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Buying a new computer...

by Hubbers / January 12, 2007 7:50 PM PST

My wife and I would like to get a new computer with Vista installed. We are looking to purchase in a couple of months. We specifically want a computer than can be upraded in the future. Here are the specs:

Vista
Intel Duo-Core 1.86 or 2.4
2 or more GB of RAM that can be upgraded
250G or more hard drive
Multiple USB ports, including FireWire
A good video card that does not use memory(non-Turbo Cache)
17" or larger monitor
MS Office suite: SB or higher

This a stripped down list. We are not gamers and need a computer for our digital pictures, iPod files, Office applications, and general surfing.

HP seems the most complete, however, I am not keen on their keyboard(seems chintzy). Compaq is barebones, although made by HP. Dell seems a good system with a nice keyboard but am concerned(along with Gateway) about service issues.

The operative word here is upgradability. We want a computer that can keep up with future trends and can have parts added/swapped as needed.

Many thanks!

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You'll have to build it yourself
by jackson dougless / January 13, 2007 12:19 AM PST

If your primary concern is being able to maximize upgrading potential, your only real option is to build it yourself.

HP/Compaq systems will have as many integrated components as possible, and HP/Compaq has always been along the bottom of the barrel quality wise.

Dell has been in a state of perpetual decline for several years now. Whole batches of particular lines can have massive problems. They're still better than almost everyone else on both quality and upgrade ability, but you're still going to severely limit your upgrade options if you go with Dell.

You could try plunking down the extra cash for one of Dell's Alienware systems. Back before Dell bought Alienware, they were probably one of the best pre-made systems you could get for upgrade potential. All because they were focused on high end gaming, and that didn't allow for using cheap low-end parts like everyone else will do any chance they get. I don't know how much damage Dell has done to the Alienware brand since taking over the company however. They might have left it completely in tact, they might have completely dismantled it, and tried to commoditize things.

One thing I can whole heartedly recommend from Dell, are their LCD monitors. IMO, they cannot be beaten at the 20" and above level. And while their contrast ratios might seem lower than competitors, Dell's ratios are probably the most accurate of anyone's. If they say a display has an 800:1 contrast ratio, you're probably going to get something very close to an 800:1 ratio. They don't claim a 1000:1 ratio, and only deliver like a 750:1 ratio. Outside of their LCD monitors, I'm not a big Dell fan after spending about a year and a half supporting almost nothing but Dell Optiplex systems.

With any brand name system, you'll have very limited CPU upgrade options, RAM capacity will be limited, FireWire is probably out of the question unless you waste a PCI slot to add one in, and you tend to either get integrated video (which siphons off your system RAM) or have to pay like a 25% premium over retail for some very high end video card.

In the end, nothing will ever beat doing it yourself. Spending time researching various parts to go into the system, and watching for sales on any of the parts you want to include, so you can save money without sacrificing quality. If you take your time, you should be able to upgrade your system in perpetuity. Aside from the floppy drive, I don't think there's a single original part left in this system I built about 2 years ago. I've replaced the motherboard twice, CPU twice, RAM, video card, case, power supply, HDDs, one of the DVD burners might be "original" come to think of it... This is all way more than you could ever expect out of a brand name system.

Moral of the story is, you're going to have to do it yourself. You've got a few months before you wanted to purchase anyway. Time to hit the hardware review sites and start reading. Start with the most recent motherboard review guides, and work your way out from there. Then watch deal sites and store ads for good deals on what you want.

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I agree
by santuccie / January 14, 2007 2:46 PM PST

When you buy a ready-made machine, they always skimp on something. When you build it yourself, you can get the best of each component, including a power supply that will be better able to keep you juiced up as you continually add more.

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The operative word being 'upgradability' . . you'll
by VAPCMD / January 13, 2007 1:57 AM PST

need to go to a local PC shop or custom box builder.

Big box mfgs....Dell, Gateway, etc., can only sell stuff cheap by buying large quantities of common items ... often proprietary components and design, that make upgrading difficult at best. And sometimes it's just the physical layout that makes them difficult to ugrade because of layout or space. Slimline, Micro-mini are all great ideas until you have to replace something that's failed or upgrade something that no longer meets the purpose intended. Component choices for replacing or upgrading can be very very limited when it comes to big-box mfgs/off-the-retail-shelf boxes. Many 'gamers' get the latest-greatest GPUs only to find their big box PCs can't handle them
without a bigger, better PSU.

