Here Cometh The Laptop

To date in my computing life, I have worked entirely with desktops. We have two in the study. One is the old Windows XP machine that so slowed to a crawl despite tripling the memory and regularly defragging the hard drive that it is now mainly the children’s. Their school uses XP, so it makes some sense.

The other is our nearly-two-years-old Windows Vista PC. We bought it a fortnight after Vista was released, due to the dire state of the XP computer. Like many people, we have discovered considerable disadvantages to Vista. We can’t use the quick upload tool to Snapfish when we want to upload digital photos for printing. Having said that, some things are nicer in Vista. What’s more, now I’ve doubled the RAM to a ridiculous 4 gigs, it runs at a decent speed. I can’t put in more RAM with a 32-bit operating system, however.

But in a month’s time, I start a three-month sabbatical. I shall be away for three weeks of that time. One of the places I am visiting, Cliff College, assumes in the emails it sends out that people will arrive with wifi-enabled laptops. Likewise, I shall be spending time at Lee Abbey on a photography course, so having a laptop on which to manipulate some shots will be handy.

Hence I have desired a laptop for a little while. Thankfully, my accountant has worked his usual magic this year and there is enough around in my tax rebate to afford a modest model. This week I paid the princely sum of £341 to Tesco for a machine that was being discontinued, the Acer Aspire 5720. Ideally I’d have liked a bigger hard drive than 160 GB, and I can expand the 2 GB of RAM easily enough.

Tonight I set about beginning to adapt it for my purposes. Off came a raft of software: a load of arcade games for a start, swiftly followed by Microsoft Works and the 60-day trial of Microsoft Office 2007 – I have that on the Vista desktop and don’t intend paying through the nose again. So once I’d downloaded and installed Open Office 3.0 off came the MS products. The only disadvantage to OO is there isn’t a UK English version.

Next stage will be to replace the bloated and expensive trial version of McAfee Security Centre with some free security products. (Not as bad as Norton, I know, but it’s still £50 a year I could do with saving.) Gizmo’s Tech Support Alert website is full of useful reviews. I’ve started to read up on anti-virus, anti-spyware and software firewalls. The XP machine had a number of freebies on it, but I may not choose the same products. I shan’t be downloading emails to the laptop, because that will create a sync problem with the Vista desktop, but I shall read my Gmail on it and use that while I’m away.

I have also downloaded and installed Paragon Partition Manager Express so that I can carve out a separate partition early on where I can install Ubuntu Linux. Having failed miserably to get Ubuntu to run within Windows using wubi.exe on Vista (although it does happily on XP), I’d like to do a proper install, if I’m brave enough.

I shall also buy a large memory stick for moving stuff over to the Vista desktop. (I’ll also sort out the wireless network between them, I trust, but often a memory stick is quicker if the wireless plays up.) 7dayshop have some bargains: this looks like a bargain, 16 GB for £15.49.

Before I go away, I shall probably get some pay-as-you-go mobile broadband. There is a good review of available services in the February 2009 issue of Personal Computer World. Vodafone comes out best for performance, although they charge the earth if you exceed your data allowance.

So that’s my little personal project with which to begin the new year. Any thoughts on my plans are welcome. What are you up to?


  1. Dave,
    I have an older Acer Aspire with XP and Ubuntu (typing on my Ubuntu side right now) with Open Office 3. I recommend getting the extra RAM, and getting the Ubuntu on it, but other than that, I don’t think Acers are too bad.
    I’ll be interested in learning how your pay-as-you-go broadband goes. I’ve thought about that before myself.



