So yes, I've been super quiet, other than posting fic, for--well, months. I can honestly state a massive amount of it was my entire life was either work, editing and posting fic, and the rest my new nephew and my son, who turned eighteen in January and comes home today from a spring break class trip to Europe (Amsterdam, Paris, Valenciennes, Brussels, Istanbul, and Bursa (for skiing, hilarity) and graduates in May.

However, I got a new computer, which is--as everyone here knows--is a very important event in one's life, and kind of unexpected. My shift key on my laptop Sherlock broke--the laptop on its fifth year and just got refurbished because I was really attached. At the same time--this wouldn't be a problem, I've can fix that--Child decided it was time to tell me he really wanted a laptop and specifically, mine. So I got a new one.

You know how sometimes you only realize you've had a blank space in your heart only when it's filled? Yeah, that's Prince Hal 9000 (named for the creator of "Down to Agincourt's" name and author of the poem Harry Takes the Field about Henry V. When I first named my laptop Harry, [livejournal.com profile] bratfarrar was like "Harry was called Prince Hal in his youth" and I'm like "And now we have a smashup of Shakespeare's Henry V and 2001: A Space Odyssey and this is destiny.")

You probably don't care, but much like anyone with a new, beloved child, Prince Hal specs:
Name: Prince Hal 9000
Model: Alienware 17 R2
Processor: i7 4710HQ
RAM: 16GB DDR3L
Drives: Two bays, one for up to four SSD M.2 and one 2.5 for anything. Mine is 256 SSD, 1 T 5400 RPM SATA 6Gb/s, upgradeable to 512 on SSD and the limits of current technology on the second.
Display: 17.3 FHD inch ten-point touchscreen (God, it's magic).
OS: Windows 8.1, which I still like less than Windows 7 but unsurprisingly works much, much, much better with a touchscreen. It also helps that I got the Stardock for my desktop, where all my common links are stored and can avoid the Metro screen (though I adapted that for non-frequent use). It helps a lot that I can swipe out of it when I accidentally end up there; that really does make all the difference.
Video: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M with 4GB GDDR5
USB: 4 USB 3.0, one with powershare, and holy shit talk about fast data transfer on the 3.0
Other: HDMI 1.4, Mini-Display port, card reader, graphics amplifier port, two audio ports retaskable for microphone, mic headsets, external speakers, etc
Notes: It also has lights everywhere, and I can color them all. And nine extra random keys I can hotkey by keystroke or macro. God.

Yes, I bought a ridic overpowered gaming computer to write fanfic and code in my free time. I wish I could say this was an impulse buy, but it wasn't. I spent the better part of January doing every configuration possible before picking this one. And waiting for alienware to send out random discount codes (they did, thank God). Also, my mom's tablet stopped working, so she absconded with Castiel, my tablet, which means my laptop is my primary source of all things and now accompanies me to work.


Adventures in new computers:

I already took it apart once because of course I did. The first thing I did when I ordered it was go to Amazon and get the new screwdriver set I've been eyeing hungrily for a few months now that I had the excuse to do it.

However, there was a reason--on getting it, they put the OS and drivers on the SATA instead of the SSD, and sure, I could have done it myself, but there's certain drivers and programs that come factory installed I couldn't get off Dell's site and also, I paid enough that fuck that, let them handle that part. So the Monday after (early February), a tech remoted to fix everything, just in time for a needed BIOS update that froze the entire laptop.

Me: You are fucking with me.
Ether: No.

This has terrible battery life, so I could have waited, but I gave it fifteen minutes before checking the heat from the fans and almost ended up with second degree burns while the drives started making very worrisome sounds.

Here's where a major design flaw shows (and who thought this was a good idea should be sent back to daycare to learn the basics of how not to piss off everyone or kill them): there is no external battery access. They stuck that shit inside the case.


Me: You are fucking with me.
Ether: You said that. Same answer.

I had to remove the bottom cover from a still-running computer--did I mention it was getting hot?--and find the tab that pulled the battery blind with only the barest protection from the main board, exposing the drives, partially exposing the RAM, and getting a good look at my running CPU, and no, the website that showed how it should be found was wrong, that tab was not easy to find, and I nearly had it down to all its component parts--while running--before it unearthed itself from under some bracketing.

