Burgess Laughlin

Buying a new computer

60 posts in this topic

I need technical advice. I am preparing to buy a new computer. A young friend locally, Patrick, can help me assemble whatever I buy. Perhaps you can make suggestions, either about general approach or about particular products.

MY KNOWLEDGE of computers is minimal. Correct me if I use technical terms improperly. I would like to learn only just enough about computers in order to buy the product that will best meet my needs. Computers, for me, are strictly tools, not a hobby.

MY CURRENT COMPUTER is a Dell Inspiron 2500 laptop, 15-inch screen, with Millenium Edition Microsoft software. At the time I bought it, I wanted a laptop for a small footprint on my worktable and for ease of carrying if I had to take it somewhere for repair. (I am 61 and I don't have a car.) In fact, my laptop never left the table -- except for repair trips, which were handled (very efficiently) by Dell through Airborne Express to Texas or the East Coast and back here to Oregon.

I have come to realize that there may be advantages to a desktop, modular system. For example, if the keyboard dies, I can simply swap in another keyboard rather than ship the whole unit to a repair depot, losing another week of work. The same situation would apply, I suppose, to monitors and storage media.

MY PREVIOUS COMPUTER was a basic-level Mac laptop, which I owned for 8 years without a single hardware problem. By contrast, in five years, I have had these problems with my Dell laptop: two hard-disk crashes, requiring replacement; a cracked motherboard, requiring replacement; a dead keyboard, requiring replacement (but Dell Parts told me they had none, "Call back in three months to see if we have any," so I bought a cheap PS-2 keyboard and plugged it in with satisfactory results); and miscellaneous software bugs that were so complex to deal with that I had to hire a local Objectivist friend, who is a programmer, to talk to the Dell support people for interpretation. And even then I asked him to write out the fix-it procedures in simple language so I could follow them when the problems reappeared.

MY PRIORITIES are:

1. Ease of use. I use a computer about 8 to 10 hours daily, seven days a week, mostly as an automated typewriter.

2. Reliable hardware and software for my simple needs -- in other words, I want to spend maximum time using my computer as a tool and minimum time wrestling with it to get it to work.

3. Capabilities including email (I seldom use my phone), internet access (mostly for news and for discussion groups), and for text writing and editing.

4. Continuity. I want to keep the same files I have been accumulating for years. I use diskettes, to copy files to, once or twice a day (but typically I work on only one file per day, and usually the same file -- say, a chapter of a book -- day after day). However, I am open to using other storage media if they better fit my uses.

5. Familiarity. I would prefer not investing a lot of hours into learning new software. For that reason, I have reluctantly decided to stick with PC rather than go back to Mac.

6. Support. I would love to have some place to turn to and say, "Fix it."

7. Price. I am finally approaching a point in my life where cost is not the overriding factor. But I don't see this as a big issue anyway, because my needs are very simple. Long-term, expense would appear perhaps more in buying support contracts than in the hardware and software itself. I don't know.

In summary, what I would love would be the computer equivalent of the old, simple, black telephones. I know that isn't possible, but that is the direction I would like to go.

I see two general solutions to the problem of finding simplicity: Buy simple, reliable equipment in the first place, and, when the inevitable problems arise, have a one-stop source that will help me solve the problems.

The basic question is, what is that equipment and who is the best one-stop source?

Suggestions -- general or specific -- and guidelines are welcome.

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The basic question is, what is that equipment and who is the best one-stop source?

OTHER QUESTIONS

1. Is there such a thing as tried-and-tested software, that is, software which may be somewhat old but now incorporates years of revisions and bug corrections since its first issue? I don't need the latest-and-greatest word-processing software for my simple needs. I need only basic editing tools for writing and editing outlines and drafts for my own use. I probably use no more than 10% of the capabilities of my current text-file software, Microsoft Word.

2. What is the best way to get support? Do you deal with a local general-purpose computer store? Do you ship faulty equipment back to the manufacturer, under a warranty program? Do you signup for extended hardware and software warranty support on the phone? In other words, how do you get problems solved with the minimal investment of your time (and downtime)?

3. In the more than 13 years I have had email connections I have never had a virus or other problem infect my computer. Do I really need special protection and if so, what is the best way to go -- buy protection software and an update service for an annual fee? I now have a Norton virus protection program but it has never uncovered a single problem in the years I have had it.

4. Is it possible and worthwhile to "unload" elements of a software package to streamline its operation? I notice in the Microsoft software that I got with my Dell Inspiron 2500 that there are a lot of features that I never use. Likewise on my MSN Explorer, I have features -- such as Money, Photos, and Radio -- that I never use. Would I be better off getting rid of those things? Or is that likely to cause problems?

