Burgess Laughlin

Buying a new computer

60 posts in this topic

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.

That is true, Jay P. Word processors haven't changed nearly as much as other applications have like games, but the hardware definately has. Any retail processor that is bought today will do what Burgess Laughlin wants to do.

My personal recommendation would be an AMD Sempron 2500+. It is cheap, based off of much more powerful architecture, and will still hold its own in intensive applications.

I forgot one other thing that is important as well, a UPS. I have an APC brand UPS and it has worked out very well for me. It features AC line filtering, surge protection and battery backup. Computer components can be damaged by electrical noise, overvoltage, and even undervoltage. I remember my wireless router getting damaged by an extended drop in voltage, the lights in my house dimmed for about 10 seconds straight. For the next month or so I had intermittent internet connectivity. It would work then not work for no reason at all. I eventually determined it was something within the router itself and was trouble free after I replaced it. Having a good power supply is one thing, but feeding it good clean power is the other side of the story. :o

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Burgess, for what you are using it for almost any new or recent computer will have sufficient capacity that will be much more than what you have now. You don't need a lot of power for the work you do, but modern operating systems and some other software needs more than used to be the case, so you will need something heftier than what you have now; the disk will be much more than 10GB for example.

See if you can find a local small private PC business with a good reputation that sells and services. One of the advantages of having a locally assembled PC is that it will have standard parts that are easily replaced if needed at competitive prices. If you do this, you may find a good refurbished one with a decent warrantee, but at the rate of technology changes don't get one more than a year or two old. I would stay away from the mass market franchises.

If you are interested in choosing what components go into a "custom" machine see http://hardwareguys.com. Once you know what you are looking for search the internet for the best price. I have found it worthwhile to follow their advice on quality components.

If you can't find such a local small business with a good reputation and stick with Dell, keep in mind that they sell at an initial low price but charge enormous prices for "extended warranties" and repairs. Dell used to have an excellent reputation, and may still be better than the other big mass market companies, but has slipped badly. They even downgrade the standard warranties on components they use (like 5 years down to 1 year for a hard drive). Heaven help you if a non-standard Dell motherboard goes bad and you have to replace it at your own expense. So if you want the convenience of a single source for future repairs you will have to pay a lot for the service contracts at Dell.

I agree that you should get a large, good quality flat screen monitor -- see hardwareguys for recommendations. If you get another laptop, get a large area "wide screen" so you can enlarge your visual context.

The one internal component to plan for no matter what PC you get is the amount of memory, the more the better. That is far more important than CPU speed and other specs you won't even understand as long as it is a new or very recent architecture. I have found that buying good quality memory on the internet from a company like Crucial is significantly cheaper than increasing the "stock" amount when buying from Dell -- if you buy from Dell get the minimum memory and replace it yourself rather than pay Dell for an increase -- it is actually cheaper to replace all of Dell's minimum memory with good quality.

I also agree that you should ditch the floppies. They are an obsolete, slow medium that can go bad even in storage. You should use CDs (~650MB) or DVDs (~4.5GB) for general backup and the new external memory that plugs into a USB port for your more frequent low capacity backups of your writing. (You can buy a swiss army knife with 64MB memory in it now :-) You can use rewritable CDs or DVDs for the general backups, but they cost more. One of your backup goals is to be able to quickly replace the whole system if something goes wrong, so you don't have to re-install and re-configure everything.

For what you do, Windows XP home edition should be ok as the operating system, but I use XP Pro for important differences to me that I don't remember now (so take a quick look at it). I do not have experience with Macs, but as Phil suggests you should not rule that out. Just watch out for emulations of Microsoft software that run slowly.

For security you can use the free AVG anti-virus software and the free ZoneAlarm firewall (and turn off the Windows XP firewall). The anti-virus data base will be automatically updated daily over the internet.

If you get a laptop as your sole machine or in addition to a desktop, make sure it has wireless in it -- you can take it anywhere in the house and it will communicate through a wireless router to the internet.

