Thursday, February 21 2008
My laptop was crapping out this morning and a check of the items in the Task Manager revealed that "System" (no, not "System Idle Process") was using about 54% of the CPU. This came after the discovery of a small virus infection on my main computer, so I was a little jumpy. Had something nefarious metastasized across the network? (None of my PCs run antivirus software except for the one I occasionally download warez onto.) It turned out, though, that the virus had been contained and this problem was something different: the USB WiFi adapter was caught in some sort of logical confusion, and now it needed to waste 54 percent of my computer's power, converting it from a 1 gigahertz machine to a 460 megahertz machine. I ended up having to replace it.
This gets to something I've noticed about electronics over the years: gadgets are either completely dependable or they are noticeably undependable, and undependable electronics usually manifest their faults soon after purchase, often by being impossible to use for their advertised purpose. Helpfully (and counter-intuitively in a paradigm where one Chinese factory makes all the devices of a particular kind for all brands), I've found that the dependability of electronics is more a function of brand than of price. I've had good luck with Dlink and Linksys equipment, though my experience with Gigafast and Trendnet network equipment has been remarkably poor. I've had bad luck with an early Dlink MP3 player and with Hawking and US Robotics WiFi routers, though US Robotics used to make good dialup modems. Toshiba laptops are ugly but indestructible. Vaio laptops used to be good but at some point they became crap. (Suddenly attaching a reputable brand to shoddy products is a great way for a corporation to wring some steep profits out of a brand they intend to abandon. Symantec has been riding the Norton horse years since it broke all four of its legs.)
As for the USB WiFi dongle that just crapped out on my laptop, it had originally been housed in a pearly white thumb-shaped shell and had been manufactured by a company named Ativa. Though I don't have enough data to say anything definitive, I would nevertheless recommend that people not buy Ativa products (or any products that attempt to ape Apple designs, particularly cum-colored routers made by Netgear).
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