Buying a computer system/Follow up to computer for autocad


QUESTION: Well I'm back home and now must get a new computer to run auto cad. The Dell Optiplex  280 (think I gave you the wrong Number) won't start. So I can't give you the info you ask for. I called Dell and they recommender a optiplex 9020 but I not sure the guy knew what he was talking about. He didn't sound sure of himself. I read on the net about the precision 3600 you recommended and also the 1700 precision. I think either will work for me? What do you think. In reading articles on internet, I find Dell has upgraded 9020 with Intel 4th generation "Haswell" chip. I don't know what it means but articles clam it will work for cad programs. So maybe the guy at dell is right.
Please let me know what you think.
Thanks again for all your help, I don't know what I would do without it.

ANSWER: The Intel chip is the system's CPU - the "4th Generation Haswell" advertisement has been running for quite a while, and is nothing new; the Precision workstations will have CPUs from the same architecture family.

The difference between the Optiplex and the Precision is that the Optiplex is designed as a business machine; graphics performance is not a priority. The Precision is a workstation - professoinal application graphics performance is a high priority. The Dell CSA probably suggested the Optiplex based on you already having an Optiplex (more than likely they've got a cheat-sheet that looks something like "customer has XYZ system, replace with XYZ v2.0"). Overall the suggestion isn't bad, but you will give up some performance features going with the Optiplex machine; it won't be as powerful as the T1700 or T3600, the gain is that it costs a few hundred dollars less.

The Precision T1700 looks like a nice "in-between" relative to the OptiPlex and T3600. The Precision T1700 Mini-Tower configuration at $1059 (if the link works: looks like the best of all worlds; the similarly priced 3600 has less RAM and a smaller hard drive, all-else is fairly equal (graphics adapter, CPU, etc). The Optiplex base configurations all have less memory (and it does not appear this is an upgradable option from Dell either) and a less capable graphics adapter (which also appears to be the only option) - granted, they cost ~$300 less as well.

You are correct that either Precision will work for you - but I'd probably go with the T1700 for cost effectiveness - the similarly priced (I think its $1057 actually) 3600 has less memory and storage space; there's no benefit to that, so I'd go with the option that nets more memory and storage. The Optiplex wouldn't be a bad choice, the biggest thing it gives up is the dedicated graphics adapter and extra memory (for normal use this probably won't be noticed, but applications like CAD can benefit from the extra memory and graphics hardware). It also probably has less expansion options (given that there are less configuration options from Dell; this is a guess though - they may just have limited configuration options for whatever reason) as well. Whichever you choose, ensure that it comes with Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, and if possible have Dell configure Windows XP Mode for you at the time of purchase (you can download this for free from Microsoft, but if Dell will do it at the factory it will probably be more convenient; keep in mind it IS a free extension for Windows 7 Professional, so if they want to charge you some outlandish fee (like $100) to set it up, I'd think twice before comitting to that).

If you've got further questions, feel free to ask.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks again for quick response. In your remarks you said IS extension, I take it IS is XP mode. I contacted Dell and they told me XP mode comes with windows 7 pro. They also said that I can plug 2 mounters into the computer but will need adapters because monoters are old. I looked at plugs going into old computer and found one is a 15 pin and the large has 2 sets of 9 pins and a small cross bar. Is one called a DVI and the other a VGA, which is which.
When I looked a web site you gave me there was a list of options that I don't  understand. DOES NOT. COME WITH RECOVERY DISK. Do I need one? What antivirus /  Security? LOGISTIS-DROP IN BOX ACCESSORIES? CONFIGURATION SERVICES BIOS SETTINGS? DELL CONFIGURATION SERVICES-0
They offer several warranty and are going e-mail the info. With XP mode do you think I can use office 2000 &quicke 99?
Thanks again for your help you are a God send

ANSWER: Ah, to clarify, what I meant is that XP Mode IS free, so I wouldn't pay more than a minimal configuration charge on their end. XP Mode is downloadable from Microsoft - it requires Windows 7 Professional or higher to operate, but is not shipped with the operating system as a base (it's a virtual machine). You would get it from here, if you were installing it yourself:

Dell will, if memory serves, offer this as a configuration option whereby they pre-load it to the machine before shipping it out - I suggested going that route just to save yourself a little time.

