Questing for a strange beast — a laptop I can use


I’m shopping for a laptop. This is not a trivial task. Here’s why:

– It has to be light enough for me to handle easily.  That right there is a huge barrier. I’m looking at 3 pounds or less — preferrably less.

– It has to be fast enough and strong enough to handle my dictation software, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, while running Windows Office plus whatever provides access to what I’m writing about — the internet, media programs, etc.

You can see the Dragon hardware requirements here:
http://shop.nuance.com/store/nuanceus/en_US/pd/productID.202412500
(click the Requirements tab to see the hardware specs)

I find that, in practice, it’s best to exceed their recommendations by 50-100%, in order to be able to run Dragon alongside the other stuff.  Windows writes crap code, meaning it’s cumbersome, demanding, redundant and sluggish; the same features, if written on a well-designed and well-described codebase, should take up about 1/80th the size of Windows’ codebase.  The damn thing is a monster.

But it’s the only OS that Dragon Professional handles well. Dragon was written to run specifically on Windows, so if I’m doing my budget I have to use Excel, and if I’m writing I’d better be using Word, or all sorts of wretched things happen.

I dream of the day when everyone takes 501 (adaptive-software) compliance really seriously. I dream of the day when they’ll hold off on production until they fix a bug that interferes with Dragon compatibility.  Mind you, I dream of a day when Dragon has real competition at the Professional SKU level.  I’ve tried the lower levels and, yup, all sorts of wretched things happen. (I had no idea my voice was so odd.)

Moreover, I’ve gotten my heart set on solid-state drives, after trashing my much-loved Acer Travelmate (2.8#!) by dropping it from a height of 3 feet.  $1,200 later, I had my data, but no hard drive.  Solid state drives are not bullet proof by any means, but their physical mechanism is totally different and it takes a lot more effort to trash them. As I am getting clumsier, this is getting more and more important.  I’ve filled up a 150 MB drive (despite considerable pruning, keeping music and books on thumb drives) and have nowhere to go, so it will have to be a rather large hard drive.

Fewmets: How I Know when I’m Getting Close

Between my lifting and handling limitations, and the hardware required of a system that could serve my purposes, we’re talking about a fairly exotic beast:

– 3# or less in total weight
– Multi-core CPU with a top speed of 3.5 GHz
– Cache size of 3 MB or better
– RAM of 6-8 MB (8 is better)
– 256 SSD hard drive
– A fast connector, like USB 3.0, to make external drives reasonable to use.
– Windows 7 Professional OS (Vista is against my religion)
– Insurance or warranty covering accidental damage, because it will get accidentally damaged and this is cheaper than a new laptop.

The hunt for such a strange creature is one heck of a challenge.  I feel like Sir Pellinore, King Arthur’s great-uncle, charging after the terrible Beast Glatisant, wearing shiny but battered armor and trailing a puppy on a string.

Of course, I feel the same way when looking for a cure, only more so.

I run into a similar problem with the cure as with the computer: affordability. You’ll see why.

The Long List

I’ve looked at Asus, Acer, Lenovo/IBM, Samsung’s 9 series, Sony, Toshiba, and even Mac, despite the obvious software issues. I have objections to how Dell and HP handle their chipsets and the Windows registry, in that order, so I don’t use them. Fujitsu makes nothing this light.

Neither the delicious ZenBook and MacAir, nor the workmanlike Thinkpads and Ideapads have the chip speed or RAM, more’s the pity.

Besides, though I like Mac, I can’t run my programs on it, and years of experience have taught me that a virtual Windows machine is just not the same as an actual Windows machine.

The Short List

I’ve found exactly two machines that come close to meeting my criteria:

Sony Vaio Z:
$3,100 as spec’d.

Benefits: 2.6#!
Drawbacks: DVD drive and USB 3 in port replicator.

Toshiba Portege R830:
$2,700 as spec’d.

Benefits: Has a built-in DVD drive!
Drawbacks: 3#.  (Due, no doubt, to the drive.)

Conclusions (so far)

The .4# difference is huge to me. It may well be worth the extra $400 (wherever they come from) because of the huge difference in grab-ability. Also, the extra ports on the Vaio’s port replicator are worth a lot.

So I’m leaning towards the Vaio on its features, but if I have to make the choice solely on price, I’ll go for the Toshiba.

In either case, the only thing to do with a really expensive laptop is to make it look like a total POS. So I’m thinking of a skin that will not only cover the brand name but look like a tire tread or barbed wire or something that growls through the hole in its lip, “Don’t touch me.”

Psychological tactics work, because crooks — especially amateurs — are ever so human. …And that’s another random life-lesson I learned from working in the ER.

Donations would be lovely, of course, but I hardly expect them. For those saintly people who want to contribute to this quest (and of course the quest for a cure), there’s now a button in the blue panel on the lower right for the purpose. May all good things come to you.

LINKS
Both of the lovely monster images were snagged from this blog:
http://archideaconalwhitterings.blogspot.com/2010/03/whitterings-april-2010.html

I got the tire tread image from this blog offering free designs:
http://creatingthehive.com/blog-post/143186/tires-amp-treads-free-mds-punches

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5 Replies to “Questing for a strange beast — a laptop I can use”

  1. I haven’t been able to go hands-free myself–I’m too hooked into my Mac. But the pain from typing was… well, I’m sure you can imagine. A while back I decided to get a Kinesis keyboard (the kind with the keys in two separate wells, where you actually need to sort of relearn how to type). After using it, I realized how crazy the design of regular keyboards is–they are designed to cripple people. I also no longer use a mouse (another disability-promoting pain generator!). I use a tablet device instead. I absolutely would not be able to keep my blog or email as much as I do without the Kinesis keyboard. It’s been a godsend. I still have to be careful and can’t push it too much, but it does allow me to type without wanting to scream. My pain level in general improved after I started using it. I know this isn’t what you’re in the market for, but I wanted to mention it in case anyone else is in a similar situation and needs to type, but finding it too painful and, for whatever reason, not able or wanting to use Dragon. (And not needing the portability of a laptop, I should add.)

    PS Your tread idea sounds good. I used to keep my DSLR camera in a children’s cloth lunch bag that I’d fitted inside with foam.

  2. I type a bit, but the thought of depending on it — and I’ve tried several keyboard styles — just makes my eyes cross. If I depended on keyboarding, I could not be a writer.

    Which just goes to show that it takes all kinds!

  3. You’ve put together a fantastic blog here. CRPS can be a devastating condition, but there’s little awareness of it among the general public. This post is a step in the right direction toward changing that.

    Please keep up the good work. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

    Best wishes, Alex.

  4. Bought the Vaio. It wound up being quite a bit cheaper because I landed on upgrade deals at the Sony website.

    Due to arrive at the end of January. We shall see what we shall see.

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