Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Presario F572us: The One month after review

It's already been a month since I got this new notebook! So, what I thought I would do, is try to post every month a recap of my experience with it so far. Obviously i can't write everything into a single post, but I'll try to cover the most important things in an interview Q&A style for more fun

  • One-sentence conclusion: It has exceeded my expectations.
  • Negatives? Battery life is 2 hours and change (you can get the HP 12-cell that doubles the battery life, but that's around $150 more)
  • Number of crashes/freezes: Two, both dealing with optical media
  • Biggest surprise: Much nicer overall than what I expected for a sub-$500 notebook
  • Would be nice if it had: built-in memory card reader, expansion slots/full dock support, TV card. But then again if it had all that, it wouldn't be a $500 laptop :(
  • I didn't think three USB ports would not be enough, but just like RAM, hard disk and cash, you can never have too much!
  • Tip: I always keep the computer on the notebook chillpad. It has two benefits: One it cools the computer off (more efficient than it looks with those tiny little fans), and the 2nd benefit is that the bottom of the computer has a buffer between it and the surface. You really don't want to be sitting at a coffee shop only to discover after you come home that the person sitting there before you was eating sticky buns or spilled his caramel whipped cream with chocolate syrup crappaccino all over the table ;-) And if I am near another computer (eg desktop) I "steal" its USB power to power the chillpad instead of eating up the laptop's battery (although I'm sure this is a small amount)
  • The speakers are not bad, I was expecting something like those you get in the LCD monitors, but they are better than that. Obviously don't compare them to a Bose or Denon or marvel in audio.
  • As far as USB connections, everything I tried has been smooth so far: One USB mouse, one memory-card card reader, two USB flash drives (Sandisk and Toshiba), and of course the chillpad
  • If you are not familiar with the pointy device (ok pointing device, or touch pad in computer-speak), you will get the hang of it with practice, but it's obviously nowhere near as efficient as a mouse if you were born with a mouse in your hand :) You do have the option of turning it off or on. Actually using it along with the mouse can be even more effective. For example if you are touch-typing and you just want to move the mouse cursor a bit or click on something quickly, you don't have to move your hands off the keyboard
  • Despite the two freezes, the optical drive seems to be okay as well. It is super multi-format, and I tried DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM with it. I have yet to try DVD+R/+RW or anything dual/double layer. I haven't tried lightscribe either. All my blank media is shiny silver, not lightscribe. But that's something to expect an answer to in my next monthly report, approximately one month from now - give or take a few hours/days/weeks/months :)

    But I'm by no means an evangelist for the Compaq Presario F572us, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time in front of the right sale. There are plenty of other great notebooks.

  • Sunday, August 26, 2007

    The 12-cell HP EV089AA laptop battery is compatible with the Compaq Presario F572us

    As I mentioned in an earlier post, I would try to find out if the 12-cell HP battery is officially compatible with the F572. So I asked the online Compaq/HP customer support and they confirmed that the 12-cell HP EV089AA notebook battery is compatible with the Compaq Presario F572us. In theory it should double the runtime, although one notebook forum user said he got as much as five hours. This obviously depends on what type of applications one is running and things like that. The price at the HP/Compaq website is $150 with free shipping. Sells for less online or at brick and mortar stores, especially when on sale (I believe it's $130 at Staples starting Sunday August 26)... I am not going to get the 12-cell battery right away, but when I do, I will write about it right here right away!

    Saturday, August 25, 2007

    New laptop blog launched: Notebook Bargains is up and running

    New blog: Notebook Bargains is up and running. As the name suggests, this blog will cover notebook and laptop computer bargains, sales and specials from the net and from brick and mortar stores. As seen by this F572 and the $450 Acer this week, you can get a value-packed notebook computer, with 1gb RAM, supermulti DVD burner and a few extras for under $500. Obviously it won't be as fast or efficient or as high-end or featured-packed as a $1200 notebook, but not everyone has a money tree in their backyard :) But beware, notebooks can become very addictive, and they are an expensive hobby if you want buy them all :)

    Official Compaq website for the Presario F572us

    This model is not listed in the current line-up of HP/Compaq notebooks. They actually only feature very few models. But you can always search for it/them by model name. Here is the official Compaq/HP page. They also have the specs listed in summary or in-full (printer-friendly page), and you can also download the specs in a PDF file (1.4MB). There is also a link to register it.

    The Compaq/HP Support page for this model is here.

    The model # is F572-US, not F572, there is also an F572-AU (Australian?) version according to the support site. The part # also identifies the whole computer and it is GF596UA#ABA for this unit. You may have noticed this number in the url of the official Compaq/HP page that I posted above. Directions from Compaq on how to locate these physically on the computer or via software (SI)

    Compaq has five PDF files under Manuals. I haven't read them or even downloaded them yet, so I can't help much there (but I will eventually and post an update)

    If you are looking for official HP/Compaq parts and accessories, check the HP Parts Store and enter the model # of this notebook. You can also search by category (eg batteries). Ironically the Compaq site says "your product is not supported for a Vista upgrade". Of course this comes with Vista pre-loaded, so I'm not sure what they are thinking. They should fix it otherwise they may confuse current or potential buyers and users :)

    They also have user-support forums on their website, but they are not by model name, but rather by general category (eg Presario/Pavilion notebooks forum). Here is what a search for Presario 572us produces

    Thursday, August 23, 2007

    HP dock, and three notebook deals (Toshiba, Acer and Compaq)

    I forgot to mention this before, but this computer is not directly compatible with HP computer docks, at least not fully functional since it does not have a place to ...dock. There are obviously USB options, but it's just another one of those trade-offs when you buy a sub-$500 notebook computer like the Compaq Presario F572us.

