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Commodore was more than a stock scam

From time to time, I see the phrase “Commodore stock scam” or something similar come up in discussion or in books. Commodore, in case you don’t know, was a high-flying computer company in the 1980s that was literally making computers as quickly as they could sell them while Apple struggled for its survival, and was in the enviable position of being the main supplier of chips for its competitors. Imagine if Intel sold computers at retail next to HP and Dell, while still selling chips to Dell. That was Commodore in 1984. I don’t have 1984 figures, but in 1985, Commodore had 38% of the computer market all to itself. IBM and its clones, combined, had 49%. Apple had 13%.

But a decade later, Commodore had squandered all of that away and was out of business. That’s why Robert X. Cringely sums up Commodore as Irving Gould‘s stock scam, then goes back to writing about Apple.

The real story is more complicated than that. More interesting, too.

Read More »Commodore was more than a stock scam

Barnes & Noble’s fate is just more evidence that being better isn’t enough on its own

There’s news today that B&N’s founder is looking to buy the store’s retail and web business, but not the Nook business, and the Nook business could be spun off or even discontinued, but whatever happens, it’s likely to be de-emphasized.

My family owns two Nook Simple Touch e-readers, and we like them, but they have one very big problem.

I got a $25 Nook gift card for my birthday. I’ve seen a couple of books I wanted in the past 3 months, but nothing available as a Nook book. As I recall, all of those books have been available for Kindle.

The Nook is the better device, and I’m not sure it’s even close. But better hardware and better technology isn’t enough. You have to have something to buy. Especially when the consumption device is break-even or near-break-even. I remember, some 20 years ago, having a conversation with a friend. My Amiga was a much better computer than his unremarkable Dell PC, but he retorted, “None of that matters if you, you know, like having software!”

A year later, Commodore was out of business. Twenty years later, Dell is struggling, but by Commodore standards, Dell’s bad years would have been pretty good.

I’m impressed with the Nook tablet range too, but there again, being locked in to what Barnes & Noble has to sell makes me hesitant to buy one. Will everything I want to run on a tablet be available for it? If I’ve learned one thing over the last 20 years, it’s that when in doubt, you’ll be better off going with an open system over a closed one.

So, with no books to buy, one of our Nooks spends the bulk of its time displaying library books; I loaded the other one up with public domain e-books and other stuff I converted into epub format to keep handy. We’re happy, but neither of these uses makes B&N any money.

Review: Insignia NS20EM50A13 monitor

My 15-inch Dell LCD died this weekend. Its date of manufacture was October 2001, so I can’t complain. I bought it used a number of years ago and paid a pittance for it. It had been acting up for more than a year, and at least it had the decency to wait until a potential replacement was on sale before dying completely.

Best Buy had its house-brand 20″ LED monitor on sale for $90, and I had a gift card with a few dollars on it, so I braved Best Buy again, and found a good low-end monitor for the money.Read More »Review: Insignia NS20EM50A13 monitor

The trouble with Dell

Note: I wrote this in mid-2010 and, for whatever reason, never posted it. I found it this week. Although the information in it is no longer fresh and new, it’s still useful, so for that reason, I’m posting it now.

Dell is standing on some shaky ground right now. Bill Snyder has a good summary of the problem.

In recent years, Dell computers have, shall I say, made me nervous. Some of it’s been concrete. Some of it’s just been touchy-feely. Now one of those touchy-feely problems is more concrete.Read More »The trouble with Dell

Reduce your RAID failure rate

It’s not often that you end up talking about computer hardware at church. It’s especially not often that you end up talking about a RAID failure at church. But one such conversation got me thinking again about ways to reduce RAID failure rate.

This past Sunday, I talked with the executive director, who told me five of the drives in the 8-drive RAID array failed all at once. “That’s not supposed to happen,” he said.

It isn’t. But I know why it did.

Read More »Reduce your RAID failure rate

How I bought a battery for my aged laptop

The aged battery in my aged Dell Inspiron E1505 held on better than I expected, but when I went to upgrade the machine–I upgraded it with two unsupported but perfectly functional 2 GB SODIMMs and then installed a Samsung 830 SSD–the battery went downhill fast.

I did the memory first, and the battery wasn’t happy with me. I literally went from about three hours of battery life to 20 minutes immediately after the change. Maybe it was a coincidence, and maybe not. Installing the SSD extended the battery life a little, but not enough to make it useful. It was time for a new battery.

There are pitfalls with buying batteries for aged hardware. Here’s how I negotiated them.Read More »How I bought a battery for my aged laptop