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GuyNoir

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My ancient Dell XPS system (circa 2003) running Win XP is getting more and more sluggish. I've spent the holiday season trying to clean it up and improve performance (one more step to that, but I'm not expecting much). I might have to bite the bullet and buy a new PC.

I don't do gaming or video editing, but do like to keep multiple apps (Word, Excel, email, Firefox, etc.) open at the same time.

I'd prefer a PC with Windows 7, but am open to Apple recommendations as well.

Any suggestions, recommendations, etc. from TRF'ers about what to buy and what to avoid?

Might be in the market for a netbook, too, so if you have recommendations in that space, send 'em along.
 

WillMarchant

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I've had my MacBook for a year or two and love it. RockSim works well on it, too.

If you have some Windows application you just have to run, I've had pretty good luck with Parallels running WindowsXP on my Macbook. It will handle the BeelineGPS programming application and links to a USB<->RS-232 dongle to talk to the hardware.
 

JRThro

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Mark, what kind of budget are you working with?

I typically buy emachines sub-$400 PC's for home use, and they do just fine for at least 3 or 4 years.

The machine I'm using right now is an emachines ET1161-07, and it's maybe 9 months old.
It has:
- Windows Vista Home Premium
- AMD Athlon X2 4050e CPU
- NVidia GeForce 6150SE integrated graphics
- DVD+/-RW Super Multi-format Dual Layer
- 320 GB HDD
- 3 GB DDR2 memory
- 15-in-1 digital card reader

Besides using it for web browsing, e-mail, and watching DVD's and other music and video content (often at the same time), my wife also uses it for running Second Life and gets an acceptable frame rate with it.

My point is that an inexpensive machine can be perfectly acceptable for most uses. I'd probably recommend a dual-core CPU, since that seems to help the speed of this machine quite a lot. I'd also recomment at least 2 or 3 GB of RAM, as well as a hard disk larger than 320 GB. Also, a machine with a separate video card will have faster graphics, but that's not an absolute necessity, as I have found out with this current computer.

All of our audio and video is on external Western Digital MyBook Essential drives, one of which is 640 GB and the other of which is 1 TB. Most of the files are duplicated on both drives for safety's sake, and both drives are nearly full.

While I don't own a notebook or netbook of any kind, I have to say that I don't really understand the allure of netbooks, since they are slower than and cost almost as much as low-end notebooks.
 

troj

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Mark...

"cleaning" will only result in so much improvement; you will likely find better improvement by formatting the drive and doing a fresh install.

-Kevin
 

cjl

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Mark...

"cleaning" will only result in so much improvement; you will likely find better improvement by formatting the drive and doing a fresh install.

-Kevin
Agreed.
 

Marlin523

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I switched to MAC two years ago and love it! Whether you buy a desktop or a laptop, you won't be disappointed. I'd suggest going to one of their stores and trying them out.
 

billspad

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I've got an Asus EeePC 901 that I'm really happy with. I got it with the solid state hard drive so I wouldn't have to worry about bouncing it around in my truck when I take it to a launch to download altimeter data and videos. The only downside is common to all netbooks, if you know how to type the small keyboard is annoying.

When I bought my Dell XPS 420 a couple of years ago I was on the fence between that and a Mac. I've had Windows machines forever. I went with the Dell because I don't like the way Apple sticks everything in the monitor. I'm pretty sure I made the wrong choice because between Vista and things that just don't work properly I really dislike this computer.
 

Pem Tech

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If you don't mind the stiff pricing, Apple is the way to go. On one machine you can run, Mac OSX, Windows Whatever AND Ubuntu, from the same hard drive. Apple even supplies you with the Bootcamp software to partion your HD for installing other OS's.

I switch over two years ago and have never regretted it.
 

bcanino

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Mark,

You didn't say the which model XPS you had or the spec. You might do ok with memory upgrade and new install of Windows 7.

I been a Dell guy for at least the last 10 years and swear by them. If you don't need the latest greatest, try call Dell or go online and you can get some good deal on older models and refrebs.

Apple is just too expensive for the hype.