For what you will use it for, Word Pad that comes with Windows will suffice, though you may find that once you learn more about Word in Office you will use the more advanced features -- even basic things like spelling checks and word counts. There are different levels of Office with different programs in them beyond Word, and you probably don't need more than the minimum. I have not tried the free Office equivalents. Mostly I use the free GNU emacs text editor, ispell spell checker, and wc word counter (and something called the "bash shell"), all of which is very useful and powerful but probably more technical than you want now.

For your browser and email you should install the free Firefox and Thunderbird as better than IE Explorer and Outhouse (for security and other reasons). I have also used the Eudora email program for many years.

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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.

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.

I wonder if you haven't picked up some malware that is affecting your machine. The junk filter suddenly changing settings is very suspicious. I'd download Spybot S&D and have it scan your system.

As for the CR-R's buy CD-RW's which are re-writeable and can be used just like you use floppy disks.

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I think I should add that I regard CD writers as obsolete and that you would be better off with a DVD writer. DVD writers will read and write CDs as well as the larger capacity DVDs. CDs are less expensive, are still used for most offline software distribution, and are more than enough for backing up writing projects, but are not large enough for backing up the whole PC software system. A DVD writer will take care of that, plus you can watch DVD movies on your PC, and you can still play audio CDs and -- most important of all -- still read the Oliver Objectivism Research CDROM. The DVD writer should be built into the PC.

Another reason to have a floppy drive is that although it is rarely used anymore, it is used for system recovery in a couple of different ways. An alternative to a built-in floppy drive is to buy an external floppy drive that plugs into a USB port so you can use the same floppy drive on any (modern) PC (including laptops) without having to buy another one in the future. You may be able to use your existing floppy drive in the new machine to read your old floppies. If your Dell laptop has a removable floppy drive with a USB connection that can connect it externally that is all you need.

If you want to write CDs or DVDs by directly copying individual files as you do with a floppy, then use the Nero InCD program. But that is something to do later; it is not part of the decision of what PC to buy.

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I wonder if you haven't picked up some malware that is affecting your machine. The junk filter suddenly changing settings is very suspicious.

I think so as well. However, I would recommend the free beta version of Microsoft Antispyware, easily downloaded/installed at Microsoft.com. It seems to do the best job of identifying and dealing with that junk.

As a more general note, I would recommend to Burgess, and others who are upgrading, that they consider doing a completely clean installation of the OS, and reinstallation of their software, rather than a disk clone, and making sure that antivirus and antispyware programs are operating early on. That will assure that various spyware/viruses/Sony DRM rootkits/etc. will be left behind on the old system and not just moved to contaminate the new one.

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I agree with the completely clean installation idea.

But there are some other aspects too. Older systems and new systems manage their system resources differently. You want to reinstall to take advantage of the newer methods. While you can change the drivers(they are like small programs that manage your hardware) for almost every device, the system resource management is handled in the kernel(the very heart of Windows) which is chosen automatically during the system install and can't be changed without a reinstall.

If you do a clone, you would be missing out on some of the performance of the new system.

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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.

Yes. It's like health insurance. Hopefully, you'll never need it, but if you need it even once, you'll be happy to have it. get something like the Norton subscription, where they automatically download the latest virus signatures.

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 believe refurbished computers have been checked thoroughly and are therefore safer. They're also cheaper....

Some random thoughts:

- One thing you want to consider is that desktop can be pretty heavy. If you need a repair, it might be easier to have a laptop. On the other hand, flat screen are now reasonably priced and a desktop isn't as bulky as it used to be.

- In the next 10 years, digital media is going to explode (think, avg picture emailed around will be 1 - 5MB). As it stands now, I believe that laptops are going to be handicapped by their small hard drive. If I were to buy a computer now, I would want at least 1,000MB of hard drive space. This is just not doable on a laptop today.

- If you spend 8 - 10 hrs / day typing, then typing comfort is an issue. For screen size and quality of keyboards, desktops are hard to beat. Invest in good quality hardware.