    Speaking of sub-$500 notebook computers, there's a couple of them on sale right now. Both are while supplies last type of deals, so your mileage may vary:

  • Office Depot Computer Design Center: Compaq Presario V6000z notebook computer start costs $300 after mail=in rebates of $15. Specs: Processor is not named, 512mb RAM (DDR2), 80GB hard disk, burns CDs and plays DVD (no dvd burner), Windows Home Vista Basic, and wireless 802.11b/g. Available upgrades: AMD Athlon™ 64 X2 Dual-Core TK-53 for $75, 1gb RAM for $75, 1-year Accidental Damage Protection & Express Repair also $75. Shipping and handling is extra but not specified.
  • CompUSA: Acer AS3690 2970 with Intel Celeron M520, burns cds and plays DVDs (no dvd burner), 512mb RAM, 80gb har disk, Windows Vista Home basic for $350 without any rebates. Please note that quantities are limited.
  • Office Depot: Toshiba Satellite A135-S4666 notebook, Intel® Pentium® dual-core processor T2080, $450 after $150 Mail-In Savings, with 15.4" TRUBRITE™ WIDESCREEN, 1gb DDR2 memory, 80GB hard drive, reads and writes DVDs & CDs via the Double Layer drive, Microsoft® Windows Vista™ Home Basic Edition, and Integrated 802.11b/g wireless LAN. An Office Depot exclusive model (according to ODP)
  • Some bargain "accessories" for laptops at Comp USA: A 22" widescreen LCD monitor, model G22LWK, brand name not mentioned, that costs $200 after $70 in two mail in rebates. Also a Targus Rechargeable Bluetooth laser mouse for $10 (after a $40 mail-in rebate). At Office Depot: Logitech V150 Laser mouse $10, Microsoft digital media pro keyboard $20, Targus notebook chill mat $20, Targus 4-port ultra mini USB hub for $10, and Ativa 1gb U3 Smart USB USB 2.0 flash drive $10.

  • Wednesday, August 22, 2007

    The Compaq Presario F572us on sale online

    This guy is on sale right now as part of Staples web-only online deals. The $480 price is after a $30 rebate and an instant discount. You can also get the HP Deskjet D1341 printer for free after a $70 rebate. Details at the bottom of this page. I do not know when the online sale ends or if you can get the Staples stores to match their website's price. You can probably get them to price-match this though: You can also get the F572 this week at Circuit City for $450 without rebates as I mentioned earlier this week, on Sunday. On this very link, there are also links to two other user reviews of the Presario F572 posted at the NoteBookReview.com forum.

    If you want to dig around the offiical HP/Compaq websites for more details on this notebook, I have assembled some of the links here

    One thing that I am still not sure on this model is whether the 12-cell HP battery is officially compatible with the F572. It doesn't show as an accessory on the HP Parts Store page, but this could be because the F572 is a separate model series from its sister notebooks. Some people in the user reviews mentioned here state that the battery does work with the notebook and increases battery life significantly. That battery can be found on sale at around $100, so it seems like a reasonable trade-off for those who want an extra battery and increased run time at the same time. I will try to find out more in the next few days!

    Update 8/24: I have found the answer to the question of the 12-cell HP battery

    Tuesday, August 21, 2007

    Accessory #3 Review: Sandisk 1gb Cruzer Micro SDCZ4-1024

    I got it at Office Max for $10 on sale this week. (You can also price-match it at your favorite retailer since it is featured in this week's Office Max circular ad).

    The Sandisk code on the back is SDCZ4-1024-AB10. Software included: Cruzer Lock 2, and trial versions of Pocket Cache and CruzerSync (in case anyone cares :)

    This is a silver/gray USB Hi-Speed 2.0 stick, with a green light that shines bright during connection and use. If you find the light annoying or if you use the computer in dark places, this may be a pro or a con, depending on your preferences. Compatible with Vista, 2000, XP and Linux. For Windows 98SE you can download the drivers from Sandisk.com. Click on the Downloads tab to quickly get to the drivers. Going through the product pages is a roundabout. As if those two sites were designed on different planets. (Certainly not the only website that has a split personality like that). The drivers come in a .Zip file.

