Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dell Studio XPS 1340 Review ... and other hot stuff

Non-Car Affairs of the Car Czar ...
Grumpy notes on the week I changed all my tech

[Because self-appointed government cabinet employees have unlimited access to vast undocumented stimulus funds and get to spend 'em whenever we like on whatever we like, I bought a new computer, software, and printer this week. Next week I'm repainting the nose on my Gulfstream to look like one of those cool airliners that just hit Santa]

Dell's Studio XPS 1340: The Hottest Notebook on the Market

The Dell Studio XPS 1340 is a leather-bound aluminum-and-glass work of art that Dell surely designed back before we all had no money.

It's an over-the-top dream machine* with a magnesium substructure that houses an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, four gigs of fast DDR3 memory, a NVIDIA hybrid graphics subprocessor, and a 7,200 rpm 320-gig hard drive that rarely needs to spin thanks to all that early-Cray-Supercomputer-crushing throughput and headroom ... even when running a pig like 64-bit Vista.

Hook it all up to a super-bright LED-backlit screen and on-demand backlit keyboard; extend the use of aluminum to a pair of well-engineered two-inch screen hinges, and now you're packing all that heat in a tight, tough, elegant little package that would look right at home in the British Airways club lounge at Heathrow.

A really good fan would come in handy about now.

To help out with the heating issue, Dell engineers made certain that the beautiful hide-bound screen of the Studio XPS blocks exactly 25-percent of the primary heat exhaust grid when you raise the lid to use the computer.

You can't help but assume here that some right-brain Dell marketing geniuses won-out over some actual Dell engineering group that was just deemed angry. (The marketing geniuses will be long gone, probably off hyping teeth-whitening strips, by the time these machines start melting and Dell is faced with yet another class action suit that tanks their stock yet another 5o percent).

Your Unhumble Car Czar has made his contribution to the world population with two kids who have turned out great despite his best efforts. Those Y-chromosomed citizens who have not shot-for-record may want to keep the 1340 the hey off their collective laps and enjoy this remarkable machine as a really portable desktop.

Here's a hot tip on dealing with the heat from this hot book: run it in the high performance power management mode all the time. The fan runs the way it's supposed to, and the book runs cool. On battery you'll enjoy getting all your work done an hour earlier.

All true art is flawed, right?

Other Studio XPS Notes, all Beginning with "The"

The LED screen on the Studio XPS is outstanding --bright enough in full-throttle battery-eating mode to actually use in sunlight. Now strictly-posing on outdoor cafe patios is at your own discretion.

The battery life is not stellar, at three hours plus even in power-saving mode. Early 1340 builds experienced seize-ups when switching the NVIDIA graphics subprocessor off in power-saving mode, so later models like yours truly's have shipped with a bios that disables the power-saving hybrid features of the graphics chip. (You can download a bios version that restores the hybrid graphics feature if you want to get what you paid for and if you like a computer that seizes up).

The HD sound Dell advertises for this machine sounds just like being in a room with a symphony when you're not really in a room with a symphony, but listening through a string-tethered soup can from a block away. It's bad. Awful, even for a notebook. It sounds just great through external powered speakers, though.

The Studio XPS 1340 in power-saving mode is the quietest notebook you'll never hear this side of an SSD netbook, since the hard drive barely has to spin with all that memory, and since the fan isn't doing jack to cool the machine.

The Studio XPS is not the quietest notebook you'll ever hear when loading or unloading the CD/DVD slot drive, which sounds just like WALL-E hyperventilating over a grainy clip of Kristy McNichol in her Buddy Lawrence days.

The backlit keyboard rocks.

The glossy surface on the lid and keyboard esconcement is glossy until you touch it, and then it's smudgy for the rest of its life. Since the Glossy/Smudgy Thing has been around in trendy electronics since the days of the Motorola KRZR, you had to know better before you bought this thing, so no gripes.

The price Dell surely set when it realized that all of us have no money ... a mere grand ... is right. No MacBook or Vaio at twice the price is nearly so slick.

*Over-the-top dream machine for Q1, 2009. Moore's Law, Q2, 2009 motherboard meltdowns and all.


