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Buying advice for my final computer: laptop, all-in-one desktop, or what?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / October 8, 2010 5:36 AM PDT
Question:

Buying advice for my final computer: laptop, all-in-one desktop, or what?


I am 69 years old and about to retire on a small pension. I have been shopping for "my final computer," with a budget around $2,000. I fancied the aesthetics of an "all-in-one" desktop replacement, but these seem to me to be poor value for the money and not as well-specified as laptop alternatives. I am not keen on the tower replacement with wires everywhere. I am a keen novice photographer/videographer with good equipment and lots of digital pictures and HD video files. I would like to do some editing in my retirement.

My concern with the laptop would be that its life span might be quite limited because of the heat generated in the confined spaces. I am not that familiar with the technical aspects of CPUs, graphic cards, and the latest Intel chips. I wonder if I were to compromise on specifications and go for the aesthetics of the 'all-in-one,' what specifications would your members suggest to meet my photographic and video-editing requirements, without the need for overkill and yet not keep me waiting for ages while the computer is processing large files? Best wishes and thank you!

--Submitted by: Brian C. of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Here are some featured member answers to get you started, but
please read all the advice and suggestions that our
members have contributed to this question.

Laptops are convenient but... --Submitted by: philb1701
http://forums.cnet.com/7726-7586_102-5004925.html

It all depends... --Submitted by: estefan202
http://forums.cnet.com/7726-7586_102-5005130.html

Last computer? --Submitted by: happy2000usa
http://forums.cnet.com/7726-7586_102-5004974.html

You've put yourself between a rock and a hard space --Submitted by: charleswsheets
http://forums.cnet.com/7726-7586_102-5005006.html

Thank you to all who contributed!

If you have any additional feedback, opinions, or suggestions for Brian, please click on the reply link below and submit away. Please be as detailed as possible in your answers. Thanks!
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And the Final Answer Is....

Apple MacBook Pro.

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Weigh the options
by r2v2 / October 8, 2010 3:18 PM PDT

Go to a Mac store and check out and try an iMac with the 27" monitor. consider the i3 CPU. Then compare a i7 PC with HD 27-32" monitor with a hot graphics card. I have used most of the graphics software and each has its +s & -s. If you are already using software you like, stay with it. I would not invest in a printer, just email or download your pics at Walmart or another store that prints digital photos.
Like tasting wine, it is subjective. So go with what you finally like Happy

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Options
by LaQuinta74 / October 9, 2010 2:45 AM PDT
In reply to: Weigh the options

If you go with a Mac, and you want to get your pics at Wal-Mart, or other 3rd party, you just may have to change your file format from pre-installed default (I forget what it was) to something like a .jpg or .jpeg - easy to do, but necessary if you want to see your pics from the disc. Just sayin'! Happy

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Macs do .jpg, Raw,Png,Tiff - anything you wish
by cwhitcomb / October 23, 2010 2:52 AM PDT
In reply to: Options

Macs are not a problem in the graphics world - some cameras are.

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desk top every time!!
by asrobs. / October 8, 2010 8:56 PM PDT

the desk top will be better in the long term for improving the spec as required the cables are not that bad and at least you can alter or renew this is not possible with laptops and compacts,- a tower (at present) will mean you can stay up to date , one component at a time ( cheaper)

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up to date?
by audiosoft / October 9, 2010 12:23 PM PDT
In reply to: desk top every time!!

hardly as motherboards and cpu slots keep changing.
Sure you could add more ram down the road but that's about it.
I recommend wait until you can buy a Desktop with USB3 ports.
Laptops are nice but the hard drive will die if you don't get a SSD drive. Even if your hard drive stays ok odds are your laptop screen or battery will need replaced within 2-3 years. Desktops are much more reliable.

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Lets see
by Phil411 / October 15, 2010 1:58 PM PDT
In reply to: up to date?

You can add ram and larger hdds. Also laptops, are getting USB 3.0 support as well as dual gfx cards, and Tb drives.You hard drive definitely isn't going to die if it isn't a SSD, most laptops now days come with mechanisms that park the read head when the sense any knocks or if the rig gets dropped. SSD's are also wayy to expensive currently, you can purchase a 500GB hdd for bout $90, the same size ssd is gonna run you round $600 more if you want high performance read/write speeds.
You state your screen or battery will need to be replaced in 2-3 years, I'm currently on a 6 year old Compaq nc6220 all original parts, cept the hdd, needed a bigger drive.