    No U3 or ReadyBoost. ReadyBoost is a Vista feature that allows Vista to use the flash drive for its own purposes. Sort of like temporary expansion memory. When I installed this, Vista showed the Ready Boost option was active for this flash drive, but I did not test it (yet). The drive is not advertised as a ReadyBoost drive... U3 allows you to replicate your computer experience regardless of which computer you use (sort of). Some of the software participating in U3: Firefox, Mozilla, Trillian, Skype (eBay's user to user communications program), Open Office, a Weather Bug, games and more. Some may find this useful some may not. But anyway, this USB flash drive does not have U3 :-)

    The USB drive comes in a tight blister pack, which is very annoying to open. And I'm not the only one who thinks that. There are even detailed websites with tips on how to open blister packs. Even a Wikipedia entry. And you can always google something like "how to open a blister pack" for even more tips. There's apparently a number of products that are advertised/marketed for exactly this purpose! The things one learns from the internets :)

    Crash #2, Accessory #3 , Performance and ...fingerprints

    In today's episode, we get Accessory #3, we get our 2nd crash (also media related) and talk about some performance numbers.

    Crash #2
    The second crash was also related to the media drive. Coincidence? I put a CD-R with mp3s in the cd/dvd tray. The Vista menu came up asking me what to do. One of the options was to import it (using Roxio Import). Since I am doing this snail-pace review, I decided to try it out. The Roxio Import program started up but immediately froze the whole computer. Nothing worked. Not even ALT CTRL DEL. The only thing that worked was press and hold the Power button to turn the machine off. After a restart it came up fine, and the files were smoothly transfered to the hard disk using Vista's Windows Explorer.

    Accessory #3 Revealed!
    Accessory #3 is a Sandisk Cruzer Micro 1gb USB flash drive (stick) that on sale for $10 at Office Max. I started writing about it and the post grew longer, so I decided to give its own accessory review post right here :-)

    Performance
    Copying an Imation CD-R (not sure what speed) of mp3 files from the CD drive to the hard disk had an average transfer rate of 2.2MB/sec. Copying mp3 files from a Sandisk 1gb Cruzer Micro USB stick to the hard disk drive had an average transfer rate of 11.5 MB/sec. Ouch for optical? :)

    Fingerprints
    No this laptop does not have a fingerprint security technology, but its cover attracts fingerprints like bees on honey. Most of the suggestions I found with regards to laptops are for the screen, but there are some that talk about fingerprints from the laptop cover (the top of the laptop when it is closed down). I am having a blank on the formal name. Apparently Mac users ran into this problem with their sleek looking black Macs. Here is a Google Search that has some answers

    Sunday, August 19, 2007

    Two other user reviews and the F572us is on sale this week: $450 at Circuit City (no rebates)

    The Presario F572us is back on sale at Circuit City for $450 without rebates. But of course you can still take advantage of any rebate offers that apply for additional savings (eg printer or software purchases).

    There are two other user reviews of this laptop at the NotebookReview forums. One by pac1687 and another by mikelets456. Check them out! Notebookreview.com is a great resource for laptops, but becareful not to become addicted to laptop buying and accessorizing :-)

    A couple of more accessory items on sale have been added to the the earlier thread of Sunday paper ads. And I have bought Accessory #3. But that will be revealed at a later post... (I hate to close a post on a cliffhanger, but I doubt anyone really cares :)

    But the F572 at Circuit City is not the only bargain laptop deal this week at the retail chain stores. For example, there are a couple of very promising deals at Office Depot: a similarly spec'ed Toshiba Satellite A135 at $450, and a Gateway MT3421 at $500. You have to send in mail-in rebates to get those prices at Office Depot. The F572 @ Circuit city is without rebates.

    Accessory Deals in the Sunday paper (8/19/07) [added lots more!]

    Here are some laptop/notebook low priced accessories that might be of interest, advertised in the Sunday paper (8/19/07):

  • Notebook cable lock $25 at Office Max
  • 1gb Sandisk 1gb USB flash drive $10 at Office Max
  • 2gb Verbatim StoreNGo USB flash $20 @ OfficeMax
  • Sony MicroVault Classic 2GB USB stick $20 (rootkit???) at Staples
  • 4gb Sandisk Cruzer Micro with Ready Boost for Vista $35 (ReadyBoost allows Vista to use the free space on the flash drive for its own purposes!) at Circuit City
  • 4gb Sandisk Cruzer Micro with Ready Boost for Vista $40 at Best Buy.
  • 2gb Sandisk Cruzer Micro with Ready Boost for Vista $25 at Best Buy.
  • Logitech® V320 wireless optical notebook mouse $25 @ Staples
  • Logitech LX7 optical cordless mouse $35 at Office Max
  • Staples® 19" LCD monitor $190
  • Clearance 19" wide LCD monitors from Viewsonic and Acer for $150 at Staples
  • 50% Targus messenger and backpack bags at Best Buy
  • Bundle: Microsoft wireless optical laptop mouse and Rocketfish wireless keypad with full size keys for $28 together at Best Buy
  • Targus mini USB hub $10 at Office Depot
  • Microsoft notebook optical mouse 3000 $15 at Office Depot
  • Targus USB ultra mini keypad $15 at Office Depot
  • Targus notebook chill mat $20 at Office Depot
  • HP high capacity 12 cell rechargeable battery $100 at Office Depot. For HP Pavilion dv2000/6000; Compaq Presario V3000/6000 according to the Office Depot circular ad.
  • HP notebook quick dock $110 at Office Depot. According to the ad: Compatible with all HP Pavilion model dv2000/6000/9000 and HP Presario V3000/6000 series notebook computers
  • Targus Groove notebook backpack $15 after $10 mail-in rebate at Office Depot
  • More Microsoft accessories at Office Depot for $20 each: Lifecam VX-100 (webcam), wireless optical mouse 2000, and Digital media pro keyboard. (Office Depot)
  • Sandisk 1gb Cruzer Micro USB flash drive with U3 for $15 @ Office Depot as well

