PC Hardware Updates – Dell 8930 XPS PC & Lenovo Flex 5

Buying a new computer always seems to be a daunting task, but two experiences with relatives and friends made it somewhat easier. First there was a need for a new system at the bike shop and I went down there one afternoon and offered some suggestions to replace the very old all-in-one HP. Little did I expect the owner to go with the first option I showed her which was the current best seller on Amazon for a desktop with decent specifications that shouldn’t need to be updated for a few years. I also had to consider their POS needs to run Lightspeed. Lightspeed POS is really a cloud based application with the technical issues tied more to the receipt printers and barcode scanning devices than the software itself. After that recommendation and quick purchase, the next was my father-in-law. He had been using a Dell XPS tower from 2008 up until the 2019 holidays. I guess he finally realized that it might time to upgrade from Windows Vista. Within 30 seconds of standing in front of the Dell XPS tower display at Costco, he said looks good. So, to contrast my normal experience with theirs, I usually will spend six months building a parts list on Amazon before I actually order the stuff to build a custom PC. Other than laptops, the only brand name systems I have owned were Tandy XT clone (Returned within 30 day window), and a Sony Pentium system about 15 years ago. At work I have used various IBM, Dell, and HP systems along with custom built Forensic systems from various companies like Digital Intelligence, TriTech Forensics, and most recently Silicon Forensics. I guess I like the sense of accomplishment when I build something from scratch, but there is always the risk of needing support and with home built you have to deal with each part individually where a brand name system is treated as a whole with the manufacturer.

Speaking of needing support, at the beginning of 2019 my wife needed a laptop to replace her aging HP 17″. Why you would want a laptop that big and heavy is beyond me, but she got it and quickly found it became about as portable as a desktop. The main issue we experienced with that system was the back of the screen separating from the front at the bottom near the hinges. Turns out the hinges were so tight that eventually they quit hinging and the screws on the hinges keeping the back attached to the front pull out and opening the lid makes a big split show up between the front and back of the screen. Funny thing is we were at an attorney’s office one day when he pulled out the same HP 17″ laptop and as soon as he opened it, I saw the same issue. He was working a law suit on bad battery issues in laptops and I joked he should consider a class action on the defective HP laptop hinges as we had the same problem. Moving on from the problematic HP, I was given direction to consider a Lenovo as her Dad was a Lenovo contractor at the end of his second act after retiring from IBM. Costco had a Flex 5 laptop with 16GB I7 8th Gen and SSD drive and standard hard drive. Being a Flex system it doubles a huge tablet with its 180 degree hinge and touch screen. Her model has been flawless and I needed a laptop and bought the same model in June. Sad to say, I did not have the same experience, but it all came down to one defective part – the internal microphone array. After troubleshooting the problem countless hours as it became a challenge I wasn’t willling to lose, I finally gave in called the Costco Concierge support. They did basic trouble shooting before getting me in the queue on the Lenovo support line. Lenovo went a little further with trouble shooting, but in the end they diagnosed the microphone was defective. So, on March 14th, I shipped the system to Texas and Corona hit and the estimated nine day turn around time become 37 days. That’s no fault of Lenovo as I imagine it took some doing to come up with social distancing between the technician work benches to allow them to keep working during our efforts to flatten the curve. With the laptop back as of last night, I was able to do a family Zoom meeting with no issues. A family Skype attempt had been the intial detection of the problem back during the holidays of 2019. Now that my system is on par with my wife’s computer, all is good on the Lenovo laptop front.