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don't rule out laptops
by dreamngtree / October 16, 2010 2:30 AM PDT
In reply to: up to date?

Bought my laptop (Dell) in 2005 and the screen works fine and the hard drive has not died. Bought a desktop just over a year ago and the laptop is still more reliable. Of course, it does have Windows Vista. Read review regarding battery reliability, as it varies with laptop models. If buying any Windows PC, maybe wait until more of the kinks have been worked out of Windows 7 before buying.

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Mac Laptop, External USB and an External 20+inch Monitor -TV
by cwhitcomb / October 23, 2010 3:00 AM PDT
In reply to: desk top every time!!

Unless the fellow is a computer guy who has a camera versus a photographer who has a computer, there is no use for a PC tower or a MAC tower for that matter. By the time the MacBook Pro is really on the outs, he (like me) will be pushing 80 and want a new one anyway... with HUGE buttons.
I have had towers (have a 12 year old Mac running OS-X 10.5x.) But the new mac laptops are amazing and cheap for providing everything a photographer would need except Photoshop or Aperture. Far more useful than the PC offerings at the same price. Besides - if someone HAS to run a PC program, you can do so on a Mac.

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Apple isn't the only solution
by B1nmidm0 / October 8, 2010 11:14 PM PDT

While there's little doubt that notebooks can now do pretty much everything that our old desktops use to accomplish, I don't think Apple is the only company worth considering - especially with their prices and lack of what I'd call solid value.

Look at upper end Lenovo's with the 1GB dedicated video cards and the Intel I-7 that you can easily pick up for less than $1,400 complete with 3 year in home warranty. Lenovo has a very solid reputation for building great stuff that will meet your needs quite well while at the same time saving you a grand or more which is real money. While there are two different I-7 processors out there, the faster one is usually only ranked at being around 5% faster which just isn't that much difference if you ask me. If you're a person who enjoys real portability and doesn't like being plugged into the wall all the time, you might just see that an I-5 with a separate video card will give you more than enough speed while at the same time more portability than you've ever enjoyed before. Just an idea, but as an idiot who purchased two new notebooks this year already for myself, I've learned the hard way that Apple isn't the only option out there for heavy hitter users like you and me.

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No way. don't get mac
by Master3203 / October 17, 2010 7:01 AM PDT

The mac may be cheao for the software, but the hardware costs a bundle. buy a windows 7 laptop. don't go for. mac.

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It all depends...

It really ends up depending on how you want to use your computer - in the field, or in the office. I am a pseudo-professional photographer myself, and I use a laptop to do my editing. I chose a laptop (technically a notebook) over a desktop because I could take it with me in the field for on-the-fly editing at client's locations. I use a 13" Macbook with Lightroom 2, Aperture 2, and Photoshop CS4 to do my editing and have not had any issues in the last three years since I bought the notebook. I also own a PC that I built a few years ago, though it mostly just collects dust since I purchased the Macbook.

If a portable was not able to handle the heat generated by its components, it would not be sold. Most portable computers now have multiple-core processors that actually generate less heat than a high-speed single core processor because they can turn the unused cores "off" when they are idle. Just because the bottom of the computer is hot to the touch doesn't mean that it is too hot to work - most chips work comfortably at 65*C (150*F).

If you went with an "all-in-one," I'd shoot for in the range of 2.2GHz+ with at least two cores (preferably 4), and 4GB of RAM. The video card isn't all that important since your dealing with stills and video files rather than rendering complicated CG video. Those specs should get you cooking! I've had good luck with Apple, Dell (Vostro), and Lenovo all-in-ones.

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It all depends... - New!
by estefan202 / October 8, 2010 6:55 PM PDT
In reply to: It all depends...

well your some what right. the i3 > i5 >i7 but the I7 is the only one that can turn off an unused core.

My solution, do not put your eggs in 1 computer. i7's are costly but if you do video rendering / dvd creation or extensive graphics, this will take the bulk of your money,

laptops are portable for a reason, they have less processing speed, but you gain portability, a nice $200 net book is small enough, and portable for on the go with an atom processor, you loose the cd drive but great for small applications, displaying photos on the go.

