I received the following from a friend today, after I had sent out an email about my blog - thought readers might find questions of interest - Gerry
First, why Gmail? Why not yahoo, hotmail, or something else? Is there some clear advantage? Are you some elitist? Or is it because you are the G-man so you want Gmail?
- Well Don, I can't really say there is a definitive advantage - I also have a Yahoo mail address that I've had for years - but I decided to give G-Mail a try. This blog is connected to Google, and that address was the easiest to use for signing up -- but hey, the G-Man connotation works for me!
Second, my father-in-law wants a new laptop. He has an older Dell Inspiron (don't know the model number) that came with XP (to help you date it). The biggest reason he wants a new one is so he can use wi-fi (not an aircard). Can he add a wireless card to his current laptop to use wi-fi at home, hotels, etc.?
- You can definitely still get a wireless G card to put in an XP laptop. The laptop should have a PCMCIA slot, which will accept a wireless card, and I see these in a variety of brands in the $60-100 range. In all honesty, there are also quite a few USB stick styles of wireless converters as well. The slot style is a little sturdier type, but the USB are less expensive. This would provide what he needs to connect to any hotspots he would run across.
If not, he is very interested in the new "mini" laptops. I think he would have a hard time typing on the smaller keyboard and a hard time seeing text on the smaller display. He wants to do internet, word processing, email, and photos on his "mini." He also wants an optical drive and card reader. His price range is upto $500.00.
- The new "netbooks" are definitely becoming popular, especially for their price range, but they do have their limitations, including lack of an optical drive. He should be able to find a decent buy on a lower end laptop that is more full size and will do what he wants. The best thing is to start looking in an electronics store and see what is available in the price range or slightly above, and then watch for sales. If buying with Vista, stay at 2GB of RAM or higher. A card reader can easily be added via USB slot.
Third, my personal needs. I've been wanting a laptop for a long time. The kids are still using our old Dell we bought in 1999 and still running Windows 98SE. I bought a high-end workhorse when I bought it, and I think it still does amazingly well considering that it is ten years old, but it has great limitations. The kids could get our five year old XP if we get a new laptop...
- Well, to be honest, getting 5 years and 10 years out of computers is excellent! (10 years is almost unheard of anymore), but as you probably know - you can't buy much of anything anymore that is still compatible with Windows98 - so eventually you will hit a wall if something needs to be replaced.
I'm not afraid of Vista. If you throw enough system at it you'll like it, right?. Although, I hear a new OS is on the horizon (Windows 7?). Should I wait for the new system? Technology outdates itself so quickly, I don't want to start out an operating system behind already.
- I am hearing that if you wait a few months, you may start to see machines being sold with a free upgrade to Windows7 (when it becomes available), possibly as early as this summer. So that may be one avenue to take. I have been running Vista since the beta came out and although there are some things that take getting use to, it has been a good operating system for most home users. Naturally, with every new OS there are bugs, delays with new drivers, and so on - we went through this with XP, but many people don't remember this unless they've been computing a while. Vista will have had about a 3-4 year run by the time the next OS is released, which is about typical. If you are interested in Vista, consider getting the 64 bit version, as it can address more than 3 GB of RAM. This seems to be becoming more popular and I see more and more machines being offered this way. There are a few more issues with compatibility, especially with older software and hardware, but less of them if what you have is only a couple of years old (printers, scanners, etc). I believe that in general, Vista support will last as long as your computer (barring another 10 year run!)
Do you have an opinion on what brand to buy? Based on value? Based on reliability? Based on reputation? Based on personal preference?
- I get asked this question probably more than any other. I have to say at this moment in time, no one company stands at the top of the heap. I believe Dell and HP to be the most popular and you can throw in Toshiba if looking for a laptop. I usually will tell customers to stick with a name they recognize and compare the warranty. I have had to deal with all name brands in regard to problems and each brand has had problems with certain runs on the machines they make. Even the support offered has it's issues - wait times, dealing with out of country phone support and so on. I always look at value - and if you watch for deals long enough, eventually you'll find something you feel is a good value. There are a few I feel have more than their share of problems - but then I know others that have had very good luck! My personal preference is still to build my own, but I can't do that cheaper than I can buy one pre-made.