On a still-running computer: this is the stupidest design decision I've ever seen. Step one to opening any computer after turning it off: unplug and/or remove the goddamn battery. That's common fucking sense. I had to clear the area of anything flammable, keep grounded, and hope to God I didn't electrocute myself because what was well protected and impossible to access were the all the alternate ways I could cut power to the CPU. I ended up pulling my SATA drive first--and that was fun--because I'd just finished fully transferring the entire contents of old drive to my new and only had my dropbox for backup since I didn't anticipate my laptop exploding or burning out my secondary drive before I got a chance to finish a full backup on the server.


Cons:
1.) No external battery access. Insane.
2.) Non-intuitive internal design. I pulled the board specs early and spent quality time after the above memorizing them. Other than the fucked up battery placement, it's not bad at all except they added some pointless configurations that as far as I can tell have no reason to exist and take up valuable space doing nothing.
3.) This could be just my computer they screwed up, but they set the SATA as primary on the board and the SSD as secondary, and that makes no sense on any level, so my SATA is still DISK0 and SSD set to DISK1 on the hardware level. I could--I think--go in and fix it--and probably should since the SSD as boot doesn't mean there won't be random-ass times that it reverses to try and boot from DISK0. I know it will because my server has had that happen when I was experimenting with drive configurations, and Sherlock the laptop--after I removed the DVD and installed a second bay for my old drive and put an SSD in the 0 slot--still occasionally tried to boot from the second drive once in a while. Right now, though, it's a matter of aesthetics; I really hate my primary and boot drive on the 1 slot, and it gets to me.
4.) It's heavy as shit. The difference between a 17.3 and a 15.6 is obvious in many ways, but even so, heavy as shit.
5.) I'll probably get used to it eventually, but it's awkward in size and proportion.

Like Castiel's 12.2 screen size giving me problems when used to carrying a 10.1 size tablet before I got used to it, adapting to a laptop considerably larger means adapting all my things to one. I had to get a new cooler and lap stand for it--which I don't regret, I love this stand--but I also had to adjust my computer bag. I thought I'd need a new one, but my Dell one actually does fit it; it has a velcro foam liner that comes out, I suppose just for that reason, and it fits fine.

It's not just equipment, though; it's my mental map of space it needs that has to adjust. Putting it on a desk or a table or anywhere to work on, I still underestimate the size of the clear area needed, going with muscle memory of 15.6 and get annoyed when I realize no, honey, a few more inches here.
6.) This is new: I really have to restart it more often or it slows down noticeably. Slow down for value of something ridic overpowered, yeah, but you get used to your laptop being almost thought-activated and any delay is years.
7.) Build and design: taking it apart and putting it together so soon--I usually wait a few months before doing that just to increase the anticipation--have made it very clear that for the first time in my computer maintenance and upgrade life I'm going to be challenged heavily when doing anything, and I'm pretty sure that part was a deliberate choice to discourage that kind of thing. This is a gaming computer for gaming geeks, though; this plan is doomed to failure from the start.
8.) Related: googling and reading has pointed out there's a surprising amount of components soldered to the board, I assume to discourage post-purchase upgrades and do all your upgrading during the purchase process = more money for Dell. R2 is new enough however that the full practical specs are still in flux on what it has and doesn't have, so I'm still checking every so often after someone does a breakdown to see what they saw. The R2 configurations seem very idiosyncratic, and it's not the optional upgrades; getting a Dell discount code means I got most of them except the CPU to the 4980HQ with 4GHz because I did the math and I was already at ridiculous on processing power.
9.) Touchpad has no zones. I just found out some people don't have that, so explanation: Sherlock's touchpad had right and bottom zones for scrolling, and living without that is not easy. Hence very early adventures in hotkey assignment, since a number pad means I'll use it like a lot for numbers, and having to flip off numlock to pg up and pg dn didn't work out for me like at all.
10.) According to Dell's documentation, there's weirdness.