5. Is it better to buy new or refurbished? (I am assuming that the seller in both cases is reliable or at least that someone -- a computer specialist -- would help me select a unit in either case.) The reason I ask is that the Mac laptop I used delightedly for eight years was a refurbished unit which a freelance computer repairman I know bought and set up for me.

I realize I have asked a lot of questions, but I assume others face similar problems and would welcome guidelines.

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For my last two computer purchases that I have made, I went to a local computer store that can customize my computer for me. If you can find a store that perhaps someone else can recommend would be helpful. I pick the motherboard, hard drive, modem, etc. and they put it together. I have found that doing this gives me greater control over what is in the computer and if I have a problem, I can go back to the local store for repairs or I can change out components when I want to upgrade.

This is not as difficult as it seems and really doesn't require too much investigation for the everyday user. If you have some specific, technical reason for having a particular computer, such as an engineering workstation, that requires more investigation. The basic method I use it to determine how much money I want to spend on the computer. Most of you hardware selections will be determined by that.

The local store should have a variety based upon price and functions. The store personnel should be able to answer most of your questions. If they can't answer your questions, then find another store with more knowledgeable people.

The most important components are the motherboard and CPU (Intel, AMD). I have had two Western Digital hard drives crash on me, so I don't recommend them.

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OTHER QUESTIONS

1. Is there such a thing as tried-and-tested software, that is, software which may be somewhat old but now incorporates years of revisions and bug corrections since its first issue? I don't need the latest-and-greatest word-processing software for my simple needs. I need only basic editing tools for writing and editing outlines and drafts for my own use. I probably use no more than 10% of the capabilities of my current text-file software, Microsoft Word.

Microsoft already comes with Wordpad built in. It is a simple word processor that can be used.

2. What is the best way to get support? Do you deal with a local general-purpose computer store? Do you ship faulty equipment back to the manufacturer, under a warranty program? Do you signup for extended hardware and software warranty support on the phone? In other words, how do you get problems solved with the minimal investment of your time (and downtime)?

I deal with a local store that builds customized computers. If there is a problem I can't solve, I just drive the computer over there. One big advantage of this is that I can order just a motherboard and CPU and then salvage the components (CD ROM, hard drive, modems) from the old computer if they are reasonably trouble free.

3. In the more than 13 years I have had email connections I have never had a virus or other problem infect my computer. Do I really need special protection and if so, what is the best way to go -- buy protection software and an update service for an annual fee? I now have a Norton virus protection program but it has never uncovered a single problem in the years I have had it.

You should be grateful for such luck. Viruses can wipe out your hard drive. So, it's like gambling, which is more valuable, the $30 - $40 for the protection or having to reformat your harddrive? Some viruses can actually destroy your hardware. You also need protection against spyware and a host of other invaders.

4. Is it possible and worthwhile to "unload" elements of a software package to streamline its operation? I notice in the Microsoft software that I got with my Dell Inspiron 2500 that there are a lot of features that I never use. Likewise on my MSN Explorer, I have features -- such as Money, Photos, and Radio -- that I never use. Would I be better off getting rid of those things? Or is that likely to cause problems?

They shouldn't cause problems as long as your hard drive is large enough.

5. Is it better to buy new or refurbished? (I am assuming that the seller in both cases is reliable or at least that someone -- a computer specialist -- would help me select a unit in either case.) The reason I ask is that the Mac laptop I used delightedly for eight years was a refurbished unit which a freelance computer repairman I know bought and set up for me.

I realize I have asked a lot of questions, but I assume others face similar problems and would welcome guidelines.

Having someone you can trust who has knowledge specific to a particular computer certainly helps.

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The basic question is, what is that equipment and who is the best one-stop source?

Processors: AMD and Intel are both good choices but my preference is AMD for their more efficient design.

Motherboard: Asus. They have a strong 3 year warranty and will back it up, I know from personal experience. I had a board that died on me, possibly due to electrical noise or under/overvoltage. When I emailed them about my computer refusing to even startup they sent me some detailed instructions on testing their board. The instructions were technical but simple to follow through on and I contacted them after I determined that the problem was with their board. I sent their board out and got a new one in roughly less than 10 business days.(I don't recall how long it took exactly)

RAM: Crucial and then Kingston. I believe that most memory today comes with lifetime warranties, but if "tried and true" are what you looking for than look no further than Crucial.

Video: ATI or Nvidia. These are the 2 dominant figures in video cards. Either one is a good choice for your needs, though my preference would be to Nvidia for their willingness to support other platforms such as Linux. If you go with ATI get one that is assembled by ATI, if Nvidia get one from Asus or EVGA.

Monitors: Sony, Samsung, or Viewsonic. This one is very important, especially since you stated that you would be on the computer for 8-10 hours a day. An LCD monitor here is practically mandatory. :o I will tell you about mine, Sony SDM-S73. This monitor has a wide horizontal and vertical viewing angle, meaning the screen doesn't lose much contrast or color quality if you are not looking at it dead center. Both the VGA and power plug in the back of the monitor are modular, if the cords ever get crushed and damaged I can simply order a new plug.