  • Friday, August 17, 2007

    Quick hitters (Recharging, Roxio and Fry's deals) [updated]

  • Recharging time: Charging while using the notebook seems to take about as long as the battery lasts: around 2 hours and change. I haven't measured (re)charging without using the computer, and I do not know if it makes a difference in recharge time
  • The Roxio Basic edition included with the computer will not allow you to make copies of your store-purchased DVD movies. This is yet another example of DRM Gone Wild. While I strongly support protecting people's intellectual property, the average consumer should not be treated like a thief by the media companies. The average consumer is their primary customers, they buy the movies and cds! Sony's rootkit debacle is a classic example of DRM gone wild. The upcoming DRM-free music stores by Amazon and Google (GBot or something like that) are perhaps a sign of common sense returning. Why am I whining about this? People want to make backups of their CDs and DVDs in case of media failure, or if they have kids who think the DVDs become shiny freesbies after they watch them :)
  • Another obscure DRM silliness that HP/Compaq has imposed on this computer is that you can only change the region code 5 times. I do not know if there are any workarounds.
  • Speaking of which the DVD drive is an Optiarc DVD RW AD-7530B. And the hard disk drive is a Hitachi HDD HTS54... (I forgot the rest)
  • If you are looking for notebook deals, here is what they advertised in the newspaper by Fry's Electronics - mostly Toshiba models A135, A215, U305, and P205.
  • Also advertised is an HP Quickdock "Home Base" for $100 (no dock model # is listed, so I cannot tell whether it is compatible with this notebook (the Compaq Presario F572us)

  • Thursday, August 16, 2007

    HP exceeds Wall Street expectations, laptops hot sellers!

    And a quick note on dollars and sense: HP reported their quarterly results today. They exceeded expectations and the segment with the biggest sales jump is the personal computer system segment, which includes the notebook and desktop computers! The stock climbed almost $1.50 in after-hours trading after the announcement was made. My computer purchase is included in this quarter's report!

    Monday, August 13, 2007

    Why did I get this one?

    Usually when I make a big purchase I spend time evaluating and comparing different models and things like that. But in this case, I didn't follow the normal process, but not by design. I was at a store and I saw that this notebook was on sale and it had rebates and bonus offers. So I quickly ran to the "Internets" to check if there were any fundamental problems and issues with it before risking a purchase. And that's where I found a giant FatWallet thread discussing this very computer.

    The comments I saw were positive, and what I expected: a bang for the buck computer, expect around 2 hours of battery life with this 6-cell LiIon, and don't expect it to perform like a $1500 notebook.

    What I was looking for was something around/under $500, but with a dvd burner and 1gb of RAM. Usually the sub-$500 notebooks had neither, or one of the two. Hard disk size is not an issue for me, so it didn't really matter. Wireless and USB ports are pretty much in every new notebook these days. Having Vista Premium was (ironically) a plus - if I jump onto the Vista bandwagon, I might as well get the more "advanced" version :)

    A dual-core CPU was also a plus, but not something I was specifically looking for. Built-in webcam, multimedia center, built-in memory card readers are nice features, but I considered them nice to have but not necessary for this purchase. Having a choice of trendy fashionable vibrant colors for the notebook shell was a non-issue for me. Size and weight were not big issues either. It's not heavy by any means, and it's not lightweight or featherweight like some of the other notebooks that cost 2-4x as much.

    The "built to last" sticker by Compaq gave me a little bit more confidence in it. (And that built-to-last sticker is something I will certainly remind HP/Compaq if something goes wrong with this notebook (hopefully it won't!)).

    So with all the checkmarks in the right places, and the great deal at hand, and the fact that stock could quickly disappear, I had to make a quick decision. And I did. And I got it!

    And if it wasn't for this situation, if I went through with my usual evaluation process, I could have easily bought a Toshiba or an Acer, or even an IBM or Dell if the price was right. Or more likely, I would still be (re)reading forums, reviews and spec sheets :-)