There's a hard limit to 16 GB on the RAM, but that's questionable; the board and 2 slots will support up to 32GB. Same with the CPU, which can handle an upgrade. SSD drive says 512 over four cards, but there's no earthly reason for that restriction when each M.2 card can be 512 (though size in the bay may be a factor, yeah). I checked that against Sandra during diagnostics so I could get a better idea of what my hardware was doing (Dell: not great about tech documentation), and found a lot of discrepancies in what Dell told me and what was actually happening (not to mention what I saw during earlier adventures). I can't tell, however, whether this is a 'recommended and hope you believe us' or if there's an actual hardware and/or software enforcement going on to make an artificial limit below the real one.

The only way to find out is to go shopping, install, and see what happens, and I'm curious, but not curious enough to burn out my laptop while under warranty less than two months after acquisition.
10.) Dell stopped the engraved plate with your name on it when you buy an Alienware. I've wanted one of those since I bought my first laptop while silently lusting after Alienware and promised myself one day--one day--I would get an Alienware and have Seperis engraved on it. So not happy about that.

Pros:
1.) Overpowered as hell. It's a plus.
2.) Aesthetics: it's very pretty, one, and two, has an entire lighting system. The keyboard, name tag on teh bottom of the screen, power button, indicator buttons, cover and side strips are all part of the lighting system and organized in zones that can each be a different color. I've changed from red to green to purple to orange and back to green so far, and sometimes all different colors that while ugly....so much cool.
3.) The keyboard is three quarters at full size, so I have my right number pad back, though it now has the PG UP/PG DN/HOME (there are two)/END on 9, 3, 7, and 1 respectively, access controlled by NUMLOCK, and Delete/Insert now appears in the top row, third key after F12 and above the backspace.

Getting used to that has been different--I have two keyboard modes, Laptop and Desktop, and this combines both in a surrealistic way. However, here's where there is magic; there are nine empty hot keys--six at the far right, four above the number pad--and on the left above the first five hotkeys is a mode changer key, and Alien Command Center--which also controls lighting arrangements--also controls hotkey assignment.

Okay, first, I never realized my heart also had a blank space to be filled by blank keys on which to work my will: the more you know. Two--cool.

Alienware TactX has several methods of assignment, with an emphasis on gaming and repetitive key strokes you can create macros for, and one is assignment by simple keystroke. I hotkeyed PG UP/PG DN into hotkeys six and seven, volume control into eight and nine (above the right number pad) and it's great, but I'm still exploring how to make long-press cause repetition, as you have to hit it every time for a single action, and there has to be a way to fix that.

The hardest was getting a hotkey to get me to desktop--I'm lazy and sometimes swiping the screen is just too much trouble--which is when i found out it really loathes the LEFT WINDOW (the Windows) key and fought me to the ground to get to desktop. Solution--program in a random keystroke pattern for one, go to the XML file for keyboard configurations, find key one, and write the keystroke code in the correct format myself. So that worked, and I still have four entire keys on which to work my will. The power, it is heady.

Spoiler: D+LEFT WINDOWS takes you back to desktop every time. You're welcome.

Mode changer--that's the key that sits above the vertical row of five on the left--switches between three different keyboard configurations, so if I'm willing to switch, I actually have 27 hotkeys and life is really amazing sometimes.
4.) Stardock ObjectDock - just get it, especially if you're on Windows 8.1. It will change your life.
5.) This is fast, and yeah, SSD does help, and the SSD itself is faster than my old SSD.


Observations:

I read a lot of protests about Dell using the M.2 SSD design and designing the bay around it--you can't use a 2.5 in there without some specialized customization--but I'm still not clear on why its hated other than reasons.

M.2 are less drives than something that looks like PCIe cards (link to amazon for your viewing pleasure) and allow stacking and when placed in a drive designed for such things, all work together as one drive like a hardware RAID (mine takes up to four cards). I read the pros and cons of use, but there's a sense of personal betrayal that Dell made an entire bay slave to the M.2 form factor, like before the bays took all things and not restricted to a 2.5 or 3.5 themselves. You couldn't shove a 5.5 into your laptop before because bay size and restriction either, so come on.

On one hand, yeah, the M.2 multi-card has the same drawbacks as RAID: more points of failure. However, it's also being able to get a 512 G or above SSD in four cheaper pieces when like everyone in the world not rich, you're on a budget. I also like the fact that four points of failure means you can replace them piecemeal if there's only one (or more) fails and still have a working drive from the one(s) still working. Just remember to backup your data, of course.