- Video cards and processor speed are what are most expensive in a computer. Based on your need, I believe you can go with the low end on those 2 items. if you become an avid gamer, then things will be different... :o In the meantime, don't overpsend on this.

- Don't use diskettes. Buy a stand alone hard drive and copy your files to it. Then you can copy them easily to your new hard drive. It will be infinitely faster. Also, you can use the HD to make a back-up every quarter or so (the frequency is driven by what you can afford to loose: if you cannot afford to loose more than 1 week of updates, then you need to make weekly safety backups). Soon, very soon, you will have to pay a premium to get a diskette reader - as you would to get an 8-track tape reader in your car instead of a CD reader. Those are outdated standards.

- I've had both Macs and PCs. The only catastrophic failure I ever had was on the Mac laptop. I know that based on what I read I must be a statistical oddity, but still... Also, my experience with Mac was dreadful. I had to pay for a new HD, and for their attempt to recover the data - which failed. All that for a HD which must have been faulty to start with. DISCLOSURE: I know work for Microsoft, but that was before that.

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

Burgess - check your PM reg this.

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- In the next 10 years, digital media is going to explode (think, avg picture emailed around will be 1 - 5MB).  As it stands now, I believe that laptops are going to be handicapped by their small hard drive.  If I were to buy a computer now, I would want at least 1,000MB of hard drive space.  This is just not doable on a laptop today.

1,000 MB is exactly 1GB

The average entry level laptop has at least 40GB of space on it.

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1,000 MB is exactly 1GB

The average entry level laptop has at least 40GB of space on it.

Thanks - I meant 1,000GB.

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At present usage levels, I can't imagine anyone needing 1TB(1000 GB of space).

You are right that in 10 years, digital media will take off big time, I am betting my company on it with some of the products I have under development.

But why buy now for needs 10 years down the track? The top of the range hard drives cost hundreds of dollars more than the standard sizes on the market.

He will need 1TB in 10 years time, but why not buy it then when he buys his next computer(or upgrades the existing one) and save a large bundle of money in the process. :o

Otherwise the idle capacity goes to waste since by the time it does get used, it is far cheaper.

The main thing he has expressed an interest in using it for is writing and e-mailing, 80GB is more than enough for him to do both of those things comfortably and to have room left over to store thousands of pictures or lots of video clips at current compression and file sizes rates if he wants to explore those things in the future. If he decides he likes it, it is very easy to add a second drive in, any local technician can do so. ;)

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I didn't say "in ten years" but "in the next ten years". Whether you will need it early or late depends on whether you and your family are early adapters.

I was at the CES last week, and I saw 2 things that made me go "ho ho"...

1) Sanyo had that amazing, tiny HDTV video cam'. It's going to go retails in 06 for $800. 2 yrs from now, it and its clones will be $350, and every couple in Americas will be sending GB worth of footage of their children to the grandparents, etc.

2) Google Video, where anyone can upload as much footage as they want, for free.

Anyway, that's my opinion. Sorry to hijack the thread.

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Burgess,

I'd like to strongly disagree with those who suggested various components you should buy, with the implication you should assemble your own computer (with your friend's help). I recently upgraded most of my computer piece-wise, and so I know just how hard it is to keep up with all the technology and make sure everything will work together. Buying a pre-assembled computer from a company you trust saves you all that headache. (To see why, ask yourself if you would ever get a new car by assembling it from parts? Sure, gearheads would, because they know and care about all the technology--but I know you don't, based on your original post.)

Not only would you either have someone pick everything out and put it together, but you would have no one to turn to when something goes wrong. You complained about your Dell support, with justification, but imagine if there was no single person company to call? You're not likely to get warranties on parts, and to exercise any warranties you had you'd have to troubleshoot the problem to know which part went wrong, take it out, mail it in, and put in the new part when it arrives. With a preassembled computer, they do that troubleshooting and replacement for you.