More for the Vista Sucks File

You'll need to spec Vista 64 to use the 4 gigs of screaming memory in your state-of-the-art Dell 1340, so kiss your 8- and 16-bit apps, like the word processor you've been happily using since the late 80s, goodbye. Kiss many of the functions in the 32-bit apps you never really liked from the late 90s goodbye while you're at it.

Plan on upgrading to a modern Microsoft Office suite which offers a just-swell version of Word that's been hacked by point-n-grunt Macintosh elves in the night. All the features that made Word just-swell are there, but descriptive menu choices have been turned into icons, period ... so you just go mousing over the less obvious icons to see what they do, and waste lots of time not getting your work done with the cool new look.

Plan on getting a new printer if yours is over a few years old. Chances are good there's a Vista driver that will allow your old printer to print, but good luck finding other previously-supported printer settings, like paper tray source, for instance.

My favorite part of Vista 64 is how every time I check-off the Identity Safe "Don't Ask Me Again" box (about 67 times as of this writing) the exercise means absolutely nothing.

Hey, Google. When is Cloud Computing going to be ready for prime time? (I ask because of this whole Vista fiasco, and because after a few weeks of using your Blogger software and seeing new rogue line breaks every time I save, I'm wondering).

Setting Up Dell's Bluetooth Wireless Headphones: Just Like Getting your 300 Baud Modem to Shake Hands with CompuServe in 1984, Only Harder

Here's the simple procedure to get Dell wireless Bluetooth headphones to work in Vista. (Make sure Media Player is not running when you do this).

1. Pair the headphones with your Bluetooth device (spring for the $20 option on your XPS).
2. Make certain the headphones are turned on and no longer in pairing mode.
3. Click the Bluetooth icon and select "Show Bluetooth Devices."
4. Select the Bluetooth headphone icon.
5. Click the "Audio" tab and select "Bluetooth Stereo Audio."
6. Click "Connect" to connect the headphones and enable Bluetooth audio.
7. Go to Start/Control Panel/Sound and select "Manage Audio Devices."
8. Highlight "Bluetooth Stereo Headphones" and set them to the default audio device.
9. Go to the Volume Control in the system tray.
10. Click "Mixer."
11. Click "Devices" and make certain "Bluetooth Stereo Headphones" is checked.
12. Launch Media Player and click "Play."
13. Sit back and enjoy hassle-free wireless Bluetooth stereo!

Always happy to help, TCC.

Photo Processing Lives! A Short HP C5580 Review

The three photo processing stores left on this planet cheered this week when your Unhumble Car Czar received his new Hewlett Packard C5580 Photosmart printer/scanner/copier and found that besides intelligent, flawless operation, impressive speed, and great scanning output, the file-print quality on HP Premium Plus photo paper is amatuerishly oversharpened regardless the settings used. Turn any C5580-produced photo slightly sideways in the light and you'll see the same shiny ink-haloed detail highlights that state-of-the-art 80s inkjets once produced.

You can almost live with the output when you consider Hewlett Packard kindly installs megabytes of browser-hijacking promotional crap on your computer even after you've opted out of the opt-outable crap during driver installation. Still, if you're not picky about prints, you can't beat this all-in-one machine for the price.



Boss O: America Invented the Automobile?

Was that an Al Gore Invented the Internet moment last Tuesday night? A George W. Bush OBGYNs Practicing their Love with Women moment?

Nope. Just a clever ruse to get Fox News to immediately credit the French and Germans with something.

That's my story.

Bobby Jindal's response to the President's Report to Congress

News Flash: President O. just happens to be young, ethnically-diverse, and Ivy League-educated. But he's way more than that, and these withering GOP attempts to mimic the Big O's charisma/demographic package with Mrs. Uses a Yahoo Account for State Business and Mr. Likes to Read Storybooks to Kindergartners on Prime Time Television are really, really embarrassing. Kind of like Madonna trying to be English ... or couth.

You folks are going to have to find your own Genuine Article from within your ranks for 2012. Every fake you put in front of the cameras before then makes life that much harder for the next Ronald Reagan. (Not that I'm complaining).


I'm not done yet. Next Week: World Premier Citroen GT Road Test

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