Saturday 27 August 2011

The HP Envy 17, a 17" 'Desktop Replacement' Laptop

ITS STATUS : Blu-Ray drive dead within 3 months.

MY STATUS : Still love it, just can't use any discs. I.e. have to ask Mrs. with her cheap laptop, 'Excuse me, can I use your little machine as my high performance laptop can't read any discs'.

So this is, my current main laptop.

Quick Spec:-

Intel i7 (better than my desktops' i5)

ATI Radeon HD 5850 (my desktop has a Radeon 6850, upgraded from a 5770 only a few weeks before)

Toshiba 500GB 7200 rpm Hard drive. (Good, but no match for my desktops' SSD)

Full 1080p (1920 x 1080) LCD. (Lovely, crisp and sharp and even)

Beats audio speakers (Is the Beats for 'Beats me what so special about them?' good, but not amazing.)

4GB of RAM. (Enough for me.) 

A Blu-Ray Drive (nice to have, but not essential, why watch Blu-ray on laptop over a large plasma?)

A pair of pictures, just to give and idea of appearance.

From Furbian's 'stuff should just work' Blog

Click HERE for larger version

From Furbian's 'stuff should just work' Blog

Click HERE for larger version

It a lovely piece of kit, the metallic patterned surface is in effect scratch proof, and feels great. The Backlit Keyboard is fantastic, despite having reduced the cursor up and down keys.
The touchpad is a bit of peculiar fellow. Using the latest Synaptics driver renders it virtually unusable, but the much older HP supplied driver (which looks like a Synaptics driver with no trace of HP's branding on it) works better. But it's still not perfect, trying to get the chiral (vertical and horizontal) scrolling to work can be hit and miss, i.e. you put your finger at the right hand hedge expecting the window to scroll, but it moves the mouse pointer instead. Sometimes it can take three attempts. This borders on being unacceptable, but I can live with it, as I hardly use a touchpad, I'm a mouse man.

Oh StarDock, I used to like you.. 

The Stardock stuff included for free, well I couldn't get it setup how I like my desktop to be. Now I saw some of the themes, and they looked quite pretty, so I tried to download one, dead link. Tried googling and then try to download the so-called free for HP users themes, no luck. Was the deal between StarDock and HP called off?
Then came my own deal breaker, I installed Firefox, and found that the fonts were messing up on web pages. Oh great time to start messing with drivers again, argh! Then I tried something else, make another user account, and this time refuse the HP/Stardock theme. Problem solved. I made a new account, because I couldn't find a way to turn off the StarDock theme on the initial account. I know it sounds like I'm some dense idiot who can't work out how StarDock works, but I assure you I'm not that bad, I used to write assembler for goodness sake, and this desktop enhancement made feel an idiot!

The left hand edge became too hot to hold when running Half Life Episode 2 (full details on, 1080p resolution). But I hardly noticed it when playing, as one tends to keep their hands on the keyboard and mouse when playing a game and not feel it all over to constantly checking for temperature variations, and it ran well. Very well.

As for the Beats Audio factor, I've read elsewhere that apparently you need to buy their mega expensive Beast Audio Headphones to get the most out of them. Curious, I have a pair of mega expensive (gifted, I would never pay THAT sort of money for headphones) Bose headphones, so it sounds good because of the Bose or Beats Audio, or both?

Now some 'history'.

I wasn't going to buy a laptop, but I was going abroad with the family for an extended stay, so thought of taking my Acer 8920G 18" laptop, which has a dead sound chip and screen (yes, now THAT's what you call a good laptop, dumb and blind) and use it with a cheap monitor. I planned a family trip to a Curry's outlet store, so that the children could pick their own iPad skins, the cheap ones I had bought on eBay were useless. However as soon as I walked in, I saw the HP Envy, and though, hello, this looks interesting. I read the spec card, and picked it up, I knew I wanted this. So I asked my wife to keep her hand on it to ensure no one else would grab it. Some others were beginning to show interest. I managed get a ladies attention, who took the display card off me and went away for quite some time, whilst my wife and I 'crowded' the laptop. Even though it was refurbished too, the last HP laptop I bought some six years ago came as a full retail pack, manuals, warranty info etc. This time it was given in a box, loose, with the charger, that was it. It felt a bit odd, but it was a good buy, so I paid for it, and took it home, all the while thinking that it has been an age since I made a semi-impulse purchase like this. Semi, because the specs were good and so was the price. My wife was relieved that I wouldn't try to struggle with the Acer or take the gubbins out of my desktop (motherboard, graphics card etc.) and then rebuild it in a cheap case at the destination as I used to years before... Worth mentioning that it did come in a 'first use' state, and went through the first set-up process, took 5 DVD's to do a system backup.

The Trip.

