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What should I look for in a computer?


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13 replies to this topic

#1 of 14 OFFLINE   Keith_R

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Posted February 20 2003 - 11:55 AM

I'm seriously looking to buy a new computer within the next 6 months. I know for a fact that I'm not looking for the biggest and best system just something with lots of Ram, XP, and preferably a P4 processor or a comparable AMD chip. I plan on mainly using it for the internet and downloading MP3s back and forth from my MP3 player as well as some school work (reports etc.). Given these uses and my wants what should I be looking for? How much Ram and how much processor speed do I really need? so far I've started looking at the Dell 4550 as well as some local computer store's machines. I would really prefer to keep prices in the $750-$900 range. Thanks.
-Keith-       


#2 of 14 OFFLINE   Bobby McGee

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Posted February 20 2003 - 01:07 PM

Keith, welcome to the forum.

Let's take this from the top:
You say MP3s, internet and school work which I assume means, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc. These tasks are not demanding at all for a computer. The key is future-proofing or, in other words, how will your needs expand in let's say the next 2-4 years. Things like video editing, games, HTPC can place specific requirements on a PC. I would suggest thinking about that or possibly asking how other people are using their computers to give you a feel what you might like to do. Even if the PC starts with your current requirements, if you have a feel for where you would like to eventually go, any advice could be more meaningful.

The major computer companies (Compaq/HP, Dell, Gateway) all use some level of proprietary components that may restrict your ability to add new/better components at a later time. One option might be assembling your own. Since you're in school, it might prove educational, plus you seem to have the time to get a running start. The downside is that with the price of complete systems these days, it would be difficult to really save any money.

FOR TODAY'S NEEDS:
You really don't need a lot of RAM. Although XP does use RAM, 256m is more than enough and 128m will suffice. If you have a lot of music, you might consider how much hard drive space you will need. WinXP is the right choice for OS. If I was correct about your school work, I would recommend the MS Office Suite.

As far as internet is concerned, are you going to use dial-up (internal modem required) or some kind of broadband (cable, dsl, etc) that would require a network card?

As far as processor speed goes, for your current needs, you could not buy a processor that would not suffice. Celeron 1G would be fine.

If I were you, and future-proofing was irrelevent, I would look in the Sunday paper ads and find the cheapest all-in-one solution (CPU, printer, monitor) I could find, or call Dell and see what they could do. The good part about Dell is that they do have excellent support.

#3 of 14 OFFLINE   Keith_R

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Posted February 20 2003 - 01:57 PM

Bobby, As of right now I'm a high school senior. I plan on attending college in the fall and expect to probably be doing reports on my computer, so I expect mainly to be doing word processing. As of now I'm currently using Cable internet and plan on keeping it. I've put though into the fact that my needs may be changing in the future but I don't forsee them going towards a HTPC as none of my HT equipment is extremely high end and I don't want to upgrade it or computer gaming( I can't play games from my computer, I'm only good at console games). I would mainly like to get something much more powerful and stable than my current PC ( A 463 MHZ Win 98). I think I'd like to move toward a P4 and stick away from the Celeron as I haven't been real happy with my current Celeron's performance. Thanks.
-Keith-       


#4 of 14 OFFLINE   Bobby McGee

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Posted February 20 2003 - 04:00 PM

OK, Keith, a few observations:

Moving from Win98 to XP will help significantly with stability.

When you say you're not satisfied with your Celeron, I assume you mean speed. The 2 biggest reasons why computers seem slow are 1) RAM, amd 2) Too many background programs running. Have you cleaned out your auto-start programs via msconfig? If you don't know what I'm talking about, any machine will appear slow because just about every software wants an auto-run component and many people have dozens of programs running that they didn't even realize they had. Of course, even with XP there are settings that dramatically improve performance.

As far as P4 goes, thats fine. But, for the requirements you've outlined, a Celeron will be all that's necessary. In the end, it's just a matter of how much you're willing to spend vs. how much you want to save. Want vs. Need. Since whenever, I've never used anything besides a Pentium and am currently running all 4 home computers with PIIIs.

As far as HTPC, gaming or video editing, that was just a for-instance. Ripping DVDs, creating CDs, video slide shows, PVR, video capture, telephone answering machine, universal remote control - are all examples of PC functionality that would affect hardware/software and inputs/outputs.

As a new direction, if I were you, I would consider a laptop with possibly a separate monitor and mouse/keyboard for use at your desk. Very convenient and perfect for the classroom or the bar.

Good Luck.

#5 of 14 OFFLINE   Gary King

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Posted February 20 2003 - 06:04 PM

Or, if you want a desktop, you might want to consider one of the Shuttle XPCs (like the SN41G2) -- they're small, quiet, and very transportable (all nice things for a dorm room).

An XPC runs $300-360 retail. Add in a hard drive ($80), 256M RAM ($50), a DVD-ROM ($60), and a CPU ($70-80 for a cheap Athlon XP), and you'll have a system that more than meets your needs for under $700. If you need to buy WinXP, that will probably run another $100.

#6 of 14 OFFLINE   MarkHastings

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Posted February 21 2003 - 07:21 AM

Quote:
I know for a fact that I'm not looking for the biggest and best system
Not sure if this helps, but the thing I always tell people is "Always buy something that's more than you want" this way the computer will last longer. The worst thing to do is paint yourself into a corner with a purchase and then find out (in a few years) that you want to get into DVD burning (or whatever) and come to find out, the skimping you did won't allow you to upgrade.

As far as computers go, it always seems like you can never get enough. Although there are a few things that you can set limits on, but never skimp out on a cheaper (or lower) processor...or limit yourself with cheap/low amount of memory. If money's an issue, then the above is kinda moot.