- Start with a good case ... something that's large enough to accomodate all of the components you plan to use now and the immediate future. I much prefer ones with removable motherboard tray for ease of installation, repair or replacement.
- Get a good PSU ...it's the heart of any good system ... the better ones are more efficient and save electricity over el cheapo units. The 500 - 600W PSU for $29.95 is not what you want for now and it probably won't last 'til later.
- Start with Intel Core 2 Duo CPU.
- 2GBs RAM is more than needed for most but IMHO, the right amount for now and later.
- Get a motherboard that's stable and provides the features you want now and perhaps allows one CPU upgrade. Some MBs availabe today accept the Intel Core 2 Duo ($190+) and the Quad Core ($900+).
- Get a separate video card with 128/256 RAM.
- Get a 19" or 20" monitor ... 17" is way too small for GUI.
- Consider more than 1 HDD...the second can serve as an internediate backup for the primary HDD.
- Get a good UPS ...to protect you investement.
- Get a floppy disk drive ... better to have than need and not have
- Get a dual layer DVD burner...maybe two if you make copies of your DVDs and use the copies for viewing.

Hope this helps

VAPCMD

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Be more precise re the CPU
by Ray Harinec / January 13, 2007 3:06 AM PST

You want a Core 2 Duo [this is the Conroe core, entirely new fast, lower power chip] Saying Duo-Core can get you one that is simply two P4's on a chip with its attendant over heating problem, and much lower performance.

Dell offers a range of such systems. Dell just like the other priorities assumes that we are all idiots and identify a Video Card, HOWEVER what they refer to is most likely be an on board video chip.

Here's a link to Dell's Core 2 Duo systems.

http://www.dell.com/content/products/category.aspx/xpsdt?c=us&cs=19&l=en&s=dhs

I am not a Dell fan, build my own, but presently am working with a friend that is going to buy one of the Dell's shown in the link. He's going to get the one with XP Pro. The key is that Vista will need top line video [when you buy, they will likely be putting Vista on them]. Fortunately Dell's site for these system give fairly good specs anf these mobo's DO have a PC 16X slot, thus even if you you get one with the onboard video, you could always upgrade to a PCI X16 video card. You might try to get such a card so that you can run Vista with it "Aero" video presentation.

He is checking to see if he can get one with the E6400 rather than the E6300 for a reasonable price increase. At this time the E6400 seems to be the bang for the buck. The price of the higher models are extremely high,

I assume that when Dell installs VISTA they will offer a video card option guaranteed to run the Aero video of VISTA. Be prepared to be totally confused by the Vista offerings, because there are four versions. I have no idea how Dell [or Compaq, or HP or???] will try to explain the differences. My understanding is that the cheapest Vista wi;ll NOT provide the Aero video.

Not trying to confuse, just alerting that you should start reseaching the subject.

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Thanks...
by Hubbers / January 14, 2007 8:23 AM PST

Thanks for the advice. Right now, I am looking at semi-custom/custom builds. One vendor is Velocity Micro. Seems like a quality system with OEM hardware rather than the mix and match seen with the "behemoths".

From the comments, it seems that the quality of the hardware that is installed is the key to being able to expand/upgrade for the future. I have not checked with local builders in my area, but will do that this week to get an idea of costs.

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Bt far the best way,
by Ray Harinec / January 14, 2007 9:44 AM PST
In reply to: Thanks...

Might be more expensive due to fact that the vendor will not get legal software as cheaply as the behemoths.

With your buy you should insist that the vendor provide all of the CD's, the pamphlets, the boxes etc that come with each and every piece of hardware, detailed invoices and the Microsoft Certificate of Authenticity {COA}that comes with the MS Operating System and any other MS Program.

If they provide an OEM CD, then THEY are responsible for all support of that Operating System. Microsoft allows them to get the CD at lower price because it relieves MS of the responsibility for support. However you can still use all of the MS online support such as their Knowledge Base etc, just can't call them for support.

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