Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Inspiron 3000 11" [3137] + Ubuntu

Grabbed up one of Dell's Inspiron 3000 (3137) 11" notebooks on the cheap for the purpose of tinkering in Ubuntu and as a travel computer. It was long overdo as traveling is nerve-wracking enough without hauling a $1500+ piece of equipment through security. Dropping my MacBook Pro and dinging the side should have been a hint the first time I traveled to Kansas.

I'm not throwing this up as an in depth review, just a few thoughts on the machine you might not see elsewhere. Being the wanton violator of warranties, I cracked it open to swap hard drives. Serendipity often being my ally, my back up drive and the one that came with the Dell may have come off the same Western Digital assembly line as they looked absolutely identical.

Windows 8 runs really (really) slow. Remember back in the late 90s when you'd have to wait for a program to load and the whole machine would just freeze up while it struggled to push it forward? Yeah, it's like that. Upgrading it to 4GB of ram and a solid state drive would make this a very capable machine and still under $600.

There were three things that made me look at this machine, in spite of it possessing weak specifications.

1. Long Battery Life - Dell advertises that it gets excellent battery life which in manufacturer-speak means anything over 5 hours. When I lifted this thing out of the box, it felt heavy and well-built in my hands. Opening it up revealed that half what's inside is a battery. I haven't managed to run it through a full battery cycle, six hours of use later, and it says I have three hours left.

I bet with the right solid state drive one could squeeze out another 30 to 45 minutes beyond that. Battery life is huge for me. I like being able to go anywhere I want to work if I need to vary my environment but I hate worrying about finding a plug-in. This device effectively dispels that anxiety.

2. 64 Bit Processor - I'll spare you the technical mumbo jumbo, but I prefer running operating systems and programs in 64 bit mode for various reasons. That Intel is making low-watt Celeron processors using 64 bit architecture is pretty great. One of the chief reasons I avoided many of the Windows Tablets was because they were 32 bit.

3. Touch Screen - I like having one, and it feels like Dell doesn't make you pay for it with this device. It works great in Windows 8 and as good as one would expect in Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. The touchpad is roomy, a boon most of the time except when you're typing in Ubuntu as the palm rejection function never works properly.

This is one of the few computers I've bought for under $400 that felt like I was getting more than what I paid for. A "netbook" this is not. The build quality is excellent, keyboard is decent, and it has a great array of ports that include and SD card reader. Ubuntu 12.04 loaded up without a hitch. There are still some errors in the background but nothing that effects the user experience or performance. WiFi and Bluetooth just worked which was nice.

I read some complaints about the screen being dim. Maybe I'm just used to living in a cave but I have it turned down one tick above the lowest setting and have no problem seeing the screen, even if it is a bit glossy. If you plan to run 64 bit Ubuntu, there is no need to upgrade the hard drive or RAM unless that's just your default with a new machine. Stock hard drive and 2 GB of RAM works fine for me.

In all, I was happy enough with the purchase to put a UPW sticker on the lid after making sure it would pair with my Wacom wireless tablet.

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