Netbooks have a nice nitch, but not goof for your main work horse.
 

Marlin523

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This thread is like arguing Chevy vs Ford. Not too many will change their mind. My MAC does not seem to get viruses, is built out of aluminum not plastic, has been problem free, and if I do encounter a problem, I can take it to a store. Since the purchase of my MAC, I have acquired lots of their products and everyone is as good as the "hype"
 

mkadams001

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I would recommend a MAC. I have actually converted a few people just because they have watched me work on a MAC. As for price, I think you get what you pay for; there is a reason why some machines are only a few hundred dollars.
 

Zack Lau

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I got a PC for the rocket room a month ago. My needs were similar--I wanted to run multiple browsers and Word--I got a dual core Windows 7 machine with 6GB of RAM. I wasn't too picky on the brand--I got an HP because it was on sale that week...
 

als57

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I picked up an Acer netbook literally on day one of the Win 7 release. I was traveling and needed a notebook. Its been a good reliable machine. I would not recomend it as my only computer.

If your comfortable with your PC ; they buying a new one is not a big issue.

Some minimum requirements for your new PC:

A dual core processor with a native clock speed of 3GHz or higher
4Gb of memory
Min of 640Gb hard drive (more Gb's for the digital photo folks)
CD/DVD dual layer with light scribe
Win 7 home premium OS


Al
 

cjl

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I would recommend a MAC. I have actually converted a few people just because they have watched me work on a MAC. As for price, I think you get what you pay for; there is a reason why some machines are only a few hundred dollars.
I agree that on the dirt cheap machines, for the most part, you get what you pay for. With macs though, you most assuredly do not get what you pay for. You can get a good build quality machine with equivalent hardware to a mac for a hundred or two less. It's true that some people find OSX easier to use (I find it impossible, personally - give me Windows 7 or Linux any day), but unless you absolutely need OSX, it's a significantly worse deal than a windows machine (and I've had mac people try to convince me otherwise many times, and I have yet to find a valid counterexample, with the possible exception of the 13" macbook pro since the most recent price drops if you need a highly portable, long battery life machine with discrete graphics).

As for stability or viruses? I have an average uptime around 2 weeks on my desktop (win7 x64) - I have to restart it for updates usually by the 2 week point or so (I haven't bluescreened on this computer ever, and I've owned it for over a year), and I haven't ever had anything more severe than a tracking cookie. With even just a bit of intelligent usage and a decent antivirus (and there are decent free AV programs), you're fine.

I used to recommend Dells, but I've been unimpressed lately. They still have a couple good models though. Lenovo Thinkpads are excellent - built like tanks, with some of the best cooling systems in any laptops out there (an area in which Apple has been weak for some time). There are several other good ones available too, depending on budget and requirements.
 

jcsalem

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I use both PC and Macs regularly. They both annoy me regularly.

I definitely recommend Win7 over Vista. It installs more easily and seems more reliable to me.

Macs typically cost 2-3X over the equivalently powered PC.

Pretty much everything runs on PCs. Not so on the Mac. The only apps that run better on Macs in my experience are the Adobe product line. I do find I need to regularly go into the registry to fix stuff on Windows. [If you don't know what the "registry" is, trust me, you don't want to know.] The Mac doesn't require quite as much tweaking, but the software compatibility issues more than make up for that ease of use.

I've been quite happy with the higher-end Dell brands over the years (e.g., XPS). Many people complain about Dell service but I've found them decent. I've heard good things about the recent HP models. I've also had good luck with Lenovo laptops.

I largely build my own desktop machines. For about the same price as a mid-range store-bought one, you can build one with incredible performance, tuned to your needs. Newegg is your friend here. Of course, if it doesn't work you're SOL so be sure to buy a quality mobo and power supply etc.

Most people like to buy laptops these days due to their flexibility. Unfortunately, you'll either pay more or lose performance over the equivalent desktop.

I'd stay away from Netbooks. I find them too slow and the screens too small for my needs.

