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Tags laptops , netbooks

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Old 4th June 2009, 08:25 PM   #1
Amapola
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House Hit by Lightning: Need to Learn About Laptops & Netbooks

So! My house got hit by lightning last week, and I've been off-line for 9 days due to that. It has made me consider a laptop or netbook, as that most likely would not have been plugged in and therefore not destroyed... although who knows.

And before anyone asks, yes, I was plugged in to one of those huge battery back-up surge protectors. But I guess there's only so much those things can take... we were in the house when the strike hit, and immediately afterwards, there was smoke coming from the battery back-up. It was pretty clear right away that my computer was in trouble. It is now laying in little pieces on some poor guy's desk as he struggles to repair it.

I've been investigating an alternative, and would like to hear from people who actually have these machines. It seems that Asus (that is actually the brand of my desk top) makes a pretty good netbook. Anyone have any thoughts on the 1000HE vs the 1000HA? I've also heard Toshiba is a good quality laptop. Anyone have any thoughts on those?

I am looking for something with a pretty good battery life... there is a Lenovo S10 netbook nearby on sale, but the battery life is only 2 1/2 hours, although it seems like a pretty good machine otherwise. I'm just a little nervous about plugging things in right now and would like a longer battery life. I'd sure be grateful for any insights or suggestions. And here's hoping the creaky old thing I am using lasts long enough for me to read any replies...
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Old 5th June 2009, 01:23 AM   #2
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If battery life is a concern than a netbook is the way to go, but bear in mind that there are some drawbacks - not many interfaces, a low screen resolution and (usually) no optical drive, to name a few.

The first question would be: what do you use your computer for?
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Old 5th June 2009, 07:34 AM   #3
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OK, that's a good point. I mostly use it to contact my customers via email, answering queries and so on, and also to update my website... occasionally upload photos etc.

As part of my work I do graphics, and I understand a netbook would be a poor choice for that; what I am thinking of is a "spare" that would get me through, so that I could continue to work - while the main one is in the shop, or when the power is out etc. I had basically been shut out of my office those 9 days and had about 130 email queries piled up that I had to answer when I finally got back on line. Fortunately there were no PayPal orders I had failed to fill... I like to be available when someone wants to give me money...
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Old 5th June 2009, 07:43 AM   #4
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Did you get any compensation for any equipment damaged while it was plugged into your UPS? I seem to recall some UPS companies/models offer that as an incentive to buy.

I had been using an APC Smart-UPS 1000 for my entire home computer setup (several computers and other peripherals). Just recently, it started to smell funny: like an electrical short. I contacted the company, who said since it was out of warranty, I should just have the entire thing replaced (they felt replacing just the battery would not solve the issue). It may have been a power surge, I don't know (and none of my equipment was damaged). But 5 years I thought was a little short for one of these higher-end UPS's to last, so I'm looking for different alternatives. Maybe a smaller UPS, on a more focused subset of equipment.
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Old 5th June 2009, 07:48 AM   #5
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I've had a Toshiba, an HP and an Apple laptop. The Toshiba died within 3 months of purchase. Maybe they've improved since then, I don't know. The HP is still going strong - it's my youngest son's computer now. I love my MacBook, but Macs are not as cheap as other computers. OTOH, you don't have to worry about viruses as much with Mac.

This week, when an electrical storm passed right over us, my husband went around and unplugged almost everything. We only left the refrigerator running. We came through unscathed.
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Old 5th June 2009, 08:08 AM   #6
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@Denver: My insurance company is having me send in the UPS, and they are going to see if they can get any compensation from the company (APC). My insurance did cover most of the loss, very fortunately. The tech who is working on my computer told me there is only so much those things can take... and the strike seemed to focus on that particular UPS. I would not claim the thing was defective in any way; I just think we got hit by a big bolt.

@Lisa Simpson: Unplugging things is a great idea! Alas - we had just walked in to the house because a storm was on the way, and this lightning bolt hit within seconds of our walking in. I was actually walking towards my computer and was about 10' from it when the strike occurred. So even if we had that policy, it would not have worked in this case... although it's a very sound idea and one we will follow in the future.

Sorry to hear about your Toshiba! I had asked some guys who work on computers for a living, and they told me that was one they never saw in the shop. But they also told me sometimes a particular computer just works well; I'm on my extremely old (6 years? Something like that) Shuttle right now, and despite the ominous noise it makes it still works fine. My first computer was an HP, and the thing was a lemon right from the git-go. I guess the individual machines can vary.
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Old 5th June 2009, 08:21 AM   #7
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Well, I think the reality is is that the laptop will be plugged in a lot.

