Ultrabook Purchase: A Process of Elimination

As forecast by my previous article, I’ve purchased a new ultrabook. Or as I’ve heard they say in England, I’ve purchased a new piece of kit.

I spent a lot of time evaluating my options. There is a bunch of cool stuff out there that I didn’t expect to see. I’ve been running on the Windows platform forever, but I didn’t want past history to lock me in. I also didn’t want to purchase something that I would feel like I had to replace in six months…. whatever I purchased needed to have the ability to last, although I might still swap it out soon. Who knows.

At the beginning of the year, I began doing research. I had been watching the various options passively in 2011 and 2012, but really didn’t plan to purchase one. I read some reviews and started making a plan. I think I had about 25 options on the table. There were regular laptops, ultrabooks, and even some tablet options (I figured I could mate a bluetooth keyboard and maybe do some work like that).

Last week, I visited my local Best Buy to see what options they had. Of my 25 items, they had about twelve in stock. I’ve purchased laptops online in the past, but I mainly was trying to meet a specification. Fastest CPU, highest amount of memory, hard drive capacity, etc. I had planned to potentially do that this time also, but within only a few minutes I knew I had a problem. The fastest machine didn’t mean what it used to. Features and functionality mattered more than it had in the past.

I started in the Windows PC section, and weight became a key issue almost immediately. I actually shot myself in the foot… I picked up some of the lightest machines first, in the low three pound range. After doing that, the heavier machines felt like they weighed forty pounds by comparison. And I suddenly found a requirement I hadn’t realized I had wanted: keyboard backlighting. I work in darker locations on a regular basis, so the ability to see the keyboard was going to be important. Also, some of the higher end models had touchscreens… cool to play with, but not really important to me. The ultrabook offerings were really starting to stand out. I went over to the full laptop section, and even to the desk PC section, but kept wandering back to the ultrabooks again and again.

I wandered over to the Apple section next. Both the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air were on my list of possible purchases. My various iPhones have served me well over the past few years, so I thought I might plug into the ecosystem a bit easier. I’ve been anti-Apple for a long time. Decent machines, but just too expensive for what you ended up with. They changed that with the various iOS devices… what they couldn’t solve for me in the desktop world, they nailed in the mobile device world. But, I digress.

Within a minute or two of playing with the Macs, I realized I was missing something big. The touchscreens I had played with on the higher end Windows ultrabook offerings were missing. This shouldn’t have been a problem for me, but it suddenly was. The Pro was nice and responsive, but felt very heavy. The Air looked great too as it has for years. But the interface started looking dated, and I couldn’t use the screen to change things. I wasn’t sure I loved the Windows 8 user interface, but it did feel more modern than those fancy looking Macs did.

With these thoughts, I left the store with plenty of things to consider but still empty handed.

Finally on Monday night, I decided to pull the trigger. Since my visit to the store, I had spent plenty of time working through the remaining options. I had basically narrowed it down to three potential options: the MacBook Air, the Asus Zen Prime Ultrabook, and the Dell XPS 12 convertible ultrabook.

Unfortunately, the Dell was fairly easy to eliminate, although it still makes me a bit sad because it was a simple thing. The shipping date for a purchase made on Monday night, January 21st, wasn’t until February 12th. That’s a long time to wait when there are other options out there. I also wanted to utilize some of the great financing offered by the HSBC Card Services Capital One Best Buy credit card. Dell’s financing offer wasn’t that attractive as it only offered six and twelve month interest-free options with a high minimum spend. I intend to pay it off early, but I like the flexibility in case I need it. The features were cool and I really liked the convertible option (even though I was worried about the durability). And for an ultrabook, it had 8GB of RAM, wuich was pretty impressive when comparing to some of the other ultrabooks that were available.

I ended up passing on the MacBook Air for two main reasons: the interface hurdle and my planned usage. I knew that no matter what, I was going to be dealing with a new interface. I hadn’t used a Mac in forever, and hadn’t even touched the Windows 8 up to that point. But deep down, I knew that Windows 8 could still be adapted to run like my Windows 7 machines, and I knew that the collective knowledge and familiarity would pay off. I would be struggling with the Mac for up to a week. My planned usage was a lot easier to nail down; I utilize Visual Studio and other development tools on a regular basis. Once I realized I was spending most of my time trying to figure out how I was going to rig up a MacBook Air to be able to run Visual Studio, I realized that the Asus Zenbook ultrabook was going to be the best choice for me.

On Tuesday morning I ordered the ultrabook and picked it up within about an hour or so. I’ve captured a number of first impressions on the device and intend to share them as soon as I can get them complied. Short answer is that as a developer, I find this to be a great machine. As long as the hardware keeps up, this should serve me well for quite a while. I’ll be putting it through its paces over the coming weekend and will share anything that I might learn.

Changes in My Technology Purchase Habits

I’ve had a serious problem that I’ve been able to repress for quite a long time. I’m a technology junkie. I used to make purchases all the time. I’ve been able to keep that at bay for quite a while, but the urge is coming back.

Over the years, I’ve made a lot of technology purchases. Desktops, servers, laptops… I’ve picked up my fair share. Initially I bought a few machines from retailers, and then I decided I could build it cheaper. That trend lasted for about ten years. A few years ago, I realized that I was spending a lot of money trying to build the ultimate machine, when I really didn’t need an ultimate machine.

