Buying a Computer

product-finder-250Well, I've had a recent series of events in my life that I wouldn't wish on any one. It started with my hot water heater dumping a pile of water on my entire downstairs finished basement. It ruined the carpet in my cave, which caused me to replace the hot water heater, go through the insurance company claim process, and get the carpet replaced. Total time from start to finish was about two months.

I have two desktop computers that I built a couple of years ago. I run Windows XP Pro on one computer, and on the other I run Linux Mint. In those two computers, I put a 300Gb Western Digital 7200rpm drive. I purchased both drives at the same time.

In the middle of my mildewed carpet experience, I lost the drives on both computers. Not at the exact same time, but maybe two weeks apart. When I say I lost the drives, I mean they're dead, like in road kill, you can not access anything on them. I could still boot from the Linux DVD, but if I tried to access anything on the hard drive the computer froze.

It was the first time in my life, that I was without a computer, and I had withdrawal symptoms. So much so that I started bringing home my work laptop so I could access the Internet. I hardly ever bring home my work computer, not anymore. I don't particularly like bringing home my work computer; I feel like I'm working when I should be relaxing. I need a new home computer. Yes, I could get new disk drives, but my wife so kindly pointed out, I was due a new computer as I have had my current computers for three or four years now. She was trying to help me justify the expense, that I was not ready to make, because of my hot water heater problems.

The withdrawal got the best of me, I was starting to get the "I-don't-know-what-to-do-with-myself" shakes. I started looking on the Internet for a laptop. I hadn't owned a laptop for years. After hours of surfing the Internet, I gave up, and decided to go to Best Buy to actually look at the computers. This brought back memories and instant guilt associations with Border's going out of business. Border's, where people would look at the books at Borders, and then buy them over the Internet from Amazon, eventually bankrupting Border's. I had visions of a repeat happening to Best Buy, but I went anyway.

In all fairness, I want to say my daughter uses an iPad, my wife has an iPad and a laptop, we have two Kindle eInk eReaders, two eInk Nooks, and two backlit Nook's. Of course, my daughter and wife's computers were off-limits. Although I could read my email on my Nook, as a web developer I think I needed something a little more substantial.

My excursion to Best Buy lasted about three hours, and I was in shock when I left without a computer. My eyes were opened to the way the SmartPhone has changed the world. The SmartPhone has changed the world. What do I mean. The shrinking of the computer to a phone you hold in your hand has changed the entire computer marketplace. Who wants a desktop any more. The ugly computer cases have all but disappeared. Oh, I could still get a couple at Best Buy, but not many. If you want a desktop, you are better off building it on your own from parts. Instead of a desktop with a computer case, computer marketeers have offered us a bewildering array of choices.

Let's talk about these choices, we'll start with the SmartPhone and work our way up. You have a computer in your hand with the SmartPhone. Admittedly small screen and the typing is a pain, but we're talking about a phone that accesses the Internet. Then you have the eReaders. They are small interface-centric computers that can access the Internet. Next, we have the iPad, and Galaxy devices, "mini" computers that access the Internet and runs apps, but not a lot of storage, or a full operating system. Moving up, there is the NetBook, inexpensive, made for doing everything on the Internet with very little local storage. Then tablet computers, followed by the convertible laptop/tablet computers, then Ultrabooks, low weight and small size for portability, regular laptops with a large amount of on-board disk space and larger displays, and we're not done yet. We have computers built into the back of large monitors, and we have finally gotten to the old desktop computers with a computer case by your desk. I don't think I missed anything. Any wonder why I spent three hours in Best Buy, and walked out bewildered by the overwhelming amount of choices. Of course, I could always build my own.

To complicate things a little further, there are some technology choices that need to be considered. Do you want a touch screen or not?  Windows 8 is not fully ready for prime time yet. It is made to be used with a touch screen. By the way, Microsoft is begging developers to build touch apps for Windows 8.  For now, it's another choice, Windows 8 or Windows 7?  Not all new computers have touch screens, the touch screen limits your computer buying choices, which may be a good thing, and increases your price, although touch screens are nice, and add another level of functionality.