In that vein, I'd recommend seriously considering an Apple computer. Their machines are the closest you are likely to come to an "appliance" that works out of the box like a toaster. They work with the internet just as well as a PC, and you can get Office for some degree of compatibility with your existing Word files, though you may have to save them to an mutual "interchange" format. They cost more, but which is worth more to you: your time to worry about assembling your own, your time to worry about Windows problems, or your money for a Mac? The cost differential for a Mac is not that great.

On the other hand, I do agree with the suggestion to move away from floppies. You will have to buy an extra "floppy drive" for most new machines these days, and floppies degrade notoriously. The two other suggestions, writable CDs and USB "keychain" drives, are both excellent choices. They work interchangeably on PCs and Macs (and will for at least a decade into the future), and have hundreds of times more storage room than floppies. Also, nearly all new machines come with a CD burner, so you don't have to buy anything extra to use them. (You don't need the more expensive DVD burners if you are coming from floppies, believe me.)

For longevity with CDs, go with high-quality write-once (CD-R) discs rather than rewritable (CD-RW). This does mean you can't overwrite files on there, but since they are so much bigger than floppies and yet cost nearly nothing per disc, it doesn't really matter if you build up a history on the CD before it gets filled up.

Hope this long post was of some use,

Doug

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Burgess,

On re-reading your initial post I see you have an excellent grasp of the issues involved in choosing the right computer. Your numbered priorites are excellent and, in my mind, reinforce my suggestion to go with a Mac. It meets so many criteria that it easily overwhelms the one reason you say you want to stick with a PC (less new to learn). True, a Mac will involve learning new things, but by and large it will be "fun" learning, rather than feeling like you have to master some arcane trivia to make your computer work.

To follow up to my previous post, I can offer some suggestions on the equipment involved. These trends have been true for as long as I can remember (about 15 years),

and they will remain in effect as long as we are using similar technology. There are three main variable elements in a computer:

1. The processor, or CPU. Here it's best to choose one on the cheap end of the curve. You pay far more for "high-end" processors than you will ever see in actual performance. For instance, it's not uncommon to pay twice as much for 5% more potential performance, which you will never see in practice. It doesn't matter what the actual performance is--the price/performance ratio has always been maximized on the low end. (One special case to consider if you go with a Mac: make sure it is one with the new Intel processors, for future compatibility.) Buy one on the low end and save money for the two more noticeable variables below.

2. The hard drive. Here, it's better to be in the mid-to-high end, just because upgrading later is a pain. Often you only pay 5% more for twice the space, which is a bargain you will definitely notice (unlike theoretical processor performance).

3. The memory, or RAM. This tends to be more linear: twice the RAM costs about twice as much. Therefore it's best to stick to the midrange unless you know in particular what your needs are. (This is also trivial to upgrade later, so you shouldn't pay too much now--it will only be cheaper later.)

To summarize, CPUs: buy slow; hard drives: buy big; RAM: buy "medium-sized".

Everything else, with the notable exception of the monitor, is "binary": it either has that capability, or it doesn't (a CD burner, a wireless card, a modem, etc). If you stop by the Apple store at an uncrowded time, they should be willing to take all the time you need to help you decide which extras you do and don't need.

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I'd like to strongly disagree with those who suggested various components you should buy, with the implication you should assemble your own computer (with your friend's help).

This might have been directed at my posts, so I will comment. I should have made it clearer that I was certainly not advocating that Burgess put together his own system from scratch. He wants to buy a turn-key system that works well with minimum hassle. My component suggestions were intended as a guide to what to look for inside of the many choices available in pre-built systems. I think it would be a mistake to buy a pre-built system with a Maxtor hard drive for instance. Or if you do, you should be aware of the failure rates and their skimpy 1 year warranty (vs. Seagate's 5 year warranty, because they know they can.) You can choose between Intel and AMD - based on recent experience, I would be inclined towards AMD and suggested the Athlon 64 X2, because dual-core processors can run simultaneous programs more smoothly and transparently in Windows than single-core. etc.