Hard Drives: Western Digital. All hard drives are prone to fail, this is an inevitability of such precise, sensitive mechanical devices being produced on such a small scale. One little bit of dust inside of a hard drive will ruin it, it must be perfectly clean. It is not even a good idea to apply short, jerky motions to a hard drive, especially when it is running. This can happen easily, like moving your computer case out from under your desk to find a port to connect to. If you have a great need for stability and an extra layer of backups, then look into using a hard drive configuration called RAID 1. It basically involves 2(or more possibly?) hard drives instead of one, where the second is nothing more than a duplicate of the first. Additionally, this backup process is automated. I am not aware of warranties from other manufacturers but I know Western Digital drives, depending on the model, come with up to a 5 year warranty such as the WD1200SB.

Case/Power Supply: Antec then Enermax. I would recommend the Antec Sonata II case, it is a good design and comes with a beefy 450 watt power supply. Definitely more than enough for your needs, which is perfect because it is not a good idea to push power supplies to their limits. Some cheaper power supplies can die catastrophically if pushed even near their claimed wattage. The case itself features a smooth black finish, USB/firewire and audio ports on the front panel, support for larger and quieter 120mm fans, etc.

Keyboard/Mouse: I prefer Microsoft wireless combos, they are cheap and have excellent battery life.

CD-Drive: I prefer a brand called Lite-On, their products are cheaper and work just fine. For 40-50 dollars, I have a CD writer and DVD reader/burner. A higher quality, more expensive brand would be Plextor.

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If you really liked your Apple system, why not try one again? Googling "apple stores portland" shows three stores in the area. If you go that route I strongly suggest *not* buying a PowerPC based system - get one of the new Intel CPU based Macs instead, which are slated to replace the PowerPC CPU, and are faster.

Office-application-wise, there's a nice set of mostly Microsoft compatible tools that are open-sourced and free, at http://www.openoffice.org/, including a word processor. They have versions that run on both PCs and Macs.

As far as PC compatibles go, I always assemble my own computers from scratch. As general advice, I would suggest an AMD Athlon 64 X2 based system (dual-core CPU), and avoiding the Gigabyte brand of motherboards. If you go that route, the motherboard should use the Nvidia nForce 4 chipset. You won't need SLI graphics (2 slots for 2 graphics cards), so it's best to save a few $ by not getting a motherboard with that capability.

OTHER QUESTIONS

1. Is there such a thing as tried-and-tested software, that is, software which may be somewhat old but now incorporates years of revisions and bug corrections since its first issue? I don't need the latest-and-greatest word-processing software for my simple needs. I need only basic editing tools for writing and editing outlines and drafts for my own use. I probably use no more than 10% of the capabilities of my current text-file software, Microsoft Word.

I use Word all of the time, so I'm not familiar with alternatives other than OpenOffice as I mentioned above. Are you experiencing a problem of some kind? Just because the power is there doesn't mean you have to use it.

I've heard of word processors, over the years, that are touted as being especially targeted at the needs of writers, but I can't recall any in particular. I suggest asking on HBL as well, because there's a number of writers on the list.

2. What is the best way to get support? Do you deal with a local general-purpose computer store? Do you ship faulty equipment back to the manufacturer, under a warranty program? Do you signup for extended hardware and software warranty support on the phone? In other words, how do you get problems solved with the minimal investment of your time (and downtime)?

For speed, local would be best. See if you can find a service agreement that has on-site service with guaranteed turnaround time. Also, Best Buy now has "Geek Squad" (http://www.geeksquad.com/servicesandpricin...iteservices.php). I've heard of other companies offering on-site service as well, some may be just local. Also, Googling could be useful: "portland on-site computer service"

3. In the more than 13 years I have had email connections I have never had a virus or other problem infect my computer. Do I really need special protection and if so, what is the best way to go -- buy protection software and an update service for an annual fee? I now have a Norton virus protection program but it has never uncovered a single problem in the years I have had it.

I suggest AVG Antivirus. Norton is a hideously complex and extremely intrusive program and could well be entirely responsible for most or all of your system instability, in my experience. If you use the internet at all, including Email, I would definitely use a virus scanner. Think of it as insurance.

4. Is it possible and worthwhile to "unload" elements of a software package to streamline its operation? I notice in the Microsoft software that I got with my Dell Inspiron 2500 that there are a lot of features that I never use. Likewise on my MSN Explorer, I have features -- such as Money, Photos, and Radio -- that I never use. Would I be better off getting rid of those things? Or is that likely to cause problems?

You can often customize installations to only install a sub-set of features. You can usually un-install programs that you don't want via the Control Panel. You can virtually always just delete desktop icons if they're annoying by just selecting them and pressing <Delete>. That won't uninstall the programs but it will improve viewability.