Stats that matter:
RAM: Get at least 2GB (and 4GB rocks!)
Disk SPEED: Look for a 7200RPM drive (and read reviews). SSD (solid state disks) can be blazing fast but have reliability problems today. I'd give 'em another year or else go with one of the Intel X25s to be safe.
CPU type: I think Intel's new mid-range Core i5 chips are a great balance of price and performance. Go for a dual/quad core over a single core

Stats that don't matter:
Disk SIZE: Do you really need 400GB? Most people can get by with < 80GB.
CPU Speed: You often pay hundreds more for a CPU that it 10% faster. This is never worth it.
Whatever wacky-named technology the guy in the store is trying to sell: Lots of FUD around PC shopping.

Good luck!

Jim
 

tibadoe

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What I do is go for the cheaper desktops or laptops. Why? With technology changing so fast and prices for systems pretty inexpensive, I'd rather just keep a system for 2 to 3 years. So instead of paying $800 plus for a name brand that is outdated in about two or three years, I spend half that, max out the memory and save the difference. This way I stay kinda up with the technology and keeps my programs running at good speeds. So far I have had no problems with HP and eMachines.
 

m85476585

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Build it yourself. Here's a bunch of Newegg part numbers:

The configuration I would get:
N82E16813131614 - $310
N82E16819115202 - $290
N82E16822152181 - $55
N82E16820231230 - $170
N82E16817139004 - $60 after rebate
N82E16811129061 - $150
N82E16814125277 - $65 after rebate
N82E16832116756 - $140
Total: $1240

Last-generation parts, but almost as fast. This is essentially what I have right now:
N82E16813128358 - $110 after rebate
N82E16819115131 - $190
N82E16822152181 - $55
N82E16820231166 - $95
N82E16817139004 - $60 after rebate
N82E16811119068 - $50
N82E16814125277 - $65 after rebate
N82E16832116756 - $140
Total: $765

The $1240 system is basically high-end (without hitting the diminishing returns as you get to $1000 CPUs), except for the graphics card. The $765 system is similar, but with a last-generation CPU and motherboard, and a cheaper case. Either one of these is probably fast enough to last you as long as your Dell did.

My parents have a Dell XPS from the same era, and it's amazing how long it lasted without feeling outdated. Since they don't do much besides email and browse the web, it is still good enough for them.
 

mkadams001

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I don't think that claiming that a Mac is 2 to 3 times more expensive than a similarly configured pc is an accurate representation of the pricing comparisons between Macs and PC's. At least do some research to find true comparisons in prices between the two platforms. A $600 machine cannot be compared to a $1500 machine even within its own platform. In a perfect world you would have both machines....oh, Mac can run windows too.
 

Zack Lau

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The $600 machine I got works great--even came with a 20" wide screen monitor for that price. Though it doesn't include the taxes I paid to the state of CT, which maintains the road I live on. A dual core and 6GB of ram is enough for the stuff I do.
 

als57

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I don't think that claiming that a Mac is 2 to 3 times more expensive than a similarly configured pc is an accurate representation

...oh, Mac can run windows too.
Last time I was in BestBuy the cheapest Mac was north of $1000. The PC's started at about $350. That's pretty close to 3x for most of us.

Macs are nice machines ; but they are over priced. Lots of folks don't have a $1000 plus to spend on a PC of any type.

Al
 

Zack Lau

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Just curious--does the registers in your neighborhood automatically ring up the sale price or do you have to ask for it?
 

m85476585

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Last time I was in BestBuy the cheapest Mac was north of $1000. The PC's started at about $350. That's pretty close to 3x for most of us.

Macs are nice machines ; but they are over priced. Lots of folks don't have a $1000 plus to spend on a PC of any type.

Al
But for an equivalent configuration, a mac might be only a few hundred dollars more.

You really get what you pay for with super cheap PCs.


It's amazing how much laptops have improved in the past few years. My first laptop was a low-end Dell that I bought for $1000 in 2003, I think. It was OK for a while, but after about a year it started to feel painfully slow. The slowness was a combination of a cheap CPU (Celeron), low RAM, terrible Intel integrated graphics, and a slow hard drive. It got about 2 hours of battery life, and it lacks features taken for granted in modern laptops (like integrated WiFi). These days $1000 gets you a laptop fast enough that most people wouldn't be able to tell that a more expensive one is any faster.