One of your biggest consumers of power is going to be WiFi. Just turn it off! you reply. Sure, then you have to plug it into the network, which is plugged into the wall, which can get whalloped by electricity. So, you'll use your notebook with WiFi, then run over and plug it in, and hope to remember to unplug it as soon as it is charged, etc. It could work, but it's a lot of rigamarole and procedure.

Contrast this with the realization that this is probably the first time you've had equipment destroyed by lightning in how many years? And if you buy a laptop you are paying quite a premium over the equivalent capability desktop. That's money you are paying up front besides, so you can't just say $600 laptop vs $300 PC replaced twice. Because when you replace that pc, it will be sometime in the future, so that's not $300 today dollars, but maybe $250 (2 years at a 10% discount rate) or so in today's dollars. Then you have to factor in the chance of the laptop getting hit and having to replace that. Is that all worth it? Only you can say.
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Old 5th June 2009, 08:24 AM   #8
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My brother's experience with Wednesday's electrical storm..
.
Speaking of shocking. Yesterday when we got home the front door bell chime in our house was going continuously. Don't know how long it went on, but it had to be driving Muffy nuts.

Anyhoo, checking things. I had recently replaced the door chime with a new one that required a diode across the push button outside (two came with the new chime). TV in the living room wouldn't come on. Microwave in the kitchen showed nothing but a jumble on the screen. The thermostat for the air was showing a big blank. Both my and Dee's computers had re-booted. And later we found that the GFI breakers in the house had all tripped. The phone was dead and so was the modem for our internet.

Seems like there was a lightning strike either directly on the house or VERY nearby. Turns out the Cable box on the LR TV is fried, the microwave is fried, don't know about the air, but a new thermostat didn't help. My computer has all the USB ports disabled, they show as operating properly on the control panel but nothing happens. Dee's won't stay booted. Gets to the full screen then re-boots itself continuously.

Put the second diode in the button and the door bell is OK.

Verizon sent a tech out this AM. He had to replace EVERYTHING from the phone wire into the house and also the fried modem. Now that stuff all works.

The microwave would cost as much to repair as buying a new one. Direct TV is sending us a new DVR receiver. Best Buy can try to restore the operating system in her machine, guaranteed to work for $130 (a new one is $349). They suggested I do a hardware removal of the USB stuff on mine and let the computer find it all again when it reboots. And I have to call air conditioning repair to make a house call!

Life sure keeps us jumping!
.
I was walking out back when a lightning bolt came down REAL CLOSE!
Saw a flash, heard a "click", and the boom from the thunder at the same time.
Couldn't find where the bolt had hit though.
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Old 5th June 2009, 08:52 AM   #9
Amapola
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Originally Posted by roger View Post
Well, I think the reality is is that the laptop will be plugged in a lot.

One of your biggest consumers of power is going to be WiFi. Just turn it off! you reply. Sure, then you have to plug it into the network, which is plugged into the wall, which can get whalloped by electricity. So, you'll use your notebook with WiFi, then run over and plug it in, and hope to remember to unplug it as soon as it is charged, etc. It could work, but it's a lot of rigamarole and procedure.

Contrast this with the realization that this is probably the first time you've had equipment destroyed by lightning in how many years? And if you buy a laptop you are paying quite a premium over the equivalent capability desktop. That's money you are paying up front besides, so you can't just say $600 laptop vs $300 PC replaced twice. Because when you replace that pc, it will be sometime in the future, so that's not $300 today dollars, but maybe $250 (2 years at a 10% discount rate) or so in today's dollars. Then you have to factor in the chance of the laptop getting hit and having to replace that. Is that all worth it? Only you can say.
OK, this brings up a question I had: Aren't there battery chargers that are independent, or does the laptop/netbook *have* to be plugged in? I guess I was hoping there was a system where the battery could be taken out and charged, like I do with the batteries in my digital camera... but I have no experience with these things, and none of my neighbors do either. (Little joke there. About 95% of my neighbors are cows.) I was hoping one could buy two batteries, and just keep one in the charger. But maybe that is not possible.
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Old 5th June 2009, 08:59 AM   #10
roger
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Originally Posted by Amapola View Post
OK, this brings up a question I had: Aren't there battery chargers that are independent, or does the laptop/netbook *have* to be plugged in? I guess I was hoping there was a system where the battery could be taken out and charged, like I do with the batteries in my digital camera... but I have no experience with these things, and none of my neighbors do either. (Little joke there. About 95% of my neighbors are cows.) I was hoping one could buy two batteries, and just keep one in the charger. But maybe that is not possible.
Good point. Yes, that would work. Didn't think of that. Figure $125-150 for a charger and second battery.
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Old 5th June 2009, 10:05 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by roger View Post
Good point. Yes, that would work. Didn't think of that. Figure $125-150 for a charger and second battery.
Great! Thanks for the info, that is great news.