Well I was being parted from my desktop for a while, and as it has a rather similar spec to my Envy, so I thought, why not just put my 160 GB Intel SSD (backed up of course!) into the Envy, and see how it copes? Apart from the wireless LAN driver, and the hibernate option vanishing, it worked very well. But there was a problem, the desktop has 2.5TB of extra storage, so I'd like to use the 500GB drive it came with. Problem was that even though there are two bays, there's only a custom SATA cable and caddy for one hard drive. Cheapskates I thought. However it turned out that HP sold them for an exorbitant sum on the web. Then I found these folks in the US sold it for a more reasonable $49. So I ordered one with only a week to go, fingers crossed, I hoped it reached me in time. It arrived within four days! So now I had both hard drives up and running. One massive problem though, I could not find an option in the bios to change the hard drive boot order, total pain. There doesn't appear to be one there as far as I can see. You can change the boot device, but not which of the hard drives to boot from. The cradles (more like mounts) are both fundamentally different as the bays are accessed differently, which changing the boot drive means opening the bottom panel, removing both drives, exchanging their cradles and then putting them back in. Bit of a pain. Do watch newmodeUS's user guide video if trying this yourself. The bottom panel in is secured only suing the two screws at the front of the machine. However it is metal, and once the screws are removed, or loosened, it feels as if there's a screw under the rubber pad in the middle. I removed the rubber pad, it was quite brittle and cracked, but there was nothing under it. Putting the pad back made the crack disappear, so no harm done. There's a lug on it that holds it in place, so what's needed it is a large amount to pressure to pull it off. Always disconcerting, but it's the only way to get at the drive bay. I realised this by watching the video.
So all was well until.... 

What went wrong?

Before I left, a few days after purchase, I tried my X-Men 3 Blu-ray disc in it, and it kept getting stuck near the end, not responding, and the HP media player thingy freezing. So a few days later I tried my Final Fantasy Advents Children Blu-Ray disc, and it worked fine. So I thought, bad disc, or maybe it just doesn't like it.
Then my sister-in-law wanted to backup a DVD boxset. She'd paid a lot for it, and didn't want to use the originals. Fair enough, so I started to read the discs, but they failed after being 3/4 read. Odd I thought, low quality DVD's? So I tried them in a another machine. No read errors, no problems.

Tried them in the Envy again, not it decided it didn't want to read them at all. However I noticed that half way along the tracks, rather light circles had appeared on the disc. I tried a useless disc I had lying around, the same thing happened. I had now confirmed that it was putting circular scratches on the discs.

From Furbian's 'stuff should just work' Blog

Click HERE for larger version


a) I take it back to Curry's when I get back. They might offer to fix it, which is OK, I won't need it much as I will be reunited with my desktop. But I have this feeling they might offer a refund, which I would not want!

b) Get in touch with HP direct, and ask them to fix it. No idea how HP support works. Will I end up having to pay for posting it? How long would they take? Remember that it came without even a sheet of paper.

c) I buy a drive and put it in myself. Now whereas with most laptop drives are secured using a single screw. This thing has a slot loader where the slot is part of the case's edge, it's a single piece, feels lovely, looks great, and is likely to be an utter pain to open without scratching it's edges. The drives are available for about $70 from Taiwan via eBay (not bad, but buying it would still make more sense than a refund).

d) use an external drive. The return options have the usual pain of what to do with the hard drive, blank it, let them format it for no reason like Acer did. Ideally I would like to keep the hard drive, then can use a spare, sure a multibillion dollar company will have a £25 120GB drive spare for testing computers, no? Well past experience dictates that Acer for example do not. They said they'd refuse to repair it if it wasn't 'complete', my protests were ignored, and despite assuring me they wouldn't, they formatted it and sent it back with its original fault unfixed. Yes I had a backup.
Let's ask HP to fix it.

So I go to their website, usual corporate mess, sign up (yes another password and id to remember (thank goodness for lastpass), and raise the issue, the Blu-Ray drive is deader than dead, it likes to scratch discs.

Now, I gave them what appeared to be the serial number on the bottom of the case. Following their guidelines, technically there wasn't one there.

From Furbian's 'stuff should just work' Blog

Click HERE for larger version

FR: nisha_hp

Dear 'furbian',

Thank you for contacting HP e-Solutions.

This e-mail is in reference to the case number: xxxxxxxx.

The serial number RCxxxxx2 and the product number WP010EA#ABU of the unit is invalid.

Therefore, in order to provide a complete resolution to this issue, we require the serial number and the product number of the unit. This will help us find all the technical details and the warranty information about of unit.