Mac's are fine computers, never the less desktop or laptop you will have to some degree of wires.

you can purchase a laptop cooler which fits under the laptop that blows air, and just uses a usb port. batteries do die in about 2 years, so make sure you buy 1 or 2 spares. Also get the manufacturers restore cd for the laptops, will cut down on headaches if the os gets corrupted, well that true with any computer.

The one thing that eventually breaks on a laptop is the power connector gets loose and then does not charge. This is why I say go with a light portable like a netbook. Desk top or towers are easy to fix.

Whatever you decide, good luck. Towers usually have a better life expectancy though.


---------------------
It really ends up depending on how you want to use your computer - in the field, or in the office. I am a pseudo-professional photographer myself, and I use a laptop to do my editing. I chose a laptop (technically a notebook) over a desktop because I could take it with me in the field for on-the-fly editing at client's locations. I use a 13" Macbook with Lightroom 2, Aperture 2, and Photoshop CS4 to do my editing and have not had any issues in the last three years since I bought the notebook. I also own a PC that I built a few years ago, though it mostly just collects dust since I purchased the Macbook.

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Gateway
by cunclelee / October 16, 2010 2:28 AM PDT

I have a Gateway all-in one computer, and love it. I am retired, 59 years old and wanted a nice computer. I love my Gateway, and have it on a bedside cart in my bedroom. I wanted something without wires and had a big viewing monitor.

The specs are:
Processor: AMD Athlon? II X2 Dual-Core 235e Processor (2.7GHz, 2MB L2 Cache)
Operating System: Genuine Windows? 7 Home Premium (64-bit)7
Memory: 4096MB DDR3 Dual-Channel 1333MHz Memory
4GB Memory
Hard Drive: 640GB 7200RPM SATA
Video: Integrated ATI Radeon? HD 4270 Graphics
Display: 20" HD Widescreen Ultrabright? LCD (1600 x 900)resolution with Multi-Touch
Optical Drive: 8X DVD SuperMulti Double-Layer Drive
Wireless Keyboard
Wireless Optical Mouse
Network: 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN (RJ-45 port)
Wireless Network: 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi CERTIFIED?

The monitor is 20", but looks much bigger and bright(easy on the eyes.)
I love the touch screen technology. I would consider a Gateway all-in-one.

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My final computer
by brainkanif / October 19, 2010 1:31 AM PDT

Thanks for your input. I will be working from home so don't need too much mobility. Having read lots of good advice from members I am leaning towards a tower with large screen. Practical suggestions about wireless options teach me that maybe I won't have too many wires to deal with. I am a novice in the photograhy video editing areas and really am looking forward to working/playing with my pictures/videos for pleasure and relaxation. I appreciate your reply. Brian

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The video card isn't all that important
by BirdDog01 / October 15, 2010 10:16 AM PDT
In reply to: It all depends...

This used to be true, but now a lot of processing gets handed off to the graphics card, especially by photo editing software.

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(NT) I have a Gateway all-in-one, and love it. The specs are:
by cunclelee / October 16, 2010 1:50 AM PDT
In reply to: It all depends...
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Consider this

I would suggest that you consider purchasing a Macbook Pro laptop. I have two computers one operating under Windows Vista and the Mac OSX Snow Leopard. In the two years since I bought the Mac, it has never given me a scrap of trouble and is excellent if you're into photography. The Windows one that I bought to take overseas in July, is a nightmare.

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So
by Phil411 / October 15, 2010 1:49 PM PDT
In reply to: Consider this

what exactly about your MBP makes it so much better than a PC based system?
I have both a Toshiba running Win7 64bit and a i7 powered MPB. The only trouble the pc gives me is that it doesn't have mouse gestures which while using a Mac can very quickly become a habit, the Mac on the other hand, can't do the things I need it to do, (map network drives, change colour, and generally bend to my will).

