Laptop Fluff

Since this weekend was an overall bust with unexpected work hours throwing off a major project undertaking I had planned. However despite that, this has been a really great week for me. Why? Because my new laptop came. And since I have been taking on too much heavy lifting when it comes to all these what I’m calling projects I’ve been starting. (I call them projects because while the end result may just be an essay or a podcast, but the amount of work and research that goes into it.) That and the never finished project that is my RSS reader. Because of all that, I think I deserve to write a fluff piece about something that makes me extremely happy right now.

The story starts last year, around January. I had to stop playing Dragon Age: Origins because my computer of the time could not longer run it as a decent rate. It was about 5 frames a second and moving the camera would stutter the whole game. I couldn’t get anything done. Then a few months later I got Mass Effect 1 for 10 buck off of a great Steam sale. My computer couldn’t even open it and it wasn’t all Vista’s fault. All it had was an internal graphics card and since it was a laptop, there was nothing I could do about it. It was powerful enough to run Mass Effect, going by the specs, but apparently there is some coding that prevents non-main brand graphics cards (NVIDIA or ATI) from working. The same went for Mass Effect 2 and Amnesia: The Dark Decent. Then at the end of ’10 I had heard great things about Metro 2033 and I got it cheep, again at a Steam sale. So that’s five games I cannot play and another one on the horizon (Dragon Age II), plus my 3 gig of RAM couldn’t keep up with Minecraft after 20 minutes.

My old VIAO also ran real hot and would chug if I had too many windows open. And then it got into the nasty habit of randomly deciding my HD didn’t have an OS installed, which the first time it happened nearly gave me a heart attack because I hadn’t backed it up in a few months. This is the same laptop where I had to replace the whole HD with a new one because the original got a scratch internally on the disk. In the last few days when I ordered the laptop the AC adapter died and the the power cable wouldn’t stay in the laptop and had to be held at just the right angle for it to charge. It gave me a good run an served me well for my last few years of college. I’ve known for a while I’m going to need a new computer and it would have to be a laptop, because that’s just how I work.

So I fired up Newegg and started looking. I also ended up with a beginner’s education in computer parts. I learned about the relative strengths and weaknesses of different processors (mostly the weaknesses ended up being their effect on the price) and mostly I learned what all those numbers and letter signified in the name of graphics cards. I checked for weeks and then checked back and the checked again, always window shopping. But then a few weeks ago it stopped being window shopping. when I hit the 700 dollar mark in my account, more money that had ever been in there at one time, I could afford a decent laptop. My eyes were wide and I wanted one that could do what I needed it to do, but also one that could do more for the future.

Then I finally got to 900 dollars with a 200 plus paycheck on the horizon. I could afford pretty much any laptop I wanted. My requirements:

-Intel i5 or i7
-Dedicated Graphics Card minimum RADEON 5650 if exchangeable
-HDMI output
-4 gig RAM
-15.6″ screen
-500gig HDD
-Windows 7

The last three came with pretty much every laptop, so there weren’t a concern. I managed to narrow it down to two final choices. The differences were one had a slightly oh so slightly better graphics card, 7200 RPM instead of 5200 RPM, an extra USB port and a lot of extra features. One was also 350 dollars cheaper. The extra RPM and many special features won out even with the higher price tag.

So here it is, my new laptop.

The MSI GX660-260US.

It comes with an i5 460M (2.53 GHz on normal), an ATI Mobility RADEON HD 5870 graphics card, 4 gig of RAM (technically the motherboard can be upgraded to 12 gigs, but this i5 can only handle 2 RAM card so a max of 6 gig) 500 gig HDD 7200RPM, 15.6″ screen output of 720p, 2x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, 1x HDMI, 1x eSATA, 4 in 1 card reader, 720p HD webcam, headphone + microphone jack, full keyboard with number pad, DTS Surround Sensation Ultra-PC with 2 HD speakers and 1 Subwoofer, a turbo boost button that can overclock the i5 and turbo fan that can cool the whole thing in a matter of seconds, blue tooth and wireless all button activated. It also has Dual HDD support that can run in tandem with RAID 0, doesn’t come with a second hard drive though, not the basic model. It cost 1,099.99 plus tax.

When I got it there were a few problems. Like the hard drive being already partition into C and D drives, almost right down the middle. A quick google search and I figured out how to undo to the partition and that it wouldn’t do any harm. Then a few hours into opening it the special LED lights on the side and the front stopped working, apparently this is a common problem that this model has and might have something to do with the updated Windows 7. It’s a special feature that looked really cool and is annoying that it doesn’t work anymore. Oh well, hopefully MSI will get back with a solution. TI took a full day to back up all my files from my last laptop and then transfer them back. Almost 200 gigs in music, movies, games, programs and other files. Everything works like a dream. Of course thanks to how Steam works I had to re-download every single game. That itself took another two days, but I did test my computer for a spin. (Annoyingly Steam took down the Crysis 2 demo, so I couldn’t test it out on that.)

Dragon Age: Origins was my first test. It was squashed, but it was set to a 4:3 resolution instead. In the options menu I fixed that and set everything to max, textures, graphics, audio and everything else. It went without a stutter, no matter how fast I spun the camera.

Amnesia asked what I wanted before I started to play. It also had a button that detects what you have and sets the options accordingly. I got a smile when everything instantly changed to High.

Mass Effects didn’t break down at the splash screen, but went all the way on max settings. So now the real challenge: Metro 2033. I set it to max settings and then had to fiddle, because one of them but black vertical lines everywhere. It was the DirectX 11 so I scaled it back one. It is beautiful, but then I hit a firefight and the frame rate dropped to the point where I could barely follow the dog monsters in the dark. Two more firefights like this and it dawned on my I have the Turbo button. Once it got going and the turbo fan, because it was starting to warm my leg and it smoothed out.

In the transition I had to refill all my RSS feeds into my reader, because I use a desktop one. I have all the links and names with a notation in a word document, because a few years ago an error occurred that caused them all to be erased. At the time I had only about 30-50 feeds so I could reconstruct it from memory and my twitter followers. now it’s too big to take that risk. One by one I entered the list and checked the feed after they were all in (this took a few hours). I removed all that couldn’t be read, either because the site was deleted or because the owner had moved it to another url or hosting platform. Also got rid of the ones ended by their authors and any that had been around for a while but had not updated since 2009 or did not have enough updates for me to think they’d be coming back. This deleted 18 feeds. In their honor I will list those who have completely died below. ( I should probably update the sidebar, because I have learned that people new to game criticism do use it as a guide.)

Dead Blogs

Banana Pepper Martinis (ended)

Beeps and Boops (abandoned by time)

Bergsonian Critique (deleted)

Binary Swan (deleted)

Everyone’s Blog Posts – Video Games and Human Values Initiative (abandoned by url)

Fullbright (ended)

Game In Mind (deleted)

GamerQuest (deleted)

Graduate School Gamer (abandoned by time)

Graffiti Gamer (ended)

Hit Self-Destruct (ended)

Level Up (ended + deleted)

No More Lives (abandoned by time)

Noble Carrots (abandoned by leaving internet)

PixelVixen707 (ended)

Press Pause to Reflect (ended)

SLRC – So Long Rightous Comrade (ended)

Subject Navigator (abandoned by time)

All in all I’m loving this thing so far. Only have to get used to the keyboard; they keys are a little smaller than my previous laptop. Of course the laptop is only a tool for doing things, but it’s still one awesome tool.

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