You could obtain the serial number and the product number of the unit by following any of the three options given below:
1. The serial number and the product number could be obtained from BIOS. (Not applicable if issue with display) 2. The Proof of Purchase or the receipt of the unit will also have this information.
3. You could also locate the serial number at the bottom of the unit on the HP Service Tag.  The serial number is of 10 or 12 alphanumeric characters. These numbers will be pre-fixed with an s/n and a p/n.

'... the warranty information about of unit', I like these, they make me smile, not out of smugness, but it's genuinely amusing. It's not a typo, but someone who can't quite express a concept properly in what is obviously not their native language. The latter isn't always true, it can be the only language they speak well, but it essentially it will be a localised version of English.

So that's not a serial number I gave them, and there's nothing on my receipt, but lo and behold it was there in the BIOS. So I forward this to them. Next I get another question, do I have support contract? If not I am entitled to standard warranty, which requires me to phone an 0845 phone number. Pedantic I know, but the number they gave me was ' +44 0845 601 4795', yes dialled verbatim that extra 0 would stop it from working.

I was rather incensed at this, and, well, decided to let them know:-

If your product is covered under standard warranty or Carepaq
you will need to contact our consumer division on the following
number for support  +44 0845 601 4795.
Comment added: Aug 24, 2011 5:46:25 PM
- by:'furbian' -
Quite disappointed with your response.

You've made a mistake in the phone number, the zero before after the country code needs to be removed.

It seems quite appalling that you are supposedly a technology company (though not one that will be selling PC's soon according to your CEO), yet you will not accept a warranty support request for what is supposedly your flagship laptop by e-mail.

How much are calls to this number, and how long to calls typically take. The last time I had the misfortune of having to call an Indian call centre  (Orange mobile)  the call was costly and took over two hours after being passed between four people.

I am assuming I have standard warranty, not that I have any documentation stating so or otherwise, probably left out to save on costs.

With awful customer service like this, you think you're selling a Mac Book Pro rival? Well you're not. Would help if you used Blu Ray drives that last more than two months for starters.

In disgust.

Their response?

FR: pratibha_shenoy

Dear Customer,

If your product is covered under standard warranty or Carepaq you will need to contact our consumer division on the following number for support  +44 0845 601 4795.

If your product is covered under contract please reply to this e-mail.

Kind Regards,

Customer Service Desk

Feels very 'Asian', we're right, we won't answer any questions, i.e. duration and cost of call, and we'll shut down the entire discussion, because we can. Asian in this context, South Asia and the Middle East where this sort of attitude it common place, I know this from years of experience. I can't speak for the far east, so haven't. Yes, I know me, and knowing that having disallowed the warranty request to be continued on-line, I will now have to make a dreaded call where the call centre staff assume that I'm someone who might be putting in discs upside down or something, and want me to run diagnostics etc. I decided to tell them what I thought of them, and it's a tad rude, and petty I suppose.

So now I will either try to get the ball rolling whilst I'm abroad, by calling the number given, which may cost a bit out here. I suppose I need to spend the time and effort to look up what it would cost to ring an 0845 number from here. Landlines are 1p a minute, so no problem, but mobiles are almost 30p a minute. Or I wait until I get back in about two weeks time.

So as you can see, a good amount of time and effort wasted, because HP stuck a duff drive in this machine. This is relatively trivial fault, so far, wait till I describe my 'laptop graveyard' experiences. A collection of dead or dying laptop, two Acers's (yes you'd think that I'd learn my lesson the first time, but I can be sucker for punishment) and a Sony Vaio. Come to think of it I have only had one laptop drive die on me, and that as a Toshiba unit in my company supplied IBM Thinkpad (yes it was IBM and not Lenovo, so quite some time ago.

May I should just pay the $70 (about £45) and be done with it. Oh, but then I would have to 'put' (read take apart most of machine) it in. I see what HP have to say when I ring them.

Thursday 25 August 2011

The begining, obviously. I can hardly start at the end can I?

So time to start a blog, several years too late, but I might as well. If I've recently starting going to the trouble of making videos of dissembling and reassembling laptops, and have an archive of lengthy letters of complaint, then I might as well put it on the web, some of the stuff may actually help people, which would make it a worthwhile exercise.

Stuff should just work, and work for a few years, not die after 12 months after you've paid a figure in excess of a £1000 for something. UK consumer law is quite good, yes I have experience of other countries, and judging from the ones I've been in, the grass is not just brown on the other side, it's burnt.