5. Is it better to buy new or refurbished? (I am assuming that the seller in both cases is reliable or at least that someone -- a computer specialist -- would help me select a unit in either case.) The reason I ask is that the Mac laptop I used delightedly for eight years was a refurbished unit which a freelance computer repairman I know bought and set up for me.

New, with a warranty and on-site service, in your context. As far as hard disks go, make sure that it isn't a Maxtor drive, and I'm wary of Western Digital as well (both in terms of poor reliability). Seagate is best. Also, make backups of any files you care about. Eventually all hard disks will fail. An external USB hard drive is good for that. Since word processor/text files are small, it also makes sense to just burn all of your work onto a CD-R or DVD-R disc once in a while, and don't worry about duplication. Buy a large CD case holder, the kind that can hold 300 discs, and use it store weekly backups of your writing work (or more often if you've done some work you really care about.) CD-R discs are dirt cheap.

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I see you wanted to know not only WHAT, but WHERE. :o I almost exclusively use an online retailer known as Newegg. They are very good with returns and generally have low prices. For as much as I have used them and talked with people that have used them, I have never heard one single negative remark about them.

____

1. As for software for you to use. For the most basic usage, WordPad is fine. I would also advise you to look at OpenOffice, especially since it is free. I haven't had a problem with it.

2. I generally don't like computer stores, my preference is dealing with the manufacturer directly.

3. Yes you most certainly do need protection from malicious software. I recommend Grisoft's AVG anti-virus and Microsoft's Anti-Spyware, both of which are free. If you are concerned with data integrity this is a must, and I prefer to keep my computers behind a router which has a firewall built in as well. I have not been infected with a virus for sometime either but that is no reason not to protect yourself. I haven't broken an arm or had a serious accident in a very long time, but that doesn't mean I should not have any insurance of any kind.

4. It is okay to get rid of clutter especially on your desktop and start menu. But if you have plenty of hard drive space then it is a waste of your time to uninstall as much as you can. Same thing goes with Windows system services, disabling everything until your computer has barebones functionality results in negligable performance improvement and has almost nothing to do with stability.

5. I would not risk using refurbished, they typically have lower warranties and sometimes they don't come with the accessories like cords, manuals, etc.

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One last thing, as far as backups go, look into USB Flash drives. They are highly portable, reliable, and are becoming incredibly much more used and popular.

Here is the drive I use: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?...N82E16820180732

One of the coolest features of this is that the cap and base of the unit have an insulated steel cable attached them. This makes it virtually impossible to lose the cap and the extra slack of cable at the end of the device allow it to be attached to a key chain or whatever else you keep your keys on. :o

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4. Continuity. I want to keep the same files I have been accumulating for years. I use diskettes, to copy files to, once or twice a day (but typically I work on only one file per day, and usually the same file -- say, a chapter of a book -- day after day). However, I am open to using other storage media if they better fit my uses.

I very strongly suggest that you stop using diskettes and move to a different medium. In fact, I suggest that you take the time (or hire somebody to take the time) to copy each diskette that you have into a separate folder on a hard disk, and then stuffing the diskettes away into a box somewhere and forgetting about them. I did that recently (though I destroyed the diskettes rather than storing them.) Burn multiple CD-R or DVD-R copies of the floppy data. If you have a safety deposit box, I suggest placing a copy there. Then, henceforce, just use the hard disk to store the files, and make routine backups to an external hard drive and to CD-R or DVD-R, as I mentioned in the last post.

Floppies are rapidly becoming outdated, and they have many downsides, including very poor storage density, easily erasable magnetic media, and typically poor mechanical properties (rotating air-exposed media that is prone to wear and dust). Also, many formats have been used over the years and it's possible that you may not be able to read them in the future. CD/DVD-Rs on the other hand, are standard physical formats that are extremely durable if kept out of sunlight. Others may disagree but I think that readers will exist even decades from now to read CD/DVD discs. There are just too many billions of discs that will survive, for that not to be true. If you want high reliability and estimated 300 year lifetime (at least), use MAM-A Mitsui CD-R discs. More expensive but worth it if you want longevity of your data.

Also, there are small USB "sticks" that are fairly cheap now that can store a significant amount of data, especially text. Being solid-state they should be very reliable, and definitely more so than any magnetic media. I would not suggest that you use them for primary storage, but they're a good way to have a compact, portable version of your files (if they fit). If you get one, get at least a 1 GB version, and 2 GB if you can afford it.

5. Familiarity. I would prefer not investing a lot of hours into learning new software. For that reason, I have reluctantly decided to stick with PC rather than go back to Mac.

