New Laptop! ASUS ROG G750JW

I recently received the generous gift of an ASUS ROG (Republic of Gamers) G750JW laptop, and let me tell you, the thing is a beast. Seriously, it’s huge.

It’s a 17″ widescreen laptop (1920×1080 TN panel, no touch thankyouverymuch), with an extra two inches or so of chassis behind the hinge. It also weighs just short of ten pounds.

But, I wasn’t looking for an ultraportable. I wanted something that I could use around the house and on the road, primarily for software development, but also for occasional gaming. That meant I needed a comfortably-sized keyboard, trackpad, and display; that meant a 17″ laptop. I wanted decent battery life and decent performance, which meant it would be heavy for its size. And I got exactly what I asked for.

The G750JW runs a Core i7 at 3.2GHz, 12GB of RAM, an NVidia GeForce 765m, and a 750GB HDD. Step one was replacing the HDD with a 240GB Crucial M500 SSD I picked up for $135 on Amazon – less than half what I paid for a nearly identical drive just over a year ago. The difference in speed is truly staggering, going from a 5400 RPM laptop hard drive to a full-tilt SSD. It also cut a few ounces off the weight, and added a good half hour to hour of working time on the battery, so a win across the board.

I tried installing Windows 7 on it as I despise Windows 8, but kept running into an error during the “extracting files” stage of the installation. I found numerous posts online from people with the same problem, some of them with solutions, but none of those solutions worked for me; from what I can tell, it appears to be some conflict between the latest-and-greatest UEFI in the G750’s motherboard and the aging Windows 7 OS. It’s a shame, but I suppose being forced to gain more familiarity with Windows 8 isn’t all bad; I just wish I had the option to use something more, well… usable.

Other than the OS though, it’s been a joy. It performs extremely well, it has all the features and specs I need for what I’m using it for, and it’s a beast for gaming – more horsepower than I really need considering I’m not a huge gamer and gaming was not the primary purpose of the laptop to begin with. Part of its bulk comes from the two huge rear-venting fans in the thing, which do a good job of keeping it cool – something I’ve had problems with when using other laptops, and which was the ultimate bane of my wife’s old MacBook Air. I don’t think I need to worry about it overheating and locking up while playing video like the MBA did on a regular basis.

My only gripe at the moment is that it seems to be impossible to find a decent Bluetooth mouse. Sure, the market is flooded with wireless laptop mice; but 95% of them use a proprietary receiver (I’m looking at you, Logitech!) rather than native Bluetooth, which requires you to use the provided USB dongle. That seems like an utter waste considering the laptop has a built-in transceiver capable of handling mice without any USB dongle.

All I really want is a decent-sized (I have large hands) Bluetooth wireless mouse, with a clickable scroll wheel and back/forward thumb buttons. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask, but as far as I can tell, it just doesn’t exist. Thankfully the laptop has a very generous touchpad with multi-touch, and clicking both the left and right buttons together generates a middle-click. Still, I really hope Logitech gives up on the proprietary wireless idea and gets on board with the Bluetooth standard, because I’d like to have a decent mouse to use with it.

It’s telling that, on Amazon, you can find a discontinued Logitech Bluetooth mouse that meets my requirements – selling in new condition for a mere three hundred dollars. That’s three times what Logitech’s finest current proprietary wireless mouse costs, for an outdated, basic mouse. That’s how much standard Bluetooth wireless is worth to people. Wake up Logitech!

Any suggestions on a suitable mouse in the comments would be greatly appreciated…

My Present Setup

I thought I’d take a quick moment to lay out my current setup. It’s not perfect, it’s not top-of-the-line (nor was it when any of the parts were purchased), it’s not extravagant, but I find it extremely effective for the way I work.

