November 1, 2005

Alienware Shoots To Kill...

by Chris Randall

While I may use OSX exclusively for web surfing, iChatting, email, and listening to my 18-odd hours of Neubauten MP3s, when I need to play live using a computer, my HP Laptop comes out on stage with me. The reason for this is that I trust it. While I like my iBook more from an asthetic standpoint, it hasn't shown me that it can be trusted in a live situation. I've seen lots of musicians have crashes and such on stage using Powerbooks and iBooks. The most notable of these was the last time I saw Underworld at the Riv, and their set was heavily truncated due to Powerbook problems.

However, my HP is getting a little long in the tooth, truth be told. It has done a couple hundred shows now, and is starting to show signs that it may be tired of getting thrown around. I know lots of people have horror stories of HP products not being reliable, but I'm not one of those. Not once has that computer ever given me a spot of trouble during a performance, but when it comes to live performance, I'm of the considered opinion that it is better to err on the side of caution. While I'm generally quite good at audience banter, there's not many things that are less fun than rebooting during a show.

So, I note with interest that Alienware has released a couple new laptops that seem to be quite well suited to live performance. In particular, the M5700 looks to be a winner in this rather odd catagory of Laptops That Are Probably Pretty Good For The Stage. It isn't a small laptop, that's for sure. 17" high-def widescreen, like the 17" Powerbooks. You can score it with a 2.13gHz Pentium M and put in up to 2 gigs of RAM, which is more than enough for running Live or Cubase SX3 and a pretty healthy chunk of plugins. It can also hold a dual SATA RAID, which is the key for healthy audio streaming. It's got an SPDIF out, so you can use a real convertor if you're feeling plucky. The only minus I can see is that, like a lot of PC laptops, it only has a 4-pin Firewire port. I really wish Intel would hop on the Clue Bus and start putting 6-pin ports on their laptop mobos. You need that if you want a buss-powered FW interface.

So, the El Stupido Version starts at $1399, and one kitted out for serious damage will set you back around $2800 (that's with max CPU, max RAM, and max drive, but all the other shit at normal levels.) Still cheaper than a Powerbook that is half as powerful. It's a pretty dangerous computer for not that much money, when you get down to it. The only way to know if it is tough enough for the stage is to actually take it there, and that's always a tricky proposition. Do I buy it and hope for the best? Hard to say. I doubt that Alienware would loan me one to try it out. ("Hey, guys, I'm in this industrial band, and I use a computer on stage, and, well, what with the beer getting thrown and all... No, seriously. I have a platinum record...")

Anyways, I always keep my eyes peeled for computers that look like they'll be good for this kind of situation, and this particular one looks like a winner.




Nov.01.2005 @ 9:02 PM
I am thinking of getting a laptop, and was just wondering what the difference was between the centrino and celerons?

Nov.01.2005 @ 9:20 PM
Chris Randall
Well, Centrino is a chipset, and Celeron is a chip. If an Intel-based laptop has a Centrino chipset, it means it is "optimized for mobile computing," whatever the hell that means. For using with music, you want to generally get one of the big honking desktop replacement laptops. These have normal Pentium IV or Athlon XP chips, just like desktops. They have a battery life measured in minutes, not hours, and generally can do good double duty as a space heater.

Centrino laptops are usually much more efficient, and run cooler. They are, however, significantly less powerful, when it comes to CPU-intensive shit. The Pentium M in the above laptop is about as low as I'd go for mobile music, truth be told. I don't think Centrino laptops are quite juicy enough. Celeron M is dumb squared; it's a hobbled chip to begin with, then put in a mobile package to reduce heat.

I'm sure there are readers of this blog that could wax poetic on the differences in Intel chips. I'm generally an AMD user, but tend towards Intel for laptops. My rule of thumb is "get the biggest processor and the most RAM you can afford, and all else will follow." I wouldn't normally recommend an "M" class chip, but at 2.14 gHz, it's getting in to normal territory. Technically speaking, it's faster than my AMD 64, although we all know that isn't really the case.


Nov.01.2005 @ 11:09 PM
Suit & Tie Guy
just don't tell me Underworld were running Numerology when it crashed. that would make me cry. Numerology has only failed me once on a gig, and that was because i put my HD in a friend's Pismo because mine was being repaired and i forgot to authorise the new motherboard before the gig. _that_ was user error IMHO.

the only other time i had a pooter problem at a show was when i took my Pismo to the Apple Store before a gig to get the DVD-ROM drive replaced, and the Certifiable Apple Genius managed to obliterate my boot sector performing a repair which doesn't even involve turning the computer on or any tools even, just because the dumbshit thought playing around in Open Firmware would be a good idea.

i love DP to death but i don't trust _any_ computer or software for live stuff beyond MIDI.




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