Buying a New Computer

It’s confusing, and even a little scary. You’re getting ready to put down hundreds of dollars, and want to be sure you’re getting a computer you’ll be happy with, but… How much should you spend? What should you look for? What do all of those “specs” mean? How many GHz or GB or whatever do you need?

 

Let’s take away some of the mystery. Just like there are various kinds of cars, and pricing directly reflects the quality of what you get, there are various kinds of computers, and pricing vs. quality (and performance) works the same way. This post will give you some working knowledge about purchasing a new (Windows) PC.

 

Laptop or Desktop?

 

First, decide whether you want a desktop or a laptop computer.

Desktops are good because:

  • They are upgradeable
  • They tend to last a bit longer than laptops (due mainly to better airflow and cooling)
  • They stay where they are

Desktops can be bad because:

  • They’re not portable
  • They take up more space than laptops
  • The wires! All those wires!

 

Laptops are good because:

  • They’re portable. They’re self-contained, so you can use them anywhere
  • They can run on battery, even when the power is out
  • You can hook them into a display, keyboard and mouse and make them act like a desktop

 

Laptops can be bad because:

  • They’re portable, making them theft targets, or something you might leave behind
  • They’re not as upgradeable as desktops
  • Because they tend to move around, they are more likely to get damaged

 

How Much Do I Spend?

 

Price determines what you get. Here’s the breakdown, generally, for new PC’s (not Macs!):

If you spend:                     You can expect:

$200-400                            A low-end system; It’s a Kia.

$401-700                            A mid-range consumer system; it’s a Chevy or a Ford commuter car

$700-900                            A higher-end system; it has more features, power windows, heated seats

$900+                                  A high-end or business system; think Lexus, or Cadillac

$1500+                                The start of gaming and high-performance systems; sports cars

 

What About GHz and GB and That Stuff?

 

The brains of your computer is the processor, or CPU. Typically CPUs are described in terms of “clock rate” (that’s the GHz stuff) and how many “cores” it has. Higher clock rate and more cores are usually beneficial. I like to see CPUs running at 2 GHz or higher, and I like to see either dual(2)- or quad(4)- cores. (My own laptop has a 2.4 GHz quad-core CPU).

 

Computers have two kinds of “memory”: RAM and disk. RAM is the workspace where things get done. Think of a workbench – a space for active work. Disk is like a filing cabinet, where things get put when they aren’t immediately needed. Think passive storage. Both RAM and disk are described in terms of GB – gigabytes or TB – terabytes. I won’t get all technical here, but just know that a TB is 1,000 times as much as a GB.

 

More RAM is better. 1 GB is not enough. 2 GB is barely enough, but you will not be happy with the performance of the system. 4 GB is where I like to start, and, these days, I prefer to have 8 GB of RAM. (My own laptop has 8 GB).

 

More disk space is better, to a point. Since this is the filing cabinet for your system, you want to be sure you have enough room to store all of your important stuff, as well as some room for system maintenance and the Windows system itself. If you don’t store a lot of pictures and/or music on your system, you can go as low as 128 GB or so. If you store an “average” amount of stuff (say, a couple thousand pictures, and a music library with a thousand songs), you’ll be fine with 250-500 GB. If you store much more than that, or lots of videos (which tend to be large), you’ll likely be needing 1 TB or more.

 

So, What’s the Bottom Line?

 

For an average use computer, we usually recommend at least the following:

  • 2.0 GHz or higher CPU
  • 4, or more preferably 8 GB of RAM
  • 128 GB up to 1 TB of disk, depending on how you’ll use the system.

 

Hopefully this post demystifies some of the numbers and terminology that you are subjected to when buying a new computer.

 

We are always here to help you make your buying decision, even when you aren’t buying a system from us. You can stop in with specs from a couple of different systems you’re considering, and we’ll help you compare the systems to find the best fit for you.

 

We also help you move your stuff from your old system to your new one, once you’ve made that purchase.

 

Good luck with your new computer system!

 

 

It’s An Embarrassment

(But not mine!)

Warning: this is not an informational post. This is a rant from your friendly neighborhood computer tech!

I share your frustration. I even share your pain. Or at least, I suffer similar pains.

From what? Microsoft. Apple. Google. All of them.

These multi-billion dollar companies have been making software (Windows, Office, OSX, Android, Google Docs…) for more than a decade (or in Microsoft and Apple’s cases, more than 30 YEARS!), and they still can’t get it right?

They can’t give us stable systems that just work the way we expect them to? That don’t change every other month into something that’s broken, or with new “features” that most of us don’t want?

All of us run our businesses on Microsoft or Apple platforms, with some supplementation by Google. These companies are responsible for providing us (yeah, we’re paying them to do this) with stable, usable work environments. And yet, every year, things seem to be getting worse, not better.

