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A month with an Inspiron 640m

So how has the little beastie faired over the last month or so? Remarkably well and I’m very impressed by it. Pretty much everything I’ve thrown at it (other than Vista and Windows XP x64) it has handled with ease.

I’m unfortunately relegated to using bog standard XP Professional but it does the job. If I was thinking, I should have installed XP Media Center but it’s bit late now and I don’t really want the hassle of installing it. Next time I do a reinstall it will hopefully be for Vista x64 with proper drivers!

I also found out fairly quickly that it’s not a games machine. Whilst the processor is up to the task, the weedy Intel GMA 950 isn’t. So I’ve been doing tasks that give the processor a kicking. One of the first things I did was create a DVD from the miniDV tapes of our wedding.

I was able to hook up my Sony Handycam via the 640m’s built in Firewire port (didn’t realise it had one until it arrived). Using Pinnacle Studio I pulled down the various bits of footage and used it’s editing tools to create something half decent. From there it made up a DVD image and burnt it off. The actual process of getting the video from miniDV isn’t a particularly quick process since Pinnacle pulls it down in real time, which means if the tapes an hour long, it’ll take an hour (I know that Ulead VideoStudio has an option to pull video down really quick, but it’s awful software).

What amazed me though was how stable the machine was when creating and burning the DVD image. It hardly stressed it and I was able to do a bit of web surfing without any problems. It seems that way with pretty much everything I’ve done.

I’ve also had it running VMWare (more on this in another post :D). I hooked up to a external USB hard drive to run the virtual machine images off (thanks Coding Horror) and was surprised by the performance! I created a machine with Windows 2003 Server and installed Delphi 5. I then did a full compile of our software at work and it was 50% faster than the Inspiron 8200 I use (admittedly it’s hardly a fair test since the 8200 has a 1.6Ghz Pentium M with just 512MB running XP. That said the VM has just 400MB!).

I’m also taken by how portable it is compared to previous laptops I’ve used. Oh and quiet! To not have a constant whirring of fans (hello Inspiron 9100!) is nice. When it’s under a really heavy load for an extended amount of time the fan does kick in, but it’s not that noticeable and I’d say the DVD drive, when burning a disc, is much noisier. I also initially thought the 14 inch screen would be too small but the “UltraSharp Wide Screen” option I added bumps the res up to 1440×900 which is more than enough.

Getting the 9 cell battery turned out to be good idea too since battery life on the whole is excellent. I can run it for an entire evening for about 5 to 6 hours before it goes flat. There are a couple of things that seem to devour the battery which is heavy use of the DVD drive and a wireless USB mouse I have (the bluetooth (I think) dongle for the mouse seems to communicate a lot with it which drains the battery pretty quickly), but that’s not much of an issue.

The machine as originally specced only had 512MB memory but when the order went through I bought another 1GB from Crucial (excellent service as always). However I found that with running VMWare 1.5 GB just wasn’t enough to run two virtual machines comfortably, so I’ve bought a further 1GB to replace the original 512MB. Plus the fact the 512MB stick ran at 533Mhz whilst the new GB sticks run at 667Mhz means there’s a slight speed boost (not that I can tell). I would really have liked to have had a 1 and 2GB stick (it can take up to 4GB), but 2GB costs an extortionate £500+. Ouch!

Niggles and problems, none at the moment, but there are some that may become a problem later on. Firstly I don’t feel like I’m doing the machine justice running XP. Yes, the VMWare stuff is giving it a hard time but the Core 2 Duo is fully blown 64bit processor and it’s just sat there tootling along running 32bit chaff. Which brings me to my second niggle, the lack of drivers for Vista and XP x64. Vista has now RTM’ed, but the outlook for good drivers in the near term isn’t looking rosy.

Overall, it’s turned out to be a very impressive piece of kit. I can’t see it being replaced anytime soon.

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