Saturday, August 30, 2008

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In my earlier post, I had specified my experiences on purchasing a Laptop. Let me take you through the second part of this hell, bringing up the laptop from being a FreeDOS system to be able to use one of our very one MS-OSes - Windows and more windows.

Expectations

My least expectation out of buying this laptop was to get atleast a driver CD for all versions of Windows and a spec sheet containing the chipset details and details about companies making the peripherals for this laptop. Having said that I was in for a complete shock, when all HP managed to give me was a CD containing the EULA for their product. User Guides, FCC regulations, materials used in the laptop - common HP, are you kidding me? "You could have been more personal with the computer."

So now no driver CDs, but still I assumed, that's ok with me and I went home and started installing Windows XP. Everything went well until I was asked to reboot the laptop.

Display and Sound Issues

The logon screen came up after ten seconds and during these ten seconds, each second saw one refresh of the screen in a different shade in blue. Every time I clicked my mouse there used to be one refresh and it was like layers and layers of blue coming up on the screen very slowly and irritatingly. Driver Issue, I thought, and tried to find the drivers for this laptop on the HP or other websites. Laptop Drivers website did have the drivers for XP.

So I went ahead and downloaded all these drivers and started installing them. The NVIDIA GE Force 6300 driver installation went fine and I was able to get rid of the refresh problem on the display. Things were pretty good looking on the screen after that. Thanks to my friend Amar, who also happens to be from my ex-company and an IT rep, for guiding me which NVIDIA driver to use among other information contributed by him.

Next was the sound. According to information I got, the driver to be used was the Conexant Smart Audio one. But this driver was not available on the same page as the other drivers. Also to be noted is the fact that the Microsoft Universal Audio Architecture drivers needed to be done first before the audio drivers were installed. Thanks to Amar, I was able to install the audio drivers and the volume panelsprang up after that. I thought the hell blew over but little did I realize that the problems were only worse.

Upon muting the master volume, the other volumes still were unmuted, and upon connecting an external headset, the sound still came through the onboard speakers. The inbuilt microphone on the laptop monitor panel, would not work, and its settings were unchangeable as well. So that presented two issues - I could not use the mute facility as well as the microphone. - Oh the computer is so personal again!

For a long time, I always wanted to make my home entirely wireless in all respects. So I beleived this laptop can change the way I work at home now that I have an inbuilt mic/speakers and wireless. How sadly mistaken I was after this disaster. So now I was left with one brand new laptop, with one unusable useless license of XP and the need to buy another license of Vista just to see if the drivers were fine. Oh the computer is so personal again!

Quick launch buttons and Touchpad drivers

There are a good number of quick launch buttons on the CQ50-106AU for volume, brightness, etc for which drivers were available for XP. Those did not present much problems, and I was able to install them, except that the quick launch buttons were finnicky to work properly consistently. The touchpad drivers were not directly available, and I had to figure out which company made the touchpad and got the answer as Synaptics. These are the guys who write drivers for most laptops and I installed the touchpad drivers to get it working.

Wireless and Modem drivers

I installed the drivers for Broadcom wireless chipset, from here and the modem driver from here again the modem being from Conexant. However, my wireless button on the laptop would not go Blue, and stayed Orange always and the modem was fine. Also to be noted was that the modem driver was to be installed first prior to the audio ones, else we would not get proper audio output. No matter how many times and how all I tried to install the driver, the wireless interface itself was not to be found in Device Manager properties. Dumbfounded, I then had burnt an entire night's sleep trying to get Windows XP to work on this laptop. And still I had the wireless and sound not working! Oh the computer was so personal again!

Customer Service

Day one, I bought a new laptop, and Day two I was floundering about to get my hardware working. This was definitely mentally not soothing me in any way for the cost incurred on this exercise. Since I had only one facet of HP left to test out, I tried that too - Customer Service!!

Off I went at 5:15pm (deadline for accepting customers was 5:30pm) and sat along with many other customers in a Queue. First I had a feeling I entered HSBC Bank, as it felt similar with all front desk executives wearing coats and suits, looking extremely professional. I was allotted a token number for my turn and asked to sit there. Waited for about 15 minutes before my number was called. I must say the queue moves really fast, since the executives encounter similar problems with all laptops, I guess! So not only was the computer personal again, so was customer service. I went in, told them I had problems with audio and wireless drivers for my laptop, and they exclaimed - "Oh, XP!", as though me buying and using Windows XP was a crime or something. But the feeling I did get was that I belonged to Stone age as Vista (eating 2GB RAM for breakfast, lunch and dinner) was the in-thing of today!