    Sunday, August 12, 2007

    Power tip, accessorizing, Office Depot, and more

  • Welcome Office Depot shoppers!. This laptop computer has gone on sale this week (August 12 to August 18) at Office Depot for $450 after two mail-in rebates of $180. Last week it was on sale at Circuit City for the same price.
  • Power tip: If you are using the battery and you are not near an AC supply, or you forgot the A/C converter at home, it is a good idea to shutdown the notebook before you get the out of battery warning. Perhaps shutting down at 10% may be a good idea. Why? Because Windows shutdown is not always fast or smooth (and if you used Windows you know what I'm talking about). Sometimes applications take longer to shutdown or Windows waits for something to finish or something freezes/crashes. So it may run out of battery before it has time to properly shutdown. It happened to me a couple of days ago, that's why I am mentioning it :)
  • More accessories! Accessory #2 is a USB optical mouse. I did not want to get a tiny tiny mouse, and I did not want to use my regular sized mice, so I picked up something in between, a generic Logitech optical USB mouse. The mouse cable ends with a USB cable, but it also comes with a green USB-to-PS2 converter so you can use it with computers that take PS/2 or do not have USB slots available. Or you can just use the green converter for other purposes. Or sell it on eBay :-) I picked up mine from Office Max ($15 + tax). Also available at Amazon for $16 (also 61 customer reviews of this mouse there). If shopping from Amazon, use promotion code LNGXV7VK for a 5% discount (expires 8/13/07). Needless to say using the laptop with a mouse instead of the finger-tablet-thingy device is much faster, at least for me, since I am not particularly used to using the finger-tablet-thingy. But the finger-tablet-thingy remains active when you have a mouse connected, so you can use both. A best of both worlds approach!
  • Fighting for the right-side USB port: Since there is only one USB port on the right, both the mouse (for the right-handed people) and my USB chillpad/fan are closer to the right USB port. Obviously they can't both use it, so one of them has to use the left side. This may add cause some very minor cable clatter, but as long as they are behind the laptop, they don't get in the way... Perhaps when shopping for a notebook chiller/fan, look for one that has USB slots on the left-side (or both sides) - if you do not want cables reaching across behind the notebook :) Not a big deal, but for people with limited space or who like everything organized and neat, it may be helpful!
  • Last day of the Circuit City sale: Today is the last day of the weekly Circuit City sale that has this laptop for $450. It's their 2nd cheapest laptop, they have an Acer under $400, but without a dvd burner and with only 512mb of RAM. Neither one looks as cool and trendy as the Dells in eight vibrant colors, but they don't cost as much either :) I think either the sub-$400 Acer or this Presario F572us are a good bang for the buck considering where laptop prices were a year ago :)
  • Thrifty Accessory Buyer Tip: If you are looking for cheap generic mice as backups or throwaways, Rite Aid (yes the drugstores) have them for under $10. They are made (or branded) Sakar/iConcepts. They usually go on clearance sale for dirt cheap (under $5) at the end of the back to school sale season. I bought a few of them last year for my desktop and they are quite good for general purpose use (especially given the price). Now if you are a gamer or you have specific application needs, that's a different story :)

  • Monday, August 6, 2007

    Performance metrics - the Windows Experience Index

    I forgot to mention these before, but I ran the performance metrics provided by Windows Vista under System Information, with the computer in the out of the box configuration (did not change any settings or remove programs), and got the following benchmarks:

  • Processors (calculations per sec): 4.6
  • Memory: 4.5
  • Graphics (Aero): 2.9
  • Gaming graphics: 2.4
  • Primary HDD (disk transfer rate): 4.8
  • The higher the number, the better performance to expect. The current range of scores is 1.0 to 5.9, although Microsoft reserves the right to increase the high score at a later point (ha!)
  • Windows takes the lowest score of the five and makes it your Windows Experience Index (silly name for a benchmark!).
  • Microsoft's official Windows Vista blog by Nick White explains the Windows Experience Index (WEI)
  • A couple of independant takes on WEI from ZDNet here and here


    A few things I noticed when looking at the System Information:
  • The C: partition was 66gb total, with 49gb free (out of the box)
  • The D: partition was 8gb total, with 2gb free (out of the box)
  • NVidia has 64MB of memory dedicated, and 223MB shared
  • Primary resolution is 1280x800 (thus Wide XGA)
  • The last Norton update was received 2/28/07. This was obviously before I bought this notebook. If nothing else, it's a sign that it wasn't built in 1999 :)


    Battery Recharge
  • It looks like it takes about as much time to recharge as it has battery life. It took 2 hours and a few minutes to recharge while I was using it (browsing, dvd testing/playback, etc). I had it on the chillpad during the recharge, and I was surprised that it managed to keep it cool. It was warm, but nowhere near as warm when I am not using the chillpad. I didn't think that a silly little thing with two fans could make such a difference!

  • Sunday, August 5, 2007

    Here are the Specs (Welcome Circuit City shoppers!)

    This computer is featured on the front page of this week's Circuit City circular ad, for $450 after a $30 mail-in rebate. Welcome Circuit City shoppers! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them. Check all my previous posts on the right-hand column.