I had a major drive failure in my server in December and lost 1 T of movies (granted, I ripped all of them, but dude, that was work) because one drive failed. To equivalent replace, I need to buy a 1 T drive (I bought a 3T and 2T, but not the point, it was tax refund season and newegg had a sale). Equivalent replace of one quarter or one half of my drive--assuming the other drive(s) are fine--is cost effective and satisfies the part of me that likes opening up computers and poking around, but with a legit reason. Also--though still researching--depending on the physical limits of size, I could conceivably shove four 512 G drives in that bay and live the dream of having fucking 2T SSD at my command.

(Sorry, I had to stop and cry for a minute at the beauty of it. It's like if Michelangelo designed hard drives.)

I like computer design as a hobby and hardware research just because; I'm not a gamer, so I have no practical reason to build an external nitrogen pump to cool my CPU but Jesus would I love to do that. External aesthetics aside--again, Prince Hal is pretty, though the surface of the internal chassis is very spongy-feeling for being so solid and I both love it and find it odd--the board configuration is fascinating and worrying.

Laptops are (slowly) making gains in this area, but unlike desktops, building your own is not something just anyone do with a quick casual google and enthusiasm; there are very strict restrictions on chassis size from the get-go, and from the board down, you are limited as hell. Generally, you have to either be a professional or very determined amateur with money and time to spare to build your own laptop from the ground up, and if you google, you'll see what kinds of limits even with unlimited time and money that are inherent in the system.

There's also knowledge; I could teach pretty much anyone how to build their own basic desktop in fifteen minutes and newegg on the screen, because once you get the basics of how the motherboard works and the areas of interest, it's pretty much all money and preference on what you do with it. The actual physical building and testing would take longer, yeah--an hour to several days depending on what you're doing--but it's honestly a matter of finding the appropriate instruction guide and accepting you will inevitably be christening it in your own blood because it happens and you gotta just roll with it. I say this as an amateur who just does this for fun, not a professional or engineer; it's work, yes, but work you can do if you want to (and have no physical or mental impairments or quirks that would interfere with the physical building, component recognition, or item identification, including color blindness or red-green color blindness, though you can find instruction and even components that can help the visually impaired. I have a very minor tremor in my right hand that comes out when I'm stressed, very tired, have an anxiety hit, or had too much caffeine; it doesn't interfere at even the level of typing or touchpad, but when I see it, I don't risk playing with wires, lets put it that way).

Laptops...aren't like that.

I say this as a motivated amateur; I can break down and put together any laptop without instruction or specs in front of me--and have, with this one, while on, did I mention that?--but I don't want to and wouldn't if I had any choice, even if it's just for a reference glance. I know the general design all laptops use, I know general board configuration, and I know all the major points of reference, so even those that have everything moved around, it's a quick adaption once I see where everything is.

However.

The space issue means even when I know where everything is by memory, I have no margin of error in getting them out and risking not just breaking the component or the ones around them, but breaking the board itself--either that part or even the whole--even when I may be doing it right; the scale is that small. (Ask me about the one time I took apart my ASUS Tablet for reasons and stared at the board a full ten minutes, unable to even move for fear breathing might break something.)

This jumps to ten in assembly and a hundred when assembling from components you bought separately; there is regulation on size, yeah, but that regulation is sometimes followed more in strict letter than spirit, and an eighth of an inch can make it impossible to fit something where its supposed to go.


Some of you may remember when I installed a touchscreen on my Dell netbook when those were a new thing way back and I had to learn to solder (and started my practice board on fire, yeah); I read the instructions for a Dell netbook, got the components, took it apart to the board, got my tools and got to work. I did everything right; trust me, I reviewed a lot about my configuration during this time. It should have worked, and I should have had a touchscreen on a netbook that was smaller and less complex than my current Samsung tablet.