  2. Hi Dave, we have two Acer laptops in our house and the experience with them has been very different. The older one we have had probably four years now and is running XP doing everything I want or need it to do including the playing of music that my wife and I sing to when we visit certain churches and meetings.
    The second one is an Aspire 5720 running the dreaded Vista and being used mainly by my daughter. I have always felt this was a very slow machine even if you take off all the bells and whistles that Vista comes with and I have to be honest I am happy I do not use it very often.
    About five months ago we started experiencing some problems which my son thought were hardware related so I took it back to Comet where I was told it was a software problem and to run the Acer E Recovery programme. Did this worked as it usually did for another two months and the same problem occurred so back to Comet where again I was told it was a software problem. I was not happy with this and insisted they send it back to Acer – they did not want to do this but I said I was quite willing to pay any charge Acer might make if it was not hardware related.
    The machine was duly returned with a new hard drive fitted and a new keyboard. Only problem with this was the shift key didn’t work which means the computer was as good as useless. Back to Comet who rang Acer and Acer said it couldn’t possibly be faulty as it was tested thoroughly before leaving them. I pointed out I hadn’t asked them to do anything with the keyboard and that it was working perfectly before they changed it so back it went and another keyboard was fitted.
    It came back just over two weeks ago and last weekend it started displaying an error message saying there was a problem with the hard disk. back I went to Comet who told that because the warranty has now expired I need to contact Acer and because it is a fault with the new hard drive. I did this and I have to send the machine back to Acer and I am waiting for DHL to pick it up today.
    As you can imagine I have mixed feelings about Acer given my experience but I do think that part of the issues is with Vista and I really do think the machine is underpowered for running it anything like properly.
    I will keep you posted on how this one works out and hope you have as good an experience with your new one as I have had with my older one.


  3. Every blessing on all your plans for 2009. What am I doing? Finishing the Disciple 4 Course and, as the Media Publicity Director here, I’ll have my hands full publicising all the special events throughout our Centenary Year (listed on my blog). It will be good to meet so many new speakers and to welcome back our previous Ministers.
    Then I will be running the MET (Methodist Evangelicals Together) stand at the ECG Event in Llandudno in the week after Easter. I may also go to the Methodist Conference in Wolverhampton, but I have not settled this yet.

    2 Jan 09 at 8:33 am


  4. Dan,

    Thanks for your encouragement. I’ll try mobile broadband on pay-as-you-go when I go away for studies during the sabbatical (first trip starts 9th February).


  5. Olive,

    Sorry to hear about the disastrous 5720. Here’s hoping the problem isn’t endemic to the range! It is underpowered, but I had a limit to the budget.

    I’d love to see you at ECG – it sounds like a good event. I too belong to MET, so I hope you do well at the stand.


  6. FP,

    Sorry, I got your comment and Olive’s above muddled. I misread who they came from when they appeared as email notifications in my inbox.


  7. No Problem Dave -not sure Olive would want to be confused for me though – DHL have just collected the Acer so it will no doubt be a couple of weeks before I have any update.


  8. Looks like you got a good deal. I’m tempted to get one too, as my current laptop is getting a bit ropey.

    Getting rid of McAfee should have been your first step. I recommend AVG Free as alternative anti-virus – works well and you should qualify on this machine. Just make sure it isn’t set to silently delete files in which it suspects there is a virus, which is the default in version 8.

    Check whether you are allowed to have a copy of Office 2007 on your laptop as well as on a desktop. Quite a lot of software allows this, on certain conditions, in the small print of the licence.


  9. I’m really not very technical – hence my constant befuddlement with new applications. I leave it to you guys and Dear Husband to point me to what’s new.

    However, I do wish you many blessings on your sabbatical and lots of refreshment.


  10. Peter,

    Thanks for the thoughts. I might recheck the Office licence. Certainly the version of it installed on the laptop was only the Home and Student version. Mind you, that did mean no Outlook, and I’ve found that far and away the worst constituent part of Office 2007 on the desktop.

    Certainly McAfee will go, too. There was a free trial of it for a month or two, so I thought I’d just keep it on while I downloaded other free stuff and be protected while doing so. Once the free security software is down (maybe later tonight), I’ll rid myself of McAfee.


  11. Pam,

    Thanks for your kind words. Once the sabbatical begins on 1st February I hope I’ll be able to blog aspects of it, not least while I am away.


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