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This might have been directed at my posts, so I will comment. I should have made it clearer that I was certainly not advocating that Burgess put together his own system from scratch. He wants to buy a turn-key system that works well with minimum hassle. My component suggestions were intended as a guide to what to look for inside of the many choices available in pre-built systems.

It actually was not directed at you, since almost all of your advice was useful. My comment was directed at those people who offered suggestions on cases, power supplies, motherboards, and CD-drive brands. The only way to choose those items is to make it yourself: if you buy one from Dell, Apple, HP, IBM, etc, you almost never get to find out what they use, much less choose. Furthermore, from Burgess's perspective, I doubt he will even care. He has said he will pay for a warranty and support, so if something fails the burden is on the company. Do you choose cars based on the quality of the fuel injector vs the performance of the ABS, or do you base it on the overall quality of the manufacturer and their expertise in choosing good parts?

That said, I went back and read all the posts carefully, and the following comment you made does seem to depend on Burgess assembling his own:

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.

Mentioning SLI support? Now come on.... :o

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

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

This is the comment I based some of my writing in this thread on. I would never urge or expect someone unfamiliar with the subject and without aid to build a computer on their own. Burgess Laughlin has stated and it is already known, that he has a friend who can help him out with his computer.

Individual components most certainly do come with warranties and it would be difficult to find those that do NOT have warranties. As I have indicated briefly in one of my experiences, certain manufacturers are open to and are more than willing to back their products. Also, notice that in my posts the very first aspect of a general component I mentioned was the BRAND. First and foremost I focused on WHO makes it, rather than what exactly it is.

I just recently worked on my Uncle's BRAND NEW Dell on the very first day he turned it on. His computer came installed and configured with a lot of unnecessary or poorly designed software components running in the background. As a result, it was literally sensory overload to watch all the pop-ups come up: a firewall asking if he wanted to allow a program he had never heard or installed access to the internet, anti-virus that needed updating, Windows Security Center pop-ups, Mcafee security center pop-ups, AOL wanting him to install updates and a Spyware scanner, hardware wizard popping up about installing his multi-function printer which Dell didn't do. My point with all of this is that he got so frustrated with the system, asking him for all of this stuff and also being unresponsive at times, that he was ready to send it back. The hardware was just fine, but the software packages installed and the configuration by Dell brought the system to its knees.

As a side note on that: With that kind of experience, it is understandable why some people don't want things like anti-virus and firewalls on their computer. If these programs require more attention and maintenance than the rest of the computer, the user will naturally reject them and for beginners it is just a headache.

Now if major PC suppliers insist on supplying a computer that is too "needy" and Burgess decides to go with a pre-made computer instead of what he has indicated here, then maybe going back to Apple is the best for him. But until he states otherwise, I can only go off of what he has wrote in this thread.

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Another form of file storage that is not centralized in ones own computer or require any particular "thing" to carry around would be storage services found on the internet. Even something as basic as a separate mail account with someone like Google would work. Just email yourself the documents you want to save and that is it. Having access to your data even from someone else's computer or internet terminal is a definate advantage.

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I strongly recommend getting either a Sony or HP computer from either Best Buy or CompUSA (though there may be more options). Sony and HP, in my experience at least, have a reputation for integrated "black box" systems where users aren't expected to upgrade the hardware. They are very easy to use, and the experience shouldn't be any more complicated than your older machine. And things like setting up the internet are quite easy in Windows XP (in case your current version is older).

If the portability of a laptop isn't an important requirement (it's not on your list), a desktop is almost required for reliability. Laptops are expected to break. They are portable. The motherboard covers most of the entire area of the cheap plastic case. The hard metal cases of the past are gone, and so laptops today don't last anywhere near as long as they used to. Every time your case bends just a little, your motherboard is probably bending just a little. When the motherboard gets fried, it's time to buy a new computer. If you ever have a laptop repaired, the case gets opened and the solid factory packing gets redone manually. Things start wiggling around just a bit, and eventually breaking. In a desktop, the computer just sits there most of the time. You aren't constantly pounding on it as you type, and the motherboard doesn't bend if you pick it up wrong. Desktops will almost always last a lot longer.

