We're occasionally asked why we don't do more hardware related content on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Here's why:
Today I received my brand new netbook. The faithful Aspire One that has accompanied me the last couple of years had become completely useless after the screen was horrible cracked, then taken over by a peculiar purple disease that now obscures most of the visible area. It was time for a new one. But the quest to find it was truly quite horrendous. Buying a netbook is so ludicrously complicated, with not only an ever-increasing number of manufacturers creating an ever-increasing number of various spec machines, but also with each distinct machine being produced in about sixty-seven different formats, each subtly, but crucially, different than the other. Narrowing the field requires deciding on at least one wild extreme, and then picking from whichever you've got left. My picks, because in the end I'm a writer and a gamer: A screen larger than 11", and one containing an ION graphics chip. Which, amazingly, reduces the field from seven hundred million billion to just four.
And led me to my HP Compaq 311c-1101SA. As distinct from the various other 311cs.
I'm not sure I've read as much in my adult life as I have trying to fathom which mini-laptop to get. I've read so many review sites with so many varying opinions that I'm still left panicked that I should have got the new MSI Wind with its huge screen, amazing processor, but rubbish keyboard and integrated graphics. Or the Asus Something Something, that slightly out-performed the 311c on most things, but had a terrible battery. Or perhaps I should have been modest and bought the new Aspire One - a straight upgrade. Or listened to many people telling me to pick up the Samsung NC20, or variants thereof. Or... or... This has been the inside of my brain for the last few weeks.
Hardware review sites are very strange. There seems to be a pact amongst all of them, worldwide, that they will not under any circumstances create any sort of buyer's guide telling the reader which one is best out of all of them. In fact, so determined are they to not compare one to another that they'll change the criteria for what makes a piece of hardware good or bad between each review.
Some sites pretend to do comparisons. I found quite a few saying, "The Top 15 netbooks out today". One even written by a friend of mine. But none of them were any such thing. They're, instead, just a series of mini-reviews for the products, mostly critical, with no sense of their being ranked, nor telling you which one is best. I would skip from one review to the next, by the same author, and see things like this:
"The Gammon X-RAY 3000 comes with the bog-standard netbook setup of a weak Intel Atom N270 processor, a measly 1GB of DDR2 RAM, and the same 10" screen as all the rest, only offering a tiny 1024 x 600 pixel display."
"The Xplodo Cat-Racked Z444 carries a decent Atom N270 processor, easily capable of running most tasks, helped along with a healthy gigabyte of DDR2 RAM. The 10" screen offers ample space with 1024 x 600 pixels, letting you easily browse websites."
BUT WHA HUH HOW?
I just want someone to put photographs of all the machines, and underneath say what each of them does best. Which is why this article by LAPTOP magazine is absolute stellar, and completely helped me settle on the HP ION machine. More of this sort of thing!
In the end, however, my decision was made by Jim. He too owns the 311c-1101SA (and not the poorer 1020SA nor the 1030SA), and told me it can run Portal. And despite nearly three weeks passing between hearing that and finally making my mind up, it was those words that clinched it. My desire for a netbook is to be able to write on it - write on planes, in hotel rooms, on trains, in Starbucks... But the thought of having one that I could also install Steam on, and not have to stick to games from pre-2000, seemed too exciting.
After some extraordinary trauma (the machine cost £230 on Amazon when Jim recommended it that afternoon, but by the evening was amazingly up to £310. I waited all those weeks to see if it would drop again, and eventually paid £320 for it - anyone who points out that tonight it's down to £299.95 gets a punch), it's finally with me. And so, for the first time in both my and RPS's fifty year history, here is our first unboxing. Because that's what you're supposed to do, right?
So here it is. Upside down.
There's a warning sticker. And I love me a warning sticker.
Let me explain that for you:
1) Consume a ludicrously full glass of wine. Do not spill any.
2) Gather all the batteries in your house.
3) SET EVERYTHING ON FIRE.
It was time to open this baby up. I believe this to be essential when unboxiginising.
But damn if it isn't covered in all of the sellotape and stickers in the world. I'm going to need more scissors.
Was it murdered? The chopped up parts bagged and tagged by the police? There's so much unwrapping to do! This isn't Portal. Not even a bit. More equipment.
And finally, here it is, just seventeen more layers of protective plastic to go.
Time to introduce it to its older, bigger brother. And a flat surface.
I started it up, told Windows which country I live in, and then... watched it install a bunch of software I would be deleting very soon.
Whereupon it promptly bluescreened. Which I forgot to photograph. Because of the tears.
But it seems fine now.
Of course, it didn't turn up with the extra 2GB of RAM I ordered, that lets it do anything other than be an 11.6" slideshow, so there's still no Portal for me. But that should be in the post tomorrow.
But I sure took it out of its box.
And that's the story of my buying a new gaming netbook. Now it's very important that everyone tell me that I bought the wrong one, paid too much, and most of all, that a newer, better version will be coming out in three weeks that costs half as much.