That was a sad time in my life.

But I like to think pretend I was also ahead of the curve. Cloud computing technology was just starting to take off. The Web 2.0 fad was starting to die, and people were seriously starting to look at what the future of computing could be. Moving more and more things to remote data centers and using their processing power was going to be the next big thing. I didn’t need to have impressively cool hardware anymore.

But I still wanted it.

I learned to behave myself, though. I definitely still bought stuff, but not as many big ticket items as I had in the past. As a matter of fact, the machine I’m working on right now is three years old. I had to look it up. I couldn’t even remember the specs on it… only the magic of Gmail search saved me.

Actually, right there is the true indicator of much things have changed… from 1992 through 2008 I knew the specs of my primary PC by heart. Everything. Now I can barely remember anything about it. I found myself no longer caring nearly as much about things like clock speed, the architecture and technology of the chipset, or the boot time.

I’m struggling with what I want to purchase. The landscape has changed a lot, and I wasn’t paying attention. Nobody buys desktops anymore, right? Only laptops. Wait, nobody needs a laptop… a table will do everything you need. Wait, how about a Chromebook? Of course! But more importantly, what needs am I actually trying meet?

Technology has changed. Apple has completely changed how we think about things. Technology is no longer about specs, but about speed. I don’t care if the machine has the latest version of CPU, but if I open a program or an app and it takes longer than a second, I start getting frustrated. Is this reflective of me as a person, the generation I’m a part of, or society as a whole?

A few years ago, I purchased an iPhone to replace a number of devices that I had been carrying previously. It completely met my needs for things I would previously do on a laptop. Lately, however, I’ve noticed I’m not using that platform to its full potential any more, either.

Pictures of Cats

Exactly. Yeah, even with with that, I’m not sure how I lasted this long.

Persona Platform

After a multi-year hiatus, I’ve decided it’s time to begin rebuilding my online persona again.

Site Capture from 2009 through 2012

I started posting content my first website in 1998. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with online publishing ever since. Some people do a great job of creating fresh content and posting new information on a regular basis. I, on the other hand, have been somewhat hit or miss.

I’ve worked with many of the popular content creation platforms. Blogger, Movable Type, Squarespace, DasBlog, Subtext, ExpressionEngine, TypePad, WordPress, BlogEngine.NET, etc. I was never quite happy with any of them, but that was mostly my problem, not a problem with the platform itself.

Being a developer, I decided to try my hand at building my own platform. I was sure I could do it better than anyone else. I picked up a few clients, and worked really hard on it. Unfortunately I never set a definitive road map for the product, so it floundered before I closed the business a little over three years ago.

This site will be less blog and more individual articles that I decide to publish. If it goes well, the content should range all over the place.

Control Z

So, remember a few weeks ago when I posted that I was taking a new job?

Oops.  Things didn’t work out.

As of Friday, I’ve gone back to Associated Bank and have been able to resume my previous position with the Online Banking team, and I’m definitely looking forward to the challenges that 2009 will bring.   So, it feels like I did a Control+Z and did an Undo of most of December.

I never had a problem with the work I did at Associated, and I’m very happy to return.  When I chose to leave, It felt like it was time for a new challenge.  Unfortunately, the new challenge came with a price - more driving than I was able to handle.  With over 800 miles in four days, I felt like I was farther away from the boys than ever.

I definitely could handle the job, it wasn’t a problem of skill set or anything else.  When I was consulting with Integrated, I was generally limited to the Northeastern Wisconsin area.  When I joined with TCS, I found I was all over the state, even down in Illinois.  I’ll take responsibility for not understanding the requirements of the job, but as a single dad, it was too much to be that far away.

So, when the opportunity to go back to Associated Bank presented itself, I decided to take it.  And it turns out, I’m happier for the experience and definitely appreciate my position with the bank that much more.

Painful Season

Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

It has been horribly difficult to watch the Packers play this year.  They looked okay at first, although Ryan Grant’s running game was a little off at first.  They they had a few losses, and then a huge win against the Colts.  Going into the bye week, it looked like there were finally coming together.

Oops.

Since the bye week, they’ve lost 6 of their last 7 games.  Too many of those have been close games that have been lost in the last few minutes.  Unfortunately though, it just doesn’t matter how well you play for the first 55 minutes when you lose it in the last 5.

Don’t be fooled, there’s talent there.  Somewhere.  But it obviously just isn’t coming together as expected.  I’ve seen reports that the Packers have been eliminated from the playoffs… no kidding.  But that’s not the worst of it.  The worst part is the last regularly scheduled game on the 28th… against the Lions.

I know, I know… my hometown team is having one of the worst seasons on record.  But here’s the problem.  If they lose against the Saints, and they most likely will, they’re going to throw everything into that last game.  Everything.  Plus, all eyes will be on the game at Lambeau to see if the Lions go 0 for 16.

The Packers had better make sure they take that game seriously and win it, because they keep finding new ways to lose them.  The Pack CANNOT be the team that gets beaten by the 0 and 15 team…  this town gets cold when the team loses one game.  Imagine how frigid it would be if we lose that one.  Imagine the questions that will be asked for the next 6 months…