Costco ZT Affinity AMD Phenom II x4 945 Win7 Home Premium Review

Out of box:

The expectation and included pictures had it that the machine had PS-2 plugs for both mouse and keyboard.

It had one PS-2 plug labeled with a keyboard picture.

The included Microsoft keyboard and mouse were both USB.

Turns out, that’s perfect for me. I could use an extra, junker, USB keyboard for a current project. USB mice are as good as PS-2 mice. After I get the machine set up I’ll use one of the old NMB (AT/PS-2) keyboards. I’ve stopped using the IBM AT boards because programs want F11. And, the AT boards take too much juice to be run from a USB port, powered or not. Anyway, it’s important on a main machine to use a PS-2 keyboard port because of the Control key problems with PS-2/USB keyboards.

The system is a better configuration for me than what I thought I had bought. No negative points.

Let’s fire up Win7…

Win7 comes up asking your country, time, etc. There’s a glitch in the day selector’s display attributes and for some reason the time zone was Pacific but the time was Eastern. No biggy. No points plus or minus.

Norton comes up with a huge buy button labeled “Activate Now” and tiny text link: “Close without enabling security”. Negative points.

After the Norton thing, the UI went to the Control Panel. Since I always set XP systems to Windows Classic, the Win7 Control Panel was unfamiliar. It did not take long to remove Norton. And I spent a couple minutes playing with desktop backgrounds and such. Postitive points.

Played two or three games. The presentation was very good, both audio and visual. Ties to the net were well balanced. The whole “experience” in the game area was smooth, comfortable and pleasant. Many positive points.

Aside from Norton (a program that remains on PCs because the US government IBM-ed Microsoft), the only clutterware on the box was something called “Express Gate”. There was no indication of what it was, though it seemed to want to copy bookmarks from browsers. A quick web search found that it’s ASUS’s quick-OS. It boots Linux from motherboard flash memory in a few seconds when the PC powers on. That makes a PC act like a countertop device, able to hit the web quickly without all the time a full OS needs to start. Negative points for presentation inside Windows. Express Gate is not useful to me as I keep main machines on 24×7. But I know no downside to Express Gate being on the machine.

Express Gate: Must be turned on with an “Enable” buried in the BIOS. So only geeks would know it exists. There really should be something at the Windows level to explain it and to turn it on and off. But, it’s nice. Quick and clean. I didn’t look at it enough to see for sure, but the big gap appears to be no concept of a user. Without a user, the 3 communications pieces (Pidgen, Skype and Firefox) are not integrated and Firefox has no secure password storage. It’s easy to see why there is no integrated user name / password, though: slippery slope and probable customer troubles. They have links for support forums, etc. which I did not explore. The games page had its own feedback thingee. I was impressed by Express Gate. With an integrated, secure password store I can see a consumer PC not being fully booted very often.

Anyway, just to be clear, positive points for lack of clutterware, ZT.

Alerts: Win7’s alerts seem nice enough. Perhaps a bit too quick to go away and I did not see a way to get a history of them. With no Norton, they lead you quickly to IE8 and a Microsoft web page with a large list of anti-virus products. Once IE8 comes up you’re also led quickly and easily in to Windows Update, where the first download seems to be Microsoft’s anti-virus program. The “experience” is not too in-your-face and justified as it will be some time before anti-virus/firewalls disappear in to the fabric of the universe. Slight positive points. YMMV.

A Win7 background picture of note is the startup/shutdown/logon image. Its Rorschach ink blot impression to me is that it covers the human demographic completely. In the South East corner there is a leaf or snowflake or white bird or something appearing out of the glare. I’m thinking, “aromatherapy”. There’s estrogen in the South East, y’all. But, now look at the North West. Jet trails. Why no tiny outline of an F-16, I cannot understand. Anyway, the whole picture is Bauhaus sparse, but weird. Positive points.

Disk organization: It appears they’ve gone Unix-like to put users in their own directories off C:\Users. Positive points. But a hassle for me as the root directory is admin only and I have a lot of system things off root in my standard setup. Turns out, this was not a lot of trouble even for my evolved setup. A couple of environment variables and all the important things went under C:\Users\alex.

“My …” directory names? Negative points. Childish. A single word is good. i.e. Music, Pictures, etc. That keeps the space character out of the directory name, too.

Let’s play “find the IP address” – without cheating and running ipconfig. Or going to the firewall and viewing its table. … … Buried where it’s not too hard to find. But buried. A less buried window that shows “IPv4 Connectivity — Internet” could have included the IP address directly. I’m guessing that anyone who knows what IPv4 is would be able to guess what meant. Negative geek points.

What? Hold on. Let me check the date. 2010. Yep. And Windows dialog boxes are still not expandable? I fuss about Linux not remembering window size and locations. (Yes, “Linux”.) Negative points.

Windows versions: Home Premium (whatever that is) is like XP Home in that it does not remember networked drive connections. The bait and switch is still there. You can tell Windows to store your “credentials”. You can tell Windows to connect the drive when you log in. But Windows doesn’t listen. Negative points. And sloppy.

Negative points that Home Premium does not allow remote desktop. No ssh server either. Hmmm. Can 4DOS do ssh server? No. Cygwin, then. Yuck.

The usual negative points for Microsoft’s money stream of product differentiation. Windows comes in 11-teen confusing versions. You don’t care. You get whatever happens to be pre-installed on the box you buy. But these 11-teen versions remind you that Microsoft is – like any bank, insurance company, telephone company or government – not on your side. Count your fingers, my friend, after you shake these guys’ hands.

All in all. ZT gets a thumbs-up for a clean system. And Win7 gets thumbs-up for the same. Win7 does not scream “DOS 4.0″/”ME”/”Vista”.

Now. The grass sure looks green. Do I go back to Windows from Ubuntu?

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