I had a lot of fun last night. I was doing some testing for work and the poor performance I was seeing on my personal Athlon64 3200+ laptop was bothering me. Looking at the diagnostics I noticed the CPU seemed to be running massively under-clocked - it came up as 797MHz or 800MHz depending on the tool, when it should be 2.0GHz. So I spent a few hours trying to fix that. Tried different power settings, Tried updating the CPU driver. Tried updating power management. I searched online and found threads about the problem which had various suggestions and tried many of them. Of course most of these things required multiple reboots, so it took a while.
Nothing helped. Eventually I found a BIOS update note from HP which said something like "Corrects issue with incorrect processor speed under WinXP SP2." This laptop is old enough (March 2004) that it came with WinXP, I don’t think it was even SP1. So this may have been a lurking issue I just haven’t run into in my normal use.
Fine, so I downloaded the BIOS updater and ran it. It seemed to go fine, marching through all of its steps, and then announcing it was finished and stating that the machine needed to restart to complete. So I said yes and the machine shut down.
I power it back up - fan starts, LEDs light... and nothing. No beeps, nothing on the screen.
I knew what that meant, the BIOS was gone. Still I tried several restarts and different tricks, hoping it was just being recalcitrant. No luck.
I’m a pack-rat, so I still have the original shipping box, with all the recovery disks, docs, packing slip, etc. I dug that up and called HP support. Then I got to deal with a phone drone who, while a pleasant enough chap, started by stating my video card had died. Which I knew was bullshit. I kept pointing out that the very last thing I’d done was to update the BIOS and there was no way it was a coincidence that the machine bricked immediately thereafter. And also that a dead video card would not prevent POSTing - no beeps at all. And even if the screen were dead and not displaying any screens that should come up, bashing keys should still make it beep too - and it didn’t.
Eventually he put me on hold to talk to someone else, then came back and pronounced that my BIOS must be trashed. As if that were news to me. Yes, thank you, now can we move on to what I have to do to get it fixed?
So now I’m paying just over $300 for HP to FedEx me a box which I pack the laptop into to FedEx back to them so they can swap the motherboard, apparently the only fix to a dead BIOS, and then FedEx it back to me - in 7-10 days. I’ve already yanked the hard drive, otherwise they’d factory reset it on me.
It is a HP Pavilion zv5000z and I’ve kept it for so long because it has been very reliable, and it is very comfortable. The ergonomics are great for me. I really like the rounded front edge, no corner to dig into my wrists - which this Dell D620 from Sling is already doing, painfully. And I’m a big guy, with big hands, so the keyboard on the HP was nice as it is a larger laptop. But it isn’t a super-jumbo 17" screen model, which I think are just too big unless you never move it. The 15.4" size is big enough for 1680x1050, bit still small enough to fit in a decent roller bag and take on planes. (If I were a road warrior I might appreciate a smaller and lighter model more.)
And even though it is 4.5 years old, it really isn’t that shabby for normal use. Even being under-clocked (if it really was and that wasn’t some other issue - I never did get far enough to tell since it bricked) it handled day to day use fine, and I would Sling on it with no problem. So I’m going to pay to have it fixed, if only to be able to easily pull the data off of it and to be able to pass it on to someone. I usually have a friend or two willing to buy my old laptops for their kids or something like that.
But this has gotten me seriously thinking about finally getting a replacement. I’m thinking about the HP dv5z, which seems to be the descendant of my current model. Spec’d out the way I’d get it, it is about $1,400. (Turion X2 Ultra 2.2GHz, 2GB RAM, Vista Ultimate 64-bit, 15.4" 1680x1050 display, Radeon HD 3450, 802.11a/b/g/n w/BlueTooth, Blu-ray drive, etc.) I’ll probably shop around a bit just to see what else looks good. Hopefully whatever I pick will last another 4-5 years. EDIT: Ah, this is how I spec’d it out.
And no, Macs are not being considered.
OK, since then a few things. I received the box, and my laptop is now packed in it - sitting in the trunk of my car. I keep getting caught up with work and not making it to the FedEx office before they close. I'm going to really try to do that tomorrow.
But first there was a bright spot. A while after a bought my laptop usagijer bought the same model with only slightly different specs, and he's since passed it on to delenn1122. They were kind enough to allow me to borrow it for a couple of days so I could pull the drive out of my laptop and drop it in their's. That allowed me to copy all my important data onto a USB drive, as well as having various applications forget all my stored passwords - just in case the repair center guys get any ideas. Fortunately I had a laptop from Sling on hand, a Dell D620, and I've switched to using that for now. I don't like it as much - the screen is smaller, and of lower resolution (1440x900), and the keyboard just feels different and not as comfortable. Same with the touch pad. It isn't a *bad* laptop by any means, just not as nice to use as my HP. But it is MUCH faster, a Core 2 Duo T7200 @ 2.0GHz. Yeah, same physical clock, but two cores and a few generations later. That part I like. But it lacks BlueTooth, which I use. And it isn't *mine*, so I'm wary of putting too much personal stuff on it.
So, as I said above, I was looking at a new laptop. This is the way I spec'd it out. I debated buying it because of the price, $1532.99 with $120 instant rebates, so it'd be $1412.99 before tax. But after I'd posted it elsewhere, someone sent me a coupon code for $200 off and I pretty much decided to do it. But I hadn't been sleeping much at all last week (this week is better, but still not enough) and I decided to wait a few days to think it over. By Sunday I had decided to buy it - but when I went to check out I found out the coupon had expired. And now, knowing I'd had the coupon, I was reluctant to buy it for the full price.
So I decided to wait and see if a new coupon popped up this week. (HP lets you keep items in your cart for 7 days.) Well, today I found one - for $500! It doesn't stack with the instant rebate, so i lost that, but that's still $380 in additional savings. So yeah, I ordered it. $1032.99 before tax, $1084.64 all-up. I don't think that's bad for what I spec'd out. Since it is custom order the site tells me my estimated build-date is October 2, 2008. So I have a few weeks to wait, but I have the Dell in the meantime. And yeah, it means diving into Vista. But now that SP1 is out Vista isn't so bad really.
I figure I'll re-image my old laptop (with WinXP) when I get it back, if they haven't done so already, and then sell it. It is in good condition and, really, for most users would work just fine. Athlon64 3200+, 1GB RAM (I upgraded that, I think it was 512MB when I bought it - can go to 2GB), GeForce4 440 Go 64M graphics, 15.4" 1680x1050 screen, 60GB HDD, DVD/CD-RW drive, built-in multi-format card reader, 802.11b/g, BlueTooth, etc. A pretty decent machine, it was a higher-end model when I bought it in March 2004. And when I get it back, it'll probably have a new motherboard. I have the original packaging, all the discs, etc. Everything I believe, down to the packing slip. Here's the HP page on it, and here's a CNET review. So if you're interested let me know. I'll probably end up selling it for less than it is costing to have it fixed, but I just couldn't see letting a decent machine go to waste for want of a BIOS fix.