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Thursday, January 22, 2015

4 More Years! ...Wait, I'm talking about my Alienware!

In a world where "The latest tech" is a feverish parade of consumerism driven by buying everything new ravenously--I reflect back on a massive $8800 laptop purchase I made back in 2011.

Let me add to my opening...I love my Alienware M18x laptop...profoundly. It has paid for itself multiple times over in productivity, power, efficiency, and style. I lost count how many random opportunities opened up simply because I was sitting down typing or working on this laptop in public. Most recent and memorable--Michael Rooker ran up to me at Wizard World, yelling out in his wonderfully gruff and familiarly evil voice: "That's the biggest fucking laptop I've ever seen!" as he ran over and caressed the side of my monitor. 

It is indeed a beautiful meld of design, of form & function, and has amazing modular options for upgrades. I'm closing in on my 4th year of having this amazing laptop in use. That said--all of my service and warranty options run out in August.  So I've begun researching my upgrades. Everything from processor to GPU's, memory, and a new set of SSD HDD's—I'm currently at 512 GB with 2 SSD drives which I got back when they were still novel for a laptop; and they were quite expensive at the time.

Prior to my M18x, I had a new laptop from HP--a Dv7 Quad Core. Which I purchased in 2009 in Boston at a local Microcenter (top of the line at the time), during a fabled mass-insanity convention that ended in robbery, kidnapping, and almost suicide for (and caused by) the organizer. 

I had just donated one of my Dual Xeon Workstations to an independent film project that was present and campaigning. The campaign needed money to buy computers and editing software. Since I had everything they needed in the tower, I went ahead and wildly donated it (to be returned when the film was completed) and bought myself the Dv7 I had my eye on for a couple of weeks. 

Even though there have been multiple conversations to get that tower back (still to this day) I doubt I'll ever see that pretty little beast again...but that's another story--I digress. 

The Dv7 I mentioned above, worked exceptionally well; however—right away—started having issues with the Blu-Ray drive and wouldn't work anymore after the first 3 months—due to a driver update by HP that was annoying to reverse. The laptop also started to get really hot by the 9 month as in I had a welt on my thigh where the laptop burned me. The battery which gave me over 8 hours of normal use died after 6 months and she went from exceptionally fast to exceptionally slow. Even with optimizations and being completely clear of viral infections—due to a variety of issues within the motherboard and CPU.

She ended up becoming a loaner laptop for staff in my company—as Katie Blair calls her: “The Haven Whore”. I eventually got this Dv7 fixed up outside of the warranty and sent her out to a few staff members that needed a PC to work on remotely. 

Because of the immediate need for a fully functional laptop to take on the road; I already had a powerful tower to work from home. I decided to completely replace everything, including the aging workstation in my home office with my current M18x. Mind you I've custom built every PC I've owned since 1997. 

Now--to say this was an expensive laptop is really not cutting it—it was over $8800 (Almost over 9000!) However, because of discounts I received for setting up a new business account with Dell. I was able to get everything for just under $5700. Not too shabby.

I find it hilarious now, almost 3 years later, when looking up the relevant upgrades for me to keep up with new trending tech and software in production, that people are actually upgrading (now) to the processor I currently use which is an amazing Dual Quad core i7 2920XM (Extreme Edition) 2.5GHz CPU that is overclocked and hits 3.2GHz. There was a revision to the laptop down the road from M18x R1 to M18x R2 which is in the 3rd generation of i7 processors. Where my laptop sits after a free motherboard and processor upgrade I received 2 years ago. 

It's pretty much insane in terms of its performance. The fact that this thing has never slowed down on me is amazing. I've only had one issue, and only one issue; which has driven me bonkers--to be fair, it has nothing to do with the laptop, it's a Windows 7 problem. That issue is called .NET Framework and I loathe this software with every fiber of my aging little black heart. 

I'll finally be upgrading this week to Windows 8 which gained somewhat of a stable service pack in 8.1 for 64bit processing. I had delayed myself in doing this upgrade because I really do not like Windows 8 and I usually wait to see if software updates help or challenge a system in its efficiency; however the .NET Framework issues don't exist in the same form there and will give me some functionality back that I've generally been complacent without. 