You do have a good point about frequency of lightning strikes. I live at a high elevation (about 7,500') and lightning strikes are very frequent here - you can almost count on it every afternoon from July to September. It's not so much that I think it likely I'll get hit again, it's that I was forced to the realization that I can not afford to arbitrarily take 9 days off work, whether from lightning strike or some other power-related issue.
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Old 5th June 2009, 07:46 PM   #12
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Surge protectors work by shunting hi-voltage spikes to ground through a material that starts to conduct heavily after a certain voltage is exceeded. Sometimes it is a semiconductor material, other times it's a gas-discharge tube. Either way, every time it passes a spike to ground, the material degrades, and eventually stops functioning. Unfortunately, the most common way to find out is when the equipment attached to it gets fried.

Most laptops (heck, EVERY laptop I've owned) are designed to charge the battery while it is in the laptop itself. I've never seen a stand-alone charger for a laptop battery, though I'm sure they probably exist somewhere. That means that most likely you'll have the laptop plugged into the charger.

I own both a netbook (a Lenovo S10) and a honking-huge Compaq laptop. I've pretty much quit carrying the Compaq except for times I need the greater processing speed and larger screen. I went with the Atom-powered netbook because it weighs less than a third of the Compaq, is MUCH easier to carry around, and would run three to four hours per charge using the three-cell battery that came with it. It also cost HALF of what the Compaq did when I bought it a few years back. I bought a second six-cell battery for the netbook that will run it for just over seven hours. The Compaq never did better than two hours or so per charge.

The downside to the netbook is the smaller screen and smaller keyboard, plus a less-powerful processor. This makes no real difference for me as I use it mainly for writing, both fiction as well as technical documents for work. It has no built-in optical drive, either. You have to factor in the cost of a USB external CD or DVD drive to install software. I bought the least expensive DVD-write drive I could find (about $50). I leave the external drive home most of the time, as it's a full-size drive and actually weighs more and has a greater volume than the netbook. I transfer files around via USB thumb drives.

The netbook isn't suitable for "serious" website development or software development. It will do in a pinch, but not for day-to-day grind. As a backup for a larger desktop system, it would do just fine in the short run. The biggest problem I've had so far with the netbook is finding a suitable case that doesn't look like a purse. Regular notebook bags just swallow the thing up.

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Old 5th June 2009, 11:13 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by I Ratant View Post
The thermostat for the air was showing a big blank.
[OT]I actually witnessed the result of a lightning strike on a non-electronic thermostat. A huge spark shot out of the thing and into the air. It vaporized a small, perfectly round hole in the plastic cover. The wire-wrapped potentiometer looked fairly burned, but the thermostat still worked.[/OT]
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Old 8th June 2009, 12:58 AM   #14
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Amapola- I have an ASUS EEE 901, which I think is great for portability and on the road use. That said it has limitations in speed and storage and is certainly no graphics machine. Lots of fun though.
I wonder though- given the high incidence of lightning in your area, would it not be wiser to spend the money on improved lightning protection? - eg lightning conductors that divert a strike away from the house and a seriously heavy duty UPS?
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Old 8th June 2009, 01:50 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Beanbag View Post
Most laptops (heck, EVERY laptop I've owned) are designed to charge the battery while it is in the laptop itself. I've never seen a stand-alone charger for a laptop battery, though I'm sure they probably exist somewhere. That means that most likely you'll have the laptop plugged into the charger.
Google shows that they exist. Just google 'laptop battery external charger'. Like you said, all systems are set up to charge with the battery in the laptop, which is why the external charging did not occur to me. But with an external charger and two batteries you could certainly operate the laptop without it ever being plugged into the wall.

Of course, the router will be plugged into the wall, and it is vulnerable to lightening strikes. If you (Amapola) want to be completely safe, you will need a backup for the router - either one sitting in the closet, or one sitting on the nearby Best Buy's shelf. You will also want a spare battery charger and battery, since if the router is fried probably your charger will be too. How much redundancy you build in depends on availablility of replacements to you within driving distance vs the costs of being out of touch. If you can't buy a laptop battery charger locally, you are going to have a multi-day wait to get one in the mail. How much are you willing to pay for how much reliability? You could have 5 spares for the router and 5 more spares for the battery charger sitting in your closet, which would protect you against 5 lightning strikes in a row. Is it worth paying close to a grand for that level of protection? I dunno. For that kind of money you could have a decent second laptop.