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MaBook Pro VS/PC
by meandshadow / October 16, 2010 1:36 AM PDT
In reply to: So

IMHO it is first of all the true colors that you get with the Mac computers and saying that Macs are expensive is not true unless you compare it to the bottom line PCs but any higher end PCs will run you just about the same... As for the batteries I had a 4 year old Macbook with a battery that lasted at least 3-4 hours but I've used this laptop as intended from the start charging the battery only when it was about empty then running it again on battery when full. the same was true with little less time with a Toshiba satellite that I owned previously. No Matter if you prefer Windows or Mac OS or Linux as I do run now A Macbook Pro will run them all PCs will not run OS X But and these ar just preferences but a good laptop with an extension HD & even possibly an external monitor for more viewing space will be a great photo/video editing machine and more versatile then a desktop of any kind unless you also get a netbook to go along.. If someone think I presently own a Mac they'd be wrong I use a rugged PC for reliability on the road and unfortunately it doesn't run OS X but Linux is a good alternative.

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Laptops are convenient but...

To paraphrase the Bard...To laptop or not to laptop, that is the question.
Laptops are often a good, if not excellent choice for both power and convenience, especially if you are going to be mobile to some extent. Unfortunately, laptops are also the end result of compromises in power and flexibility to maintain the portability.
Desktops will ALWAYS be more powerful and versatile because they can accommodate more and larger screen and hard drive options, RAM and power supply/cooling options that won't fit in a little box.

The biggest questions you will need to ask yourself are these....
1. Will I be going from place A to place B and will I want/need to take my computer with me.
2. Will the size of the screen options I have in a laptop do what I want to do (assuming you don't hang an external monitor on it.)
If you answer YES to both of these questions, then by all means get a laptop.
BUT...if you answer NO to EITHER of these questions, then by all means, at least consider a desktop. Otherwise you will end up trying
to make that portable do the job in ways it might not be able to fully handle.

For what it's worth, I have both a desktop AND a laptop. In your $2000.00 budget, you could easily do both.
Save your files to an external hard drive and then you can virtually eliminate the problem of not having your files with you regardless of which machine you have in front of you. Then all you need is to deal with software licensing issues, which is a minor problem at worst.

Gartner Group consistently reports that industry replacement rate is 2- 3 years for desktops, 18-24 months for laptops.

Hope this helps in some form or fashion.

Please note I did NOT recommend a PC vs Mac, since at this stage of the game, that is not a critical question.
In case you want to know, both of mine are Macs.

Mahalo!

PB

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But also remeber to backup, backup, backup!
by lennylampert / October 15, 2010 10:12 AM PDT

I agree with everything PB has written but I would add one caveat. I would not suggest relying only on an external hard drive for permanent storage of your data. External hard drives provide a false sense of security and have a tendency to fail when you need them most - and, in many cases, will take all of your data with them. It can be very expensive to retrieve your data, if this is even possible. I know of what I speak....I had to learn the hard way and would like to see that others avoid this expensive lesson! So, be sure to backup your important data onto DVDs (or CDs, if the files are small). Incidentally, the Library of Congress Digital Archives recommends replacing DVDs at least every 10 years, so it would be a good idea to make new copies of your DVDs at some point. They claim that digital media degrades over time, even on DVDs.

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Full agreement
by briceone / October 15, 2010 11:45 AM PDT

First class advice in my opinion.
When I retired I decided to attempt to build my own! It took awhile and a few errors on the way. But! with a lot of help from various sources. I made it. Hwever my laptop I had to buy! so I have an allin one Desktop and an APPLE Mac laptop. your budget is more than enough to start. Good luck with your future in computing.

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misleading response
by rchuncleskeleton / October 15, 2010 1:20 PM PDT

You're response to this subject is very misleading. Many today's laptops are either just as or as near as powerful as their desktop counterparts. The only real reason to own a desktop is if you're playing the latest games or want to option to upgrade your processor and graphics card later down the road.
You can now buy a Laptop with an Intel Core i7 Processor Running at 2.8Ghz with 4GB of ram, a 500GB hard drive and a graphics chip powerful enough to run almost every current game for around $1200. Since this person has a budget of $2000 for their computer I would suggest buying the laptop and an external monitor for when using the computer at home. This will be near as powerful and offer the same productivity for around the same price as a desktop.

