Thursday, September 13, 2012

Adventures in Computing--It's Getting Hot in Here

I have a Dell Inspiron 1420 laptop that I paid way too much for back in 2008. It was my second ever laptop purchase at the time, so I took the base model (which was reasonably priced), and added extra ram, a better processor, and a Nvidia GeForce graphics card so that I could play games and do audio and video editing with it.

Over the past four years, the laptop has served me pretty well. I use it to record and edit Secret Identity every week, and I’ve dragged it all over the place, taking it everywhere from on vacation to New york Comic Con. In hindsight, the configuration I bought wasn’t even that good for games however, and I should have just stuck with the base model. But overall, it’s been pretty reliable.

Except for one thing.

About a year ago, I booted up my laptop to find the display had gone completely screwy. The screen seemed to be split into, there were lines and boxes running through the display, and I couldn’t even see enough to get into the BIOS menu or the diagnostics. After doing some research online, I eventually figured out that I had recently updated the drivers in the Nvidia card, and I figured that was the problem. I kept rebooting until I had a display I could read through at all, then navigated to the device manager and rolled back the driver update. The problem seemed to be fixed.

This past week, the same thing happened again, except the display was worse than before. I tried rebooting a bunch of times over a couple of days, and finally got a decipherable display. I went into the device manager and turned off the Nvidia card completely, and my display seemed to go back to normal. Knowing I had just dodged a bullet, and sensing I didn’t have a lot of time left with this laptop, I ordered a new one (more on that in a moment). But it was driving me crazy, being paranoid that at any time I wouldn’t be able to use my laptop at all.

I dug around a lot more on the internet and found something very interesting--I was not alone. in fact, it seems that between 2007 and 2008, a lot of people had the same problem I was describing, not just with their Dells, but with HPs and Apple laptops as well. As it turns out, Nvidia put out a lot of faulty GeForce chips, and so many had problems that a class action lawsuit was brought against Nvidia. The main issue seems to be that the chips overheat and the solder joints melt (not unlike the XBox 360 RRoD issue). Nvidia had to settle in 2010, and offer to replace affected cards.

Sadly for me, I didn’t know any of this. Never got an email, or an alert from Dell, Nvidia or anyone. So, I missed my chance to potentially get it fixed,and now my laptop is just on a death clock. Looking back though, it seems I got a lot more mileage out of my faulty chip than most people did. 

Now to the good news--I’ve got a new laptop on the way, and this one will actually be able to play a lot games, as well as handle the audio/video work I need it to. Dell had a very good sale on its XPS line of laptops, and I picked up an XPS 15 for about six-hundred dollars less than the usual asking price. If you’re interested in the specs or how it rates, CNET recently gave the XPS 15 a very good review, which you can read here.

I am hoping to be able to keep my current laptop alive and just use it for recording and editing the podcast. Time will tell if that works out or not. But, I’m excited for the new computer, and can’t wait to check out games like Diablo III, Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic, not to mention take advantage of the crazy deals on games from Steam. I’m sure I’ll be talking about those in the near future.