    Also if you wanna keep up with all the latest blog updates, here is the RSS feed

    Here is a recap of the specifications of this computer, the Compaq Presario F572 US:

  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 TK-53 processor (dual core 1.7GHz processor)
  • 1gb DDR2 memory (RAM)
  • 15.4" widescreen WXGA display
  • 80gb hard disk drive, 5400rpm
  • CD and DVD burner, super-multi-format: DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD-RW, and DVD-RAM. The "super" stands for DVD-RAM support. Multi stands for both DVD-RW and DVD+RW. Also support double layer (not to be confused with dual layer)
  • NVidia GeForce Go 6150 graphics card (shared video memory)
  • Three USB ports (two on the left, one on the right)
  • Battery life (based on my experience so far): Between 2 to 2.5 hours as configured out of the factory. You can increase it by tweaking the settings, or using an external monitor and things like that
  • Built-in 802.11 b/g wireless. Physical switch to turn OFF wireless for extra protection
  • Ethernet and phone input jacks
  • S-Video output
  • Analog input for connecting to an external monitor
  • Headphones out and audio in
  • Built-in Altec Lansing stereo speakers
  • place to hook a security lock (I forgot the actual name)
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • Software bundled: Roxio basic edition, Norton Internet Hogware Security (with 60 days of free updates), 60-day trial of Microsoft Office, MS Works, Adobe Reader 9, Internet Exploder, Real Rhapsody, trial version of HP Games, three different DVD player programs, muVee auto producer basic edition, and of course the usual assortment of utilities included in the Vista Home Premium.
  • Windows Anytime Upgrade DVD (costs extra to upgrade to a higher version of Windows)


    Circuit City Weekly Ad 468x60


    It does NOT have
  • Built-in Memory card reader
  • Built-in Card slot for external cards
  • Built-in Video inputs / TV card
  • Built-in webcam
  • Recovery discs (you have to make them yourselves, or request them from their support; see my post on the right column on how to make them, it's easy but takes time)

  • Thursday, August 2, 2007

    Laptop cooler, Connecting to the Net, and WiFi Scanning


    USB-powered Laptop cooler
    It is true when they say that when you buy a laptop you can't stop accesorizing! It is true! I got the first accessory for my laptop and it was a practical/functional one: A chill pad (laptop cooler) to keep it from overheating. I did not do any online research on them, I just went to a local computer shop, looked at all their options, and picked up the one with the lowest price that looked like it wouldn't break right away! Not exactly a PC Magazine test :) I ended up getting the Vantec LapCool3 USB Notebook Cooling Pad, which is also available at Amazon, and it has 49 user reviews.

    So today I did the cooler experiment: I ran the notebook using the battery (not connected to the AC power supply) while running the USB-powered laptop cooler fan underneath the computer. I did a combination of configuring and changing computer settings (eg Control Panel) and then web-browsing (3-4 browser windows in parallel). In 90 minutes I used up 2/3rds of the battery. So that would be about 2 hours and 15 minutes if I continued all the way. I have not uninstalled any of the trialware/hogware yet, I am running Aero (still find it cool), I did not change the default LCD settings, and I am using the default HP power management plan.

    The laptop cooler really works, a bit to my surprise, since it's just two tiny USB-powered fans! (A big plus that the F572 has USB ports on either side so you connect the one closest). In 90 minutes it kept the computer from heating up. It was warm to the touch but nowhere near the temperature if I was running without it. Looks like I will be taking the USB laptop cooler with me, especially during the summer, or in places without computer-friendly AC...

    And when you shutdown the notebook and you are near other computers or USB power sources, you can cheat and plug the cooler into the computer/device, and continue to cool off the notebook computer before you put it in the bag :)

    I also used this laptop cooler (aka chill pad) to cool off my cable box, powering it from the cable box's USB port. In about an hour it managed to cool it off as well. Again, it did not go from Sahara to North Pole, but you could feel the difference by touching it.


    Connecting to the Internets!
    Before connecting to the net I went through the security programs. Microsoft's own Firewall is included with the system, along with Norton's Internet Security software. The Norton software includes 60-days of free updates. The 60-day count starts only when you activate the Norton Security software, not the day you turn on your computer. The Norton software should continue to work past the 60 days, but it won't be receiving any new updates.

    As common sense and the Microsoft software suggest, you should only run one of these two firewalls at any instance, otherwise they'll get in each other's way. I also turned off automatic Norton LiveUpdates because if I didn't, it would take over the internet connection and the computer trying to download all the billion updates it missed while the computer was sitting at a warehouse waiting to be purchased :) The only reason I did this was so that I could start surfing the net right away. It is of course a good idea to get the latest updates for the security software you are planning to use (eg virus definitions, security updates, spyware updates). Especially if you are going to be entering usernames and passwords. By the way, both the McAfee and the Computer Associates security suites are free after rebates this week at Staples. Or you can get some of the more lightweight and efficient software by the lesser known security software companies.

    Then I proceeded to test the state of the art dial-up connection :) Vista has an Easy Internet Sign-up feature but it only works if you have one of the three major ISPs (AOL, Earthlink, and another one I forgot). Otherwise, you have to do it manually, which is actually very easy: You go to the Control Panel, then Network and create a new dial-up connection using your user name, password and the ISP's phone number. That's all you need to enter, nothing else. Windows does its magic behind the scenes and voila you are connected. Internet Exploder is included and installed so you can start surfing right away. Needless to say I will be downloading Firefox and friends for most of my browsing. I'm not a big fan of IE. Speaking of IE, a Yahoo Search toolbar (among many other unnecessary things) was embedded in it.

    One thing that is a bit disappointing is that the internet connection icon (bottom right corner of the screen) is not flashing to indicate activity like it used to with previous versions of Windows. That flashing was a good way to both monitor what's happening to your connection and how busy it is. I'll try to find out if that can be done or if there's a utility that can do the same thing!

