Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

How to buy a decent, Dell Studio 15.4″ laptop for only $450

Posted by matt on January 31, 2009

dell-studio-1531.jpgRecently, my wife’s old Toshiba Satellite A15-S157 laptop finally bit the dust, and it was time for a new one.  She wasn’t interested in a netbook (too small), and we weren’t interested in spending a ton of cash since it’s mainly one of those ‘lounging around the house’ laptops.

I was about to pull the trigger on one of those cheap Office Depot type specials you often see for around $500, when I realized it wouldn’t be much better than the 6-year old Toshiba it was replacing.

Using my tried and true buying site,, I found some deals at the Dell Outlet, where you can get either refurbished or scratch-and-dent re-certified computers.  I opted for a refurbished Dell Studio 15.  To get the best deal, here is what I did:

1. Dell Outlet – First go here and get familiar with the site, the options, how the selection works, etc.  To get the best deals you won’t be buying just yet, but you want to see what’s available and know how to ‘quickly’ buy one of these.  For the Studio Laptops, you can even choose from EIGHT colors, and typically there are a lot of options out there to meet your needs.

2. Dell Outlet Twitter – Often, Dell puts out 20% off coupons on these already cheap outlet PCs.  The best way to find out when they come out is to follow their twitter account.  I even put them on SMS update, so when the deal came out, I got a text message right when it happened.  This was important, because when the 20% off coupon comes out, the selection goes FAST.  Deal sites usually post this, but if you get the tweet, you are getting it the same time they are.

We’ve had the laptop now for a couple weeks with no issues.  It comes as it was new (nice boxes and all), and you would never know it was refurbished.  It’s re-plastic wrapped and totally clean with a fresh install of Windows Vista Home Premium SP1.  Here are the specs:

Studio 15 (1537) Laptop:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T5800 (2.00GHz/800Mhz FSB/2MB cache)
  • 250 GB SATA Hard Drive (5400RPM)
  • 3 GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz (2 DIMMs)
  • Dell Wireless 370 Bluetooth Module
  • Dell Wireless 1510 802.11a/g/n Draft Mini Card
  • Integrated 2.0 Mega Pixel Web Camera
  • Fingerprint Reader Touchpad
  • Mobile Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD
  • 8X Slot Load CD / DVD Burner (Dual Layer DVD+/-R Drive)
  • Genuine Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 15.4 WXGA LED Laptop Screen Display with TrueLife
  • Multi-card reader slot, HDMI & VGA output
  • eSATA, 3-USB, Firewire, PCMCIA, 10/100/1000 LAN
  • 6 Cell Primary Battery
  • Plum Purple
  • 1Yr Ltd Hardware Warranty, Mail-In Service after Remote Diagnosis, 24×7 Phone Support
  • Usual bundled software (that I uninstall)

$539.00:  Cost (Pretty good price–‘new’, this would be around $800)

– $107.80: 20% off any refurbished Studio 1537 (this is the twitter outlet coupon I used)

Subtotal:  $431.20
Shipping and Handling:  $19.99
Shipping Discount:  -$19.99 (coupon had free shipping too!)
Sales Tax:  $23.72
Total Amount:  $454.92


To get this laptop with a decent processor, wireless-N, bluetooth, webcam, the color you want and a nice sized hard drive for $450 is impressive.  Used on eBay you’d easily pay more and not have a warranty.

If you are in the market for a new laptop, don’t be afraid of refurbs.  I’ve purchased a lot of refurbished electronics and have had great success.  Usually you can save 30-40% from new, and you often can’t tell the difference.

Good luck!

Posted under how to, tech gadgets

Top 10 Rock Albums of 2008

Posted by matt on December 31, 2008

I’ve been blog-slacking for awhile, so thought I’d put out my picks for top 10 rock albums from 2008.  While primarily indie bands, there are a few big-boys on here as well.  I reviewed some of these earlier, but many are ones I’ve only had for a short while.  My picks for 2008 (in alphabetical order):bloc_party.jpg

  1. Bloc Party –  Intimacy – A varied album, it reminds me of Chuck Mosely era Faith No More with a post-9/11 twist (whatever that means).  I listened to this album a lot in NYC, so that might have something to do with it.  It could be the soundtrack for your life, depending on how your day is going.
  2. Flight of the Conchords – Self Titled – The TV show is great, and the songs are solid.  Combine the two and listening to these songs always put a smile on my face.  Season 2 starts in a few weeks!
  3. F**ed Up – The Chemistry of Common Life – Back in college, I went to many punk shows featuring bands that wished they sounded like this.  You know what I mean?  The sweaty club with the worst sounding PA, college kids moshing, skinheads doing that scary half-pogo, half I-want-to-kill-you dance.  Then the show is over, you buy the CD and it’s terrible, but reminds you of the night.   What if that CD wasn’t terrible? Put good production and catchy songs with the crazy, screaming, sweaty-fat-guy atmosphere and you are Fucked Up.
  4. Guns and Roses – Chinese Democracy – Really, this is on the list? Before you run off, there is enough here worth a few listens.  Pretend you never heard of them and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
  5. The Mars Volta – The Bedlam in Goliath – It’s weird and features songs written while under the influence of Ouija boards.  You either like this type of music or hate it.  I like it.
  6. Metallica – Death Magnetic – Another comeback album, this reestablished Metallica with at least the ability to play for 9 minutes straight.  They do it so well, too.
  7. Portishead – Third – listening to this album a lot = looming depression.   Such is Portishead, but Third (their 3rd studio album, clever!) takes the creepy movie soundtrack stuff to another level.  Turn off all the lights and listen to this if you dare!
  8. Protest the Hero – Fortress – Kapow! I’m noticing the bands on this list are either weird or punch you in the face.  This does the later, much like a hawkey slap-shot, or a case of Molson Ice.  These Canadians know their metal, eh?!
  9. Toadies – No Deliverance – Toadies sound mad on this album–much like they’ve blown all their royalties from Possum Kingdom!  They are on track though, with songs like “So Long Lovey Eyes” that if you listen while driving, will make you drive quite fast.
  10. TV on the Radio – Dear Science – Friends have been recommending TV on the Radio for a couple of years now, but I had trouble getting into them, until Dear Science came along.  It’s now accessible enough for me (or my tastes have changed) that this album is a must from 2008.  Some of the most interesting chord progressions and beats in modern rock.