Dell offers an optional solid state drive instead of a hard drive. I know nothing about this. I can only guess that it is a much more reliable and durable drive, especially for a laptop. Any comments?
- This is the up and coming wave, especially for laptops. The advance already made in the last year in speed and size, compare to cost is quite amazing. Are they as fast as a good hard drive - yes and no. Some of the SS drives have longer access times than their HDD counterparts, but I feel this will diminish over time (they'll get faster). Size is also an issue at this point, you can get a traditional HDD with much more storage for the money. But for the newer "netbooks" this seems to be where they are going - using SSD. If you get a traditonal size laptop, you will probably stick with a HDD.
When I compare Intel Core Duo processors, what is the actual advantage of 6MB cache over a 3MB cache?
- Ok, you're going to get me here. I don't have a good expertise with processors, but in general, the more cache or on-die memory, the faster it can handle data. But, these numbers, like any numbers, can be deceiving. The overall speed of the processor can make up for a smaller amount of cache - and vice-versa. The concept is still pretty much how is the processor rated to others (compare speeds). As you know, increasing the number of cores is the most recent venture in processors, with quad-core becoming mainstream, and change and improvement always around the corner. The other thing you have to ask yourself, is what I am going to do this computer? Unless you are a very serious gamer, or require some really heavy duty number crunching, any mainstream processor will do what you want in a time that reasonable. For the most part, there are many things other than the processor that effect how fast things respond on the screeen.
What is the actual difference in the different Intel processors?
- Well, as I said above - I don't consider myself even close to expert on this one. If you want to spend some time on the Intel website - they have comparisons between their lines. The newest is the i7 line.
How upgradable are laptops now? Should I truly spend as much as I can afford on RAM, video card, and hard drive now, or just invest the money saved in a future laptop?
- In my experience, 3-5 years is the typical lifespan of a computer. The variance really depends on use, and whether or not you have to do any large repairs early on. Eventually, every machine will reach a point where it's just not worth spending more than $100 to repair, when that can be used to purchase a much faster machine. Of course there are other factors - but in general, if I have someone facing $150 expense or more, I have to bring up the option to purchase a new one. I'd lean toward repair at 3 years, but definitely replacement by 5 years. For the typical home user, I usually recommend buying in the middle range. Most people simply don't need the horsepower and graphics of top end machines unless they can afford the toys. I have some minimum numbers I look at for RAM, and hard drive space - but that's about it. Most computers in this range have built in graphics and they get along fine. Again, if you are a gamer - you are probably going to want to get a separate video card and you'll tend to wander towards the top end for RAM and processors - but otherwise....I have a hard time seeing people spend the money unless they are going to make use of it. Generally, internet, email and word processing don't require the top end. If you are going to do photo editing, movie editing, or gaming, then lets talk about what you might need...
Is it really worth it to spend $400-$500 to buy the 4 year accidental protection/warranty or, again, just invest the savings in the next laptop?
- Some people believe in this stuff like religion - but I don't. Put the money to the side just in case. If however, you are like my daughter and accident prone - then maybe..... This is really a personal decision based on cost, how likely you are to experience a problem and so on. If you are going to travel a lot with it - then you should probably consider it. The more movement, the more likely you are to experience a drop. But, in general, I don't believe in it. But remember - I can also fix my own most of the time.
Any other pearls for laptop purchase?
- The big question is how are you going to use it? Will it be a desktop replacement? Are you going to travel with it? Will you watch movies on it? Do video editing? If you are looking for convenience - something to travel - consider a smaller size like a 15" screen. It will travel better and can be used in most spaces well. If you are looking for a desktop replacement, with only occasional travel, and want to use it for entertainment - go 17" and beef up the RAM and hard drive space a little. If you are going to play 3D types of games or action/adventure, you should probably beef up the video a bit as well. You will probably look at $700-1,000 for the former, and $1200-1500 for the latter. A basic laptop for use on the internet can be had for $450-600.
Thanks for the time. I must be getting old, like you, since I too resist blogging, instant messaging, text messaging, etc. If you answer my many questions in your new blog, just email me a link, otherwise I might never see your answers.
- Not a problem Don - hope you find this helpful - you can always give me a call.