In building my current list, I was torn between a AMD and Intel build. My last build was a Ryzen and it’s working great running Linux with my old Linux Apache MySQL & PHP (LAMP) system virtualized with VirtualBox. The original LAMP box had a ton of tweaks and other things I did not want to replicate from scratch. So, the option to convert the physical to virtual was an easy choice. See this post on that effort. My most recent build list was leaning toward AMD Ryzen 7, but it was still running about $1800 with okay video cards and 32Gb of memory. While I did not build a list for an Intel system, from what I could see in the market place the Intel build would have been a bit more than the AMD for similar specs. One of the front runners when I started to consider systems, was the CyberPower Costco had on sale during the holidays, but it was only 32GB of memory and came in gaming tower configuration without a CD/DVD drive. I buy music CD’s from the thrift stores and need the drive to rip them into audio files. Plus, they never had them in stock and would not sell the display as the inventory computer kept saying more were on the way. I found it interesting that at some Costco locations they appear to remove the video cards from the display models, but in other stores the cards are present. I guess from an inventory loss control perspective removing the cards prevents them from being stolen, but you would have to be an insider or pretty brazen to try and take a graphics card out of a system up on a display. But I digress. I kept watching the Costco site and they posted the Dell 8930 XPS at $400 off the normal price with 64GB of memory, 9th gen intel i7 chip, and a decent Nvidia 1660 Ti 6GB graphics card. 64Gb of memory in any of my custom build lists pushed the prices much closer to $2,000. I put the system in my cart and let it languish for several days, before returning on the next to last day of the sale to make the purchase.

So far I am impressed with the build quality. Plastic on the external pieces, but mostly stamped steel on the internals. Doing forensics on PC’s for a living, I have encountered some pretty strange case configurations where the case opening mechanism was a puzzle in itself. This case did not disappoint in that area. There was a screw on the latch that had to be removed, then the latch itself does not slide, twist or pivot; but pulls away from the back of the case to release the latching mechanism. The tower itself is about the height of a power supply shorter than a full ATX tower. Interestingly enough, the difference in height is largely due to Dell positioning the power supply in the middle of the case through the use of a hinged support system. It seems to make the case a little top heavy toward the front as keeping the system on the edge of the shelf I have it on is little precarious when slid out too far. Inside the case are two additional 3.5″ hard drive (HD) caddies located on the very bottom of the case. Each caddy has two screws to hold it in place once the drive is mounted using the standard screw holes on the side of the drive to attach the caddy. For SATA cabling, a right angle on one end with straight on the other should work with a length of no more that 12-15″. I plugged in a clone of my old data drive from my previous system went right to work after using Ninite to grab my favorite software and installing my commercial packages from Adobe and Mircosoft. Speaking of Microsoft licensing, I use a volume license reseller Indigo Software out of Texas for Office licenses. They are about the same or little cheaper than a subscription, but it’s one time purchase. I was a little disappointed that the Dell 8930 came with Windows Home, but a quick search on ebay for a Pro upgrade license was easy to find and did the trick to get me to Pro.

I have not really found anything to tax the system resources at this point, but eventually I will be doing some video editing. The internal SSD, which appears to be a motherboard SSD slotted Micron 2200S NVMe 512GB is decent drive and reported these results at User Benchmark
SusWrite @10s intervals: 851 1095 1296 1291 1291 1018 MB/s
For the full UserBenchmark on my actual system check out: https://www.userbenchmark.com/UserRun/25269235 The actual 2666 MHz memory installed to constitute 64GB is from SK Hynix. I have not really looked at the other hardware other than noting the internal 2TB drive a Seagate Barracuda and the built-in sound card is a standard Realtek with three connectors (Front, Surround and Sub/Center) on the rear and two 3.5mm ports on the front. The front also has a USB C Type 3.1 on and rear as well. The front panel also includes three USB ports and a SD card reader/writer. I guess the only thing that not top of line at the moment is the graphics card, but for my needs with imaging editing, it is more than sufficient.

I don’t know that I would call this purchase an impulse buy, but it was a definite change from the buy parts and build a system mentality I have used in the past. Windows 10 itself is a pain when it comes to first time setup. It never names my c:\Users\<folder> to be what I want and takes some registry edits and workarounds to get what I want. Why not just ask the user: This is going to be the name of your User profile folder “Tim19”, do you want to change it? YES!!! Enter new name: tim They should also detect the presence of a small SSD for the OS and larger Data drive and automatically create the default user data storage folders on the larger drive instead of making the user do a move location on all of them.