I have a certain level of Apple antipathy based on being burned by one of Steve Jobs' irrational decisions some years back to shaft licensed makers of alternative Apple compatible hardware (and other reasons), but with Mac OS X and their current crop of hardware, it makes for a nice, albeit co$tly system. You can get Microsoft Office for the Apple and it would probably not be terribly different than what you're used to on the PC.

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I know you said that you didn't want to go back to the Mac because of the issue of familiarity. I'd just like to tell you that I switched to Mac just 5 months ago, and had never even touched one. I had very little trouble at all with the switch. About the only difference was in the way an application is closed, but that is a five second learning process.

I got my Mac (an eMac 1.4GHz) for $799; + $150(?) for a 3 year all inclusive AppleCare program where they will fix any problem that comes up no charge. I don't think I'll need it, it has been a dream.

I use my computer for the same purpose you do, mainly writing. So, if you decide to go to either one, I have a ton of inexpensive (to free) options for word processors. I will name the two best for you here.

Atlantis Ocean Mind For Windows/PC computers.

Mariner Write For the Mac.

If you only use the word processor in office applications, I would suggest one of these two. MS Office and OpenOffice are purely bloatware to the normal user. Either of the ones I linked to above is under $50. As far as I know, either one will handle your current Word files. Although I must say I chucked my Word program after using it only a couple of days.

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Burgess, two questions:

1) You mentioned that your current laptop is a Dell Inspiron 2500. Do you know more about the configuration, specifically: CPU type/speed, size of RAM, and size of Hard-drive? From a web-search, I'm guessing that your configuration is something like: Pentium-III 1-GHz, 64MB or 128MB RAM, 10GB-20GB hard-drive, CD-ROM drive (or DVD).

Is that about correct?

2) Have you run up against a block with any part of this config. Some will only manifest themselves in sluggishness; but, do you -- for instance -- find youself cleaning up disk to "make space", or have you wanted to burn DVDs. Would you really like a larger screen? Do you find it is slow sometimes?

In other words, what are the main reasons you want a new computer?

------ ------

Most of what I would have suggested has already been suggest: continue to use Virus S/w even if it is not Norton, use USB memory sticks and get your stuff off diskettes, check out Open Office as an alternative to Word/Excel.

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Burgess,

I'd like to back what Thoyd Loki said. If most of your files are basic files like MSword, pictures, Adobe, etc., then they can all easily transfer over to an Apple computer. A lot has changed since 2000 for Apple. With OSX 10.0 (which, by the way, has the same features that Window's Vista is promising...plus more), compatibility has sky-rocketed. Only very specific programs don't run on Apple computers. For example, the learning software for Mack/Volvo Trucks runs only on a PC. But if you aren't going to be using very advanced software like that, then Apple has everything else you need. I have a lot of special programs/fonts for Greek and Latin, and almost every single one of them is available for Mac in addition to Windows.

Familiarity I also don't think would be an issue. It took me just a few seconds to adjust to an Apple, and that is mostly on the small things. I use MSword on my Apple just like I do on my PC. So there really wasn't that big of a switch.

I've had my Apple since 8/05, and have not once had a SINGLE problem with it...software or hardware. In fact, Apple has given me courtesy calls just to check up on my computer and on me.

I consider it the wisest purchase I've ever made, and I've enjoyed every chance I've had to use it.

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Lu could get Burgess a 20% discount on a Dell computer.

Does anyone know if Dell is any good?

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Burgess stated that he had many problems with Dell. And he isn't alone. My brother and father have a Dell, and both constantly experience problems...mostly them wearing out very, very quickly.

I've also never had a good experience with Dell Customer Service. In the PC markey, especially Laptops, I prefer Toshiba.

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Burgess stated that he had many problems with Dell.  And he isn't alone.  My brother and father have a Dell, and both constantly experience problems...mostly them wearing out very, very quickly. 

I've also never had a good experience with Dell Customer Service.  In the PC markey, especially Laptops, I prefer Toshiba.

Thanks. Sounds like Dell isn't the way to go.

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Thanks. Sounds like Dell isn't the way to go.

To be fair and honest though, a lot of companies and schools use Dell. Dell gives insane discounts in order to get the computer...everywhere. If Dell was total trash, companies wouldn't buy them.

I'd bet that a Dell would do fine...if you were only looking for the minimum. ie. Office, Internet, and maybe some music.

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Burgess stated that he had many problems with Dell.  And he isn't alone.  My brother and father have a Dell, and both constantly experience problems...mostly them wearing out very, very quickly. 

I've also never had a good experience with Dell Customer Service.  In the PC markey, especially Laptops, I prefer Toshiba.

I have had nothing but positive experiences with Dell. I've had a Latitude C840 since 2004 and haven’t had many problems. When I did have any problem, my parts came promptly and were installed by a local technician.

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1. Ease of use. Windows ME is somewhat different than both Windows XP and Mac OS/X so you will have some new concepts to learn but it should be easy.