It’s an absolute embarrassment that an industry that has been in operation for the last 30 years (it’s really been longer than that, but I’m being generous here) cannot deliver the products we need with the stability that we require to run our businesses.

At About-Face, we have always prided ourselves on providing services to our customers to help make your systems run smoothly, with as few “glitches” as possible. Our view is, and always has been, that the computer systems we support are tools to help you get your job done. And we’ve generally been able to deliver on our goals – we minimize emergency calls; we warn you when bad things might happen; we recommend the simplest, most direct solutions to your issues. (Some of our customers I’m sure can remember times when Dana or I have been at your company and said “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be done, but we know this will work, and it will be stable for you.”)

But recent events show that Microsoft and Apple are making this much more difficult for us. Every few months, one or the other of these system software companies comes out with a new “security update” or “feature update” or some new version of the environment we have to use to make use of our computers, and, for all of the fanfare of new features or security improvements they seem to be breaking things as fast as they fix them.

Meanwhile, the “experts” (notice we at About-Face shy away from that term!) keep pushing us to put more stuff into “the cloud,” as if it is some new and wonderful thing. But it isn’t. The cloud is a marketing term that was made up a few years back to refer to… are you ready?… The Internet.

We are, all of us, stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. And I don’t have a solution to this today. Neither do they. They’re so busy trying to come up with the latest and greatest thing, that they are sacrificing the stability and usability that we all need to get our jobs done.

Want an example? Let’s go after Google for a moment. Go into your Google account (everybody has one, right?), click into Google Docs, open a Word document, and type in a bunch of stuff. Now try editing it. Notice that lag? The hesitation your system has when you move around, or, especially when you’re doing something complicated like copying and pasting 100 words of text. Now run up Word on your own system and take it through the same exercise. Works better, doesn’t it? Responsive, almost instantaneous!1

So what’s the difference? In the Google Docs case, you are operating “in the cloud”, which means you are using your web browser (Firefox/Chrome/Explorer/Edge/Safari) to do the job. But we don’t use our web browsers as word processors generally, because we’ve got other websites open (and busily doing things like Pandora or streaming the stupid ads that we’re only now getting the power to shut off). So we are overloading the browser with work. In the case of using Office locally, Word is the program that is running – not a web browser – so the job gets done more efficiently, locally, without relying on our Internet connection. That means we almost invariably get better performance.

I, like many of you, hate the situation we’re in with these companies. But there are no easy answers. There are serious limits to what I can offer you for encouragement here, but I can make a few recommendations to help maintain your sanity some. Office 365? NO. Google docs? NO. iCloud? NO. Not for my day-to-day operations. These tools have their uses, but not as my primary tools. Permanent installed versions only, please.

One recommendation I can make regarding buying new systems is: get Windows 10 PRO. Putting the Home version of Windows 10 into your company is really asking for trouble. At least Pro is able (and should continue to be able) to deal with shared files, etc., that Microsoft may decide isn’t necessary for the Home version. In addition, Pro gives us a few options to try to delay installation of the inevitable updates until they have been proven. Getting the consumer-grade system for $600 with Windows 10 Home edition may seem like a bargain at purchase time, as opposed to something toward $1,000 for a business-grade system, but you will likely pay more for technician time downstream trying to get that Home version to do things it wasn’t designed to do in most networked environments.

One last recommendation: back up your stuff! Either to flash drives (have more than one), or external hard drives, or even that darn “cloud”… but if you’re using the cloud, be sure to use a service (such as Carbonite, http://www.carbonite.com) that will encrypt your stuff when it’s stored. Dropbox, OneDrive, and iCloud don’t cut it for security, unless you take additional measures before you send your stuff to their servers. But, definitely back up your pictures, documents, even music. If something goes seriously wrong with your system, you’ll be so glad you did!

This is more than a simple rant. We are an independent computer shop, here to provide help to our customers. The things these companies are doing isn’t fair, to you or to us. We want you to know that we agree this isn’t right, and that we’ll do everything we can to help keep your systems running properly, despite the efforts of Microsoft, Apple, and/or Google to derail our efforts. We are on your side, and we hate the current state of affairs as much as you do.

1 Note: if it isn’t almost instantaneous, and if you don’t have your system busy doing a whole bunch of stuff, and you don’t have a dozen Chrome/Firefox/Edge browser tabs open, maybe you should have a chat with us about cleaning up your system!  Call us at (413) 863-5447, or stop by our shop at 151 Avenue A in Turners Falls.

I supposed I should note that references to Microsoft, OneDrive, iCloud, Dropbox, etc., are only that. The names used are the property (trademarks, registered trademarks, whatever) of their respective owners. Further, any recommendations I’ve made are for the benefit of computer users. We don’t have special “deals” with any of the companies mentioned for mentioning them.