Regarding the rest:

The monitor connections - does one look like this:

And the other like this: (the pin configuration may vary slightly, for example the crossbar may have pins above or below it)

The first is VGA, the second is DVI.

The T1700 and 3600 configurations I suggested both come with a FirePro V4900 graphics adapter - you can read about it specifically here:

Primary reason to link to that page - it has a nice big picture of the card. The card itself has a single DVI output (so you can plug a DVI monitor right into that - no adapter needed), as well as two DisplayPort (DP) outputs, which would need adapters to support VGA. Something like this model from StarTech would be the appropriate adapter: (Dell may carry a DisplayPort-to-VGA adapter as well; assuming it isn't very expensive, it may be a more convenient option). And based on the V4900's specifications and connectors, you could connect up to three monitors (two via DP and one via DVI - with what you have currently (assuming you use the DVI and one DP output with an adapter), you would have a second DP output that could either carry another adapter, or connect directly to a newer monitor that supports DP).

On the rest of your question - I'm not entirely following you (so if my response below seems somewhat off-base, please clarify).

A recovery disc is used to attempt re-installation of the operating system in certain cases; it isn't a bad idea to have, but it isn't a requirement to use the computer. If you can get them to include a recovery disc (or better still, installation media for the operating system) that would be beneficial, even if you have to pay a few dollars for it.

The anti-virus software doesn't need to be included - they show McAfee as an option (And I would never suggest a user use McAfee - it's become incredibly bloated in recent years) which is likely because they've partnered with McAfee. Windows, since Vista, actually carries its own anti-virus in the form of Microsoft Security Essentials, however the basic OPK install of Windows (which is what Dell will be going from) does not include it; the idea is to allow system-builders to go with whatever anti-virus they want, and not have to remove the Microsoft package (there's also probably some relationship to the anti-trust regulations imposed on Microsoft; this is the same reason Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player can be disabled or removed). You can download Security Essentials from Microsoft's website at no charge, and it will be updated and maintained by Windows Update (it integrates VERY nicely with Windows); Windows Action Center will also encourage you to download Security Essentials if no anti-virus application is detected on the machine.

Here's its website:

My advice would be to go with the Microsoft utility. It's free, it seamlessly integrates with Windows, and it works well.

Windows provides Windows Firewall for intrusion protection as well, and this is defaulted with all versions of Windows since Vista (if no third-party firewall software is detected, Windows Firewall is turned on). Security Essentials will nicely couple with that too.

The "configuration services" question -

I see the section on the configuration page for this; this is nothing you have to worry about. Basically they're offering to set-up options in the system BIOS for a small fee - the only place I could see this being convenient is if you were buying a large number (like 50) of these machines, and knew you were going to have change some configuration option (like having them boot from a network as opposed to their internal hard-drives), and wanted to save yourself the hassle of doing the same thing 50 times over. All of the settings they're showing here are user-changeable once you have the machine on-site - when the system boots up you will see a logo-screen (it'll show the Dell logo most likely) and give you an option like "Press F12 for Setup" - pressing F12 will get you into the setup menu to make the changes they're offering here (F12 is the correct key for a T3400; the BIOS on the newer systems may have a different key - for example some HPs you have to press DELETE, some other systems you press F1, etc). Nothing they're offering is needed to get the machine working, especially for a single user, and if you needed to make changes in the future you can do so at home.

The drop-in box accessories:

None of these appear necessary unless you need a cable or a lock to secure the machine to a desk or lock post. Again, I get the sense this is a convenience factor for IT buyers who are going to pick up 50 or 100 of the same machine - it would be very convenient if each machine came in the box with its own Ethernet cable, as opposed to having to carry both the pallet of new machines around, and a box of Ethernet cables with it, in order to setup everything.