    WiFi Scanning
    And a quick note on the wireless. If you are not familiar with wireless, there is a button on the front-left of the computer that you can use to manually turn off any wireless activity. When it is turned off, the light is Orange. But if you are planning to use wireless or just check to see what's in the area, you just slide the switch to the right and the light turns Blue. When scanning for networks in the area, you get a list of them, with signal strength, network name, and whether they are secured (all but one were secured). But again, if you are worried about wireless security and stuff, just slide the button to the left (Orange light)!

    Bargain Hunters
    This week Staples has free after rebates Computer Associates AntiVirus 2007 and Internet Security Suite. Also a couple of the McAfee suites are free after mail-in rebate. And you can get Norton free as well if you use the "buy with new computer" rebates and competitive upgrade rebates. All the rebate details can be found in the gigantic thread on this computer deal at FatWallet.com The "buy with new computer" rebates are usually valid if you buy the software within 14 days of the purchase of a new computer, they don't have to be on the same receipt. As always, do read the fineprint, and such before purchasing.

    Wednesday, August 1, 2007

    Creating Compaq Presario F572 Recovery discs

    This is a must since CompaQ does not include those in the package. Of course you can always contact their customer service and ask/demand that they send a Recovery disc like they did in the good old days.

    But you can create Recovery discs on your own easily. It's not hard, but it does take a lot of time. This is a task that you do in parallel with other things (watch TV, read, clean, dance, etc).

    For whatever reason, Compaq only allows you to make one set of Recovery discs, which is a bit strange since optical media can either fail, get lost or destroyed. The common sense approach to backing up valuable data is to make at least two copies. And a recovery disc is certainly valuable material! What were you thinking Compaq?

    Creating the recovery discs is a two-step process. Step 1 creates the recovery files on your hard disk. You do not need to put a disc in the optical (cd/dvd) drive. Step 2 takes those files and puts them on optical discs. Each disc is written on and then verified to make sure the recovery discs will be operational if/when you really need them.

    If you use blank CDs, you will need 10 of them. If you use blank DVD-R or DVD+R, you will need two, and if you use a blank DL you only need one. I chose to use blank DVD-R discs. I was surprised that the burner burnt almost all the way to the edge of the discs. For something important like a Recovery disc I thought it would be wiser not to fill up the disc completely. But what do I know? :)

    First I tried an Office Depot 8x DVD-R. I have been using them for a while in other burners and I consider them fairly reliable. The files were written on it, but the disc failed the verification process. So after that I decided to use the most reliable discs I have, Sony Made In Japan 8x DVD-Rs. No problems there, the discs were recorded and verified.

    I forgot to time it but it takes hours (maybe 2-3?), certainly not minutes to complete. However it is a relatively straight-forward process, even if you have media problems.

    Second Impressions

    Hardware

  • On Battery: I was playing around with the computer while disconnected from the power supply, and in about 1 hour about 50% of the power was depleted. This seems to be consistent with the other reports that give it around 2-2.5 hours. Please note however that I have not optimized it for power savings. I am using the default HP recommended power plan and I have not turned off power-hungry things like Aero.
  • The notebook's cover seems to like fingerprints!
  • I like the keyboard, it has a nice touch to it. The touchpad is not bad either, and it can be customized a bit. I haven't tried any customizations yet.
  • I'm not overly thrilled about the way the cd/dvd tray is designed. I understand this is a notebook, so you don't have the luxury of a straight-up desktop PC or dvd player tray. But with that noted, I don't like the fact that you have to put the DVD in at a slight angle because the disc-area of the tray does not extend all the way out.
  • The 80gb hard disk is partitioned in two, C and D, with D presumably carrying Windows stuff (I believe around 10gb partition), and C: being the main drive. A few gigabytes are already taken, I believe free space is in the 60s (in gigabytes). I have not installed or removed any software yet.

    Software
  • On Vista: I was actually pleasantly surprised by Vista. It has a nice "organic" flow to it. And Aero is kinda cool. Not sure how practical yet, but it's fun :) So far Vista seems to be less fragile than earlier major-change-Windows-versions despite its newness. But this is only after a few hours of use!
  • The "right hand column" of the screen has widgets defaulted to it. Widgets are basically small utility programs such as an old fashioned analog clock, a CPU/RAM meter with old-school gauge dials, a tiny picture slideshow, and a few more. You can also download more widgets online. The CPU/RAM meter is actually practical! I have it on all the time. Without tweaking anything on it yet, it usually shows about half of the RAM free (total of 1gb), and the CPU of course depends on what application(s) are running.The rest of the widgets range from fun to entertaining to what-where-they-thinking :)
  • Microsoft Office 2007 is pre-installed and the PC comes with a 60-day trial which you can activate online. After the 60 days I assume you would have to buy it :)
  • I will try to compile a list of all the software pre-installed on the machine, but off the top of my head I saw a version of Roxio, HP Games, Adobe Acrobat Reader 8, limited duration subscription to Norton Internet Bloatware (oops Security), and a few more
  • A number of things are already pre-installed and running, so I assume when I start fine-tuning the PC I should be able to turn them off or completely remove them.
  • A tiny Yahoo Search engine toolbar sits at the middle-right of the bottom of the screen, on the left of all the tiny tray icons. It's a widescreen so they can line them up :)

