Computer and Laptop Recommendations

Computer and Laptop Recommendations | Tech Tips Podcast by PcCG

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One of the most frequent questions we get is "what kind of computer should I buy"?

I will provide some general computer recommendations to try and assist anyone looking for a new computer. Obviously specifics are impossible as there are a wide range of different requirements, but the following recommendations should fit most people. A more detailed explination of the recommendations follows further down in the article.

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Disclaimer: These recommendations are my preference. They are not endorsements and in no way is it to suggest these brands don’t ever have issues.

Topics covered

Basic Recommendations

  • Brand: Doesn’t matter so long as it’s not Acer or E-Machine.
  • Operating System: Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 10
  • CPU: Intel i3, i5 or i7 or AMD Ryzen Processor
  • Memory: 8GB or MORE.
  • Hard Drive Size: Usually Irrelevant.
  • Name Brand Monitor: (Dell, LG, HP, Asus are my preference)
  • AntiVirus: Norton Internet Security (provided free by Comcast).
  • Warranty: I tend to avoid extended warranties. Almost always it's a losing bet. Even on non-related computer items, my philosophy is the same.

Other Items:

Dual Monitor Support in a desktop is nice. Dual monitors is very nice.
Solid State Hard Drive – Make the computer even twice as fast!

Laptop Considerations:

Often overlooked are some important laptop considerations. I’ll briefly cover things to look out for here.

  • Weight: Lighter laptops are often better for portability. It’s just easier to carry something light around rather than something bulky. A newer line of laptops called ‘Ultrabooks’ have become more common place that are super light machines. I love these machines.
  • Sound: Laptop sound quality may suffer significantly with some brands. My Dell Inspiron 520 is one of the epic failures for sound loudness. Unless I’m in a perfectly quiet room, the laptop can’t be heard even with the volume cranked. So check the sound out and try to test in a louder environment.
  • Battery life: obviously longer is better.
  • Screen size: This is entirely your preference. In my opinion anything bigger than a 15.4” screen is too large to comfortably carry around.

All in one desktops: Think twice.

These all-in-one machines are becoming more common. They are nicer to move around and generally have fewer wires than the traditional desktop. There are some major drawbacks to consider though. First, parts for these machines are proprietary. This means that they are not universally changeable with parts from other machines or parts found in stock in your stores. So repair of these machines often takes a week instead of a day – as we have to wait for the parts to arrive in the mail. Since they are proprietary they also cost more, sometimes significantly more since they are not subject to the standard supply and demand economy. The labor usually costs more as well since they do not open and disassemble in a standard way. Instead computer guys have to download service manuals and then follow instructions carefully to ensure things are done properly. This results in more time to fix many hardware items. I recently replaced a hard drive in an all-in-one machine that took a couple hours; the same replacement in a standard desktop takes about 15 minutes. Another example would be if the screen went bad. Instead of you just having the ability to run out to the store and buy a new screen, you have to call the computer guy who has to order the part then wait for it to arrive, then replace the screen by dismantling part (or all) of the computer. Items in all-in-ones are also more difficult or impossible to upgrade.

Why the recommended items?

The Brand: Some people love Dell, others hate Dell. The same applies for any of the manufacturers. I personally have no preference, as it’s my opinion they all have similar life expectancies and quality. Tech support among all of them is equally horrible. The exception is Acer and E-Machines. I see these computers more frequently than other brands and I think that’s because they use cheaper parts. Often the best bang-for-buck comes from Lenovo or Asus computers, but not always.

Operating System: Windows 8 changes a lot of things, so radically that it becomes difficult to navigate around and get things done. It may be harder to find a Windows 7 computer anymore, but if you can, I strongly suggest you do this.

Processors: Intel processors perform much better than AMD processors. The i5 processor is a nice “middle of the road” processor to give good performance for buck. In general, AMD processors have to work twice as hard to produce the same results as an Intel processor. This means among other thing, more heat and shorter life span.

Memory: 4GB is pretty minimal these days. The more you can get the better. This memory is a primary factor in speed, up to a point. Frankly more than 8GB is excessive for any normal computer use and you are unlikely to see any speed benefit beyond that.

Hard Drives: Almost all hard drives today are far bigger than the average person uses. They generally are at least 500GB, and often 1TB (1000GB) or more. Most people probably use about 100GB. A 1TB drive can store about 200,000 mp3s or pictures. On the flip side, the larger the hard drive it seems the faster the failure rate. Almost all hard drives come with a 1 year warranty instead of the 3 year warranty they came with last year. Keep this in mind. Modern hard drives fail more frequently. Have a backup plan in place if it’s important to preserve data.

Monitor: Many times you can purchase the tower and the monitor separately. Perhaps you are looking just to upgrade your monitor without a new computer. Either way, these brands tend to have higher reliability than the off-brand products such as AOC. I’m also not a fan of Samsung products. They look nice, but my personal experience has been terrible with Samsung. Of 5 products, 4 were dead in less than 1 year. Make sure your computer and monitor support the same ports. If your computer has DVI out (usually white connector), ensure your monitor has DVI in. If your computer has VGA out (usually blue connector), ensure your monitor has VGA in.  If your computer has HDMI out, ensure your monitor has HDMI in.

AntiVirus: If your new computer comes with a trial of McAfee or anything else, ditch it. Norton is by far the best overall AV product comparing its light footprint, speed, ease of use, frequency of updates and effective catch rate. You want Norton Internet Security. You don’t need Norton 360, and should have more than just Norton AntiVirus.

Dual Monitor support: This is built in to MANY computers today. This is a great feature to have, and only costs as much as the additional monitor (usually around $130-$150). Going from single to dual monitors is like going from dialup to high speed internet. You’ll never want to go back if you are a power user in any way. As I write this article, I have outlook open on my second monitor to keep an eye on it.

Solid State Hard Drive: Wow. Let me say that once again. Wow. That’s the speed difference in a computer with a Solid State drive and a traditional (magnetic) hard drive. Speeds of SSD drives is between 5-10 times faster than traditional hard drives. You do have to give up something though – storage space. SSD drives are typically much smaller than magnetic drives. SSD drives come in 32, 120 and 240GB most commonly. If you can get a computer with a large SSD drive and don’t need a lot of space, you’ll be saying “wow.” In some computers there is a hybrid SSD/magnetic drive. This is where you’ll see the 32GB ssd drives which basically loads windows and some programs. Just tossing out some estimates, but say a computer takes 2 minutes to boot with a traditional drive, it would take about 30 seconds with a SSD drive.