I told them, either support me to make my laptop work or tell me that they cannot do it. So my laptop went into a "manager's room", since the executive could not directly solve the problem, and it came out with the wireless issue fixed, without the blue light glowing though - reason is that I was using Stone Age XP. I was elated that I could solve my wireless issue. I was trying to install a Broadcom Wireless Adapter driver, whereas the chipset contained an Atheros Wireless Adapter. Specs HP, Specs - this is why giving details is important. If your notion is to waste money on customer service I would suggest you waste the same money on providing details in the first place for people buying the laptop. It would go a long way in avoiding heartburn for yourselves at the customer service center. You can read this thread for more information on drivers, and check the last posts in the thread for the drivers. No one mentions that the chip in there is an Atheros. Unfortunately its been assumed that Broadcom Wireless driver and Dell wireless driver would work on an Atheros based machine which might be completely absurd! You can find the atheros driver here for Windows XP (yet to be updated)

Inbuilt Webcam

I had no trouble downloading the YouCam software and installing it to get the Webcam working on the laptop. I had no much use of it until now though so I could not test it fully. The pictures were of acceptable quality.

Inbuilt microphone won't work

So I ended up at home again trying to solve the in built microphone issue on the laptop. Without any success and cursing Conexant, I had to retire to bed since it was midnight and my efforts went in vain. So I decided to take the plunge to Windows Vista and tune into the new age computing! Oh the computer is really so personal again!

I am taking the liberty to post Part III of this thread, the more happier part where I am now using Vista with all hardware working properly. That post will also have some close up photos of the laptop in question!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

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Its been a while I blogged, and the reason was that I was very occupied with my work I will write about what was so important in a separate post, but in the meelee, I would want to describe my laptop purchase experience - nothing short of hell.

Brand choices

I had been to my favourite store Staples, and to Croma Electronics Megastore in Star Bazaar - both in Koramangala for scouting around for a laptop. I had a few choices:

Acer Aspire One:

This was a cheap notebook variety newly launched in India on that day with the famed Intel Atom processor (the latest in the market for low cost laptops) and this one sported 1G RAM, with windows XP, 80GIG HDD with NO optical drive. There was inbuilt wireless though. At a price of about 23,000 this was a steal and I would have directly purchased it that day. Barring for one annoying feature - they rather puny keyboard, bigger than ASUS EEEPC but smaller than regular laptop. Me having big hands this laptop was of no use for me straightaway when I tested typing on it at the Croma Store.

Acer 4920:

Looked pretty jazzy, I love the milky white keyboard with that odd spacebar, way too many buttons, and too many certifications and technical jargon. In the end it would have some variant of Pentium Dual Core or Core 2 Duo from Intel, or an AMD Athlon or Turion 32 or 64-bit processor, with 1 or 2GB RAM, and either Linux or Windows Vista. Though it was the usual weight any laptop would be, I felt it was too bulky. My budget was limited to about 30-32,000 and nothing more than that. Since I also had an original XP license with me, all I wanted is a linux laptop or a DOS laptop but with all other features.

My search went on for other brands.

HP and Sony Vaio were out of range for me, Apple was my dream, but it could wait, and Lenovo was looking like shit especially the lower end models. They were looking like bricks compared to other laptops around. This only left me with Compaq Presario and Dell.

Dell Inspiron 1520

I loved the feature set this laptop had to offer, with 2GB RAM, 160GB HDD, Vista Home Basic, Wireless, and all other usual stuff such as optical DVD dual layer writer, etc. But for the price it was too expensive - 39,500. After a discount on VAT of 4%, it would still cost me 37,500 bucks which was steep. And Dell's low end Vostro laptops with Linux or DOS were too bulky and were bricks of the same feather like Lenovo. I had heard from everyone in Bengaluru (thanks to rumour mills) that HP had an edge over service these days compared to Dell. So I ditched the otherwise no compromise Inspiron for either a HP or a Compaq laptop.

HP/Compaq Presario

Ok, so the "Computer has become personal again", I thought. Time to go to HP for some stuff. At Staples, Koramangala, just after my Croma visit, I checked out the CQ50-106AU DOS based laptop from Compaq and the looks impressed me a lot. I am not for jazzy stuff on my laptop, but I prefer the usual features to be good for extreme use. This means I expected my mouse/keyboard to be unmistakably usable to a large extent with no jazzy quick keys here and there. Having said that this laptop caught my attention for its clean build.