The Machine (DIY Chronos Mark IV):

  • Intel Core i5 750 LGA1156, overclocked from 2.6GHz to 3.2GHz
  • ASRock P55 Extreme
  • 8GB DDR3 from GSkill
  • ATi Radio HD 5870
  • 256GB Crucial m4 SSD (SATA3) – OS, applications, caches & pagefile
  • 2 x 1TB Seagate HDD – one data drive, one backup drive
  • Plextor DVD-RW with LiteScribe
I find this configuration to be plenty performant enough for most of my needs. The only thing that would prompt an upgrade at this point would be if I started needing to run multiple VM’s simultaneously on a regular basis. The GPU is enough to play my games of choice (League of Legends, StarCraft 2, Total War) full-screen, high-quality, with no lag. The SSD keeps everything feeling snappy, and the data drive has plenty of space for projects, documents, and media. The second drive I have set up in Windows Backup to take nightly backups of both the primary and data drives.
My interface to it:
  • Logitech G9x mouse (wired)
  • Microsoft Natural Elite 4000 keyboard (wired)
  • 2 x Dell U2412M 24″ IPS LCD @ 1920×1200
  • Behringer MS16 monitor speakers
If you couldn’t tell, I have a strong preference for wired peripherals. This is a desktop machine; it doesn’t go anywhere. Wireless keyboards I find particularly baffling for anything other than an HTPC setup; the keyboard doesn’t move, why would I keep feeding it batteries for no benefit? The mouse is an excellent performer, and I love the switchable click/free scroll wheel (though I wish the button weren’t on the bottom).
The displays are brilliant and beautiful, they’re low-power, I definitely appreciate the extra few rows from 1920×1200 over standard 1080p, and having two of them suits my workflow extremely well; I tend to have one screen with what I’m actively working on, and the other screen is some combination of reference materials, research, communications (chat, etc.), and testing whatever I’m actively working on. Particularly when working with web applications, it’s extremely helpful to be able to have code on one screen and the browser on the other, so you can make a change and refresh the page to view it without having to swap around. These are mounted on an articulated dual-arm mount to keep them up high (I’m 6’6″, making ergonomics a significant challenge) and free up a tremendous amount of desk space – more than you’d think until you do it.
The Behringers are absolutely fantastic speakers, I love them, to death, and I think I need to replace them. I recently rearranged my desk, and since hooking everything back up, the speakers have a constant drone as long as they’re turned on, even with the volume all the way down. I’ve swapped cables and fiddled with knobs and I’m not sure the cause.
The network:
  • ASUS RT-N66U “Dark Night” router
  • Brother MFC-9320CW color laster printer/scanner/copier/fax (on LAN via Ethernet)
  • Seagate 2TB USB HDD (on LAN via USB)
The RT-N66U or “Dark Night” as it’s often called is an absolutely fantastic router. It has excellent wireless signal, it’s extremely stable, it’s got two USB ports for printer sharing, 3G/4G dongle, or NAS using a flash drive or HDD (which can be shared using FTP, Samba, and ASUS’ aiDisk and aiCloud services). The firmware source is published regularly by ASUS, it’s Linux-based, and it includes a complete OpenVPN server. It offers a separate guest wireless network with its own password, which you can throttle separately and you can limit its access to the internal network. It has enough features to fill an entire post on its own.
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 (Verizon)
  • ASUS Transformer Prime (WiFi only)
The SGS4 is an excellent phone, with a few quirks due to Samsung’s modifications of the base Android OS. The display is outstanding, the camera is great, the phone is snappy and stable, and it has an SD card slot. That’s about all I could ask for. The tablet I bought because I thought it would make an excellent mobile client for my VPN+VNC setup; unfortunately, I’ve had some issues getting VNC to work, and now that I’m on a 3840×1200 resolution, VNC @ 1080p has become less practical. However, it still serves as a decent mobile workstation using Evernote, Dropbox, and DroidEdit.
All in all, this setup allows me to be very productive at home, while providing remote access to files and machines, and shared access to the printer and network drive for everyone in the house. The router’s NAS even supports streaming media to iTunes and XBox, which is a plus; between that, Hulu, and Netflix, I haven’t watched cable TV in months.

Stupid Internet Tricks

A few weeks ago I picked up the delightful ASUS Transformer Infinity tablet. About a week ago, I finally replaced my aging, flaky Linksys WRT310N router with a fancy new ASUS RT-N66U router. For one thing, the difference was surprising. They’re both Wireless-N routers from major manufacturers; however, while the wifi on the Linksys was unreliable and suffered random device compatibility issues (I had particular issues getting and staying connected from both Android and iOS mobile devices), the Asus is rock-solid. The speed and range are also a tremendous improvement. What more could you want from a router?