Most computer companies offer 1-3 year service plans. Don't get these. They amount to paying hundreds of dollars to wait hours on a phone while people reading from computer screens try to walk you through reinstalling your operating system without informing you that all your data will be erased. And then, if that doesn't work or get you so frustrated with their support that you go elsewhere, they will mail you a box to send your computer back to them in. You will ship your computer to the company, they will eventually get around to fixing it, and they'll send it back. Your computer is gone for a long time, and this is a big hassle.

A good alternative--and why I recommend Best Buy or CompUSA--is purchasing a service plan from the store where you purchase your computer. If your computer breaks, you can unplug everything and take the box back to the store. It might still take some time for them to fix it, but you can quickly talk to a human being who actually works on computers. They should be able to give you a good idea of how long it will take to fix your system. Expect to pay about $100/year for these plans, up to a maximum of three years.

Whatever you do, whenever you get your computer serviced (whether by mail or in a store), expect that all your data will be gone when you get it back. That's pretty standard. It sounds like you backup frequently, so that shouldn't be too big of a problem.

Any HP/Sony computer currently available new at Best Buy or CompUSA should be more than sufficient--you aren't doing anything processor-intensive and it sounds like the capabilities of your older systems were perfectly acceptable. Go for cost effectiveness in choosing a model from those available. Since you are saving mostly text, hard drive space probably isn't an issue, though you can look for a big hard drive if that's a major concern of yours.

Re: Spyware/Adware/Malware/etc.

If you don't ever click "Yes" or "Download" to things popping up when you're surfing the web, and don't open email attachments that aren't obviously pictures or something you're familiar with, you have virtually no serious threat of your computer becoming infected with a virus or some form of spyware. It is still a good idea (in case of accidental problems) to run a simple anti-virus program. AVG Free Edition is amazing for the price.

I recommend using Word for text editing if that's what you currently have. Even if you can find most of the features you use in other products, the amount of support you can find online for Word help is unbeatable. If you ever have a problem, your answer can probably be quickly found with a google search.

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I agree with the recommendation to get an integrated system, like one from Best Buy, CompUsa, etc., and a name brand like HP, Compaq, or Sony. Those are the types of computers that you can usually just take home, plug in, and go.

I would stick with a Windows XP machine. Macs are fine machines, but picking one restricts you from a lot of software that's available. A Mac may meet your current needs, but who knows what you software might interest you in the future. If you had a PC you'd almost be guaranteed to be able to run any software you find, rather than having to look for the Mac version.

Is there a Mac version of the Objectivist Research CD? That's enough for me.

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Is there a Mac version of the Objectivist Research CD?  That's enough for me.

Hmmm. I was convinced, after reading through this thread, to purchase a Mac whenever I upgrade. But the above implies that I would be unable to use my Objectivist Research CD with a Mac. Is that true?

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Hmmm. I was convinced, after reading through this thread, to purchase a Mac whenever I upgrade. But the above implies that I would be unable to use my Objectivist Research CD with a Mac. Is that true?

The CD won't run "natively" as a Mac application but it can work using software that emulates a PC on the Mac (see here). Many Mac users however have disdain for anything in the PC world, so they avoid such software. It's an added expense but on the other hand it lets a Mac run thousands of programs that are otherwise inaccessible without a second computer.

I'm considering developing an entirely new multi-platform CD solution (PC, Mac, and probably Linux) that would let the Objectivism Research CD-ROM (and some others that I developed on the Civil War) run natively in those operating systems, with some augmented structured search capabilities, but due to time demands with my "day jobs" I can't provide a definite time when it will be available.

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I use only Mac. What format are the materials on the CD in? Are they pdf? Could I not rip the files sans search capabilities, and store them on my hard drive, then use Spotlight (Apple's awesome search feature) to look up what I need? (I ask this out of context of any copyright issues, since I do not own the CD, I do not know what they are.) Seems, on the face of it, if I could just get the files to read, and with the Apple search, I'd almost have the same thing.

