DreamBook Style M76 1TU ReviewMikey 10 comments
It's about time I got a new laptop, and given my line of work it's surprising I waited this long. Choosing the right machine can be a hit and miss affair and as Rodney recently pointed out when reviewing his own laptop, sometimes it can be a huge disappointment.
So it's helpful to know a bit about computer components when it comes to customising a new laptop. And when I built mine I made sure I got what I wanted - a nice balance between portability and performance.
The DreamBook Style M761TU from Pioneer Computers is no slouch. Here's what I got them to put into it.
|Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0 GHz T6400 64 bit 2M Cache 800Mhz 45mm
|15.4" Widescreen WXGA (1280x800) TFT Crystal Bright Screen
|: nVIDIA GeForce 9300M GS 256M PCI-E
|4GB (2 x 2GB) 800MHz DDR2
|2.5" 250GB 7,200RPM Serial-ATA
|8x DVD-/+RW Dual Layer Drive
|802.11B/G Wirless module
|Built-in Bluetooth module
|Built-in 2 MegaPixel built in web camera
|Built-in Finger Print Reader
|2 year pick-up/retrun to base warranty
|Deluxe notebook backpack
|VGA monitor output
|4-in-1 Card Reader, SD/MMC/MS/MS Pro
|3 x USB2 ports
Pretty nice specs for 1600 clams. One of the reasons for the nice price is because Pioneer Computers will let you buy a laptop without an operating system, so you save a bunch of money there already. This, combined with my previous positive experiences with Pioneer Computers made it a no-brainer to go with them again. For the record I did shop it around, and even Dell could not come close to matching this price for the same specs.
This means if you've got a copy of Windows or Linux lying around you can install it. Or alternatively as I did download and install Windows 7 (it's free until March 2010).
Getting this laptop was always about giving me the opportunity to accomplish stuff on my train ride to and from work, which makes up for 2 hours of every week day. In fact now nearly all of the articles I write for Rusty Lime and my other blog are done during that train ride, as is a large portion of the actual web site development work. It's made me very productive because truthfully I don't get the chance to at home as often as I used to.
It's not too bad for gaming although it will never match my desktop for that, but being the geek I am I of course had to run a few benchmarks. Running a current generation game (Chronicles of Riddick - Dark Athena) I was surprised it ran as well as it did, being very playable with medium - high settings.
So how does it stack up against, say, a desktop machine? That's probably the only comparison I can provide given I don't have companies sending me laptops to benchmark every day. I've ran the mighty Performance Test to show you how the laptop compares to my desktop AMD Athlon 3ghz dual core machine.
|CPU - Integer Math
|CPU - Floating Point Math
|CPU - Find Prime Numbers
|CPU - SSE/3DNow!
|CPU - Compression
|CPU - Encryption
|CPU - Image Rotation
|CPU - String Sorting
|Graphics 2D - Lines
|Graphics 2D - Rectangles
|Graphics 2D - Shapes
|Graphics 2D - Fonts and Text
|Graphics 2D - GUI
|Graphics 3D - Simple
|Graphics 3D - Medium
|Graphics 3D - Complex
|Memory - Allocate Small Block
|Memory - Read Cached
|Memory - Read Uncached
|Memory - Write
|Memory - Large RAM
|Disk - Sequential Read
|Disk - Sequential Write
|Disk - Random Seek + RW
|CD - Read
|2D Graphics Mark
|3D Graphics Mark
As you can see the laptop wins on many occasions by loses in the end, mainly due to the huge difference in the 3D graphics tests.
Running Windows 7
Ironically, the one word that comes to mind is the same word used during Vista's marketing campaign: Wow. Except on Vista, despite it's positives, didn't wow anyone.
Windows 7 runs like a dream. It's fast, responsive, reliable and everything Vista should have been. Win7 does have a lower minimum system requirement than Vista so it's no surprise it runs better than it's predecessors. One guy even managed to put install it on a Pentium II. If you're thinking of putting Windows 7 on your laptop, you have my recommendation.
As I opted for a 6 cell battery, I can only squeeze a couple of hours at best from the laptop during heavy use. That's with all the power saving options enabled as well. Though for my purposes that's more than enough battery life. If you're on the road all the time you'd do well to invest in a 9 or 12 cell battery.
In hindsight I wish I had gotten a 12 inch model instead of a 15.4 inch. As mentioned earlier portability was one of my primary goals, and I think 3 inches less would make a difference when coding on the train, as far as balancing it on your lap and not intruding onto the other passengers personal space is concerned.
Using the laptop otherwise is fine, but the finger print reader is in an unusual location, making it awkward to move your hand into position to scan a finger. If anywhere, it should have been in the upper right or left area.
The form factor is nice although nothing to write home about, and I've no complaints about the weight.
The speakers are as good as you can expect any regular laptop to be and they're no substitute for a real set of speakers. The unit itself is as quiet as a mouse even when the CPU is under load and the fan is blowing it's hardest.
Here's where things a little ugly. The unit arrived with a dead pixel which turned into a few dead pixels. Trying to get any feedback from technical support or sales regarding where I stand with a warranty claim has been problematic. Pioneer Computers have not returned my calls or responded to my email, which makes me think they're not interested in their legal obligation to honour my warranty. I even purchased an extended warranty just in case. I've been pretty patient after more than 4 weeks trying to get a response, and hopefully the email I sent today (to every email address I could find on their web site) will reach the right people.
This is quite a contrast to the positive customer experiences I've had with them over the years.
I will post an update as soon as I hear back.
Update: My warrantly claim has been approved (after initially being rejected). See my comment.