Stupid internet tricks, that’s what. I spent a few minutes in the (notably snazzy) administration UI for the new router. I set up my (free) ASUS dynamic DNS host name and the (built-in) OpenVPN service, and I can now VPN into my home network securely from anywhere with internet access. A quick install of VNC onto my desktop machine, and I no longer have any use for LogMeIn; I have a free service that does the same thing, but entirely under my control.

The router has some other neat features, including a Guest Access option for the WiFi that allows internet access but blocks LAN access; optional complete separation of the 2.4GHz and 5GHz WANs; dead-simple static IP assignment; and, well, more advantages over my old router than I can even count. Definitely worth what it cost, assuming that it has the reliability and longevity I’ve come to expect from ASUS products.
Some additional features that influenced my decision to buy the RT-N66U that I’ve yet to tinker with:

  • The router has 2 USB ports. My printer already has WiFi and Ethernet connectivity, so I don’t need them for printer sharing, but I fully intend to hook two USB HDDs up to the router for network file service (which, of course, will then be accessible over the VPN!)
  • The router has full IPv6 support. I tried to set this up at one point and it failed miserably; this is apparently because the shipped firmware ( has a fatal failure in the IPv6 implementation that causes the router to become completely unresponsive when you turn it on. I had to factory reset to get back into it. I’ve since updated the firmware, but I haven’t yet attempted setting up IPv6 again yet.

The State of PC Upgrades

I’m not the first to point this out, but PCs have really reached the point of diminishing returns recently in many respects. While technological progress marches on, there’s not a tremendous subjective difference between this year’s hottest CPU and a mid-range part from two years ago. In particularly intensive applications, sure, you’ll notice it; but for the majority of users, there’s not much incentive to upgrade. For the rest, there’s likely to be one or two parts that will really get you a big benefit, while you’ll be happy with the rest of the system being 2-3 years old, and those parts will likely satisfy you at least 2-3 years more.

I used to operate on a two-year upgrade path: every other year I’d build a new machine, and in the years between, I’d make some individual upgrades (additional RAM, additional disks, faster GPU). Now I’m looking more at a 5-year path, with individual upgrades every year or two between. I really think that, at this point, anyone with a machine built in the last 3 years has little to benefit from a total overhaul. There are a few areas where everyone is likely to see real improvements:

  • Operating system: if you don’t have Windows 7, get it, along with any upgrades required to meet the minimum specs. I can’t recommend Windows 8 for any user for any purpose at the current time.
  • RAM: if you have a 32-bit system (unlikely if it’s less than 3 years old), you should have 4GB of RAM. If you have a 64-bit system, you should have 8GB; possibly 16GB for computer audio, video, or graphics professionals, or users running intensive virtual machines.
  • SSD: you should have an SSD. Honestly. If you don’t have one, get one. They’re getting cheaper by the day, and will give you a real, noticeable performance improvement across the board. Your SSD should host your OS and applications, at the least. Let Windows 7 handle optimizing system configuration for the SSD; just do a clean install onto the SSD and let it do the rest. Ignore all the “SSD tuning tips” that require changing OS settings or disabling services. 99% of them are wrong, and the other 1% are debatable.
  • Display: IPS displays are a world away from your typical bargain LCD, and they’re getting cheaper constantly. You can now get a name-brand, 24″ IPS display for under $300. If you’re a computer professional, you probably want at least two.
This is, of course, a generalization, and depending on how you use a PC, you will have different needs. Audio professionals will obviously see benefits from discreet audio hardware. Imaging and video professionals will want a fast CPU. 3D graphics professionals will want a fast CPU with as many cores as they can get, as well as a fast GPU. 3D gamers will want the fastest GPU they can get – possibly upgrading GPU every year to 18 months.
My system is two years old now. So far I’ve upgraded from 4GB of RAM to 8GB, and I’ve added a 256GB SSD drive. I’m planning on replacing my single 23″ TN LCD with dual 24″ IPS LCDs soon. In another year or two I’ll probably upgrade the GPU, and in three years or so I might be in the market for a total replacement – or I might not. I wouldn’t be shocked to find that, three years from now, brand-new hardware doesn’t put enough distance between itself and what I’ve already got to make it worth the money. Only time will tell.