A year or two after I got the laptop, I replaced the it with a desktop as my primary computer, and the desktop served me well. I got a mid-range Dell, I can't remember how much I paid for, but it wouldn't have been much over $1000. The desktop lasted me until 2008, at which point I got a new laptop for college (my parents paid for that). In the 3-4 years I had the desktop, it never felt as painfully slow as the laptop. The only time it was ever a problem was when I tried to do anything CPU-intensive such as video encoding, which would just take an impractically long time (like 8 hours per hour of video).

My biggest mistake was probably getting a Dell for my desktop instead of building it myself, or getting a laptop instead of a desktop to begin with. As I wanted to upgrade, I had to get a new Motherboard because Dell's was very limited. Dell's case is proprietary, and standard motherboards won't fit, so I also had to buy a new case as well. If I had built the computer to begin with, I could have just upgraded the CPU with the money I used to buy the motherboard and case.

Later on I replaced the power supply and upgraded the RAM to 4gb. Just this year I finally upgraded the CPU from a Pentium 4 to a Core 2 Quad, bought a video card that can run Windows 7, and bought a fast new hard drive some money I got from selling a hard drive controller board on eBay (it sold for more than the whole drive was worth). There are finally no original parts in this computer. Since I saved all the old parts, I ended up with the original Dell computer alongside a new one! I sold the Dell for about $300 on eBay, which seems like a lot more than it was worth, but I'm not complaining.

I am using currently the computer as a Windows workstation alongside my Mac laptop since it makes it easier to run Windows-only programs. It's not really necessary with virtualization and dual booting, but it is convenient and makes a good platform for experimenting if I don't want to mess up my laptop. It's also really fast. :) Computers are kind of a hobby for me.
 

RoyAtl

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If you like running many programs, or like to keep lots of tabs open in the browser, a dual-core CPU is extremely helpful. And if you can run a 64 bit OS, 4 gigs is very convenient.

In the computer-savvy populations I hang out with -- web developer/designers, and Microsoft programmers -- there seem to be two consensuses (-sensai?).

1. MacBook Pros running Windows 7. I go to some meetings at Microsoft's Atlanta office, and it seems like half the laptops there are Macbook pros, but they're all running Win 7 native (not virtualized on top of OS-X).

2. An Acer laptop (not netbook) with a 11.6" screen, a dual-core CPU and 4 gig (i think you have to put in the second 2 gig yourself). It weighs about 3 or 4 pounds, and runs Win 7 64bit.
Amazon has it as the Acer Aspire AS1410-8414, but theirs seems to be loaded with Vista, not 7.

The acer runs at most $450 or so, the MBP runs about $1195.

I'm looking at the Acer myself, after lugging my big and heavy Gateway Tablet (that only has 2 gig, a single core, and graphics that can't take advantage of Win 7) to a weekend conference a couple of weeks ago.
 

als57

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You really get what you pay for with super cheap PCs.


It's also really fast. :) Computers are kind of a hobby for me.

Won't argue that you get what you pay for with some limits. But if you paying a few hundred dollars more for the same components in a Mac ; why is that?

Computers were both work and a hobby for me. I've built well north of 500 PC compatibles since 1984. I've built them as industrial controllers and for many individuals.

Apples major mistake back in the begining was that they were not an open standard like IBM and the PC. This discouraged aftermarket developement. Look at the comparitive numbers of Macs and PC's out there and you can see the result.

Al
 

Bravo52

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I don't care for the MACs but seems like everyone has covered the pros and cons of PC vs. MAC.

For Christmas, I just bought 3 laptops for the house. They were on sale and at the same time we bought a mouse and keyboard. Our kids are homeschooled (I know, that's pretty cool.......and already plowed ground in another thread). Using the old flat panel monitors with the keyboard and mouse is just like having a desktop that you can take with you anywhere you go.

I paid <$450 for a HP G60-549 with all the bells and whistles needed. Just an option.
 