The same or similar versions with Pentium Dual Core and Vista with 2GB RAM was about 35,000 and with Core 2 Duo processor was about 37,000, more or less as costly as Dell which I had seen earlier. As I said, it was in my focus that I must be able to use the existing Windows XP license that I had, along with the laptop and at the same time spend as less as possible from my pocket. The salesman told me that the AMD Athlon would be suitable for multiprocessing and would handle many open applications as gracefully as an Intel machine.

He also told me that they may not be so great for gaming. My use was limited, blogging, occasional mails/chats and browsing. Period. This compaq machine came with an NVIDIA GE Force 8200 graphics processor and a relevant chipset. So this was a bonus at that price since I could game if I needed to. What really attracted me was the price, features and the ultra clean look of the laptop full with glossy screen, widescreen and extremely neatly laid out keyboard and black contours.

So after getting necessary permissions from my home minister (wife), I blew up 32,000 on my credit card and became a (proud?) owner of a CQ50-106AU. The laptop became personal again. In fact it got so personal, that I got personal with it and felt like shooting myself for the mistakes I made while buying this laptop. Read Part II of this article to know how I managed to get this laptop to a working state and the problems I faced in between while attempting this.

(will be continued in part II - all HELLs deserve two part posts! :) )

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

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I had a unique reason to go the Lalbagh 4th annual flower show this time. The last time I had been there I had the opportunity perhaps for one last time to test my Olympus digital still camera (4.0MP) - C770 UZ with images of flowers there. This time the reason was even better - a 10.2MP Canon Rebel Xti DSLR (EOS 400D) with a Tamron 18-250mm lens giving the equivalent of 14x optical zoom.

There was yet another reason too - the elaborate Hampi styled theme at the flower show that caught everyone's awe. The camera did its job well, though macro shots would have come better with the Tamron Macro Lens. But since that would have set me back by another 450$, I decided to stay put with the current lens and took some interesting snaps.

I liked many things in this flower show. Good floral arrangements not only in the glass house but two other separate enclosures outside including the hampi theme stuff. I also liked the fact that many medicinal plants and herbs, many vegetables, coconuts, etc were also showcased, there was a stall with an agriculture theme in it and finally the brilliantly styled hampi theme chariot, ganesha, ugra narasimha statues and miniature carvings of the chariot, and famous kannada poets such as kuvempu, da.ra.bendre, pu.thi.na, masti venkatesh iyengar, gandhi, and marigowda (in whose name this flower show bore significance this time) - all in watermelons and pumpkins, brilliantly crafted one after the other.

I also liked the cacti garden (which we were not allowed into for some reasons) which was a unique concept and had multi variety cacti which were unique and nice to see. The show also hosted atleast 50 stalls of various towns and cultures of karnataka which were selling products specific to those areas. Commendable by all standards.What I did not like though is the fact that there had to be bomb checking squads who were only half doing their work, and the fact that many people missed the hampi theme area simply because there was no signage that led them to it. Shame on you lalbagh for not organizing this properly. However thanks to newspapers, people could actually check it out without fail.

Finally before I end this post, I leave you with valuable pictures of the 4th Annual Lalbagh flower show. CLICK HERE TO SEE MY ENTIRE ALBUM NOW!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

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A review of the Swift Diesel Vdi Diesel car can be already found on this blog. But that review is more apt for 5000km of driving. In about one year, I have now finished a little more than 15000km and feel its appropriate to continue writing an extended usage review of this beautiful and substantially powerful car.

I can go on about the parts of the car, its good points, drawbacks etc just like the previous review, but would rather prefer to write some crisp points about this car having used it for one year and many thousand kilometers by now. This review could be pretty descriptive as you read on. Before I start off talking on the car, let me tell you that I have a knee-cap related problem which is getting worse day by day. This only means that I would love cars that have easy drive capability or even those that are automatic in nature of gear system. Having said this, a few points now about my Swift Diesel Vdi and its 15000km journey!

Torque and Inertial forces

If the car is in lower gears and you let go of the clutch there is a sudden gush of torque, which pushes the car forward. I like this reaction since it does not necessiate the usage of the accelerator often as we do in petrol cars to push the car forward. Having said this, my knee feels at ease due to this feature, and every time I change the gear, I simply let go of the clutch at the right time to make the car go forward by itself. This can also prove to be a nuisance to people who can't handle it and hence a word of caution for people exeperiencing it. Drive with care. To best use this torque, I also have changed my office time to non peak hours (thanks to understanding management) whereby the roads are pretty empty and make me get the full potential out of my car. This force also comes into being when you reduce speed at busy intersections momentarily and enables you to pick up to cruising speed again - all without changing your gear. So in essence momentary braking does not necessiate a gear change as such. So lesser the gear changes, lesser the fuel consumption, and lesser the strain on your hands and legs. Now do you know what 16000kms of pure pleasure means? :)

