Category Archives: Miscellaneous

I’ve gone over to the dark side

I’ve been shopping for a laptop. Besides it being reasonably quick, all I want are two things; a reasonably high res screen and the ability to drive a 30″ LCD. For the latter, you need dual-link DVI. Now, the MacBook Pro has supported this for a year and a half, and the Powerbooks before even those, so you’d think that everyone would be doing it nowadays.

Not so. First of all, you need to find a laptop that actually has a DVI port, not a DSUB15 VGA one. Astonishingly, this rules out 85% of the laptops out there, even though you can provide a dongle for DVI->VGA, yet you can’t do the other way around. Of the 15%, you then need to find ones with graphics chipsets that support dual-link DVI. This rules out all the NVidia GeForce Go 7600 stuff, or internal Intel or VIA-based stuff, which is most of that 15% of the market.

So you’re left with the maybe 2% of laptops out there that run ATI X1400 or X1600 chipsets (which support dual-link), and which actually have DVI ports so they might be able to use it. This doesn’t mean they actually will support it, of course, because that would make things too simple. They might have a chipset that supports it and the right connector, but not have the pins wired up or whatever. Cue much Googling around and discovering of hundreds of people posting things like, “are there any Windows laptops that support dual-link?”, met with general silence and tumbleweed all round. How can the market not have come up with products to fill this gap in well over a year? If they have, why aren’t they shouting the feature from the rooftops?

So, one of the laptops I’ve found that uses the right chipset and has DVI output is the Alienware m5550. Great, so I go look at the reviews – does it actually have the pins connected properly and support dual-link? No one seems to know. I go look at other information about it. Discover the battery lasts only 90 minutes, even if you’re just surfing the web. Laugh heartily.

I then go and research the newer Centrino Pro/Duo/Santa Rosa/whatever Intel are calling the new 800MHz FSB Core 2 Duo stuff, and see if any of those laptops do dual-link (based on the newer GeForce 8m chips, which nVidia’s web site claims does that). Again, no one seems to know. No one seems to be shipping them yet, either. Despite that, even these bleeding edge laptops mostly only have VGA output. Some, like Dell’s otherwise shiny XPS m1330 have HDMI sockets. I dimly recall that HDMI is just DVI + audio, so I go Google to see if you can do dual-link over it. Nope – it’s only single-link DVI + audio, so you can’t run a 30″ panel off it, and we’re back to square one.

It’s at about this point that I realise that I’ve spent about five hours crawling around Google looking for information that doesn’t exist, reading unhelpful manufacturer web sites that have no real technical detail, looking at countless stupid forum pages full of uninformed speculation and in some cases outright lies.

I am annoyed.

I am so annoyed, in fact, that I head straight over to the Apple Store web site, whip out some plastic, and order a MacBook Pro then and there. Unlike any other manufacturer, Apple not only care about this stuff, but they also have properly comprehensive technical specs readily available on their web site, on one easy-to read page for each of their (two) notebook product lines.

Ten years ago, I’d have been intrigued by the possibilities, and interested in whether I’d be able to get Linux working well on the new cutting-edge hardware, and whether the power management would be as good as with Windows, and all the rest of it, finding the journey of discovery learning about all the new Santa Rosa technology interesting. I’ve changed. I’m quite happy to pay another £300 for it to all Just Work. I’ve become a Mac user.