New Computer Wanted (probably) - What to get?

I don’t keep up with the latest computer trends, so I’m in the dark here. I have a Dell desktop purchased in 1998 with 4GB hard drive and recently upgraded to something like 300MB RAM. I also recently installed a CD burner.

Well, even after taking a bunch of stuff off the hard drive, I still don’t have enough space on the hard drive to handle my latest toy, the digital camera.

I could afford to spend a couple grand on a new system. I’ve been told that upgrading hard drive space alone is usually not worth the trouble in the long run.

My questions are:

  1. New computer vs. Hard drive expansion?

  2. If new computer, laptop or desktop?

I understand laptops these days are just about as good as desktops, so I might as well get the portability of a laptop. (?)

Notably, I would want:
[ul][li]Cable internet[/li][li]USB PDA cradle[/li][li]USB digital camera card reader[/li][li]Decent sized color monitor (a couple extra pounds added to a laptop wouldn’t be a problem)[/li][li]CD Burner[/ul][/li]
I understand current battery life is roughly 3 hours.

  1. If laptop, I would probably go with Dell, but what laptop is good for my use? I don’t need anything with super powers.

My primary uses are:
[ul][li]Word & Outlook[/li][li]Web Browsing (Cable)[/li][li]General home use[/li][li]Digital photography (Photoshop)[/li][li]Internet Radio listening[/li][li]I would probably want to plug in a standard keyboard[/ul][/li]
Thanks in advance for your input!

Note that adding a second hard drive is easy, and you can always move it to a new computer when you upgrade later. However, if you’re willing to spend the money, I’d go ahead and get a new computer. Five years is a long time in computer time, so you’re probably due.

Unless you really need a laptop, I’d get a desktop. Desktops are much cheaper, and much more upgradable. Don’t get the absolute fastest and newest – you’ll pay a huge premium for a slight speed increase. I recently upgraded my computer, and would recommend something comparable. Here are my specs:

Athlon XP 2400+
512 megs DDR RAM
80 gig hard drive (I’d get a 200 gig drive if I were you)
DVD+R/CD-R burner
GeForce4 Ti4200 (128 megs RAM) video card
17" monitor (I’d get a bigger one if I were you)
Soundblaster Audigy sound card
generic network card (if the system doesn’t come with it, it’s easy to add one later)

You should probably get a system which has both USB 2.0 and Firewire ports (the Audigy has Firewire). The cable modem will plug into the network card. The USB stuff you mentioned will work with any computer, so it’s not system specific.

I would guess you could find a system similar to this for $1000-$1200, maybe more if you get a fancy monitor.

Dell is a good place to buy a computer, or your local computer shop might be able to put one together for you more tailored to your needs.

The real issue is what software you want to run. Then get the hardware to fit that need. If the software you want to run will work fine on your current system, just upgrade the HD. Hardly a biggie compared to buying a new system.

A basic laptop with 2.4 GHZ processor, 256 MB of RAM, 30GB drive, CD-RW, Win XP Home will set you back $1400. $100 for 512 MB RAM is a worthy upgrade, and $69 more gets a CD-RW / DVD-ROM combo drive. A $120 port replicator is required to plug in a standard keyboard.

If you don’t need portability, it’s an awfully high price for what you get.

And dude, don’t get a Dell!

In laptops, I’d rather go with an IBM Thinkpad. Right now, IBM’s running a 10% sale - you can get a Thinkpad G40 for $1376 - it’s got a 1" larger screen, 40 GB drive, same RAM and processor, and XP Pro instead of Home, but does not need a port replicator. I’d still want to kick the RAM up to 512 MB.

A Dell is cool cause they are so cheap you couldn’t make them cheaper yourself. Plus they come with about 8 gigs of software preinstalled. Push 2 buttons you can opn the case & put anything you want in it. Easiest computer I have seen to update/change stuff. has a price idea:
"Exp 5/14. Dell Small Business has the Dimension 4550 desktop with P4-2.53GHz, 128MB DDR, 30GB, free upgrade to DVD or 48x CDRW, 64MB AGP nVidia Geforce4 MX w/ TV out (used to cost $30 extra), NIC, XP Home for $599 - $100 instant discount = $499 w/ free shipping.

