Friday, July 31, 2009

How to Buy a PC

I recently wrote my cousin a little how-to on buying a PC laptop.  She’s getting ready for her first year in college and needs a computer.  Not to sound like those PC commercials, I do think that you can get exactly what you need out of a computer without paying extra for the Apple name (now now, I’m a HUGE Apple supporter, so please extinguish your flames).  Here’s what I told my cousin:

Shopping for a PC (Macs are WAY easier) can be pretty daunting. There are so many choices, it's tough to figure out exactly what to look for. It took me a couple of months to settle on the machine I bought, and it was only after learning some of the nomenclature that I finally figured out what I wanted... so to cut to the chase, here's a quick guide to buying PC laptops:

1. More memory... this one's obvious. Memory is the single best upgrade for a computer. Buy one with as much as you can. 4GB is about right.

2. Dedicated Video... if you can afford it, dedicated video is the way to go. Basically what this means is that there is a seperate bank of memory for the video card, as opposed to "integrated" where the video shares memory with the rest of the computer. If you see "Intel GMA 45000MHD" or something similar, it's integrated video. If you see "NVidia" or "ATI", it's dedicated. If you don't play videos games much, and don't see yourself doing so, this is less of a concern.

3. CPU... Here's where it gets tricky. There are so many different CPU's out there (we're going to stick to Intel stuff, just to simplify. You don't want to get into the comparison between Intel and AMD) it's tough to know you're making a good choice. In order to make things simple, here's a tip: CPU's are categorized using a letter then a four-digit number. Only worry about the number. The higher the number, the better the CPU. You'll see clock speeds... GHz speeds... don't sweat that, as there's a lot more that goes into performance than the speed. Shoot for the highest number you can (anything 6400 or over). should be your best friend. If you go to their homepage, in the PCs & Laptops area, you'll see a link for "Laptops / Notebooks". Go there, and you'll find along the left side of the page, a search system. This is how I found the laptops I'm going to link to you. I searched under CPU Type for "Intel Core 2 Duo", Memory for "4GB", and various different screen sizes. I looked mostly at HP (my personal preference, feel free to check out others). Here are the ones that I thought were decent...

The first one (the HP DV6-1050) definitely has the most horsepower for the $$$, but is a touch large. The other two would be very good machines as well. I would suggest playing around with the search on newegg, and reading the reviews.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

So, Are There Any Questions?

I spend my entire working day answering questions and giving tips on how to use computers more effectively, both at work and at home. So I was thinking the other day, why not do that on Tux-Midwest as well? I've got decades of information stored in my head on subjects ranging from how to interface with a MySQL database using C++ on a Linux box to how to most effectively clean a laser printer. I think it's time for me to start sharing, don't you?

So if you have a question concerning technology, any technology, post it in a comment right here. I'll do my best to answer it in a future post, and if I don't know the answer, I'll do my best to find it. So post your questions here! I look forward to reading them!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

World of Warcraft... the Movie?

Direct from, I bring you rumors of a World of Warcraft movie.  Yes, that's right... a movie.  Actually, this shouldn't come as too big a surprise to the roughly 11 million subscribers who pay to play the world's most popular MMORPG.  It was really only a matter of time before somebody decided to exploit the popularity of this Guiness Book of World Records-holding triumph of time-wasty-ness for their own personal gain.

But don't get me wrong... I'm just jealous it's not me.

According to Miss Tanya Gupta of, Legendary Pictures, Blizzard Entertainment, and Warner Bros. will be working jointly on the film, and Sam Raimi of Spiderman fame has been hired to direct.  While no specific timeframe is set forth by Miss Gupta, she asserts that Raimi is slated to start work as soon as he's finished with Spiderman 4.

This could rock, or this could suck.  I, for one, will keep an open mind.  I like the Warcraft series.  It's got some great plot potentional.  I just hope that Raimi understands he's going to be dealing with some real fanatics, so staying true to the background of the game is going to be pretty important.  I say to you, Mr. Raimi:  Good luck!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Windows 7 is Beautiful

Anybody who knows me knows that I'm pretty much Linus Torvald's bitch.  I've been running one flavor of Linux or another since 2000.  I've written some pretty serious code on it.  I've hosted a couple of websites on it.  I've lived it, breathed it, and annoyingly evangelized it.  So the title of this post is, well, very out of character for me.

But it's true.

Microsoft's latest offering-to-be in the operating system world is, well, beautiful.  Based on Vista code, it's no great technological departure from where they were headed anyway.  Realistically, they've just taken the lessons learned (read as: sour grapes) from Vista and applied them to Windows 7.  For those out there who are thinking "Well crap, doesn't that mean Windows 7 is just the same pig with fresh lipstick?", I'll get to that in a few minutes, but for right now, let me just say... "No".  When you see the OS in action, it becomes quickly apparent they've taken people's complaints very seriously.

My Little Experiment

So what would possess me, a self-proclaimed Linux guy, to take a chance on Bill's latest OS?  Well, I've got a handful of applications that I run under Windows.  They're things like games (World of Warcraft, Warcraft III) and applications that have life-critical data (MS Money) stored in them.  Things that wouldn't run well in WINE, or are too sensitive to trust to WINE (which is basically permanent beta software).  My wife and I also store our digital picture and music collection on Windows SMB shares.  Yes, I could build some on a Linux box, but I decided a long time ago that easy is better than cool, and I could set up a Windows file share a lot easier under Windows than Linux.  Anyway, I've got a couple of good reasons to run a Windows box, so there we are.

A few months ago, my Windows XP home-brew desktop machine started acting up.  It refused to fully load web pages.  It didn't matter what browser I used, images and CSS would refuse to load, leaving web pages an unreadable mess, at best.  So instead of sweating it out trying to figure out what was going on, I decided to just reformat and reinstall the OS.  That's when I heard about the Windows 7 Release Candidate.  I decided to give it a shot.

Chrome, Chrome Everywhere

The interface guys over at Microsoft had a good time with this one.  The first thing you'll notice is the taskbar.  It's been completely revamped, showing only icons for opened applications.  At first I was skeptical about whether this would be enough, but I found the new organization easy to use, especially since all application names (and an active screenshot) are shown when the mouse cursor is placed over the application's icon.  The taskbar application shortcuts and the active applications sort of blend together on the taskbar, which creates an interesting, and very function, integration of active and available applications.

And speaking of organization, Microsoft introduces what they're calling "Libraries" in Windows 7.  A library is a collection of like-typed media, all sorted and organized for you.  This media could all be in once directory, or spread all over your heard drive.  The library brings it all together, sorts and organizes it, and makes it available to you from the left side of any Windows Explorer window.  While I find the added layer of abstraction a little annoying (as in: where are those files REALLY?), this feature will be extremely useful for every-day users.

Most of the interface is almost exactly the same as Vista, so anybody out there who has been using Vista for a while will feel right at home in Windows 7.  The Windows Explorer, file copy dialogs, and other system-level interface features look almost identical.  One thing you won't notice, at least not nearly as much, is the Windows User Account Control.  The UAC seems to have been toned down even more than Vista SP1.  It still picks on you a pick, but only when you're actually doing something that alters the operating system.

You Never Get a Second Chance...

I've got to say, my first impression of Windows 7 has been very positive.  I've only used it for a couple of hours, but so far it has met or exceeded my expectations.  I'll be writing more as I learn more, but for the moment, I'm giving it an A+ as a replacement for Windows XP and Windows Vista.  Check back for further information in Windows 7 RC.