  • Dollars and Sense

    The Deal?
    I got this notebook this Sunday 7/22/2007 from Staples (brick and mortar store). It was advertised in the Staples circular in the Sunday paper (also found in-store) for $480. But there are some specials:

  • $30 EasyRebate (Easy Rebates can be submitted online, no need to mail things in or cut UPC codes)
  • free HP Deskjet D1341 printer after Easy Rebate of $70, with combined purchase (purchase both together in the same receipt).
  • For the Easy Rebates, you need to enter the serial # of both the computer and printer on the StaplesEasyRebates.com website. But nothing to mail, no upc to cut.
  • You also get a $50 Dining Dough dining card with any purchase over $150. If you are not familiar with Dining Dough, check their website. You can search for restaurants by zip code. They mostly have local restaurants, not chains. This is not a straight up $50 gift card. You can use the card to purchase gift certificates at restaurants. But the gift certificates are usually of this variety: "$10 off when your dinner bill is over $25". This is not like a Visa gift card. It is more like Restaurant.com
  • The deal expires at the end of day on Saturday. There is still time if they have them in-store.


    Extra Credit
    Now for those feeling more adventurous, there is a huge 70-page thread at FatWallet on this computer where you can get the effective price even lower, free even, or perhaps make a profit, through a series of rebates. The FatWallet idea is not for the faint of heart. Tons of rebates to submit and keep track of. Of course you don't have to do every rebate, you can pick and chose which rebates to submit. The easiest one to do is a combined purchase rebate from HP/Compaq worth $50. The rest of the rebates involve additional software purchases, combined with regular rebates, upgrader rebates and purchase with a computer rebates.


    More Pictures of the computer courtesy of Amazon:
  • A description of this computer can be found at Amazon




  • What's in the box?

    This is the box (with the sides cutoff from the picture). I forgot to include a ruler in the picture, the dimensions are 16" inches wide, 13" deep and 7" tall (as pictured)


    A close-up of the Compaq "Q"


    When you open the box, the "Begin" quick start up guide is right in your face. They want to make sure you read that one first.


    The wrapped computer sits on top of a cardboard box that has everything else. Now let's be gentle with it...


    And here is the computer itself...




    Now let's open the cardboard box and see what goodies Compaq has for us! On the top left, wrapped in bubble is the laptop's battery. On the top right we have the AC adapter and cable. On the bottom left we have the power cable.

    On the bottom right we have a semi-fancy red envelope (the big red thing in the picture). Inside we have:

  • 40-page Quick Reference Manual (that's all you get in print, along with the quick start guide).
  • Limited warranty
  • A list of worldwide telephone support numbers
  • A notice in the shape of a disc to make your own Recovery (Restore) CDs or DVDs because they are not included in the package
  • A notice that some Microsoft titles such as Works may be included with the computer without a Certificate of Authenticity (CoA)
  • A shiny 12-page booklet from the HP Home and Home Office Store, selling all sorts of PC accessories. The last page includes a coupon for 10% off any accessory. The coupon expires 7/31/2007
  • A Windows Anytime Upgrade notice and slim-line keepcase of a DVD with upgrade software. This requires a separate purchase of additional Windows software. The seal says "do not insert and run this software until you purchase an upgrade license". How optimistic of them: "Until", not "unless"? :) You should do this only if you really want to upgrade to ...a higher Vista. [Correction: Previously, I incorrectly wrote Vista Home Basic, but this computer has Home Vista Premium].
  • And last and least, the obligatory promotional paper materials which includes AOL, Vongo, and Vonage.


    This is the battery (left side of the picture that contains the serial # was cropped out)



    This is part of the keyboard



    Booting up for the first time. One of the first screens you see:



    Now after a few minutes of running the automated first-time set-up

  • First Impressions - turning it on for the first time

    It took 35 minutes from the time I pressed POWER ON for the first time, to the time I had full operational control of the computer. And to do that I had to decline a couple of configuration and setup options that had the option of "do it later or remind me later". Of course I will do them at some point, but I just wanted to get operational control of the computer as soon as possible.

    I played around with the menus and the various pre-installed applications, and I played some DVDs to test the super-multi-format drive. There are at least three different dvd player programs pre-installed on the machine. I was able to play Lord of the Rings (since the DVD is 2.35:1 it didnt fill up the screen), and home-made video from DVD-R and DVD-RAM.

    I almost got my first "blue screen" even, but I didn't. One of the DVD player programs (the Compaq branded one) got confused, its window was all white, and it refused to close. The task manager couldn't kill it. The shutdown didn't kill it. I had to manually power off the notebook (which of course Microsoft does not recommend, but how can you use Windows if you don't reboot and power it off when it goes crazy?)

    By the way, there is no recovery disk that comes with the computer. The instructions instruct the user to create their own set of recovery disks. Nice for the DIY crowd, but an annoyance perhaps for the average user. More on this in the next post that includes what's in the box/package.