6 Sep 2004 rossigee   » (Journeyer)

My laptop is now falling apart. It's a Dell Inspiron 8100. I bought it when I was fortunate enough to be able to afford it. After two years of (ab)use, it now has the following problems:

  • The two batteries I bought with it no longer hold their charge. One doesn't even work any more, and the other powers the computer for about 2-3 mins before dying. However, if I can get from my current power point to another one within 2 minutes, I don't need to shut it down! Replacement batteries are around 200quid each, which is beyond my current budget. So, despite having wireless everywhere I go, I'm still tethered to a wall, and use in fields, cars, trains and aeroplanes is out of the question (lucky I've got an iPAQ, I suppose).
  • The power adaptor plug that plugs into the back of the laptop is beginning to get ruptured and goes to battery . I had to replaced the whole mains adaptor (for about fifty quid, IIRC) last year after the same thing happened. Unfortunately, if someone knocks the laptop, and/or I don't notice it go from 'mains' to 'battery' power, it dies. This is kind of my own fault, as I'm always moving my laptop around and not making sure the power cord isn't trapped somewhere, so it's been stretched and bent around probably more than it should. More easily replaceable (and universal) power connectors (that don't require replacing the whole adaptor) would be nice.
  • Worse still, the keys are starting to stick and fail. I regularly have to take off the keyboard and blow out all the dust, hair and biscuit crumbs with an air hose. The letters have mostly all worn off the keys, which I remedied by buying some stickers for the keys (which have now started peeling at the corners). Nearly half the left 'Ctrl' key has snapped, luckily not the part that allows it to operate. The metal springs that work the carriage return and backspace keys seem to have been bent somehow, and take some striking. I've lived with all this until recently, when my 'H' key has started to become temperamental. Again, it's because of the serious amount of use it gets. It's my daily workhorse, and evening hacking tool. I spend more time on my laptop than in any other pursuit in my life, so it's not that surprising it's worn out. Using an external keyboard with a laptop just feels *wrong* for some reason.
  • If the laptop is placed on an uneven surface (e.g. my lap), the rubber mouse thingy in the middle of the keyboard thinks it's being moved and the mouse cursor glides itself to the side of the screen. Luckily, that mouse has stopped functioning altogether, leaving me with the touchpad mouse, which I can get on fine with. It's a shame they stopped doing the rollerball mice - they were fantastic.
  • The screen is a fantastic 15.4" 1600x1200 LCD panel. Unfortunately, it started becoming temperamental about 8-9 months after I bought it, and I had to send it back to DELL to be fixed. Meanwhile, I went to Thailand, and after it was fixed, sent over to me and finally cleared Bangkok customs (never again!), I found that it has some strange vertical stripes that happen in every even 10th of the screen from left to right. They come and go, and are only noticable by a brightening of the color in some lines on that part of the screen. It looks hardware-related to me, but I've learned to live with it (not worth sending it back again). Oh, and I've lost a tiny screw at the back, which means the screen comes away from the laptop on the left if picked up by the screen (not that I ever do that!).
  • NVidia - wankers. I have been deprived of any kind of 3D acceleration, because of these twats. I was looking forward to flying (and hacking on) FlightGear, and playing some other Linux games that require 3D acceleration, but eventually had too many technical (and moral) problems using the binary-only driver, so I gave up and used the open source version without 3D (more work, less play - maybe NVidia is to blame for Johnny becoming a dull boy). Needless to say, my next laptop will not have an NVidia chipset in it.

Otherwise, I've been very impressed with the laptop, and it's done me very well. However, every day I use it and get vexed with the increasing number of problems, I am considering my next laptop purchase. I see a lot of GNOME hackers getting on famously with the Apple hardware, and dual-booting MacOSX with Linux, which could be very interesting. However, I'll have to see how long I can make this one last, as it'll probably still be a few months before I can afford anything more than a budget PC. Either way, before I buy this time, I'll want to be very sure about proper (non-proprietary) Linux support for all the components it is made from.

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