There you have it, my top 10 rock albums from 2008.  Ones I missed?  Ones that shouldn’t be on here?  Someone will probably throttle me for putting GNR on here with no Narrow Stairs – Death Cab for Cutie, but hey, that’s what comments are for.  :)

Posted under music, reviews, top 10 lists

Mini-Album Review: Guns N’ Roses, Chinese Democracy

Posted by matt on November 24, 2008

chinese-democracy.jpgArtist: Guns N’ Roses
Album: Chinese Democracy
Wikipedia Genre(s): Hard rock
Matt’s Fav Tracks: Chinese Democracy, Shackler’s Revenge
# times listened: Not many (< 10 times)
Matt’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Buy CD: Amazon

Over 15 years ago, I remember watching the 9-minute video for November Rain with Nemolian.  After the video, they interviewed Axl in the back of a limo while he was trying to remember if the video cost $1.6 or $2 million…

Fast-forward to today and not much has happened with Guns, but a lot has happened to the music industry.  Entire music genres launched and already fizzled (i.e. Ska, nu-metal), music is delivered completely differently, and this type of music is not supposed to be popular anymore unless you are seeing it performed by <insert washed-up hair-band> at your local county fair.  During this time, Axl Rose was busy kicking people in and out of his band while working on the banned in China, Chinese Democracy.

Being 15 years in the making, there is no way this album (or any album) could possibly live up to hype and pressure similar to the last Indiana Jones movie or Duke Nuke ’em Forever, but this album really surprised me.

The title track opens with a growley scream that you’d expect if Axl had been cooped up spending tons of time and over $15 million in cash (about a million a year I guess).  Though Slash is not present, the guitar parts are brilliant (I’m assuming they are mostly the Buckethead ones) and the heavily layered tracks have a nice groove.  The songs do vary quite a bit and the tone has an epic feel–almost like Zepplin, mixed with Floyd, mixed with Steve Vai’s solo stuff.  There are a few clunkers on here, but at over 70 minutes, you get your money’s worth.  I currently dig the title track most of all so far, but some of the later tracks are growing on me.dr-pepper-logo-2.jpg

If you hurry, the free Dr. Pepper to everyone is still available to everyone in the United States, (EXCEPT Slash) until 6PM EST on 11/24/08!  I tried to get mine, but the website is still getting killed.  Check the story if you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.

Posted under music, reviews

Review of Max Raabe & the Palast Orchester in Madison, WI

Posted by matt on October 4, 2008

max_raabe_palast_orchester2.jpgSara and I had the privilege to see Max Raabe & the Palast Orchester at the Overture Center in Madison, WI tonight.  Immediately we were transported back to a pre-WWII time in Germany when the music was beautiful, ironic and a little creepy.  The closing credits to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (Midnight, Stars and You) immediately came to mind.

The musicianship was outstanding and Max Raabe is just fun to watch.  Standing on stage leaning on the piano, hair slicked back while wearing a tux with full tails, your band playing while you wait to sing–you can’t look much cooler.  It was a solid show and the sound at the Overture didn’t disappoint.

Playing a lot of big band songs in high school as well as the UW Band, I have an appreciation of the tightness of the 12 piece Palast Orchester surrounding Max.  Many of the members played 2 or 3 instruments, crossing from trombone to violin with ease.  The crowd at the Overture, while by no means packed, was also very appreciative.  Max and company did a couple of enthusiastic encores.  The fact that most of the songs were in German added a mysticism to it all.

If you have a chance to see them live, I’d highly recommend it.  I don’t know of an act touring that is anything like them, especially at their level of ability.  I bought their live CD at Carnegie Hall, but they also have a DVD available.   Good stuff.

Posted under music, reviews, shows

Gadget Review: Super Talent Pico-C USB 4GB flash drive

Posted by matt on September 3, 2008

super_talent_pico_c_icon_4gb_thumbdrive2.jpgSince the death of the floppy disk a number of years ago, almost everyone I know has seen or used a USB flash drive to move files around.  I’ve broken a few ‘freebie’ drives that I’ve gotten from vendors, so I decided that I needed one that was reliable.  The two main criteria for me are that it can fit on a key chain, and can take some abuse.  I don’t need the thing to have a ton of storage–4GB should be good enough.

It has a strange name, but I finally found this little drive, the Super Talent Pico-C that met all my criteria (it’s even waterproof!).  It was cheap too, at only $16!

Check out my one-take video review of it as well:

Posted under reviews, tech gadgets