Time to buy a new Dell, this time for my parents, whose clunky old laptop from early 2002 has finally been put to rest (I've been arguing for its destruction for some time). As per usual I'm given a budget (£300-£400 this time) and given the task of deciding what to go for. I managed to get an extra £30 out of them in order to ensure it had a decent graphics adapter - they might not care about graphics now, but they won't be saying that when they need the extra power.
I first looked at Intel based systems, but there was no way I could get dedicated graphics without spending closer to £500, so I looked at the AMD systems, in the end I went for a Inspiron 1546 outfitted with an Athlon X2 QL-64, 2GB RAM and a 512MB Radeon HD 4330. Not what I'd call high-end but that graphics card will be enough to handle WorldWide Telescope, World of Warcraft, Starcraft 2 and even Supreme Commander at a push. It set them back £429. Not bad considering the laptop they've using at the moment cost almost £1300.
After it arrived my first task is to set it up for them. They don't want to have to do any configuration they just want to be able to use it. Dell, like many PC manufacturers always preload shed loads of junk on it. After performing the first set up I rebooted to test the boot/login speed. It took 40 seconds after logging in to load the desktop - ouch.
After an hour or so of cleaning it up, removing dozens of Roxio things, DVD burning stuff, McAfee security something or other. Getting rid of an annoying Mac OS style dock thing (what the hell?), an Office trial, Works, loads of driver tools we don't need we finally have a computer almost usable. Except it wouldn't see my wireless network. Hmmmm after another reboot and restarting the router, it was time to try some different channels, sure enough it didn't like that I was using channel 13. Everything else in the house works fine with it, but does the Dell wireless card? No. Good job it hadn't been sent home to my parents before I got it or else they'd have no chance of working out what was wrong with it (their router is also on channel 13) - and potentially would have sent it back faulty. After all that however we have a more respectable login time of at the most 10 seconds, that's after a cold boot.
My usual software picks have been installed, Live Essentials (Dell had it installed, but I removed all the Family Safety, Bing toolbar stuff), WorldWide Telescope, Microsoft Security Essentials, Office, the old XP version of Spider Solitaire (my mum hates the Vista/7 versions), and a handful of other games like Whispered Worlds and Supreme Commander. And then setup their user accounts, their e-mail, set Messenger not to spam windows all over the place on login, and tidy up Internet Explorer 8 a tad by removing the favourites bar.
I use Live Mesh to sync all their documents and internet favourites between their two computers, and to the cloud. Not very practical for someone like me with a 10GB Documents folder, 30GB Pictures folder and so on, but for them whose entire user folders come to less than 200MB it's a no brainer. All their internet favourites, pictures, documents, Spider saved games the lot will be there just as it was. Brilliant. Hopefully Live Mesh won't be crippled as it gets integrated into Windows Live Wave 4, as it is a killer application.
All in all it took about 4 hours to get the machine setup in a state where I'd be happy with my parents using it without running across any unexpected surprises. The computer itself is pretty decent for the money, the screen is a bit low resolution and the colours aren't great, but then it is a cheap machine. Battery life is pretty poor, but that wasn't a consideration when I went for it, they'll be using it entirely on a table in the living room next a plug socket, it won't be going mobile.
The biggest problem as always is the bundleware. It needs to be sorted.