What I didn't tell you was I could get it working, but not inside the case at the same time. A quarter to an eighth of an inch: that's how it failed in actual assembly. Nothing I could do would get me that space, and believe me, I got very adventurous in what I was willing to do to make it work (I. Learned. To. Solder. And almost set myself on fire with my practice board. And melted a lot of things, but that was just for fun). I learned more about board functionality and design in a few days than I had over years with my laptops, and it didn't help. I was up against actual fucking physics, and two things could not exist in the same space at the same time. Fuck physics, is what I'm saying. Fuck. Physics.

Among my options was to cut the control board itself, cut and shorten the wires (and maybe both), or start subtly trimming other components of unneeded portions (I actually sat there with my wifi card and drive bay and CPU assembly thinking about this like way too much, while holding a soldering iron, metal cutters, and thermal paste). I took apart an external SATA enclosure, an old SATA drive, a wireless mouse, a couple of old PCIe cards, and a IDE hard drive for parts and cables, stripped them to their sad copper interior, stripped my motherboard of anything that could come off it (at least, it did come off; whether it was supposed to or not, who am I to say?) and started to build--and at this point, I honestly can't explain why I thought this would work, much less if it should even exist--an ambitious USB interface that would replace the USB board that cared for my left side usb ports and connect to my sound assembly and support bluetooth and no, I don't know why that ended up in there since I didn't have anything bluetooth, and in some way--I'm still not clear on how--create an external SATA port, which I'd accommodate by cutting a new opening in the left side chassis.

I'm saying not that I was sane--it was a netbook and I had a desktop and a laptop to play with--or this would have worked--spoiler: no, not at all, what the fuck, bluetooth?--but I was committed to making this work, is what I'm saying. I did not lack commitment, and if you call that unhealthy obsession, you wouldn't be wrong.

My waterloo wasn't failing to create an entirely new design for a netbook, or even the far less comparatively dramatic manually cutting pieces off components--which acutally looks reasonable now, doesn't it?--but due to the sheer lack of space, the risk to the touchpad and keyboard due to proximity was huge. Putting the netbook down at a normal speed and strength--as in, setting it down to use it--on anything but my bed with a pillow could shift everything in there enough to shove it a couple of millimeters into the board connectors, and that's with everything screwed down; even soldering it to the board--if I went crazy and actually considered doing that--wouldn't help when the case itself would force proximity, raising the heat--netbooks didn't have internal fans or any option for cooling, I assume due to belief in magic or minimal hard use--and explode it or at least burn it out, which is less dramatic than an explosion but also less deadly, yeah.


Returning to the subject--and yeah, I had to go back and read to see what was going on before Great Netbook and Almost Set Self on Fire Digression--laptop building is restricted by nature, but having explained how and why it is, despite that, it shouldn't be this restrictive unless you're an engineer with free time and a garage with all the toys. It's a desktop at a smaller scale; the scale isn't the problem, but what I suspect is much simpler; there's a huge market for do-it-yourself desktops because laptops aren't the option of choice for those who build computers at all and never will be.

You're limited on storage; drives keeping bigger, true, but laptops can still only handle x number of drives; desktops, if you're creative, driven, or really bored, can hold as many as your board can handle, you can replace the board for one that can handle more, add PCIe when the board is maxed, and that's just in chassis; external connection possibilities are endless and sometimes involve magic. Same with RAM, though that's internal; your board is your limit and you can buy a new board if you need more.


Desktops are component-drive, not chassis driven; stationary means yes, you could turn an entire room of your house into a computer case and one day, I'm going to have a room named Enterprise with a magnetic door and walking inside will be like living inside a desktop with a nitrogen cooling assembly in the corner, cables draped like curtains everywhere, and one wall an LED monitor such as the universe itself will envy and fear and it will be touchscreen and tell me who is next while I caress its smooth, responsive surface and it loves that so much, it likes to be touched, it told me so. People will fear me because they will know something is very wrong with this (and wonder what 'who is next' means, plebeians; they know. They all know. And now so do I.) and I won't care. (I may cackle, though.) There will be a state of the art air conditioner keeping the house at a cool 30 F, fiberoptic cabling in all the walls, LED lights everywhere, speakers built into every room, an emergency generator in the basement, and absolutely no furniture anywhere in that house because why would I need it? I never leave the room; it says I don't want to, I want to stay, there's nothing out there for me, just cruelty and violence and networks who cancel good sci-fi and replace it with wrestling--the bastards. SGU: never to forgive, never to forget--and sunlight with its UV rays and I burn easily and it hurts like a lot. It loves me and I love it and no one get sunburned here and we'll be together forever. And ever. And ever.

