Why get a new computer?
My better half has been complaining for some time that her Dell computer has become painfully slow to use. I can’t deny that, although I think a lot of it is due to so many apps demanding to phone home when starting up – another curse of the internet age.
It is ten years old and has been upgraded from XP to Win 7 to Win 10. The specification was decent at the time – an Intel Core 2 Duo processor running at 2.33 GHz and I upgraded it to 4 GB of RAM, running the 32-bit version of Win 10 Pro.
What to get?
She does quite a bit of photo editing and would like to do some video editing, but rather fancied a dinky little rose-gold laptop. Readers will immediately see a problem here. Dinky little laptops have dinky little screens and really are only suitable for cloud processing of dinky little documents, as they have dinky little SSD drives. I decided that the best way of illustrating this was to go on a tour of John Lewis and PC World to see what was available and for how much.
Those pretty little laptops were gorgeously blingy, but their dinky little screens were mainly suitable for web-browsing, writing dinky little documents and perhaps editing some dinky little photographs.
I suppose we could have opted for cloud storage and editing, but that adds another level of complexity. Then we spotted some equally gorgeous laptops with 17.3-inch screens (I imagine that’s a sensible size in cms – yes 44 cm – but is that a sensible size?) Not something you can put in your handbag, but that already has an iPad and smartphone in it. We’d initially intended to buy an Asus machine, since we have several good Asus products already, but they didn’t have anything suitable for us to look at in either shop.
Our eyes alighted on an aluminium-bodied HP ENVY-17-bw0003na laptop with 17.3 ” full HD screen. It turns out that there are a zillion versions of this laptop – with different processors and storage options, and it is not easy to be sure which version you are looking at. In the end we bought one directly from the HP store at a bargain price, as they had a special offer and extended warranty. It has the 8th-generation Intel Core i7 8550U 4-core processor running at 1.8 GHz base frequency, up to 4 GHz with Turbo-boost. It has a 1 TB hard drive and a 16 GB ‘Optane’ flash memory for storage acceleration. It also has 4 USB 3.1 connectors and gigabit Ethernet built in, and an HDMI connector. It even has a DVD drive, which has already been worth its weight in gold.
So what do we think of it? It looks gorgeous. The screen is glossy – glass from edge to edge – but it is beautifully bright and sharp. The keys are responsive, although cold to the touch (which feels odd). In normal lighting, they are clearer if you turn the key backlighting off.
However, the first problem occurred on power-up. It insisted that she needed to open her Microsoft account. A Skype account was acceptable. So she put in her Skype name and it wanted to know the email address associated with this. So she put in her usual one. Immediately it said that there was already an account using that email address and she must use another one. In fact it wanted her to create a new Outlook email account, but that would just give even more emails to monitor. So she put in her alternative email address. Unfortunately, perhaps due to unfamiliarity with the keyboard, she mistakenly hit the return key whilst entering the address, so the email address was entered with a part of it missing.
She wasn’t asked to re-enter it as a double-check: instead told her it had sent a confirmatory code to this non-existent email address, and would she please enter this code to prove ownership. Obviously it was impossible to complete this process. But when we tried to go back, it simply told us that as we’d ‘changed the alias’, we would have to wait to change it again. A Google search showed that we wouldn’t be waiting ten minutes or even 10 days, but 30 days! What a dumb-ass system. Luckily, I was able to get the account that uses her main email address, working, but it took hours and a lot of hassle. By this time, she no longer trusted the shiny new computer. Aaargh!!! The opposite of what I, and I assume Microsoft, wanted.
Setting it up
The new laptop came with Windows 10 Home 64-bit, which I didn’t think about until I discovered this doesn’t have Remote Desktop, which I use a lot. Luckily this doesn’t matter much for my partner, but I’d miss it if I wanted to sneakily connect to the Raspberry Pi. I’ve loaded it with MS Office and Adobe LightRoom. The latter I’ve loaded from the DVD-ROM that it came on – hence the benefit of the DVD Drive.
