Archive for the ‘tech gadgets’ 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

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

Geocaching tutorial: how to have fun with your GPS

Posted by matt on July 23, 2008

01-introduction-to-geocaching.jpgIf you follow me on Twitter, you’ll occasionally get a message from me saying that I’m geocaching. So what the heck is geocaching?  Quite simply, it is an organized way that folks hide boxes or ‘caches’ around the world with specific GPS coordinates.  The coordinates are then posted to a website to allow others to find them and record their visit.  This global treasure hunt is quite fun, and after you get yourself a GPS, it’s also pretty much free.   Here’s my geocaching how-to:
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted under how to, reviews, tech gadgets

Review: Popcorn Hour A-100, Part 2: Video, Audio and Torrent

Posted by matt on July 12, 2008

Previous Popcorn Hour Articles:

PCH boot-up screenFinally, my second part of the Popcorn Hour review.   In Part 1 of my review, I detailed my setup with HomePlug AV.  I’m still using this, but now that 802.11n is coming close to standardization, I’m looking forward to trying some wireless that should leap-frog the HomePlug AV solution in both convenience and performance.  But for now, HomePlug is getting the job done.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted under Popcorn Hour, reviews, tech gadgets

What’s your top 1% video game?

Posted by matt on May 20, 2008

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)After watching the excellent documentary King of Kong, a Fistful of Quarters (which details the world’s top players of the video game Donkey Kong), it got me thinking…is there a video game that I can dominate 99% of the people that have played that game? Remember, that even George Costanza had a 1% game (FROGGER!). So what’s mine? Before I get to that question, some background is in order…

From 1982-1994 I grew up on a campground during some of the best years arcade gaming had to offer (1979-1982 was really good too). During this time, I had the privilege of sleeping less than 100 feet from a rec. room with a dozen or so arcade games that differed every year. With a solid 6 months and countless quarters later, I had a few games mastered by the end of each camping season.

MAME LogoIn 1997, something really cool happened. The MAME (multiple arcade machine emulator) project launched, providing a way to re-play all those old games in a near identical experience without having to leave your computer. I was instantly hooked, and worked to collect and play all of the games (ROMs).

lowerhell-MAME-Custom-Arcade-cabinet-by-Matt-AppsIn 2002, I built a MAME machine. This allowed me to get as close to the actual experience to having the real deal, all in one cabinet. While my MAME machine is in need of a revamp, it is still amazing what it can do. Imagine if I could take it back in time to 1985 with the few thousand games on it…

So what does it even mean to be 1%? I’m going to define it as being able to beat 99% people at the game who have at least played the game a few times. Obviously, for many games it would be easy to find 99% of people to beat if they’ve never heard of a game, so they must have some playing time under their belt. While it is probably impossible to prove, I’ll leave it at if you are the best at the game out of everyone you know, you are probably 1% at that game.

Rules established–what is my 1% game? A few candidates:

GORFGorf – This was my initial game I dominated, when I was 10. At the time, I could play this game almost continuously, getting to stupid-hard boards that were almost unfair. I haven’t played this game forever, but would be curious to see what kind of score I could put up.

Shanghai Kid – A fairly obscure one, this is another game that I had the high score on for 2 entire summers. It was a Karate Champ type clone but with better moves. I’d be surprised if you’d played or even heard of this game.

Double Dragon – Utilizing the elbow punch, this game was pretty easy to solve with a quarter. I’m assuming others could do this too, so hard to decide who would be better if you could solve the game without dying…

Pyros (Wardner’s Castle) – Back in the day, I can’t believe I solved this game with only 2 quarters. I played this on MAME a few years ago and after $2 worth, I was only half-way through. It’s tough!

indiana jones and the temple of doomIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – If I could pick only one, this would have to be my best 1% game. I had very a Seinfeld / Frogger-like moment when I ran into the same actual machine that we had at our campground at Beaver Dam mall about 50 miles away, years later. It was even for sale! I wish I had bought it… when I looked at the high scores, I couldn’t believe my 700,000+ high score was still intact! I played this game on the hardest level and had a pretty good pattern to snake my way through. It’s a fairly difficult game, but I can still consistently get 300k+ on it. I looked on Twin Galaxies site, and it looks like if back in the day (like 20 years ago…) if I had a referee, I would have been in the been in the top 3 worldwide.

My top 10% games:

Because I play a lot of games, I have tons of these, but some of the more popular:

Pengo – This game is fun, and I was pretty good at it. We only had it one summer, but it was a favorite of mine. For some reason there are quite a few penguin arcade games, probably more than any other animal. With MAME, the excellent and engrish ridden Penguin-Kun Wars was a lot of fun that a bunch of us played. My friend Wendy has the highest score I’ve seen on that one.

Galaga – I know people who are crazy-good at Galaga, so I would never assume I’m any better than the top 10%. I could get to the 25th or so level, but then saw my buddy Apollo roll the score over, so I’m nowhere near that elite status (totally geeky note, if you play on player 2, it actually has a 7-digit score rather than a 6-digit one!).

Commando – Good lord this game was hard. I could get to like the 3rd board and I’m sure that would put me in the top 10%. I watched people play this game and a quarter would last less than 30 seconds (the intro is like 10 of that).

Elevator Action – Simple yet fun, this game got pretty difficult later stages. Neat spy shoot-em-up.

Track & Field – I thought I was pretty good at this game, but then would see these speed freaks come in and play this game. This was a pure-skill button smashing game. My friend Cory has since become a master at this game, almost killing my MAME machine playing this.

Useful info from this post:

  • King of Kong – great documentary on the best video game players. Must-see if you like classic video games.
  • Twin Galaxies – From the movie, this site attempts to maintain all the high-scores, regardless of game, platform, etc. Maybe you could be on here?!
  • MAMEUI – this is the version of MAME I use, and is quite easy to set up. You need this play the games.
  • MAME ROMs – Doug Burton has them, and he only charges cost of the media. I get mine from him now, rather than scouring the Interwebs for them.
  • How to build a MAME Machine – This was a useful book when I was working on my cabinet. Check it out!
  • Matt’s MAME machine – My cabinet. I have a new computer that is waiting to put in, just need the time! I haven’t updated this site in years.

So what’s YOUR 1% game(s)? I don’t care if it’s an arcade game, Nintendo, Sega, or a PS3. Do you have a game that you may be even better than 1%, like a true Billy Mitchell? Add some comments below and let the world know!

Posted under tech gadgets, Video Games