2. Reliable. The Thinkpad is hard to beat for reliability and the support from IBM was excellent. Lenovo now makes the Thinkpad and the support, at least for enterprise accounts, is still excellent.

3. Capabilities. Any machine today will meet your needs handily. Instead of hardware you should be thinking more about the bundled software.

4. Continuity. A lot of new machines don’t even ship with floppy drives anymore so that is something you will want to keep an eye out for. And I would second the recommendation that you should migrate that data off of floppy onto CD-R’s as soon as possible.

5. Familiarity. You have decided against the Mac but you might look at how different XP is from ME. My guess is OSX and XP are about equally different than ME.

6. Support. Consumer support pretty much sucks across the board. I hear high dollar boutique companies like Alienware or Falcon Northwest provide good support but they don’t really make a machine for you. Apple or Lenovo are probably the best choices here.

7. Price. In terms of hardware price, any machine will meet your needs. I would look at the bundled software and the support contracts to determine which machine to go with.

1. Is there such a thing as tried-and-tested software, There is and it is called Microsoft Office. There’s a reason it is it the standard everything else is compared against. If you can get it bundled with a system for a good price who cares if you only use 10% of the feature set as long as that 10% works as it should? If price is the overriding factor OpenOffice is good enough for most needs and it is free. I’ve personally ran into conversion problems with Microsoft documents which may be a deal killer for you. My father loves Microsoft Works and prefers it to Office.

2. What is the best way to get support? For the non-technical buyer, on-site support is the best followed by shipping the unit back to the vendor. If you get a Mac, just take it in to the local Apple store where the support is excellent.

3. In the more than 13 years I have had email connections I have never had a virus or other problem infect my computer. Do I really need special protection and if so, what is the best way to go –

For the non-technical users than I would say a good virus checker, firewall, and Adware/spybot software package is mandatory. The Google Packmight be a good way to get all of this in one download. The firewall should be taken care of by the operating system, either SP2 for XP or the built-in one for OSX.

I strongly disagree with the negative recommendation about Norton Anti-virus. I’m running Norton across 100’s of servers that are doing billions of dollars of transactions a day with no stability issues.

All that said I don't and have never ran anti-virus software on any of my personal PC's and have never had a virus. But even for highly technical people the nastiness of malware is making this any increasingly risky choice.

4. Is it possible and worthwhile to "unload" elements of a software package to streamline its operation? It is but I wouldn’t bother if you are not an expert. The examples you listed don’t really have any impact on your system unless you actually run them. Hard disks have so much space available that freeing up half a gig isn’t worth the effort.

5. Is it better to buy new or refurbished? You can get some real deals with refurbs but with electronics, intermittent problems can often slip through the refurb testing process. I’d buy new.

What I recommend:

Lenovo

or Apple

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Burgess, I'd suggest going Apple. I went from Mac to Windows in '97, and gradually came to regret it. Last year I picked up a 15" G4 PowerBook and love it.

Here is a thread on Apple on The Forum. Also, check out apple.com. And, I suggest taking a trip to a local Apple store and playing with a few computers. I've found the salespeople at these stores actually know something about their products (unlike my experiences with other computer retailers).

For the things you mention, I don't think you'll have an issue with software compatibilty. There are some PC/Windows applications that don't run on Mac, but it doesn't sound like you'll have to worry about that. E-mail, web surfing, normal office applications (documents, spreadsheets) are well integrated and easy to use, whether you go with MS Office, Open Office, or iWork.

The original Mac philosophy was to have a computer ready to use right out of the box. That's still true 20 years later, with faster machines, far more complex software, and more applications.

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The stats for the new MacBook Pro are:

* 15.4-inch widescreen display

* 1.67 or 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo

* 667MHz frontside bus and main memory

* PCI Express architecture

* Up to 120GB Serial ATA hard drive

* ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 with up to 256MB memory on 16-lane PCI Express

* ExpressCard/34 slot

* Dual-link DVI, VGA adapter included

* One FireWire 400 port, two USB 2.0 ports

* Optical digital and analog audio I/O, built-in microphone and stereo speakers

* Slot-loading SuperDrive

* Illuminated keyboard, Scrolling TrackPad

* Built-in AirPort Extreme (802.11g), Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, and Gigabit Ethernet

* Mac OS X Tiger with iLife ’06 featuring iWeb, iWork ’06 trial, and more

The new switch to Intel made this laptop 4-5x faster than the old Apple laptop, which in and of itself was quite fast.

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First, I want to thank everyone for the many and detailed suggestions you have made. Within the next couple of days, I will try to write a summary of the insights you have offered me for my situation. I am still chewing on some of the issues, especially my new realization that I might save myself a lot of trouble by letting go of more money, not only for better equipment, but also for even such things as at-home servicing (and training).

Again, thank you. What a resource you all are!