Recommended upgrades: Upgrade to 2.66GHz processor for only $20, 4x DVD+RW/+R for only $80."

I’d definitely recommend a desktop. like these other people said, you can get a really good one from 1000$-1500$

I use Dells at work all the time and I’ve had great experiences with them so check it out…its not a bad option.

If you are considering a laptop, I would look into an Apple iBook.

You can get one for $999, and the quality of it is far better than any of the Windows based laptops in that price range that I have seen. It really is a great computer for the price.

You can get one with a 14" screen rather cheap. For your type of use, a Mac laptop would prove almost perfect, as Apple has some of the best, easiest to use, applications for those things, preinstalled, right out of the box. Plus you can get one with 802.11 Wireless Networking without needing an external antenna, because it already has the antenna built into the screen.

Being originally designed for educational use, they are quite durable also.

If I were in your situation, I would at least check one out. Apple, IMO, builds the absolute best notebook computers in the business.

Although I don’t disagree that Apple makes good laptops, be sure to check that your digital camera and PDA has software for the Mac if you go that route.

Thanks, but Mac is incompatible with my work system, so it’s out.

How much would a HD upgrade be, and do I need to upgrade any other part(s) of my system in conjunction with the HD upgrade?

The software I want to use (photoshop) will work on my '98 system, it’s just a memory problem.

Are there significant benefits to a new system vs. HD upgrade? How much better is the new stuff these days? Maybe I should just milk my old system for a few more years.

A hard drive upgrade is not that difficult. I typically buy Western Digital drives, which come with very clear instructions and all the hardware you need (screws and a ribbon cable, in case your current cable is in some way inadequate, which it probably isn’t.)

Computers have gotten much, much faster in the last five years. If you run any programs that take a long time to load or are laggy or if you want to buy newer software or games, then it’s probably a good idea to upgrade. If not, then you should probably save your money until you really need to upgrade. The great thing about computers is that they are constantly getting better, so the longer you wait to buy, the more you’ll get for your money.

Since you use Photoshop, you’ll likely notice a significant performance increase in a system with more memory (both system memory and video memory) and a faster processor.

If you decide to buy a new system, whatever you do don’t buy it from Best Buy, Circuit City, or any place like that. Their computers suck, their service is horrible, and they’ll try to rip you off.

Sorry – I forgot to answer the question about the cost. I recently saw a 160-gig hard drive advertised for around $120 (actually $170 with a $50 mail-in rebate). An 80-gig hard drive can be found for less than $100.

HD swaps are pretty straighforward.

If you can work a screwdriver, you can do one in 15 minutes.

Re-installing all of the software will take considerably longer though.

If your computer has multible HDD bays, you can even leave your old one installed, and use both of them on the computer. Then you wouldn’t even lose your files.

Right now, computers are actually a bit faster than anyone needs. A 400 MHZ computer is plenty to run most all apps short of games, and with the kind of usage you are suggesting, your existing computer would probably be fine with some upgrades.

Right now you can pick up a Western Digital 80 Gig harddrive for $85 or a 120 gig for $110 at Adding a second harddrive is easy; just place set the jumper settings for master on your main drive, and slave on the new drive(Normally there is a picture on the harddrive explaining which jumpers you set for what, put the new drive in the case, attach the screws, plug the second drive into the IDE cable and power cable, then turn it on and run the formating software. Takes ~10 minutes, not including the format.

If you want to go with a new machine, what ** Giraffe ** mentioned would work really well, though I would move up to one of the 2500 XP processors, and I would get the Asus A7N8X Deluxe; the built in sound is better than the Audigy, and the built in Networking is really good too. I priced out a system on earlier, and this level of machine would come in at around $950, sans monitor, and you could use your current mouse and keyboard to save money.

If you do choose to build a pre-built system, I reccomend Dell over the other big manufactors like Compaq or Gateway. Still, make sure to get at least 256 MB or RAM; why anyone would sell a system with a 2.53Ghz CPU and only 128MB RAM boogles me.

Whatever you do, DON’T buy an HP/Compaq computer! They are absolute POSs as far as I, and nearly everyone I’ve talked to who’s owned one are concerned. Mine died a month after the warranty ran out.

