Monday, May 12, 2014

About that XPocalypse ...

You'll all have heard of that and you're highly likely to have one of the following reactions about it :

Bored - yep. XP support going bang is highly geeky and the ins and outs of it are mired in corporate politics
Appalled - because it's still a perfectly good piece of software and MS could make a massive amount of cash still from keeping it going.
Horrified - cos there's a bunch of enterprise critical applications that will not work on Vista or 7.
Terrified - because the only option if you replace your computer with something retail is the abomination that is Windows 8.

Ok. That's enough about XP. Almost. The media have it wrong actually, the XPocalypse is all about MS turning off support patches for XP. It was actually killed for me as a realistic gaming system many years ago when Directx 10 became Vista only. That was the beginning of the end, it meant that sooner or later I'd need to update upgrade change to something different or I wouldn't be able to play newer games.

Right - you've believed the hype or otherwise have decided you need a new computer. First ... about that hype ... What it means that all those security patches that you used to have pop up and annoy you about rebooting, won't come to XP machines any more. That means that when the Horrible People find out about a vulnerability (and there a lot of them still in Windows), your system won't be updated to protect against it.

So when a tainted advert appears with a picture that knows about one of those vulnerabilities, your system could be taken over by an outside party. This is a serious and valid concern, especially as anti-virus applications are the first thing to get a "Kill Process - AV" command from the Nasties.

You could say - "this isn't a problem, I don't visit bad sites". However, it's not just the site you're looking at, it's also the extras that come with it. Like 3rd party advertising. Although in the case of the Daily Mail, it appears to have come from their own servers. That's from over 5 years ago but it's still a genuine, valid threat.

Choices ?

Go to a big store and get a Windows 8 machine. And then hate it forever because from all I've heard, Windows 8 is an abomination. (I've only had contact with it in the store but I can believe it due to what RibbonOffice is like)
Be a rebel and get a Mac. This is how I've dealt with the problem. I didn't like the alternatives, plus Mac on the work discount is actually approaching laptop prices for the spec I wanted. The Mac price has stayed the same while the Windows laptop price is going up.
Be a nerd and get Linux. Depends what you want to do - but it excludes the possibility of compatibility with many applications (including iTunes) and you've probably already paid for a Windows licence.
Go old school and get a Windows 7 machine.

The Win 7 option is what I wanted to mention here ... You can still get these, Novatech and PC Specialist offer the option and most places are still offering Windows 7 licences for home brew PCs. But what's important ?

Look. And Feel. Everything else is secondary ... With a desktop, the look and feel is with the mouse, keyboard and screen but with a laptop, it's critical. There's also the "Is this going to fall to bits on me ?" factor. When I build my desktops, I build them to last because of the hassle involved in digging them out from where I hide them. Similar with laptops, my Acer lasted a few years but the HP before started dying after 6 months (and PC World shafted me on its warranty).

So yeah - when you're looking at a laptop, make sure it's one you'll be happy to use. Like - how heavy will it be on your lap, what's the screen size, how responsive is the keyboard and trackpad, what's the rebound like on the keys. With the Macbook Air, it felt like my fingers were dancing over the keys ... and I'm a fast typer. The responsiveness goes for desktops too, I nearly put in a Beta Fault report for Star Wars Old Republic because I had incidents where the character wasn't doing anything. It wasn't the game, it was my wireless keyboard.

Yep. How it feels is the only real factor to consider. But there are a few geeky things to think about :

Feel includes smoothness. And Windows has been broken on smoothness for over a decade. The way to fix it is to use what's called a SSD (Solid State Device) hard disc. It provides instant (nanoseconds) access to data instead of the milliseconds of a normal hard disc. That's a few thousand times quicker. And considering that when you wait for Windows, it's because it's looking up that hard disc ? That's where the SSD comes in. But ... You need a big one for Windows because it gobbles up so much. I have to use "measures" to keep my system running and it runs off a 60GB SSD.

There is another way, it's called a Hybrid drive. It costs a bit more than a normal disc but you get 500GB/1TB with a little SSD that makes it much quicker. And they fit in laptops too. I upgraded my Acer to one of these (thought old one was going bang!) and it was ... genuinely quicker.

Grab a new processor. Intel's latest are the Haswell series, you can tell these by the 4000 in the code. They have double the battery life for the same and better performance (it's done by making everything smaller).

But most of all - don't spend too much. If I'd waited a bit, I could have got a Macbook Pro with a much better screen than my Macbook Air. But it would have cost me a lot more and the screen on my Macbook Air is perfectly good. Actually better than a Windows laptop because it has more pixels. There's that "Look" thing coming in.

I hope I haven't gone too far into my own head with all that ? Buying a PC can be hellishly confusing, especially because places like PC World don't tell you all you need to know about what they're selling you and builders like Acer have a hellishly confusing array of machines.

If you are in the market for a PC, I'd be happy to give a few pointers (email is in the profile). But :

Novatech and the other builders may let you avoid Windows 8
PC Specialist have amazing configuration options
Never discount something original ... (Like a Macbook or LinuxLaptop)

Picture time ! Remember what I said about Malware and Horrible People ?
Or Horrible People who know about XP vulnerabilities and send nasty software around to exploit it.

PS Warning note - I've bought lots of components from Novatech and will continue to do so (cheap + good stuff) but I have issues with the bits they put in their own-brand PCs. I like the customisation options of PC Specialist but didn't buy from them because I couldn't get a first hand Finger Pokey at their machines.


  1. I had to move from XP (which I really liked) to Win 7 which I don't have any problems with.

    Totally agree on Win 8. HORRIBLE bit of software OS!

  2. Yeah - 7 is still pretty good but I wonder how long it will last before Microsoft find some way to break it.


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