I copied the documents and photos across from the old computer. Here, I came across a definite improvement in the latest version of Windows 10. Now that computers tend to rely on wireless connections, you need a way to share connections easily and safely between your computers. Previously, there was the Homegroup system, which was a sort of cut-down ‘domain’ system. If you set one up, you have to save the long password to connect each device. But I got into a problem because I set up one Homegroup between two computers and then another Homegroup between a new computer and an existing one, partly because I couldn’t find the password for the existing Homegroup. This resulted in conflicts between the two and I could not find any way of unwinding the situation.
I was stumped until I found that you can connect computers using the UNC (universal naming convention). Basically, you can type the path of the computer you want to connect to. For example, to connect to Albert’s account on computer Basher, in File Explorer you type:
Obviously you need Albert’s login before you can connect to his account (although you may be able to connect with another login if sharing is enabled). Sharing has to be set up on the target computer by someone with admin privileges.
This is really neat and very powerful, although sometimes the security system is very obstructive in allowing sharing, and you need to persevere to make it work.
Setting up Adobe Lightroom
Lightroom is a really good integrated cataloguing and photo editing system. Photo editing is somewhat limited – mainly to adjusting individual photographs, rather than the full creation of photo-based artwork that Photoshop can do. The catalogue is brilliant, but it does have some silly limitations, at least in version 4, which I have. They tell you that you should move photos to the new location using Lightroom’s built-in move facility. Lightroom’s built-in help is a nightmare. In fact the help isn’t built-in, you go to a website and will find that the help is for a whole host of Adobe Photo products and isolating the help for your problem is a matter of perseverance. For example, it’s no good looking for ‘moving files’. The help is under ‘Manage catalogs and files’. After pages of irrelevant help, you find that ‘You cannot copy folders in Lightroom Classic, you select the folders in the Library Module and drag to another folder.’ I don’t think I would dare to risk this for anything other than the smallest job, and certainly not for the 30,000 photos spread across several disks.
Of course, you can copy the files in Windows, which I did. But then the Lightroom Catalog has to be adjusted to find them again. Amazingly this is quite easy to do, except that it tells you there is a conflict in the metadata! Basically, the Catalog has all the photo keywords like Bill, swimming, Blackpool, but the photo file contains all the other stuff like the camera, exposure, date, and GPS. For some reason, Lightroom doesn’t put these back together – you can have either the camera stuff or the keyword tags. This is just obtuse. It’s not surprising that they advise you to keep the photos on an external drive and to carry it from one computer to the next.
Well, I shall now hand over to my partner and keep my fingers tightly crossed!
After a good six months, the new machine is a great success. There was a slight issue with the printer (an HP multi-function device). Windows helpfully instals a generic printer driver which worked quite well, but it seemed to have trouble with some fonts and did not provide access to the scanner. Even though I’ve had the printer for 10 years, I was still able to download a full driver from the HP website. After installing that, we now have full access to all the printer’s functions. Excellent!
Whilst my earlier criticisms of the shortcomings of Lightroom still remain, we have been using one really nice feature. We had many photographs taken in South Africa on a Panasonic Lumix camera. Unfortunately, many of them were very dull. Perhaps this is due to a camera setting, but this camera perhaps offers too many functions, some rather obscure. The menu system for accessing them is downright cumbersome – I would say that everyone just wants to get a perfect picture as reliably as possible. I appreciate that some lighting conditions are demanding, but bright light should be nearly ideal for ordinary snaps. I have a feeling that the brightness was confusing the metering system.
Anyway, once you have found the right adjustment (in our case, all the photos were under-exposed, lacking in saturation and contrast), you can save it as a ‘preset’ or just copy and paste to another photo. The beauty of the adjustment system is that the adjustment is not applied permanently to the photo, which remains unchanged, so you don’t lose quality by modifying the adjustments later. It is simply a record of the settings, which are applied when the photo is displayed or exported. If you want the adjustment to be permanent, you have to export the photo to another file. This could be slightly inconvenient, but when you’re creating a slide-show, you need to export the photos anyway.