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Surfing over to the Dell Outlet last week resulted in a moment of weakness.  There were several bargain buys on Inspiron 537’s, 545’s, and 546’s.  I settled on a nice Inspiron 545s, boasting 4gig of ram, 64 bit install of Windows 7, and a Dual Core Intel CPU.  No extra “flufware” was installed on the system by the folks in Austin.  The 545s is a low profile slimline system, so there not much room to add junk into it later, but at the Outlet price it solved an itch that has been begging to be scratched for a couple of years.

New Hotness.

After almost 10 years, the old Dimension 4300 is really dragging on normal day-to-day usages.  So it is well past time where it should be put to pasture.  It runs Ubuntu Linux well enough, but I have a lot of windows applications I use frequently, so XP has been king.  The 4300 has a 1.6Ghz P4, but it is memory constrained at 512Mb max.  PC133 memory(its that old).  XP runs a lot of things well enough despite the system constraints, but is hard pressed to run the modern antivirus/firewall packages and be able to run a modern internet browser with all of todays’ superfluous and gratuitous  visual content.  Bloated OS, bloated security, bloated browsers, bloated web content.  Itty bitty memory.  Not conducive to a good user experience.

Old-n Busted.

So the Dimension 4300 is going to be a great file server, Linux experimentation platform, and all around backup contest logging box. Just in case the really old and busted CPU in the shack croaks…

It is hardly a shock to find that the New Hotness is pretty damn nice.  Everything is relative.  Windows 7 is taking some mental adjustments.  Ten years of XP have worn big habitual ruts in the gray matter.  But there are a few nice surprises under the hood of Win7. Anybody using/administrating Windows 7 should goog up “GodMode”, a nifty but undocumented control panel quick-list.  The MS-geeks should have made it a documented feature.  Also, the whole system is just blazing fast in comparison to the old.  The on-board graphics are quite sharp, and seem fast enough for daily use.  Probably not a video gamer’s box, but certainly fine for general usage.  Ten years from now – who knows?

One quirk that took a moment to adjust to was finding the directory being used for storing program data.  Many XP applications defaulted to storing program data in the program’s directory.  Under Win7, the application’s program directory is protected.  To get around that, data files used by an older application are shunted into a directory under the current user. A bit of head scratching and cussing later, the location of that directory was found to be defined by the environment variable “appdata”.  After a bit more head scratching it became clear the “appdata” folder was indeed under the user account, but it is a hidden directory.  To get to it directly you can hit ‘Start’ and type %appdata% into the run/search box.  Or you can just enable the file explorer to see hidden files.

Grrrr.  Not sure why it ever made sense to RedmondGeeks to hide the application data……

So far I’ve only run into a couple of minor problems installing software on the 64 bit OS.  I decided to define a separate admin account, and set up user accounts for everybody as users without admin privileges.  General applications can be installed by running the install as an administrator.  This worked well for most applications.  Two glaring exceptions to that generalization: Security software, and Google’s browser.  The security software is understandable – that is best installed by the administrator directly.  But there’s no legit reason Google’s browser should be such a pain in the ass.

And pain in the ass it is.  Running the install of Goggle’s browser as a user with “run as administrator” resulted in no visible installation.  The install program runs, then ends without any messages/ warnings/ errors.  Backing off on that, the install was run directly from the admin account.  In that instance the install succeeds – almost.  After that installation, the browser was available under the administrators log-in, but not to any users.  The install did not offer an option to choose users.  Somewhat less than satisfactory.

So for the moment, Google has been kicked from the New Hotness.  Banished.  Shunned. Deposed. Rejected.

What with IE/Firefox/Opera/Safari all working properly, its not like there are no options.  On the browser front, it has been nice to be able to get back to using Firefox regularly.  Firefox had become really bloated since  I first used it – it is a real performance pig on the old-n-busted 4300.  Having adopted Firefox early on, it was really disappointing to see it become fatter and slower than IE. Over the last 18 months Opera has been the preferred browser.  Opera has been an off-and-on affair over the years, since it has in many cases been the most innovative of the browsers.  In previous incarnations rendering of web pages was not always as reliable as the others, but it has always been the fastest of the group. Since the more recent editions of v9.xx and now v10, it is both fast and consistent.

The Firefox performance issues on a low resource system seem to be a script related problem, although the sites with a ton of images are always slow too.  All of that probably relates to the memory constraints, system paging, thrashing, and the intrusive nature of modern antivirus applications.  Running without the AV software speeds it up in some cases, but the hardware limitation is a bigger problem.  The 4300 box at idle uses almost half the available memory in that system.  The New Hotness zips right along.  Sweet.

The New Hotness can support up to 8gig of ram.  I expect to stuff it to the limit to allow room for tinkering with virtualization(VirtualPC, Sun’s VirtualBox, etc.), and maybe a bit of low end graphics card upgrade, if a decent low profile card is available at a bargain price.

Set for another decade – maybe.

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