1)  You mentioned that your current laptop is a Dell Inspiron 2500. Do you know more about the configuration, specifically: CPU type/speed, size of RAM, and size of Hard-drive? From a web-search, I'm guessing that your configuration is something like: Pentium-III 1-GHz, 64MB or 128MB RAM, 10GB-20GB hard-drive, CD-ROM drive (or DVD).

Is that about correct?

Here is what the acknowledgment sheet says: Inspiron 2500, 14.1 XGA; Celeron 800; 128MB; 2 DIMMS, SDRAM; 10 GB Hard Drive; CD drive.

You also ask, "what are the main reasons you want a new computer?"

The main reason I want a new (better) computer is so that I can spend all or nearly all my time doing my work instead of too much of my time dealing with problems (too frequent hardware failures, as I outlined earlier, and software bugs nearly every day).

In a nutshell, I am sick of the "adventure" I have every day, wondering whether the HD will crash, wondering whether, my internet connection will quit on me at any moment, wondering whether Word will be extremely slow or (as today) work fine, and wondering how many new and old problems will appear.

Another problem I haven't mentioned is lack of repeatability: For no cause that I can see, my computer seems to reset itself -- for example, yesterday my junk filter suddenly was at minimum instead of strong, and the procedure following the power-on is different all of a sudden.

Nothing like that "atmosphere" affected me when I owned the Powerbook or even decades ago when I owned a Xerox word processor (clunky, with 8 inch diskettes, but extremely reliable and predictable).

I have another question, for anyone: If I begin backing up single Word files to CD, rather than diskette, twice daily, won't I end up with what amounts to a history CD? Copying to diskette means copying over the file already existing on the diskette (from the last backup). Since I have no use for earlier versions of a work in progress, the diskette write-over is exactly what I want.

Apparently (but I am not sure) that is not what happens with CD. Instead, apparently with CD when I copy a file (on which I work every day for a month), I will end up with all the copies on the CD. So if I backup twice a day (at least), then I will have 60 files on the CD at the end of the month, right?

If that is the case, where is the advantage? I don't want all those intermediate copies. I want only the latest one. Is the advantage of CD in the presumed quality of the medium itself -- that is, its ability to preserve content? If so, I must say I have never had a data corruption problem in the 13 or more years I have been using the little "floppies." But, just to make sure, I backup to three floppies at the end of every day, and I printout the project at major milestones (first outline, second outline, etc.).

I don't see how CDs would be an advantage, especially if I don't expect the files I store to last more than a few years, which is well within the capabilities of floppies properly protected.

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One theme I've run across in this thread is that people are having quite a few problems with Dell computers.

I have a Dell computer that is almost 6-1/2 years old, and the only things that have gone wrong are 1) the hard drive was having problems after 2-1/2 years, so Dell sent me a new one which I installed, and 2) my Sony monitor failed after over 5 years of use. From what I know, one can expect these things to fail periodically anyway. Other than these problems, my Dell system has worked perfectly. So I'm wondering if Dell has cut its quality over the years, because I sure appear to have gotten a good one back when I bought mine.

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Burgess, the problem with floppies is that they are rapidly becoming outdated and not supported by major manufacturers. I had helped purchase a laptop for someone recently, and it didn't even come with a floppy drive.

If you're concerned with "history CD" phenomenon, then you may consider "USB drives". What these are are little strips of plastic that plug directly into the back of your computer, allow painless re-writing, and store an equivalent of 500 floppy drives, while being about 10x faster to access and write to, or read from. Plus they're really cheap for such an efficient device; I had gotten mine for $14 during this year's Black Friday, but you can easily find them for $40-50, so it will also save you money spent purchasing floppies, on top of all the other advantages.

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...wondering whether, my internet connection will quit on me at any moment...

This could be a problem with your ISP, or with the physical connection somewhere between your abode and the server you're dialing in to. I believe you have MSN dialup?? I do too, and I will frequently get disconnected in the middle of a sesson, or else my connection will suddenly get very slow. As it is now, it's a minor annoyance.

I have another question, for anyone: If I begin backing up single Word files to CD, rather than diskette, twice daily, won't I end up with what amounts to a history CD? Copying to diskette means copying over the file already existing on the diskette (from the last backup). Since I have no use for earlier versions of a work in progress, the diskette write-over is exactly what I want.

Apparently (but I am not sure) that is not what happens with CD. Instead, apparently with CD when I copy a file (on which I work every day for a month), I will end up with all the copies on the CD. So if I backup twice a day (at least), then I will have 60 files on the CD at the end of the month, right?

If that is the case, where is the advantage? I don't want all those intermediate copies. I want only the latest one. Is the advantage of CD in the presumed quality of the medium itself -- that is, its ability to preserve content? If so, I must say I have never had a data corruption problem in the 13 or more years I have been using the little "floppies." But, just to make sure, I backup to three floppies at the end of every day, and I printout the project at major milestones (first outline, second outline, etc.).