What I found interesting from putting together the list of items I'll be upgrading ended up throwing me back. In terms of cost, between the CPU, Graphics, Memory and HDD upgrades I'll be spending close to $3300 when all is said and done. While this would give me another 3-4 year bump, I wonder if it's time to simply buy another laptop? 

I use both Mac and PC for work. Editing on Mac's with FCP7, Avid, and/or usually Premiere Pro. Fuck FCPX—that is utter shit, I don’t need iMovie Pro in my life… Besides, FCP7 is still considered industry standard. My M18x laptop for the most part has outperformed the Macs I’ve been using. Including the Poor Mac I was using during my time editing Metro Life TV for Channel 7. That said, I'm already picking up a ridiculously expensive Mac Pro for work and the the damn GPU’s are optimized for FCPX (which I think is idiotic for it not to benefit any other software…WTF Apple!). It might be time to just cave in and get another Macbook Pro. I don't like the homogenous look the new Alienware laptops have but I love having the ability to work on all kinds of situations on the road and be able to play the games that I want to play without restraint. Sabrina already has her MacBook Pro—I’m good there.

After pricing out the new Alienware 17, I was surprised it didn't let me go as crazy as I did when I setup the M18x in 2011 where I nearly maxed out every option at that time going lightly on graphics and the maxed SSD’s because they were almost $2000 a piece at the time. This time around the full setup without any additional peripherals, with the exception of a new backpack (my old one is still in great shape but one of the shoulder straps is starting to fray). This laptop came out to just over $3300. Which means I shouldn't upgrade all of the parts of my current M18x. Doing so—I’d simply be gaining the highest 3rd Generation processor which isn't far from the 3rd Gen processor I have on mine at the moment. The only upgrade I should make is doubling my HDD space, doubling the memory to 32GB and maybe hopping the graphics a bit. 

Truthfully, I don't need the most up-to-date graphics, so I don't need to spend $1500 on two GTX 880M cards. I can grab a couple of 760M for $300 and if I'm feeling like that can't handle the highest settings of what I like to play on a PC I can always for $300 add the GPU Amplifier. 

Memory is easy--I have 4 dimm's at 4GB a piece so I have to replace all of it for the full 32GB but it's roughly $180 for 16GB of DDR3L @ 1600 MHz. Likely what I'll upgrade first. 

So I think I'll just do some minor upgrades between now and August and when the warranty officially runs out--I'll rebuild the AW17 Laptop at that time and max out a new one. Even if at that time there is a revision (which I’m hoping for) and it costs closer to $4-5K I’ll likely get another big discount with a business account and drop the price close to the $3300 I’ve seen recently. I'll give my M18x red beauty to my eldest daughter, Raven. While Milly, who prefers her iPad, doesn’t need a laptop yet. Sabrina has her aforementioned new Macbook Pro and I have my Mac Pro maxed out for production. I just need more Samsung 28” UHD screens.

It's interesting how upgrade parts sometimes don't really make a whole lot of sense. Maxing out to the current 3rd Generation of parts costs the same as simply buying a newly minted and maxed 4th Generation Laptop. I hate the look the new AW17 have and I hate there is no optional color choice as well as the screen being smaller. I love my red M18x but I guess that's just how the game is played. New has to be new and different. Trying to keep up-to-date for another 3-4 years has never been an easy thing with laptops. In retrospect I haven't had to worry about this thing for almost 4 years and even though I want to upgrade toward newer levels of power and efficiency, I really don't need to...this thing sings. I've used everything from the best HP's, Macbook Pro, the Razorblades, and Falcon Northwest Laptops...Alienware outdid all of those applications with this masterpiece. Even when I thought she was starting to get too hot recently (after 3 years of nearly always-on use). I just popped the bottom open, removed the fans and cleaned them out. She runs as cool and silent as she ran on the first day I unboxed her. I’ll still keep her on my giant 17” cooling pad which helps keep her running nice and cold. 

At least in a few months it won't be like I'm completely giving her up. My kid will be gaming and doing her online study courses from her STEAM program next to me while I'm working and playing on my new one. 

I do need to rebuild a new monster gaming tower, but I think I’ll leave that for Christmas in 2015.

My next random set of thoughts, which will likely be about the massive gaming table I'm building titled "The Empress" and a few other pieces of crazy furniture i'm dusting off my woodworking skills to put together are coming up. Until then I'll retire my thoughts…keep it classy internet.


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