The "dell configuration services" I'm assuming is the power options setting - again, nothing much to worry about. All of those settings can be changed from within Windows very easily, and again I think this is a setup item to help IT workers save time.

Now regarding your older applications:

Office 2000 and Quicken 99 may very well run within Windows 7 without XP mode - a lot of applications do. My general advice is to try your applications without XP Mode, and if they have trouble, THEN try them with XP Mode.

If your previous computer was still booting, I'd suggest running the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor as it will tell you more about specific applications and their interaction with Windows 7. It's available here, for what its worth:

The warranty is really up to you - Dell will offer you up to 5 years of warranty coverage (which is honestly a little excessive), as well as two "tiers" of support - a basic service (called "Basic Hardware") and a premium tier ("ProSupport") which gives you more (and better) options/features relating to hardware and software service. The ProSupport option wouldn't be a bad choice as an add-on to the basic 3 year warranty (it'll add another $80 or so to the final price of the machine, which isn't too bad relative to the price of the hardware, and given the level of extended service they'll offer you). For more about the differences they have a comparison matrix:

They will also offer data recovery and accidental damage coverage - again, this is at your option; I'd probably pass on both though. The accidental damage coverage MAY be worthwhile if you think the machine is likely to have a soda spilled into it or similar mishaps (if this were a laptop I'd probably be encouraging this option, but for a desktop it's probably going to be set-up in a single location and left there more or less undisturbed). The data recovery service is less appealing overall - basically you're paying them up-front to offer you data recovery in the event that your hard-drive fails. They're charging you substantially less than data recovery services generally cost because they're likely gaming the odds that the majority of disks they're covering with this package won't fail (which is a safe bet on their part). They are not (nor could they) guaranteeing that your data could be recovered, and there are easier (and cheaper) ways to ensure that your data is protected - namely, make back-ups of important data (and conveniently, Windows 7 includes a utility that does this called Windows Backup; you have to set it up and tell it what data to back-up, but otherwise it's automated). Generally I advise users to prioritize how important there data is and then go from there in deciding how many (and what type) of back-ups to make. For most data, simply backing up to an external hard-drive is probably sufficient, for very important data I'd also commit copies to CD or DVD (and remember you have to check these copies periodically, and replace them every few years). For mission critical data, you want copies stored at multiple sites.

Keep in mind some other distinctions when it comes to data back-up - back-ups both serve to allow you to recover data in the event of hardware failure, but they can also guard you in the event of an "oopsie" when editing a file. For example say you're writing a novel, and accidentally delete half of it (and then accidentally save that error) - if you have a copy on a CD somewhere, you can just pop the CD in and re-load it. The same would apply if the hard-drive holding the novel failed - you'd just load up the data from your CD. While this may seem like a common-sense proposition, it should be remembered when dealing with an automated backup process that writes to another hard disk - depending on how you configure that backup, it can over-write the previous version with whatever the newest version of the data is, which may still mean data loss (e.g. you save the novel half-deleted, the backup will change to reflect that the next time it runs). Windows 7 and 8 through their backup feature can actually be setup to store multiple versions of the same file, and will allow you to "roll back" to previous versions from the backups when available, and this may be a worthwhile setting to use for some data (it does require more storage space, because you're storing multiple copies over time).