I don't see how CDs would be an advantage, especially if I don't expect the files I store to last more than a few years, which is well within the capabilities of floppies properly protected.

The short answer is: you're right. When you back up to CDs, you end up with a permanent copy, so after a year, you'd have a big pile of CDs if you backed up several times a day.

I think the argument for using CDs, however, is that they're more permanent, less prone to media failure, and have higher capacity. They are a more robust medium. So for something you wanted to archive for 10 years, CD would be a better choice. Note that CDs that you can record to only once are very cheap: I think about 25 cents each. So you can just throw away ones that you don't want (perhaps after breaking them up, to prevent somebody from copying your data).

There are also "rewritable" CDs - CD-RW, they're called. Here, the CDs are more expensive, but you can write over old data, so you would not end up with a pile of them after a year.

One thing you could do is a hybrid scheme: maybe back up to CD once a week, but back up to floppy several times a day, if you want to.

Another argument somebody mentioned about getting away from floppies is that they're becoming obsolete. In particular, it's likely that if you went out and bought a new computer today, you wouldn't even get a floppy disk drive with it.

(I'm sort of in the same position you're in in this regard: I too back up to floppies today. I'm only backing up text files - source code mostly - and a floppy disk will hold a whole lot of that. One of these days I'm going to buy a remote CD drive that can write either the rewritable CD-RW's or just the plain read-once CD-R's, but I just haven't gotten around to it.)

.....

Another point I want to make is that it doesn't sound like you are putting much demand on your computer's resources: for example, memory capacity, disk capacity or CPU power: I don't think you need to worry about getting a really fast or high capacity machine to do word processing or web browsing. (I can remember the days when people did word processing on PDP-8-based machines: that was a 12-bit architecture dating back to the mid-1960's: much less powerful than we have today. But it worked fine for editing documents.) I'm in that boat too: my 433 MHz machine works fine - plenty of speed to do things like edit, compile and link, and my 20 GB hard disk is less than 10% full. Since I haven't bought a machine for so long, I don't have any advice on brands today.

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I saw an earlier recommendation in this thread for an Athlon X2 processer. I think that is overkill for your purposes.

Go for the Semprom 64, they are the same brand name(AMD) but extremely cheap but with strong performance. Athlon X2 is pretty much designed for the top of the range gamers, engineers or other intensive tasks. It will get your job done but it is like getting a semi trailer to move a suitcase of luggage.

I run the Semprom in some office environment desktops and they run very fast in that environment, without stretching the wallet at all.

Ram, I would recommend about 512MB minimum, go for Kingston. I have never had a problem with any Kingston ram in my years of computing. Kingston ram also comes with a lifetime gurantee as well.

Motherboards, I have always liked Asus. Always been very reliable for me.

If the right model motherboard is bought, you shouldn't have to worry about sound, video or network cards. The onboard stuff should be good enough for word processing. :o

For your computers case, I strongly recommend Antec for their power supplies.

Most problems that I have seen in computers during my career, have been due to a faulty power supply. It is often the one thing that is overlooked.

Antec is a bit pricey compared to the other brands, but something I am very strong about.

Hard drives, I have had the opposite experience with them to most other members of the forum. I have had several Seagates crash, but haven't had as many issues with my WD drives. The issues that I have had, have all been traced to temperature.

In regards to floppies, the industry was planning to phase them out 5 years ago entirely but kept up support for them due to the number of users who still used them. There was no alternative back then that people felt comfortable using.

USB Flash Drives have changed that so support for them has been dying very rapidly. I haven't seen a computer built in the past year with support for them and my local computer stores no longer stock the drives or the disks.

You should have USB ports in the back of your existing computer. Try buying a cheap USB key drive(I have seen them for sale for $30USD for 512MB) and trying it out before you upgrade to see how you like it.

USB key drives, if you buy a good brand are extremely durable.

I have been rather careless with mine(in part due to how durable I know they are), I have dropped them by mistake off 2 floors onto tiles when it slips off the books I am carrying, or I had one fall out of my pocket one day and get ran over by a car before I could fetch it. It still worked fine without losing any data at all. I consider them pretty much indestructible. ;)

You can also buy rewritable CD's that let you burn over the same area approximately a thousand times. Or in other words, good for about 3 years of saving once a day, for only $1 to $2 before it reaches it's limit.

I used to use them as a backup before I switched over to the USB drives.

In regards to support?

The big companies such as Dell are better if you want insurance on your parts. But if you don't mind paying extra for parts if something fail and you can find a local technician that you can trust to get the job done, you will have the advantage of a fast turn around time. To some local people down here, I make money on the side by offering a same day repair service for any faults. (At a premium of $50 service fee per fault tho)

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