It all depends on what you're going to be doing with it, but most of the time you're better off skimping on the monitor/video card end and using the cash to go for the better processor, or skimping out on the DVD/CD-RW end...they can always be added later when you've saved up enough money. Again, put most of your cash into the processor & RAM because that's what a computers longevity is all about.

#7 of 14 OFFLINE   MarkHastings

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Posted February 21 2003 - 07:28 AM

Quote:
I know for a fact that I'm not looking for the biggest and best system
Not sure if this helps, but the thing I always tell people is "Always buy something that's more than you want" this way the computer will last longer. The worst thing to do is paint yourself into a corner with a purchase and then find out (in a few years) that you want to get into DVD burning (or whatever) and come to find out, the skimping you did won't allow you to upgrade.

As far as computers go, it always seems like you can never get enough. Although there are a few things that you can set limits on, but never skimp out on a cheaper (or lower) processor...or limit yourself with cheap/low amount of memory. If money's an issue, then the above is kinda moot.

It all depends on what you're going to be doing with it, but most of the time you're better off skimping on the monitor/video card end and using the cash to go for the better processor, or skimping out on the DVD/CD-RW end...they can always be added later when you've saved up enough money. Again, put most of your cash into the processor & RAM because that's what a computers longevity is all about.

#8 of 14 OFFLINE   Keith_R

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Posted February 25 2003 - 09:50 AM

I'm actually very partial to the laptop idea with the seperate keyboard and moniter. A question about this though, with a set-up like that is the laptop still convinent to take with you if you go somewhere? and can laptops offer the same amount of upgradibility that you would find in a desktop computer? thanks.
-Keith-       


#9 of 14 OFFLINE   Masood Ali

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Posted February 25 2003 - 09:57 AM

Go for the Dell. Last I looked, the 2.4GHz 4550 was going for sub-$500.

#10 of 14 OFFLINE   Bobby McGee

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Posted February 25 2003 - 01:29 PM

Keith,
Quote:
A question about this though, with a set-up like that is the laptop still convinent to take with you if you go somewhere?
That's the whole idea behind a laptop. In terms of portability from most portable to lease portable:
1) PDA - but won't do what you need done
2) TabletPC (new) - not sure about functionality, but at this time, pricey.
3) Laptop - range from big to small. Bigger = more stuff, smaller = less stuff
4) Desktop - where you started, but not really portable
5) Server - hernia-time
6) Mainframe - Well, ya' know.

Of course with a laptop, when you go portable, you leave the mouse/keyboard/monitor at home cause all that is built in.
Quote:
can laptops offer the same amount of upgradibility that you would find in a desktop computer?
I assume you mean things like - larger hard drive, more ram, better graphics card, etc. I really don't know that much about upgrade options for laptops. Perhaps someone else can offer better advice.

#11 of 14 OFFLINE   MarkHastings

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Posted February 26 2003 - 01:58 AM

Bobby, you forgot

7.) J.O.S.H.U.A. - But that's only good for playing games

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#12 of 14 OFFLINE   Juan Castillo

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Posted February 26 2003 - 02:07 AM

Are you computer literate enough to upgrade your current hardware set to meet your needs. In other words..
If possible (what your motherboard will allow)
Can you upgrade processor only to something faster.
This may require flashing the Bios to the latest version and setting jumper settings on the board to read the currect CPU speed and voltage.
How many slots for RAM does your board have, are they full now, and can you upgrade to larger sticks?
If you are out of HD space, can you add another one as a slave drive to add space without affecting the current drive.
Can you upgrade the OS? and add additional software like Office 2000 or office xp?

I am not sure how comfortable you are with all this, but it may be worth your while and you may learn something.
If you don't know your motherboards specs and how to do the things listed above, do a search and find the right documentation. It will tell you all you need to know.

#13 of 14 OFFLINE   Chad Ellinger

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Posted February 26 2003 - 02:33 AM

Based on your needs, I would recommend the following:

1. At least 256 MB of RAM. Since RAM prices are pretty low right now, I would go for 512 MB. Extra RAM will help "future-proof" your system for new versions of Windows and Office.
2. At least a 1.5 GHz processor. Not state-of-the-art, but it will give you plenty of speed for office applications and MP3s.
3. A big hard drive (40-60 GB min). If you will be ripping/downloading a lot of MP3s, you'll want plenty of space to store them.
4. Windows XP with Office XP. Love it or hate it, you'll run into the least collaboration issues by sticking with Microsoft's latest. You should be able to get a student discount on both. Office 2000 is also a good choice.

Quote:
I'm actually very partial to the laptop idea with the seperate keyboard and moniter. A question about this though, with a set-up like that is the laptop still convinent to take with you if you go somewhere? and can laptops offer the same amount of upgradibility that you would find in a desktop computer?
Laptops are great for college because of their portability. They can make group projects and note-taking much easier. Wireless internet connectivity for laptops is also very affordable. You can purchase a wireless broadband router for your cable modem at home and do your homework in your living room or on your bed. Many college campuses have wireless access points set up for students so you can access the internet in class.

There are a few caveats with laptops. You will usually pay about a $500 premium over a comparably equipped desktop, and your upgrade options are a lot more limited (opening up a laptop is not nearly as straightforward and simple as opening up a desktop computer).

Whichever type of computer you decide on, I would highly recommend Dell for pre-built computers.

#14 of 14 OFFLINE   Mark Frank

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Posted February 26 2003 - 03:25 AM

I second the Dell Dimension 4550.

Check out FatWallet and look in the Hot Deals forum. I just saw a 2.4GHz Pentium deal there this morning for under $400 after discounts and rebates. These types of Dell deals come and go every month or so.


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