Turbo Boost at approximately 1800 - 1900 RPM

When the car reaches 1800-1900 RPM in any gear, there is a turbo boost produced by the engine. There is no other car on the lower side of 6 lacs where I have felt my heart pound in anxiety when this boost occurs. This is the most defining point in the car and its this boost that enables you to take off from the mundane traffic. Be aware though that the EPS (Electronic power steering) is extremely sensitive and during the instance of such a boost, never let your steering go out of control, the results could mean the end of your car. Also, never ever drive on a curve at the speeds this boost offers, else be sure that your head is going to reel and you may lose control of this car. The trick behind using this turbo boost is to effectively manouvre your car around the traffic. All said, this turbo boost provides me a feeling of an airplane about to take off.

Power

I have seen four cars until the swift and I should tend to state that I now finally have a sufficiently powered hatch on my hands. I have had cars of 800cc and 1200cc and have also driven cars of 1100cc. I must say that 1300cc for a diesel engine added with 190Nm of torque makes this hatch a great combination. Add the turbo boost mentioned above and the combination becomes explosive. The only thing left to do is to add Pete's tuning kit to this car to get your true value for money. It raises the torque and power bar by roughly 30% to give you torque in the range of 240Nm and a power of about 90Bhp. More details on this tuning kit can be found here. For details on using this kit with Swift Vdi, click here.With this upgrade I will have a dynamite hatch on my hands :) Some people might say that the Getz Diesel is a much better car than Swift D, but I somehow want to strongly believe that the Swift D's turbo boost makes it an efficient city transport compared to the more linear Getz diesel and the now launched Fiat Palio MJD.

Space

This was a concern for me when I bought the car and if there is something that I hate about hatches, and particularly so the Swift, its the space constraint. When I pay money for a car, that too six lakhs and more, I don't want to hear flimsy excuses about space or comfort. Unfortunately the boot space in Swift is marginally good not exceptional as it should have been to make this a complete car. So if you are thinking of stacking gas cylinders or even huge suitcases for flight journeys in this car, forget it. If you are however smart enough to "adjust" to your car (rather than the other way round), then you would pack up all your stuff in small carry bags, and load the boot in which case your sum total of the luggage will still make it to your destination. Havind said this much about boot space, if I were to throw another volley at you saying the passenger cabin at the rear is cramped, how would you feel? To each his own you might say and to some extent I agree too. Swift D is a four people car honestly, though I did manage 700 odd highway kilometers with three adults at the back. My mother bore the brunt of sitting in a cramped car thoughout. In any car, except might I say the Logan, the third person at the rear is always in uninvited guest. And the Swift is no execption. At the rate at which Indian population grows the automobile companies need to sell entire buses for less than five lakhs! :)

Personally for me, I dont care much about rear space since I hardly use the rear of the car. But as time goes by, with kids around, I would need to seriously think about the entire cabin space than just the driver side seat. And at that time, I will objectively decide what to do with my car. But that day seems a bit far away at the moment. The only sore moment I had was when I bought a cycle and wanted to stuff it into my Swift D to take it home. It did present some problems, but then hey, no one tries to put a cycle into a car or a motorcycle into an auto and things like that and expect your car would accomodate all that :) If you want to know how to stuff a cycle into the Swift, look at this !!


This should be titled 2008, a space odyssey!!

Tyres and Punctures

In my earlier review, I had posted a few pictures of my new alloys and tyres; Lenso and Michelins. When I decided to go for these at a cost of Rs.37,500 for a set of five each (alloys and tyres), the friendly neighbourhood tyreman Ashwin (of Sai Iyengar and Sons) adivsed me to choose these. Only for my fourth car did I decide to go for good alloys and tubeless tyres. In my earlier cars, the tubed tyres often had problems. Not punctures precisely but something close - loss of air without reasons and this tended to severe wobbling. This was the worst thing for me to tolerate and it gives a sick feeling driving the car when something of this nature happens. So without thinking twice I shelled out 37 grand for my own sense of having a good feeling driving my car. I would like to reiterate here that this is perhaps the best thing I ever did in my life. After 16500 kms of drives, my tyres still feels as good as new even now. The tread is intact and they have not gone bald yet. The alloys took beatings while misjudging the pavement twice, but they managed to gracefully take the impact without cracking up. Full marks to Lenso from Taiwan.