I'm assuming that you don't have access to a library computer or such to get your email and otherwise conduct important business if the system is down?
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Old 8th June 2009, 02:03 AM   #16
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I had a very old (>7 years?) APC surge protector (not a UPS). The on/off switch failed and I figured I was out bucks for a new one. Before I threw it out, I called APC and asked if their QA department would like it back. The tech said yes and, since you have a lifetime warranty, we'll send you a new one. No delivery cost either. No questions asked.

So you might call APC to see if what their policy is.
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Old 8th June 2009, 08:46 AM   #17
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@Soapy Sam: thank you, I think I have it narrowed down to an Asus or Toshiba, and probably one that is a notebook as opposed to a netbook. That way I can load my programs, and keep working. As for lightning rods... I did check in to them and can't remember exact figures, but it turns out they only protect a very small area. To protect an entire house, you need to get something like 20 or more of them!

@Roger: You are correct in thinking there is no computer at a library. Well, there is in Santa Fe... but that is close to a two hour drive away. Kind of far to go to check on email. I think for the present I will stick with a spare battery, an external charger, and the best UPS device I can find. The guy who is fixing my computer also told me about some special USB device for DSL modems. He said they cost about $30.00 so I may get one of those too... but they are about to offer new internet service in my area, the kind that uses a tower like a cell phone, so maybe I can ditch the DSL modem. I sure hope so, as I believe that's where most of the damage came from. That DSL modem got hit so hard the case actually popped open. I've been told it's a matter of weeks before the new service is up and functioning.

@SezMe: That's good to know about APC... and actually I am using one of their UPS devices at this very moment. I'm not sure about lifetime warranty, I think it's more like two years, and that particular UPS was less than two years old. The insurance company wants the blown out one, so I have to send it to them. My plan is to get another device like that but one that is more powerful. The local computer company uses the more powerful type in their office on their own machines, but I will check about lifetime warranties.

And @Beanbag: Thank you for explaining how surge protectors work. I didn't understand that at all, and had some weird ideas that were incredibly wrong. I am glad to be able to understand it better.
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Old 8th June 2009, 07:47 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by I Ratant View Post
My computer has all the USB ports disabled, they show as operating properly on the control panel but nothing happens.
With that symptom, I would guess that you had some USB device that created an alternate path for the lightning. Perhaps a printer or other device that was plugged into a different outlet. A surge protector can protect your equipment from differential line surges but won't do any good for common mode surges that have a different path in or out of your computer.

To properly protect your computer from lightning you should have all external connections funneling down to a single common surge protector or UPS that connects to your house ground at the outlet. The network connection should also connect to a surge protector as close as possible to the common ground point of the main surge protector.

My preference is to have the modem in a different location and connect the computers using wireless. Any long wire like the network cables themselves can act as an antenna that picks up energy form a nearby lightning strike and feeds a destructive pulse into your computer.
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Old 8th June 2009, 08:08 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Amapola View Post
@Lisa Simpson: Unplugging things is a great idea! Alas - we had just walked in to the house because a storm was on the way, and this lightning bolt hit within seconds of our walking in. I was actually walking towards my computer and was about 10' from it when the strike occurred. So even if we had that policy, it would not have worked in this case... although it's a very sound idea and one we will follow in the future.
Unplugging equipment during a lightning storm is a very bad idea. If you had rushed in to unplug your computer, that could have been you spread out on some operating table while the doctors tried to figure out how to get you running again. Computers are much easier to replace than any of your parts.
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Old 8th June 2009, 09:15 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by Beanbag View Post
It has no built-in optical drive, either. You have to factor in the cost of a USB external CD or DVD drive to install software. I bought the least expensive DVD-write drive I could find (about $50). I leave the external drive home most of the time, as it's a full-size drive and actually weighs more and has a greater volume than the netbook. I transfer files around via USB thumb drives.
I don't own a netbook but if I did I wouldn't pay extra money for an external DVD drive. There are ways to do install software without one assuming you have access to a computer that has a DVD drive.

The most straightforward way is to just copy all of the files from the CD or DVD onto a USB flash drive or external hard drive. Then just plug that into the netbook and run setup.exe (or whatever it is). I suspect this will work for most software.

Some software may require a disk be in the drive to install and/or take up multiple disks so the above method won't work. In that case, I would make a .iso image of the disk (can be done using free software) and then put that on a USB drive. There is free software that will allow you to create a virtual DVD drive and mount images onto it. The computer will see the .iso image as an actual DVD.
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