(Except when newegg has sales; I'm allowed to open the front door to retrieve the boxes to bring to Enterprise, for Enterprise likes upgrades and is a merciful god.)


Anyway.

Remember when I mentioned nitrogen pump for CPU cooling? It sounds weird, but it's not; it depends on what you're doing with it.

Gaming is a stationary activity, period; photographers and video editors and anyone doing heavy processing and graphics work, same thing; game desginers, hell yes; anyone with a job or hobby that depends on power and longevity and video rendering needs all the speed, all the RAM, all the storage, the most powerful video cards, and every one of those things need all the cooling power they can get and not a two hour (or much less) window before charging again; if you're going to be plugged in all the time anyway and work is going to be in a single place, laptops aren't a great choice.

It's probably not the only reason, but the cooling issue is a big one, and the one thing laptop design cannot afford to ignore is how to keep it cool and they have to be creative because again, we have limited space for cooling and in that limited space all the components getting hot escalates fast. My XPS 16 was wonderful, but it ran hot as hell and I mean to the touch during normal operation; the bottom would burn me at a touch within an hour depending on what I was doing, and faster if I did anything that needed my processor to work for its keep. CPU, RAM, drives, board, video (and more, of course, but primary): all can and will cook each other very happily without strict control. I had two temperature gauges on Sherlock to watch for that, and doing any heavy processing--adobe photoshop, premiere, a few others I used occasionally--would see the numbers climb. I had a laptop pad with three fans running when I did anything processor-intensive, and Sherlock came equipped with a heavy copper assembly to boot to handle my CPU's enthusiasm. At that point I'd had three laptops and had never seen anything like before built-in, but it took me no time at all to love it like coffee and chocolate. Prince Hal has an entire thermal module and plates on the GPU because CPUs are nothing compared to what your video card will do for rendering images, and have been known to actually--and not hyperbolically, I didn't believe it either and so checked--start on fire (though fine, that's rare) and on occasion melt (more possible, less dramatic, still sucks).

So in other words, this won't change for a while, or maybe ever. Which I find depressing.

You know, I started this entry at 8:00 PM waiting for CHild's plane to land since he's coming back today to kill some time. I have no idea what happened, but apparently it's not eight anymore.
minim_calibre: (Default)

2015-03-22 05:58 am (UTC)
This was a very enjoyable read. I don't build my own boxes these days. I don't know when the last time I cracked something open was--maybe one of my old phones? Hell, in a fit of being so sick of a product I used to work on, I switched to a MacBook Pro last month.

And I'm not allowed near a soldering iron.

But I'll always have a soft spot in my head for tweaking with hardware.
azurelunatic: A glittery black pin badge with a blue holographic star in the middle. (Default)

2015-03-22 06:23 am (UTC)
Will the doors to the Enterprise room make that cool "sssh-wah!" sound?
grimmhill: flying mountain goat (freewheeling)

2015-03-22 12:40 pm (UTC)
Having an Alienware 17 (presumably R2, built last year), I can confirm it can handle 32 GB RAM.

I love mine to to death, but I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear when originally shipped, there was a problem with the switch between the integrated video card and the dedicated nVidia, which meant a week's downtime after just three days out of the box.

But once fixed, it has continued to work up to my expectations.

I wish you many happy years with your Prince.
grammarwoman: (Default)

2015-03-23 04:14 pm (UTC)
I bow to your hardware assembly skills.

I had to get a new cooler and lap stand for it--which I don't regret, I love this stand

What product did you get, if I may ask? I just got a new laptop to replace an old one with a hinge that broke due to overheated plastic fatigue, so I'd like to keep this new machine nice and cold.
fyrdrakken: (All cats are black at night)

2015-03-24 06:10 pm (UTC)
I remain boggled whenever I hear someone close to my own age talking about their teenaged children. But I'm delighted to hear you're enjoying your new laptop, and I laughed so. damn. hard. at the bit talking about Enterprise.
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