My new laptop is here!
I bought my first laptop back in late 2010 when we were getting ready to hit the road. We briefly considered taking my desktop tower along with us, but storing the components was the biggest problem. We ended up buying a Toshiba Satellite L675 for me, and it’s served me pretty well for about six years. I think I replaced the fan once (and it’s been acting like I need to replace it again), but had no other mechanical issues. But it was only a so-so machine six years ago, and with only 4 GB of RAM, it just wasn’t capable of doing the extra stuff I needed it to do. When I’m writing, I typically have Word, Excel, Chrome and Thunderbird running. I might be streaming music via Pandora while I’m trying to do some research as well. All of that going on at once tended to choke the old system to death.
I did enough research, in the beginning, to realize quickly that I was way behind on technology. I spec’d and built my last two desktop machines on my own, but tech left me behind a few years ago. Laptops live in a different world, too, due to their size and shape. I found /r/SuggestALaptop at Reddit, which proved to be incredibly helpful. They’ve got several great guides available, and if you submit a text form to the sub, knowledgeable members will come up with several options for you to consider. This MSI GT72VR Dominator Pro-257 has been a perennial frontrunner for people with similar budgets, and I’d looked at it once or twice already. It popped up on Amazon at $1,399 finally, where it had been listed for 1,499, then 1,549, so I pulled the trigger.
Buying a laptop online caused me a little concern. When I’m dropping close to $1,500 on something, I like to be able to handle it and see it in person. I know that photos can be tweaked and edited, and they’re always taken to show the computer in its best light. But I wanted to see it in person and see how big the bezel really was in relation to the screen (it’s not as big as it seems, by the way). I wanted to test the keyboard and the trackpad and actually hear the speakers in action. I watched a few video reviews of the Dominator Pro series, but those didn’t quite answer all of my questions. I was still a little nervous when I ordered it.
It arrived last Thursday, and I’ve spent the last few days setting it up. I think I did all right. This isn’t going to be a tech review of this machine because there are plenty of those out there. The Amazon listing has more than a few, as does the NewEgg listing. There are video reviews of the basic machine too. This is going to be a practical and completely subjective review after the first 72 hours or so of usage.
Sound – This is a gaming laptop with gaming-quality sound. It’s impressive. I had to update the drivers and the Nahimic sound control software right off the bat; otherwise, there was horrible distortion from almost any sound source. Sound was one of my biggest gripes about that Toshiba. I’m not sure why it’s getting quieter as time goes by, but it is. I had even resorted to a Chrome plugin whose name I can’t recall at the moment to boost the volume. I found out via testing that that plugin prevented videos at IMDB from playing due to some conflict. No need for that booster now! The Nahimic software lets to create presets for different scenarios, like strategy games vs shooter games vs movies vs music. You can control the bass, treble, reverb and a Smart Sound function that keeps the quiet stuff from being too quiet and the loud stuff from overpowering you. I like it.
Screen – The clarity here is fantastic. It’s a 17.3 inch screen driven by a GTX 1070 video card. That gives me a resolution of just north of amazing. I haven’t pushed it hard with any games or movies yet, and the games I play won’t be very taxing. I’ve installed OpenTTD and generated a couple of maps, and I’m truly stunned by the quality of the image.
Experience – I wasn’t sure what else to call this. Here’s where I’m lumping things like the keyboard lighting, the Windows 10 interface, and so forth. Win10 is a new experience for me. I jumped straight from Windows 7, with only a few weeks’ experience on 8 at a former employer. I seem to be able to find things easily enough, and I’ve always been an intelligent tinkerer. The keyboard lighting is nice. It’s not exactly bright enough to use in total darkness, I think. But it does make typing at night much easier. It’s also very customizable, although I haven’t yet played with that aspect. I also miss the Recent Files pop-outs that you’d get on the Start Menu. I really can’t understand the reasoning behind making those go away.
The only gripe I’ve come up with so far is the keyboard. The trend for several years has been toward what’s commonly called a “chicklet” keyboard, as opposed to a mechanical keyboard. My Toshiba had a mechanical keyboard, and I loved it. I was hoping to get a mechanical keyboard on this new laptop, but there are only two or three such machines out there, and they start at around $3,000! That’s a bit beyond my budget, so I’m making do.
My primary complaint about the keyboard though is the layout. The Home and End keys on this MSI are now “Function” keys, meaning they’re combined with the function of another key. On this machine, Home is combined with PageUp and End is with PageDown. That means we keyboarders now have to remember to press Control and Function to go to the top or bottom of a document. It’s not something that’s going to kill me, but it’s going to take a while for me to create new muscle memories around those keys.
One note if you’re a Thunderbird user trying to migrate your Thunderbird settings to Windows 10. I thought I could just copy my profile (found in %appdata%/Thunderbird/profiles) up to OneDrive or DropBox from the old machine, then copy it down to the new machine. That didn’t quite work. I only got some of the folders, and none of the dozens of mail filters I’ve got set up. I really didn’t like the idea of setting them all back up manually, so I did some digging. Reddit user maniaxuk wondered if I needed to zip the profile to make the transfer. I tried that, and it worked. Not only did all of the folders transfer well, but all of my mail filters did too. Here’s their handy checklist for moving Thunderbird to a new computer.
Who’s got a good story to share about an online purchase? Tips and tricks for new Windows 10 users? Share your thoughts below in the comments.
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