Next, we have the HDD vs SSD storage question. Solid state hard drives are nice. It gives you quick boot ups and no spinning disk, so there faster, rugged, and reliable. The current sizes that are consumer priced seem to be 128Mb or 256Mb and you pay a premium for these drives. However, the older spinning hard drives can go up to 1Tb and are reasonably priced. How much disk drive space do you really need?

Do you need an optical drive, or not? Almost everything gets downloaded directly from the Internet now, but for those of you who have older applications on DVD, or games you want to load and run, or music you want to burn onto disk, you may want an optical drive.

Then how much memory do you need? Most systems come with 4Gb now, which should be adequate, but with Windows8 you may want 8Gb?

Then we have the choice of processor.  The current Intel mainstream processor is the i5 in various speeds, but you can still get an i3 for cheap, and if you want the latest for a premium, the faster i7 chip.  Then you have the new Intel Haswell chips, which should be out by Christmas.  The Haswell chips are made for Ultrabooks.  They use much less power, and create less heat for the same performance.  What everyone is looking for in a laptop, less heat and longer battery life.

If you want a tablet/laptop convertible, there's the design question, there's are several design geniuses, who have come up with many different ways to flip the screen.

Finally, we have price. You can spend anywhere from $200 to $2,000 on your purchase, how much do you want to spend?

If you followed me through this overwhelming maze of choices, you'll again see why I left Best Buy without a computer. I can't image a layman being able to make the choice, but people seem to do that, or listen to the sales person's recommendation. Having read this article so far, do you really think you can trust the Best Buy sales person? I don't think so. I thought what I would do is go home and think about what I truly needed, or better, wanted.

I now liken picking out a new computer, to buying a car. You may not get the high pitch sales person, but you certainly have a bewildering array of choices to make. Certainly, I'm not going to give you the magic keys on what to look for in this article, because quite frankly there are none. You have choices, you make them, and then, live with your choices.

I will say this about waiting for technology, like the Haswell chip.  I don't believe in waiting for technology.  You have a need, for a new computer, at a certain point in time.  I need a computer, now, or at least I think I do, not at Christmas.   At the time you make your purchase, you have what's on the market at that time.  Technology will always change and "get better."   Buy now, get the new technology on your next purchase.

The trend seems to be to own several of theses devices. Just look at the inventory of electronics at my house. We have ereaders, both eInk for sunlight reading, and backlit for in-bed reading while your partner is sleeping. We have iPads so my daughter can take pictures and talk to friends, we have a laptop so my wife can work in bed. I put a large monitor on my desktop so I can watch TV and work at the same time. My monitor is in line with the TV screen. By the way, you can have the same monitor with an Ultrabook by hooking up a USB3.0 docking station.

I'm not sure what I'm going to end up with. Right now, I'm drooling over the convertible Lenovo Yoga Ultrabook with touch screen and the i7 CPU with a 256 SDD drive for quick start up. The 128Gb drive is not enough space for me, since by the time Windows takes up a chunk, you're only left with about 60Gb. I'd buy a Pluggable USB3.0 dock to run my large monitors and let the laptop connect to my wide-screen HD TV for watching NetFlix. The price tag, right now, is a bit steep at $1,700, and I'm not sure that I'm not just fantasizing and dreaming, as a regular laptop for a lot less money would work just as well, but there is that WOW! factor, isn't there? We'll will reality step-in and downsize me to a Netbook for $250, probably not. As you can see, I'm starting to make choices. Good luck with yours!


Buying a Computer — 1 Comment

  1. Just an FYI, as I am shopping for a new computer myself. Haswell has been available for a couple of months now. No need to wait till Christmas for it for sure. Think I am going with Mythologic or XoticPC. Looks like I will be spending a couple of k though. Still can’t decide which windows to get. Going to get both an SSD and a HD though.