Update Dell 3531 Inspiron 15 Laptop

EVO850 250gb SSD for Dell Inspiron 15
EVO850 250gb SSD for Dell Inspiron 15

I couldn’t resist.  I went ahead and swapped the spinner for a solid state hard drive.

(HERE is the original review)

Big, BIG, improvement in speed.  I could finally use my laptop the way I use the desktop.

It was ok for a few hours.  Then I ran into the RAM memory limit, with the operating system (Win 8.1) closing down windows every now and then, typically webpage tab(s), again owing to the way I use a computer.

Some might say that I could simply increase the size of the page swap file.  Yes, and I did do it and yes it does ‘solve’ the memory issue.  For those unfamiliar, the page swap file is what the operating system uses as ‘hard drive RAM’.  This activity results in a lot of read/write cycles on the hard drive.  Not much of an issue with spinner drives but it can be a problem for solid state drives.  Solid State Drives have a finite limit of read/write cycles.  It’s way up there in number but still, there’s a limit.  One interesting way to differentiate cycles between SSD models is actually to look at the warranty, some are five years, others are two years and the really expensive ones are 10 years.  The cycles directly correspond to the warranty time.

So I finally got the 8gb RAM stick (THIS) and swapped out the 4gb RAM stick.  The 3531 uses one stick.  Fortunately the 8gb stick is only $60 bucks or so.  I often maxed out the 4gb.  My usage pattern seems to touch on 6.5GB according to the Task Manager.

Another speed ‘improvement’ of sorts, specifically when web surfing, is to activate the ActiveX Filtering.  In IE tap on the Gear graphic, mouse down to Safety,  and tap on ActiveX Filtering.  What this mostly does is stop the webpage from taking over your computer in order to load those infuriating sidebar videos lol.

This Celeron processor model, with an SSD and 8gb, has the speed feel of an i3 chip model.  All told, given the original price, this is now an $410 laptop.  The SSD was $110 and the RAM, $60.

It appears that the 3551 is the new version of this laptop, as of 7-9-15.  Of course the EVO850 250gb is now $97 and the 500gb is $162.  But that’s going to always happen and there will always be something better/faster/cheaper.  I knew that when I bought the parts.  If I didn’t I would continually be waiting and never actually have the components that would be useful.

Yeah, just do it 😀

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Four tips to get your writing done at Starbucks

My Dell 3531 laptop pulling it's weight at Starbucks
My Dell 3531 laptop pulling it’s weight at Starbucks

Items Needed:

1. The right Starbucks
(or, of course, similar coffee shop)

2. Writing tool
(laptop, tablet, perhaps with external keyboard, maybe a phone, which I’ve done)

3. Earplugs
(or headphones, we’ll touch on that)

4. Internet connection

============================

1. The right Starbucks
What you’re looking for is a location that has a big table. For example, the Starbucks at 8442 SW 8th St, 33144 has three options: the big high school lunchroom type table, the glorified TV dinner tray tables in the back, and the single seat sofa seats with small end tables around them.

The big table is where you can lay stuff out, and still not bother those around you.

Another Starbucks nearby, on US1, has the same three options. Their table is raised up high and you sit on bar stools. Also works great.

2. Writing tool
I use a laptop. Make sure you get one with long battery life, or, at least, four hours. I got myself a Dell (Dell 3531 Review). For a while I used an iPad Mini while sitting in one of the sofa seats. Doable, but a keyboard separate from a screen is moh bettah.
Same with handwriting, better on a table surface.

3. Earplugs
I use the purple Flents plugs from Walmart, the big tub, about 40 pairs. They are 33db nose reduction and the exact thing I use when competition shooting. Unobtrusive and they allow for a proper cheekweld. Since I have them I use them in the coffee shop.
Every Starbucks, every coffee shop I’ve been to in fact, has music going about two steps louder than necessary. Plus there’s that milk steamer, WRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHH, going off.
Earbud headphones don’t provide the isolation you need, plus there you are listening to something anyway.
If you’re going to do headphones, get the over-the-ear noise-cancellation type and then you can listen to your stuff at low level and still drown out the surrounding noise.