Handeman

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For what you want to do, run multiple apps at the same time, I think RAM is the most important item you will need. The more the better. Next would be a dual core CPU.

For a desk top, I've bought the parts and assembled what I wanted. I buy everything through http://www.globalcomputer.com/. The prices are very good and the service I've gotten has been great!

The last three laptops I've bought have all been factory refurbished Gateway laptops through Globalcomputer. I've never had an issue with any of them and you get a lot more computer for the money with the factory refurbished, even if they aren't quite the leading edge machines.

If you do get a laptop, make sure you check the memory size, and if the video memory is shared from the main memory. If it is, the bigger the graphic memory, the less main memory you have available.

I've found that computers are like almost everything else, you get what you pay for. In your case, I would pay for the RAM and a dual core CPU and let the rest slide.
 

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I would just got Walmart and get an E-machines for less than $400. My two kids each have one and I am impressed. They can easily run any application that has been thrown at them. An E-Machine is nothing but a generation old Acer at a great price. I figured I would have to add a video card to these computers, but the onboard video is excellent for the applications being run. As far as the Mac option goes- Pricey! Also- why do Mac guys always ask the software manufacturers if their software will work with a Mac? Windows 7 is great and most software is made for Windows. Mac is gaining ground on the software, but most people I know with Macs have Windows too just because of software.
 

cjl

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Last time I was in BestBuy the cheapest Mac was north of $1000. The PC's started at about $350. That's pretty close to 3x for most of us.

Macs are nice machines ; but they are over priced. Lots of folks don't have a $1000 plus to spend on a PC of any type.

Al
I agree that many people can't drop $1k plus on a computer, but to compare a $350 PC to a $1k mac isn't really fair. The hardware configs are not at all comparable.

That having been said, macs are definitely more expensive. For $600-$800, you can get a machine that is significantly faster than a $1000 macbook, and for $1000 or so, you can beat the $1200-$1500 macbook pros.
 

mkadams001

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I agree that many people can't drop $1k plus on a computer, but to compare a $350 PC to a $1k mac isn't really fair. The hardware configs are not at all comparable.

That having been said, macs are definitely more expensive. For $600-$800, you can get a machine that is significantly faster than a $1000 macbook, and for $1000 or so, you can beat the $1200-$1500 macbook pros.
I would recommend this article about how expensive the Mac is compared to similar machines. http://technologizer.com/2008/10/19/is-the-new-macbook-expensive/ it is 15 months old but it is still applicable.

I am not sure what you mean by "significantly faster" and in what capacity. It seems that anytime someone says that they are considering buying a mac a crowd forms and begins the "mac's are expensive" chant. At that point, one would think that every computer is equal, all the parts are of the same quality, the management of all the graphics and memory is identical from one machine to another, when in fact they are not. Therefore, I think that it would be more accurate to say that Apple's entry level computers are higher priced than PC's entry point.

Now let the arguments begin on the operating systems....
 

cjl

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That's an interesting comparison to be sure, but I would say that it fails to look at all of the windows options. Even so, they still managed to find a computer (the Dell, specifically) that effectively keeps up with the Macbook for $500 less. Yes, it was on sale, but Dell has sales so often that if you are even remotely patient, you are nearly guaranteed that the product you want will go on sale.

In addition, I noticed that in that comparison, the windows laptops were mostly low-end (Ideapad instead of Thinkpad from Lenovo, inspiron instead of Studio or XPS from dell for example) laptops configured up, which will never match a higher end laptop for build quality and general features.

Finally, 15 months old is ancient for computers. An entire new generation of processors has come out since then.

Here's a comparison that I would make against the 2.53GHz 13" MBP (which honestly is the closest in pricing to its Windows competitors IMO - the 15" and 17" are much farther off, at least as of the last time I compared them). I configured these systems specifically for the comparison - the Dell is configured to slightly beat the MBP in price, sacrificing a tiny bit in size and weight to get the best performance, while the Sony is configured to match the MBP as closely as possible for the lowest possible price:

NotebookComparison.PNG
 
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