Chronos Mk. IV

Chronos Mk. IV is now online.

Is it a secret military program? The codename for SkyNet? No, it’s my new PC. It’s replacing — well, in some respects — my last PC, Chronos Mk. III.
My last box was built four years ago, after I got a new job and saved up enough to build it. It was an Athlon 64 box that was upgraded two years ago with another hard drive, a new graphics card (GeForce 8800GT, replacing whatever was mid-range when I first built the machine), and a dual-core Opteron.
This year my best friend got me a Radeon 5770 as an early Christmas present. It’s a good 50%+ performance improvement over the 8800GT. But graphics wasn’t the only place where I found lackluster performance on the old machine. It was time for a full upgrade.
So, after some research and prioritizing and budgeting, I put together a machine for $1150 including display, but excluding the graphics card, which was a gift. Taking off the display and adding the graphics card would come out roughly even. It’s the low end of midrange, but that doesn’t mean I’ve had to sacrifice performance.
Chronos Mk. IV Specification:
  • Intel Core i5-750 @ 2.6GHz x 4 cores (up from 2.2GHz x 2 cores)
  • ASRock P55 Extreme motherboard
  • 4GB (2 x 2GB) Corsair XMS3 DDR-1600 (up from 2GB DDR-400)
  • 2 x 1TB Samsung SATA-II HD (up from 1 x 120GB PATA & 1 x 240GB SATA)
  • ATI Radeon 5770 (up from nVidia GeForce 8800GT)
  • Plextor DVD-RW with LightScribe (about the same as Chronos III’s DVD-RW, with the addition of LightScribe, which is pretty awesome)
  • Sunbeam 680W high-efficiency modular power supply
  • CoolerMaster RC-690-KKN1-GP (last case was a CoolerMaster Centurion 532)
  • Samsung SyncMaster 2343 LCD (only $200 on newegg, and very high contrast and pixel density — 2048×1152 in 23 inches!)
  • Windows 7 Professional 64-bit (up from Windows XP Home SP3 32-bit)
After four years, it doesn’t take much to make a serious upgrade. And a serious upgrade it is. This thing is beyond snappy, at least compared to the old box. Maybe one day I’ll get an SSD and really get a feel for fast, but in the meantime, this will do quite nicely. In the next two years or so I expect to upgrade the CPU and/or GPU — the two-year half-upgrade worked well for me last time around, I don’t see any reason to abandon the strategy; if anything, the rate of advancement is slowing down. If, in two years, SSD prices have fallen significantly (and some of the kinks have been worked out), that may be included in the half-stride upgrade.
It works fairly well with the processor technology cycle; a socket usually lasts about 2 – 3 years, which means if I buy when the socket is no longer brand-spankin’ new (i.e., not agregiously overpriced), then two years later, I can buy a CPU upgrade on the cheap as they offload old inventory to make room for the next new socket type. GPUs, on the other hand, don’t worry about the socket type — the last non-backward-compatible slot change for graphics cards was several years ago with the change from AGP to PCIe). However, their lifecycle is much shorter; we see a slew of new graphics cards every year. That means a two-year upgrade plan nets you a graphics card two generations newer, so a midrange card at a modest price can bring a significant performance improvement. Very rarely does one need to worry about not being able to play a new game with a two-year-old card; the only concern might be not being able to max out all the graphics settings. But when you get your new card, you can max out all your old games, and play new games with very respectable quality.
Everything else can remain the same, barring any component failures, for four years, until it’s time to bite the bullet and move up to the next big thing — meaning a new socket, which means a new motherboard, which means new memory, and at that point you might as well just build a whole new box.
What am I using all this horsepower for? PC gaming, audio mixing and low-latency recording, image editing, and video editing. I can nearly max out all of my current game library (Neverwinter Nights 2, a relatively old game, still can’t be run at maximum quality at full resolution; I either have to turn shadows down to medium, or turn the resolution down), and I have high hopes for the games I’m looking forward to right now (Supreme Commander 2, Starcraft 2).