4. Internet connection
Yes, I put this last. You’re here to write after all. But it’s nice to have the option. Every Starbucks I’ve been to has free wifi. It’s just enough speed to look stuff up, do a quick tweet, write online directly (such as for a blog) and work from an online copy of your stuff.
I use dropbox and I’m currently transitioning to OneDrive. Either one will allow you to work offline. Just make sure you synced first when you did have internet. With Windows 8, and probably Windows 10, make sure you set OneDrive to allow you to Use Files Offline. OneDrive is automatically set that way with Windows 7.
Even so I make sure my phone has the hot spot option (or get one of those dedicated hot spot pucks). In my case I have an iPhone 6 Plus that handles the hot spot option, if necessary.

Two Bonus Tips
* Use ONLY enough bag to carry your stuff. Anything larger only encourages you to carry MORE than you need.

* Have some goodies with you.
Examples include:
* An extra (charged *cough*) laptop battery. I also carry the wall charger thing but I don’t count on an outlet being available.
* A battery pack with 1Amp USB out for your phone along with the appropriate USB charging cable.
* A Swiss Army knife. Get the model with the toothpick and the tweezers. That’s nearly every one of them. I use a Bantam on my keychain. A good all around one is the Classic and then there are the models with the Philips screwdriver. Just remember it’s there when flying lol.
* A water bottle (I use a 16oz pilot’s flask because it is flat). Just watch out when flying, the whole TSA thing again.
* A food bar (even Snickers will do).
* Nose drops. I use the plain Afrin. This way you don’t mummify yourself with pills.
* Tissue pack. Naturally you can use napkins, which I did a moment ago 😀
* A blush brush. WHAT?! Yep, a new, never used, blush brush. I use it to wipe off the keyboard and the screen. I have one that came in a snap sleeve. What can I say, I’m a practical man. I also buy those wooden sticks chicks use for their nails. They make great gun cleaning tools, to get into the nooks and crannies. 😀
* A hat. Sometimes these coffee shops, in addition to having the music too loud, have the A/C too cold. It’s a business after all, they want churn. (ok, alright, it’s all relative)
Since so much heat escapes from your head you can offset this business practice and focus on your writing. A baseball cap will do (it’s not Arctic cold lol) or one of those thin fleece caps.

Of course, you can just get another hot beverage 😀
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Laptop review – Dell Inspiron 15 (3531 model)

Out of the blue last week I decided to check out the Dell.com website.

Pow!

I was blindsided with a $250 price on a brand new laptop. 😀

Inspiron 15 1632_1023

This will be mostly about the ergonomics of living with, and using, the non-touchscreen laptop as a writing tool.

Executive Summary (specs at the bottom)

If you’re looking for a basic, inexpensive laptop for text based productivity I can recommend this model.

Pros:
* Price
* Battery life
* Thinness
* Upgradability
* Weight
* Price. “You said that.” Yeah, it’s worth mentioning twice.

Potential Cons:
* Wideness
* Keyboard positioning as a consequence of having a number pad

(Dell website Screenshot from Feb 2, 2015)
Dell Inspiron 3531 dell site 1

I started checking out the specs, though I knew deep down I would already be buying it lol. But the car needs tires!

The specs were rather generic … but that price!

Still it was fine for what originally sent me on the search saga … a dedicated writing tool.

I began reading reviews and watching youtube videos for the Dell 3531 (forget the videos, they’re crap).

It had enough goodies to suffice; the speedy 802.11n wifi, a built-in SD card slot, two USB 2.0 ports (plenty of speed), an HDMI Out port, a stereo headphone jack, no fan so it’s very quiet annnnnnnd :drumroll: …. a 6 hour battery life.