Things like an external hard-drive are not impervious to hardware failure themselves, and if they're co-located with the PC (most are - they usually only have a 4-6 ft connecting cable), events that destroy the PC (like a basement flooding or electrical surge) will probably destroy that hard-drive too. Having the data in multiple places within your house can help to guard against this to an extent, but having the data stored at multiple sites is even better (for example if you have the data also in a safety deposit box); single-site damage (like a structure fire) won't necessarily cost you the data. Finally, for data that you really can't live without, it should be stored at multiple sites in multiple geographic locations - for example, mail some of those back-up CD/DVDs to a friend in another state. The goal there is to protect the data from regional catastrophes (like a hurricane or tornado) that could damage both the local machine AND the off-site backup. The downside to off-site backups is complexity; you have to keep them up to date, which may involve shipping or travel on your part. There are online backup services that you could alternately use, like Carbonite or Windows Skydrive, which will store your data online and give you the added bonus of being able to access it anywhere with an Internet connection. Generally these services have a limited amount of storage space, and some charge a monthly fee as well. Also keep in mind that your Internet connection speed is a limiting factor - if you only have to upload 100MB of data it may take a little while and be somewhat inconvenient, but if you're going to want to upload 10TB you may be waiting for a few MONTHS for the transfer to complete (and in that case, you'd be better off just copying the data on multiple hard-disks and storing them at different locations).


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Ordered computer.
In your last message you said try loading old programs without XP mode, if problem with spam. Does this mean the wip7 pro is one operation system and XP mode is another? Like a partisan end hard drive?

Yes and no. Windows XP Mode is a virtual machine that emulates Windows XP functionality within Windows 7. From the application's perspective, it is a "separate operating system" but the computer sees both at once. It uses Microsoft Virtual PC in a very cookie-cutter manner ("Straight" or "full" Virtual PC lets you emulate a variety of different operating systems and change various settings related to the virtual machine (VM) capabilities whereas XP Mode runs on a pre-defined "track" that provides XP Pro SP3). The benefit to this pre-defined "track" is that it integrates more seamlessly with your Windows 7 system (essentially it appears as if all of the applications are running together, as opposed to Virtual PC or VMware Player where the VM runs inside its own window).

Perhaps this article from Ars Technica can explain it better:

Specifically pay attention to the bottom paragraph of the second page:

"The way Virtual XP Mode works is as follows: to install XP-demanding software, you fire up the regular XP desktop. This gives the familiar virtualization experience, an OS within a window with no real surprises. Run through the installer, hit "next" a bunch of times, the usual drill. This isn't, however, how applications are supposed to be used. Start menu icons within the VM are replicated to the Windows 7 Start menu, allowing applications to be launched without having to use XP. And when they do launch, they are placed directly on the Windows 7 desktop—no OS within a window, just regular application windows."

The "catch" to all of this is that the software is being run via emulation on the VM - it uses more resources than if the software can just be run within Windows 7 (more broadly, any kind of emulation uses more resources than running the target application directly from the host operating system). That's why I suggest trying out Office 2000 and Quicken (and honestly anything else you've got) right from Windows 7 (there's a reasonable chance that you can just throw the CDs in and everything will work - a surprising number of applications work just fine within Windows 7 (it can and will provide native 32-bit support for 32-bit mode applications)) - if they fail to work correctly from within Windows 7 then try the emulation route.

This is not, however, the same idea as if you were to partition the hard-drive out and "dual boot" Windows XP and Windows 7. In that situation, every time the computer started up the boot-loader would ask you if you wanted to load Windows XP or Windows 7 (or whatever else you installed), and they would be entirely separate entities sharing the same hardware (but not sharing it concurrently). If you had one application installed in XP it would not be available for 7, and vice versa. You would have to restart to get into the OS you wanted for a specific application. This would be much more inconvenient than emulation (and in some cases can be a royal pain to configure initially), but provides a complete environment with full hardware access for each operating system. In general, unless you have very specialized requirements, multi-booting isn't required (and emulation can often perform the same tasks in a more user-friendly manner).


Buying a computer system

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I have nearly two decades of experience in IT, computer repair, and related fields and will attempt to provide the most solid, brand-agnostic advice when it comes time to purchase a new computer, or upgrade an existing machine. I can answer anything from the seemingly basic to the downright complicated - and will do my best to provide this information in a clear and concise manner.


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