I can run Reaper at latencies as low as 18ms with DirectSound. Using the DigiTech RP500 ASIO driver with Reaper x64 on Windows 7 x64 causes entire machine to hang, even the task manager is inaccessable, forcing me to force power-off. If anybody else is having has/had this issue, please post in comments — a Google search didn’t turn up much for me.
I’m happy with all of the components, but there’s little to say that benchmarks and more-informed reviewers can’t cover better than I can. Check out AnandTech if that’s what you’re looking for.
The case, however… I’m very happy with this case. My previous CoolerMaster tower I love dearly, and I’ve built several other people computers using the same case. It’s roomy but not huge, it has excellent ventilation, and a clean, modern look. The CoolerMaster 690 is similar, but better — the look is even more sleek, the ventilation even better, and the case is even easier to work with. I’ve even gotten used to having the power supply on the bottom.
The case offers a full grille front for ventilation, much like the Centurion 532, but they also made the back half of the top of the case a grille with space for two 120mm fans, directly over the CPU and memory. This provides excellent passive ventilation without fans, and a great spot for exhaust fans if you’re planning on overclocking. The case comes with a 120mm fan in the front, next to the hard drive bays; one in the back, at the top; and one in the side, over the GPU. There is also a mounting for one more 120mm in the side, over the CPU, and one more in the bottom, between the PSU and drive bays. If you wanted, you could make this thing sound like — and possibly generate — a tornado. The motherboard tray is also drilled under the CPU, and the right side panel as well, providing back-side passive ventilation for the CPU and motherboard.
The hard drives mount without tools using plastic caddies. The cables face the left side of the case, meaning you have to remove both side panels to add or remove drives, but it does clean up cable routing inside the case, which could be a nightmare with the PSU next to the drive bays. The 5.25″ drives are toolless, using a bracket that snaps into the screw holes on the drive with a sliding lock lever. The PCI backplates are also toolless, though I had to use one screw to mount my graphics card because part of the card wouldn’t allow one of the toolless clips to snap into place, but the other did (it is a two-slot card).
The power supply mounting has rubber feet that the power supply sits on, and a foam rubber gasket between the power supply and the back of the case where it screws in, to isolate the vibration of the power supply from the case. So this can be a loud, cool case with many fans, or a cool, quiet case with few fans but plenty of passive ventilation.
The power and reset switches, and the power and HDD lights, are on the front right edge of the case, a little below mid-height. The springs are a little stiff for my tastes, but otherwise, no complaints. The ports are all on top of the case — 2 USB, 1 FireWire, 1 eSATA, headphone & microphone — which is convenient for me since I keep the case sitting on the floor. My previous case also had the ports on top, which I liked, but the power and reset buttons on top were a disaster — I had to unhook the lead for the reset switch because my cats kept restarting my computer at inconvenient times. I hardly ever use the reset switch anyway. The new case is perfect for my needs.
Windows 7 is a solid upgrade as well; I skipped Vista entirely, just like I skipped ME. I’ve had no problems so far finding drivers, and had no compatibility problems, though apps not designed for Vista/7 seem to cause some aggravating problems with UAC; I’ve got a couple of apps that prompt me every time I open them if I’m sure I want to open them, which is infuriating. I found a fix that involves using the Application Compatibility Toolkit, which I’ve yet to try out, but I certainly hope it helps.
So far I’ve been able to replace Launchy with the new Start menu – same functionality for the most part, all I have to do is hit the Windows key instead of Alt-space. Aero is decent, if not mind-blowing, and it does a much better job of DPI scaling than XP did; my display has a high enough pixel density that turning up the interface DPI was a must, otherwise text and UI features were just too small to work with.
All in all, I’m very happy with the new machine; you can expect to see updates here if any of the components turn out to have serious problems or shortcomings that are not yet apparent.