Yeah, not bad, not bad at all quite frankly. When it comes to a portable, wireless device battery life is king.

And this 3531 model is near the top of the mountain for battery life.

Sweet.

Alas there were no options available. This is the Model-T of laptops. No SSD hard drive option, which was my specific desired option.

But hark! Changing the hard drive is very simple indeed. (those particular youtube videos are worth watching)

No media of any sort comes with the laptop. There is the Dell program for creating a backup and recovery disk but physical media from the factory was better.

Turns out you can request it from Dell. I got on the Chat thing on their site, gave the tech my service tag number and presto, arrived yesterday. It’s even shipped on a USB stick. That simplifies things since the laptop doesn’t have an optical drive either (no big loss there).
Dell tells me that the key/serial number is built into the motherboard.

The SSD hard drive gets rid of the last moving piece. The drive that comes with the laptop is your typical 500gb 5400rpm spinning hard drive.

So with the SSD you gain a bunch of data transfer speed and lose the moving parts. Very tempting.

The catch? An SSD of equal capacity is nearly the same price as the entire laptop. I suppose a 250gb SSD would be ok.

Another change one can make is to switch the single 4gb RAM module for one 8gb RAM module.
So far the 4gb is adequate.

Moving on … the system is running my key programs, such as Photoshop 7 and Solidworks 2007 engineering CAD, just fine so far. Those two are, of course, legacy programs of sorts but they work well for my purposes.

The ultimate writer’s tool, Scrivener, runs fine as well.

Oddly enough, the modern versions of WEB programs struggle a bit. Probably due to the Java. The browser based iCloud Pages, Facebook, Twitter, etc … I suppose these are heavy on the Java/Flash type algorithms. They stutter at times.

Maybe the 8gb RAM module would help in that respect.

Physically the laptop runs rather wide, a full 15″. You’ll need the laptop bag for 15.6in models (or larger).
Like most 15.6in screen laptops out there in computer land this one has a full number pad on the right. It’s a rather roomy keyboard, basically a 2/3 version of a desktop keyboard/numpad.

A consequence of this positioning is that your hands are offset to the left a bit. They position the touchpad slightly left to accommodate that positioning.

I’m still getting used to it. All the laptops I’ve used in the past were just the keyboard, no number pad.

The keyboard itself is not backlit. That would have been nice.

The keys have a nice, tactile press to them. You don’t feel compelled to hammer on the keys to get the keystroke to register on screen. The keys are rather quiet. You could type away in a quiet room without overly disturbing anyone.

Overall I give the keyboard a 8.5/10. If you’re a spreadsheet and data entry person you’d likely give it an 11/10.

The touchpad has two separate buttons at it’s base and the click rather loudly ‘KA-CHAK’. The surface is slightly rough, not the smooth-rough of an Apple touchpad.
There is a Dell program built-in that allows for multiple gesture options which is very nice. The gestures don’t respond as smoothly as on an Apple laptop, possibly due to the speed of the system vs any actual issue with the touchpad or control program.
I give the touchpad a 7.5/10.

The fanless design means you have a silent laptop. You can feel the ‘hum’ of the spinning hard drive, and if you put your ear on the laptop you can hear the drive but otherwise that’s it for sensory inputs from the laptop.

The screen is nothing to write home about, again ‘adequate’, but not something that would impress a photographer/videographer.

Though, due to the width of the computer, the screen is 16:9. Movies work perfectly on the laptop. I installed iTunes and downloaded some of my HD movies and they looked just fine at full brightness. It wasn’t real HD as the screen maxes at 1366×768 but it did look good.

The screen/lid is really thin, as is the computer base. When you close it up the laptop is nice and slim, just one inch thick. It’s rather nice really.

It’s a pretty neat Model-T.

Overall I think I’ll keep it and throw in the SSD in a month or so 😀

Specs (click for larger)

Dell Inspiron 3531 dell site 2

Dell Inspiron 3531 dell site 3