Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Where are My Pixels Going?

I have a Dell Inspirion 1520 that is more than three years old. Recently I've started thinking about a replacement. The 1520 is a 15.4" laptop with a 1680x1050 display. Don't ask me what meaningless combination of letters from the end of the alphabet describe this resolution. 1680x1050 means something. Something-GA means nothing. Anyway, this laptop cost me about $1,600.00, including tax and shipping because I bought ALL the options. Had I just taken a standard 1520 and added the better display, I'd have been well under $1K. Today I visited the Dell website and discovered that the only laptop that has better than a 1600x900 resolution display is in their Alienware line and starts at $1,700.

I use my laptop primarily for programming and system administration. Unlike 10 or 15 years ago, programming no longer requires anything resembling a top of the line computer. What I was hoping to find was a $600 or so 17" laptop, add a $100 display upgrade and have a better machine for something slightly over $700. Actually, I'm lying. I was thinking that there might be a chance that the $600 laptop might actually come with a better screen than was standard three years ago, giving me my 1920x1200 display in a stock machine. I never imagined even for a second that the best resolution available in a 17" laptop would not even match the first optional resolution from three years ago.

Furthermore, what's the deal with computer displays with TV resolutions? I know nobody who doesn't have at least three television sets that they can watch if they need to catch up on their shows. I also know nobody who wants to use their laptop as a primary or even secondary TV watching device. If you do any work on a computer, you are probably creating documents of some sort. Rather than a display with a 16:9 aspect ratio, computer users would be better served with a display with a vertically oriented aspect ratio of 2:3 or so. Since that would be a bit unwieldy, the old 4:3 is actually pretty good if there are enough vertical pixels, but I'll take the 16:10 displays as a reasonable compromise. 16:9 is just not the optimal aspect ratio for office productivity. Programming tools are a bit wider, so they can use some horizontal pixels, but source code files are even longer than office documents as they are not paper page oriented, but rather just long files of hundreds of lines or more in length. A display with the aspect ratio of a horizontal slit is just not appropriate for getting stuff done.

Please, laptop manufacturers, offer me a laptop with a display sized for working on documents, not for watching TV. I have a very nice 42" TV that I can use for watching the History Channel. It is much better than my laptop for that job.

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