If I were going to buy a manufactured PC, I’d get an IBM or a Mac (You could try running Virtual PC on your Mac and that should let you run all of your PC applications just fine.). I had an IBM Aptiva that was running Win95 and never crashed on me. (Can’t say the same thing about the Compaq I owned.)

If you can handle swapping out memory yourself, then you can handle building your own PC. Because all I’d ever done before I built my current PC was install RAM and a videocard in my old machine. The beauty of building your own, is that you know how the thing works, and you can spend the bucks on the features which really matter to you, while being cheap on the stuff that’s not so important.

Actually I recently got a PC from HP and I’m really happy with it.

I’m going to hi-jack this thread now because I think this discussion is appropriate here.

What make a Dell computer a ‘Dell’. When I was shopping for my PC everyone listed the same or nearly the same componets in a system. For instance an Intel processor, a Wester Digital hard drive, a video card made by Geo-Force or NVidia ect ect. What part of the computer does Dell make other than the case? (or any other PC maker for that matter)

The assembly labor?

Hijack away. I think I’ve decided to go with the HD upgrade. Delaying the purchase of a new system until it is actually needed will give me a better computer for my money and allow me to capitalize more on the investment in my current system. There’s really nothing wrong with my current system other than the available HD space. Thanks, Dopers!

I’m curious as to why I shouldn’t buy a PC from one of the major retailers also. Do they use considerably different parts than an aftermarket dealer?

Take for example this PC. For an average schmoe like me, what are the drawbacks to buying this from Best Buy? I’m not a gamer or a graphic artist, so how would you build this PC differently for a comparable price?

‘Horrible service’ was mentioned by Giraffe, but since my last PC purchased from Circuit City in 1997 has served me very well, can I assume that ‘horrible service’ was just a specific incident of bad luck?

I’m not sold on any of the big retailers, they just seem to cater to average users like me. Am I over looking anything?

Tragically Dip (great username, btw), my reasons for not recommending places like Circuit City and Best Buy are as follows:

  1. On many occasions I’ve seen PCs from Circuit City, Best Buy, etc. (either purchased by friends/family or on sale in those stores) which skimp on a few key things in order to give you an impressive sounding system with performance which is generally lower than it should be for the price. Less ram, slower processors (e.g. celeron), crappy video cards (which only someone who is well versed with computers is going to recognize as crappy). The computers themselves will still work fine, most of the time, but as a general rule you’re better off going with local shops or places like Dell.

  2. I have both witnessed and heard numerous secondhand accounts of (generally unknowledgable) salespeople putting the hard sell on people to buy expensive computers they don’t need. I watched a woman who just wanted to connect to the internet and send email being talked into a $2500 machine with a high end graphics card. People who don’t know a lot about computers can often be intimidated by someone who acts knowledgable and assures them that only the best will work for them. They also try to push the ripoff extended warranty, without people knowing how useless it is, considering their awful service.

  3. Speaking of service, I have yet to hear of a single incident where someone tried to have their computer problem fixed at one of these places that didn’t take forever, on top of usually being incompetently diagnosed/repaired. An example: a friend’s power supply went out a few weeks after she bought a computer from Best Buy. It was obvious and should have only taken a few minutes to swap out (I offered to do it, if they’d just give us a new power supply), but Best Buy would only send the entire system out to be looked at (which would take six weeks), and offered to give her a lower quality system as replacement (without telling her, which I luckily noticed and stopped). Your mileage may of course vary, but that’s been my experience. These places simply hire the cheapest labor they can find, and it shows.

There’s just no advantage to going to one of these places. The prices aren’t any lower, the computers sometimes suck, and the service always sucks.

Sorry, I forgot to comment on the computer you linked. The system itself looks OK - the video card isn’t great, but if you’re not a gamer it won’t matter. I honestly don’t know how the price compares with other places, but it doesn’t look unreasonable. Only my experience with their service and their reputation would keep me from buying it.

I had my brother get a HP computer from Staples it came with tons of stuff & only about $529.00. I think right now is customer appreciation week & you get another 12% off with their coupon that’s on the net.

Alienware makes pretty nice gaming computers but also very expensive, around $2,500.