I've been buying computer hardware, Hi-Fi equipment, cars etc. from the early 80's. I've been through a lot of stuff, some reliable, some not. Due to repeatedly dealing with the same retailers or manufacturers, I've had good and bad experiences with the same people in many cases. So for me, it's a lesser of the several evils out there. For example I had 1998 Lexus LS400, which I still have access to as it was sold to a nearby relative some 5 years ago. Apart from the air con no longer working, every last thing in that car still works, amazing. So I bought a Lexus LS430 (Dec 2005 reg) last year, and it has been a major source of stress in my life due to trivial faults making it a pain (literally) to own. The dealer, and let's name names, they can try to claim libel, but considering I have independent documentation of the faults (I ended up wasting almost £50 on that too) they won't get very far in court, Jason Jones Auto Centre of Tewksbury, have added to my woes with this car. Then again, considering they claim never to have received e-mails from me, and have never sent one either, they probably won't know what is being said about them on the web.

Now some could say the best way of judging a manufacturer or retailer is when something goes wrong, as if there are are no problems, you'll never know how good or awful their after sales service is. Counter to that is the argument that if an item is well built in the first place, then there should be no need to find out how good the support for it is. Just thinking now of all the Apple products in the household, only my father's iPod (1g) touch has a home button that I had to change, as it became defective after a few years of use. However thinking even further back, the first Apple item I bought was a keyboard, which I felt didn't quite work as it should months after I bought it (for my PC), and I wasn't impressed by their support. But I still bought Apple products years later, and faith in them since has held up.

Thinking of the 1st generation iPod touch, which was actually a gift, it is old, and will probably be replaced in the coming months by an iPad, mainly for video calls via facetime and/or Skype. At some point I'll be posting my Skype experiences too, with their rather odd billing problems, but that'll be later, much later. Back to the iPad Touch, fair enough, it's had its day, I might never get to writing about it, it still works. So what made me finally start this blog.

What was the final straw?

It was the HP Envy 17", the all signing all dancing, alleged, flagship model by HP, meant to rival the Mac book pro. I had some teething issues, their StarDock'd theme gave me such a hard time I just turned it off. The touch pad was epileptic until I messed around with the drivers, but otherwise I loved it. Then, about 2 months later, it's Blu-Ray drive, apparently HP manufactured, started having problems reading even normal DVD discs, and then started to stop reading any discs at all, even putting radial scratches on the discs to let you know of its displeasure.

That was it, I've had stuff fail within months of purchase, but in the 21th century, with such hi-tech gear surrounding us, and such gains in reliability, e.g. hard drives over the years, I was annoyed, really annoyed. Yes I've had to contact HP support before, over five years ago, and the outcome was negative, but the context was different, the machine was fine. The start of my contact with them again all these years later hasn't been great either. So begins a waste of time quest to get this laptop fixed. Oh not forgetting of course that Envy was purchased due on-going issues with a heap of junk Acer 8920G 18" laptop, another 'flag ship' model that didn't even work problem free for more than a few months.
That shouldn't have been the final straw, it should have been what happened a few weeks before, my wife's Compaq CQ61 had a fan that started to sound like a shaver, it had to be replaced, Compaq (HP) designed it so well that the whole machine had to be taken apart just to get to the fan. So I asked my daughter to video the operation to post on the web, but the expensive JVC Eeverio Camcorder, albeit five years old, only used to make about 10 hours of video, died. Great I thought, just what I needed.

I'll probably structure this blog into things I have had or still own, and write up each items good and bad points over time. Starting with the most recent. So don't be surprised if you click on a link and it's pending a write up, it will come, but later. I might do requests if asked, so feel free to e-mail any requests. Don't expect a review the Sinclair ZX81, I had a fond and torrid time with it, but it's ancient history. This is not a nostalgia trip, though if I ever get the time, one of those will turn up too, separately.

I intend to write up things as I see them, but it is a personal perspective, so may well be unintentionally biased. For example, I haven't been enamoured by Android, as I have to 'support' my fathers HTC Hero, which he has because it was £25 on his contract. I have a Mac mini, the use of which has to-date, been a total fist fight, its write up will be negative, yes it's old and slow, but the issues I have with it are common to people with newer Mac's. Why bring this up? Because as I opened this first blog entry with blogger's editor, it has one of those stupid Mac style resize corners, and I thought, oh great, and it's part crippled, I can't make use of the horizontal half empty page (now more common due to the wider 1080p being enforced on us). Yes I don't know how users who switch to a Mac from Windows get used not being able to resize using any edge, yes I've heard of a 'plug in' etc. to fix, no I can't be bothered because I have other issues with Mac OS.

Yes this will be littered with typos and poor grammar. But it will be intelligible, and hopefully readable. It is likely to be quite vitriolic, as once someone becomes unreasonable, or a cause is lost, I'll let rip and let them know what I think of them, with bagfuls of vitriol and cutting sarcasm. Who knows, readers may even see where I went wrong and make alternative suggestions. Then again some may say I was in the wrong. I have, when pushed, done some bloody minded things that on reflection even surprise me. Some of the stuff will be cringe worthy, because sometimes to get a result, one has to be melodramatic, it can work at times.