots of questions. Do I buy a current version of my ThinkPad (now from Lenovo)? (however the current versions while with faster processors do not necessarily have the same or better screens, or get anywhere near my battery performance – my current laptop can easily get 6+ hours of work out of my extended life battery – and when new could top 7 even approach 8 hours).

Do I get a tablet PC (though still there are very very few models that have a high screen resolution (1400 x 1000 is my bare minimum acceptable screen resolution for a laptop)?

Or do I think about getting a Mac laptop. Yes all the “cool” kids have them (and many conference goers etc) – but I have a number of serious complaints.

1. NO multiple button or NON-trackpad options in the keypad. The ThinkPad keyboard + mouse stick is perhaps the best laptop layout and keyboard I have ever used – and I use the right mouse option (even on my Mac) EVERY SINGLE DAY.

2. Screen resolutions that are just about but slightly worse than my current laptop on the 15″ model (1400 x 900) – better on the 17″ – however see my next point on weight.

3. Weights that are no better than my current 5.5lbs for my ThinkPad – and MUCH worse with the 17″ model (which approaches 7lbs with power adapter). I walk nearly 4-5 miles most days – every extra pound matters heavily to my back (yes, pun intended).

4. Battery life that while okay does not approach my ThinkPad’s 6-7hrs easily.

On the upside – yes a camera would be neat, and yes Mac software runs great (but as noted above, I still don’t have replacements for many things I use every day – so would have to commit to running Parallels frequently at a minimum). The cost is a factor – though tablet options I looked at do approach over 3k with all my features, extra batteries and 3+ year (on-site!) warranty.

So tomorrow (well later today) I will start looking at other non-ThinkPad options (though I have to be careful that they don’t leave out basic items like the microphone my ex-girlfriends Fujitsu did not have built-in – Skype’s usefulness without a built-in mic is much diminished.).

Suggestions or other options are welcome (and heck – Microsoft, if you are reading this and want to send me a free laptop to play with – I will for a while, though I do admit to be reluctant to move to Vista for any number of reasons (not the least of which is I suspect my printer may fail in Vista).

One Response to “The death of a laptop and what to buy next?”

  1. jim wilson said

    Why would you get a mac again? to be cool? macs arent that cool, neither are pcs.

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