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Could I not rip the files sans search capabilities, and store them on my hard drive, then use Spotlight (Apple's awesome search feature) to look up what I need? (I ask this out of context of any copyright issues, since I do not own the CD, I do not know what they are.)

It doesn't support copying more than a little bit of text at a time. A couple of summers ago I had a long commute to work (~1hr each way) and I wanted something to listen to...so I figured out a way to rip them for that purpose.

You can use the "Print" feature to print the files to an Adobe Acrobat printer, which will output *.pdf files. From there, you can get a free trial version of a program that will convert a bunch of Acrobat files to word files in a big batch process, make a macro to convert the word files to txt files, and then read them to sound files with AT&T Natural Voices. :P This requires the purchase of Adobe Acrobat Writer and AT&T Natural Voices, though you can get cheaper alternate readers if that's too expensive. Also, if you want to pay for the translator, you could probably skip some steps in converting to text files. Or you might even get a text printer that would bypass a large portion of those steps. That's just the software I had available at the time (for free and without too much work), so that's what I used.

It was really nice to listen to Night of January 16th (and others) in my car's CD player, though the voice is clearly computerized and doesn't pronounce all words perfectly.

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Most computer companies offer 1-3 year service plans.  Don't get these.  They amount to paying hundreds of dollars to wait hours on a phone while people reading from computer screens try to walk you through reinstalling your operating system without informing you that all your data will be erased.  And then, if that doesn't work or get you so frustrated with their support that you go elsewhere, they will mail you a box to send your computer back to them in.  You will ship your computer to the company, they will eventually get around to fixing it, and they'll send it back.  Your computer is gone for a long time, and this is a big hassle.

A good alternative--and why I recommend Best Buy or CompUSA--is purchasing a service plan from the store where you purchase your computer.  If your computer breaks, you can unplug everything and take the box back to the store.  It might still take some time for them to fix it, but you can quickly talk to a human being who actually works on computers.  They should be able to give you a good idea of how long it will take to fix your system.  Expect to pay about $100/year for these plans, up to a maximum of three years.

Thinking about it some, I agree with this advice. I'll probably go this route whenever I have to buy a new computer.

It is certainly frustrating to wait hours on the phone to talk to people who don't know much about whatever problem it is you're having. Sometimes, also, I have a hard time understanding the English they speak. (Eventually, I've always gotten to talk to somebody who understood my problem, but it's always taken several calls to get to that point.)

In at least the case of Dell, the manufacturer of my computer, they also offer less service than they used to. Included in my purchase price back 6+ years ago was a year of "at home" service (meaning they send a technician to my home to fix it), then two years of "they'll pay for and send out the parts, but I have to install them" service, and as far as I know, I now have lifetime service where I can call and ask their advice (but I have to take care of all of the actual fixing; so this is mainly useful for software problems). But today, you have to pay extra for all but something like 90 days of a service contract.

By contrast, if I had a contract with the local Comp USA store, they'd be fixing my computer there, and I could talk to the person who worked on my machine. So I could explain exactly what the problem was to a knowledgeable person. (I've also found many of the Comp USA salespeople to be quite knowledgeable when I've gone in to by accessories and replacement parts. They seem like they're good people to do business with.) And if for some reason their fix didn't work, I could take it right back and talk to the repairman.

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There is a big difference between Comp USA stores. My experience with them has been abysmal.

But yes, you should definitely recognize the distinction between a telephone support service and a warranty. The former is useless and annoying at high prices, while the latter is required to guarantee the hardware. That is almost required if you buy a laptop from Dell, which doesn't use standard parts and charges astronomical prices for replacement parts in the "captive" market of the unsuspecting. But if you buy a PC made with standard parts from a reputable local company you don't need to pay the extra money for extended warranties. Save the money and buy replacement components if the need arises after a few years.

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