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This is a complete archive of answers to questions asked by various people in my Ask Away service. The questions (may be edited for clarity; recent questions on top, older ones below)

  1. I want to buy a laptop. I want to do the programming like .NET & Java. I wanted to use that for online tutions...Can u suggest me the one with good features - I am not into gaming...but need faster accesss to internet.

    Please suggest me the best one with good maintenance....[My budget] will be around 22-30k, but it should have good picture quality (display), nice sound, for online tutoring and should [be] capable of doing programming....

    - Suresh Kumar (other details not disclosed). Aug 20, 2009

  2. I have looked around, and while there are some very good laptops available in the market, I couldn't find anything in India that fits within your budget unfortunately, unless you're either willing to compromise on some of the specifications, or willing to go for a used laptop. Here's what I had in mind for you:

    1. Intel Core 2 Duo processor 1.6GHz or above OR AMD Dual Core Turion processor (machines with the AMD processor are usually cheaper)
    2. 2 GB of RAM (since you're going to be using it for development)
    3. 120 GB HDD (minimum)
    4. 14" or bigger display
    5. DVD writer
    6. Decent quality sound card

    Note that I'm referring to a Windows Vista-based specification. If you'd like to go for an Windows XP configuration, or no OS option at all, then it's possible that the price could be lesser.

    Now, all the configurations that I've seen so far are priced above your budget (prices start at 32k). However, if you're willing to do one or more of the following, then I could try to help once more:

    • Go for a smaller display, 12" or so (though I advise against it, especially since you're going to be looking at the screen for long stretches of time)
    • Go for lesser RAM (I wouldn't advise it, definitely not if you're looking to use it for software development)
    • Go for an older processor (may be acceptable)
    • Go for a used machine (I wouldn't recommend it, based on personal experience, but you may want to consider)
    • Change your budget to 30-40k

    If you want to go for the last option, then things become much better for you. Good luck!

  3. Looking to buy a Dell laptop, need it mostly to work on projects from home - the stack would be Tomcat, JBoss / Weblogic 9.2, Oracle 10G / MySQL, Eclipse 3.4 and Flash. And yeah, watch movies - if there's any dough left after splurging on this beast.

    Should I go with the Vostro 1510 or the Studio 15? Thought the Studio 15 S540218IN8 suited my requirements (there's also a S540219IN8, the difference being the processor - the first is a T6400 and the second is P8600).

    Oh, and do i go with the default windows vista (aargh) and then partition it and install Ubuntu myself?

    - Lakshmi Pillai, Tech Mahindra, Bombay. Mar 12, 2009

  4. This is my standard reply for questions about your new PC's configuration: it depends. In your case, you're looking at a system that's clearly going to require a recent processor (Core 2 Duo should be sufficient, go for a Core Quad if you're going to do multi-threaded applications), lots and lots of RAM, and a sizable hard disk to hold your movies. So, release your breath and look at my recommendation below:

    1. Intel Core 2 Duo processor, any reasonable speed should be okay. Say, 1.6 - 2.0 GHz. At these Gigahertz speeds, it's not very likely that you'll notice any big difference in performance if you're only into browsing, emailing and watching videos. However, if you're a heavy-duty multimedia champ, then higher speeds will serve you better.
    2. Nothing less than 3 GB RAM. Note, however, that with a 32-bit Operating System, you will be unable to use 4 GB of RAM and above; for that, consider going in for the 64-bit versions of Windows / Linux. The last I checked, Dell charges about a hundred bucks more for the 64-bit version of Windows.
    3. Caveat? Not all applications and devices play nice with the 64-bit Windows, though the default system configuration shouldn't cause any device-driver issues, coming as it does from Dell.

    4. 200 GB or more of HDD (I've found 160 GB more than adequate, but if you're a heavy gamer, you'll do fine with a bigger hard disk). The faster the hard disk, the better. If you can afford a 7200 rpm model hard disk, go for it!
    5. A 15.4" or 15.6" display
    6. Plus the other usual stuff (Dual-layer DVD writer, sound card, blue tooth, Wi-fi (make sure you have 802.11a/b/g, having the "n" specification will be a plus).
    7. Optional: If you're into gaming, go for a standalone graphics card like the ATI Mobility Radeon, or any of the nVidia models. Disclosure: I'm an AMD supporter, and so the ATI models get recommended here :-)
    8. Any extra peripherals included in the base price will be a plus.

    So, that's that. The Dell Studio 15 doesn't look bad.

    I purchased the Inspiron 1525 a year ago with the following specs: Core 2 Duo @ 1.66 GHz, 2 GB RAM, 15.4" screen, integrated graphics card (a puny Intel 965 card)160 GB HDD, Dual-layer DVD writer, etc. The same model now comes with a 15.6" screen, a faster processor, and 3 GB RAM, faster Intel 4500 MHD) at a price that's not so bad.

    TIP: Ask the Dell representative repeatedly for a discount. It's your money, after all, and any money saved thus can go into buying extra books, movies, or even more RAM :-)

    And yes, go with the Vista Home Premium option that's preloaded, but do find out whether they can give you a free / low-cost upgrade to Windows 7 when it comes out. Installing Ubuntu after repartitioning should be a cinch, so I wouldn't advise against that either, especially if you get your hands on the 64-bit version.

  5. Excel 2003, when plotting a bar graph, allows these bars to be filled in stripes of various forms.. and that wud distinguish between bars in a series. However, 2007 doesnt seem to have this option, with only varied colors and funny looking gradients. in many cases, i find the old stripes better.. they seem to give an idea of the data itself, like empty bars for the uninfected person, thin stripes for acute infection, thick stripes for chronic and solid black for aids stage. how do i do this in 2007?

    - Mangaiarkarasi, Ph.D. Research Student, JNCASR. Feb 28, 2009

  6. The following should help solve your problem. Basically, using different fill patterns has been "disabled" in Excel 2007, but it can be "revived", with some help from friendly Netizens. See this page and then this one - the Excel add-in provided on the second page re-injects the hidden feature into your installation of Excel.

  7. My system clock isnt working.. how many ever times i set it right. it works with its own mind.. either slow or non-functional alternately.

    - Mangaiarkarasi, Ph.D. Research Student, JNCASR. Feb 28, 2009

  8. A computer's clock is usually powered by 1.5V "button cells" - the small round ones that are usually found in handheld instruments like digital diaries, some models of calculators, digital wrist watches and so on. If your system clock lags behind repeatedly after corrections, it's almost certainly due to a run-down cell. Ask your system administrator to replace it, and it should start keeping time correctly once again.

    An alternative that you could try, if you have an Internet connection that's constantly active, would be to enable the Windows Time service. This feature is available on all computers that are running at least Windows XP (Home or Pro).

    To enable it, hit WinKey + R (that is the Windows key and R), type "services.msc" (without the quotes). A window opens up displaying all the "services" that Windows runs in the background. Locate "Windows Time", and double-click it. In the resultant dialog, set the "Startup Type" to Automatic, and click the OK button. If the service is shown as not running (see the Status column), right-click it and select Start. The service should start running now. This service connects to the Internet on a regular basis, and updates the system's time by referring to "Time servers" that are available all the time on the Internet. It's not guaranteed to work well all the time, but it's definitely worth a try.