As for the tyres, they have just been great with the occasional low-air situations, but these were times when they genuinely needed a refill. After 16,000 kms I had one puncture finally and believe me or not, I thought its a normal low-air situation and drove around with that puncture for one week. Casually when I went to check the tyre up with Sai Iyengars, he pointed out two big huge nails sitting comfortably all plunged into the tyre. The Michelins withstood that and more and they performed gracefully even under real tight situations like these. Paid hundred bucks to set the puncture right and now back to using the car as usual. You can see for yourself the nails that went into the tyre.

I also find that if it has rained a lot outside and there is mud/slush on the roads, then the michelins behave a bit draggily and the car isn't at its peak of performance health. This I believe happens with any other car on the same road, so I am reserving my opinion on this until I get some clarity.

Visibility and Seating comfort

I was thinking that only the former was a real weak point with the Swift D, but to some extent even the seating comfort is not good at all. In this segment, Tata's have always been at the forefront to provide lumbar support and thigh support in all their cars. Unfortunately in Swift D or for that matter even in P, the thigh support is very bad and it shows after one hour when the thighs start aching even though the pedal pressing is at a minimum. This is really bad for long journeys. When I drove to chennai, I had to rest my feet every one hour and take a walk for one minute atleast. Remember I have started off this review stating my medical condition! Now for the visibility part - its zilch! Zero! This is the worst car with respect to visibility. If a small child were to be standing next to my car you can be rest assured that I cannot notice it when I am in the car. That's a scary thought is it not? Well so much is the visibility in this car that an hour or so in this car makes you feel claustrophobic to the core. I have had stuffy spells and dizzy spells with the turbo boost in this car.

Beyond all that I must say that after 16000kms, I have not banged my car anywhere for whatever reason. No one dead because of me either. And no major scratches either.

Of Fogging & Defogging

Yet another crib about this car. In rainy season, when it pours outside, the car fogs easily. It also accumulates a certain soapy layer on the windshiled when the wipers are used. Unfortunately Maruti thinks that giving a rear defogger for six lakhs worth of car is a luxury. Shame on this automobile company. Their very reason for existence can be questioned. Its difficult for me to live with this problem, and if my readers can suggest whether I can include a defogger separetely. I welcome opinions on this.

On safety

Well, I had one accident with this car. An Indica going left to me and parallel to me, suddenly maniacally turned his power steering and in turn his car onto my car directly on the left side doors. Audaciously he did not even stop to admit his mistake. It was a private vehicle, not a cab. Now on this I got royally enraged at him, used my turbo boost, went ahead of him in no time, cut him short behind me and made him stop. Argued with the driver to make him see sense, but he disagrees anything was wrong with what he did. Get the phone numbers of the owner (another IT guy) and speak to him at length on the road, until he agrees its his driver's fault. We exchange addresses, and some notes about the problem on hand and then I decide not to lodge a complaint. With this my service costs included for replacing one door, and painting another fully with ozone blue colour was Rs.30000/-. But since insurance covered it, I had to pay about 1500 bucks only. At the cost of no claim bonus denied for the next insurance renewal.

There is a bar on the side doors that goes obliqually from bottom to top, and this bar was dented with the accident. Hence there was no other way other than to replace one of the doors. But I must admit my service center Green Cars in Koramangala, did an extremely good job on the car and left me thoroughly satisfied.

I always wear seat belts for the past 4-5 years now and I feel its a shame that Maruti thinks giving airbags on the diesel model is a luxury for certain people. I thought always that Maruti was a leader in such things. So much for leadership. They need to take an example out of the Chevy Spark, which provides airbags for a car that small and its safety is the best aspect of this car. If you want to know how safe Spark is, read this, I am sure your perception on the car will change forever.

I am not sure how much of impact the Swift will take, but one must remember that seat belts alone won't help in a car, the airbags compliment safety in a much more refined and defined sense.

Finally

I like this car a lot, its easy to drive in the city, gives me about 16kmpl mileage, the tyres make me feel more secure and overall its value for money. If you do have one lakh more, go for the swift Dzire and I feel you wont be disappointed ! But for hotness in hatches, this is it .... ! Until my next review, Adieu.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

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[coolplayer width="480" height="70" autoplay="0" loop="0" charset="utf-8" download="0" mediatype=""]
Bombs and Bengaluru
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[coolplayer width="480" height="70" autoplay="0" loop="0" charset="utf-8" download="0" mediatype=""]
Ulfat Sultan - Garriage and Marriage
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About Me
Srikanth Eswaran
Bengloor Huduga

Srikanth is a blogger, reader, photographer, butter dosa eater, an urban car racer & an apple fanboy. He loves music, playing table tennis and traveling. Most times he would like to be solitary to introspect on what life has thrown to him and the bigger purpose of life.