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hmmm
by Phil411 / October 15, 2010 1:39 PM PDT
In reply to: misleading response

I second that motion. i7 powered laptops are quite formidable, having around double or triple the power of previous gen desktops (Core2 quads) and just slightly less powerful than current gen desktops running same hardware. On the gaming front, you definitely can play most games at medium to medium high to high settings, depending on the gfx card, and heat control of your system and get pretty decent frame rates.

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There are powerful laptops but you pay a premium for them
by gls5000 / October 15, 2010 3:27 PM PDT
In reply to: misleading response

Yes, indeed there are powerful laptops. I have a Comanche SLi from Kobalt Computers (basically the Clevo D901C), which was GBP 2300, and it's a beast. It plays pretty much any game you throw at it to a high level BUT you pay quite a premium to have that power in a small box.

A desktop computer will always be somewhat more powerful than a laptop of the same price. You can't even compare the same components, as an 8800M GTX (for laptops) is not as powerful as a 8800 GTX (for desktops).

Also, from my own experience, a powerful laptop generates a lot of heat and I've already had the motherboard burn out and now one of the graphics cards has died (and still waiting for response for guarantee replacement after 8 months, but that's another story).

The only reason for getting a laptop is mobility. If you don't need to move your computer from one place then with a laptop you're just paying a premium for its size and no real benefit.

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Not necessarily so......
by j888www-20411826983801749961885529690886 / October 15, 2010 8:03 PM PDT
In reply to: misleading response

Upgrading the Processor and Graphics card is not impossible (maybe difficult) with a modern laptop. High-end Laptops often out-perform the average consumer Desktops in every aspect. At present, it is more viable to opt for Intel's Core i(x) technolodgy, reason being far too long to explain. As to the Hard-Drive, opt or replace it with an Intel SSD, the GB size will be dependant on your budget, if cost is not of any concern, then opt for SLC SSDs rather than MLC SSDs, you WILL notice the difference. You can also save on the OS by using Ubuntu (free), this saving can be spent on other other components. Also Wireless N Standard etc etc etc, these should not need to be mentioned.
The present Desktop set-up will very soon become obsolete, as I previously stated, to explain the factors would take far too long.

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Not necessarily so....-New
by AneSW / October 16, 2010 12:41 AM PDT

What was your point of replying? I was reading smooth responses from compatible people then all of a sudden your post shows up. Please if you cannot contribute beneficially don't. Thanks

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He's right...
by JCitizen / October 16, 2010 4:38 AM PDT

The guy says he wants his last computer; if he gets a laptop, he is not going to be able to upgrade the processor. If there are such laptops I'm not aware of them, if they exist I'd lay bets they are cost prohibitive. Also it is impossible to replace graphics adapters without going to a new motherboard.

Lets fact it - you are painting your self in a corner just buying a laptop. This guy has enough to get both, and last quite a few years.

I will admit - laptops hold there value, and he could probably sell it to someone and buy a new one. I wonder how long that market will last though?

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Yes a bit misleading I can agree
by sidsen / October 15, 2010 9:29 PM PDT
In reply to: misleading response

The formula in my case was to buy a very high spec laptop with a 3 years next business day international warranty.
Then I got myself an all singing and dancing docking station (NOT just a Port Replicator) with facilities for additional cards etc. etc., (if I ever needed that facility), and a monitor to die for. Plugging on a set of external speakers completed my requirements at my desktop location. The result is (for me) awesome. But do remember that if it is only one PC you want to have, it better be a famously reliable item, and/or have a bullet proof after sales service.

Apart from that, one high capacity (32 Gb) USB stick and one USB hard disk fulfils my backup needs. Using a good sync software I sync my documents to both stick and HD with the PC regularly. For insurance against catastrophic disaster, I also keep an entire PC disk image of all the partitions on the very large capacity USB HD . Many image backup software allows you nowadays to automatically do an incremental backup of your original disk image before it switches the PC off. Using a defragment software which works during inactive periods, I manage to keep my head above water with a 'once a week' file cleaner utility to clean up all sorts of temporary, log and uninstal files which nowadays the never-ending-and-continually-tweaking modern software updates are pumping in.
On my longer travels I carry the laptop, the 2 usb drives and an image restore boot up disk.
I don't know whether my case history will suit all.
I am sure there are plenty of experts within our community who will find a better solution, and I would humbly look forward to their erudite and sensible advice.

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