Buying a computer system/RE: Buying a computer system

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Hi Bobbert,

Thank you for your answer to my previous question. I somehow didn't receive it by e-mail (even though I've used AllExperts before), so I can't rate your answer, but I really appreciate your help.

I really use my computer for all kinds of things and I'm not certain which programs require most CPU and memory. I can find out, but I have a lot of programs on my computer and it doesn't matter much when I want to buy a new computer either way and when I care most about the price-performance ratio (I do care about many other things, but the options I mention already meet my main criteria).

I will keep using my Vista laptop, but I'm looking for a Windows 7 desktop (or laptop, I'm not yet completely sure) to use as my main computer. I mentioned the reboot mostly to indicate that I ask more of my computer than the average user, not to find out what is causing the problems (although I do appreciate your help and I also blame Windows Vista for most of it). All of the options I have left will probably make me happy and the more CPU and memory I have the more I will use (Windows Task Manager has often indicated that), so I'm just looking for a "good investment".

Can you help me narrow my options just by looking at the quality/quantity I'm getting for the amount I pay? Or are they too close to base my decision on that?

Kind regards,

Rick

Answer
The reason I asked about your specific application usage is mostly to tailor the hardware around your needs (instead of the other way 'round); if you're, for example, playing a lot of 3D games it would be worthwhile to ensure that the machine is well equipped for that. It also makes it easier to discuss things like price/performance - knowing exactly what the machine has to do lets you judge how well it will likely perform those tasks relative to what you're spending.

As far as laptop vs desktop - if performance, multi-tasking, etc are your goals, I'd stick to a desktop. Ideally with multiple monitors. A desktop will give you substantial benefits in terms of cooling, expansion, and price/performance at the time of purchase. It will also likely last longer, because parts can be replaced or repaired, whereas a laptop is more or less "all or nothing" due to how they are designed and built.

My comment on your previous system wasn't so much to re-direct your desire to purchase a machine, but to point out that for most typical tasks the Core 2 Duo should be sufficient and the errors you're encountering are likely due to an issue with that machine (and I'm perfectly fine blaming Vista as well - it was unpopular for a good reason); I wouldn't take those issues to mean that you need to dramatically over-buy on hardware unless your specific application demands are extremely high (e.g. you're an architect working on very large models, or you're producing your own album at home). One thing to keep in mind about monitoring resource usage via Task Manager in Vista and higher - it will often report relatively high memory usage (especially as a percentage of system memory on machines with 4GB of less of memory); this isn't necessarily a reflection of your usage, as Windows uses memory to pre-load/pre-fetch a variety of system resources that improve performance or functionality. This feature will "scale" as the system adds more memory up to a certain point (usually 8GB and beyond will not see the "50% memory usage at idle" scenario).

Now, onto the desktop machines you've linked to...

I would generally avoid the all-in-ones and SFF systems because they tend to be relatively proprietary and limited in their expansion/upgrade capabilities (most all-in-ones are pretty similar to laptops if you open them up). In general if you're going to give up the "strong points" of a desktop, you should at least be getting the mobility benefits of a laptop; I don't see any point in having (essentially) the worst of both worlds.

Of the systems that leaves, the refurbished HP Z800 from "salland.eu" is easily the best machine (Z800 is HP's top-line workstation; they are very high quality machines). It includes substantially better specifications than any of the other machines linked. The only "gotcha" would be the Quadro FX 4500 graphics adapter - it may or may not cause compatibility concerns with some games or multimedia applications (Quadro is nVidia's professional graphics line; they're designed for professional uses like architecture, animation, etc and while the drivers are historically excellent, they sometimes end up unsupported for videogames or similar apps simply because the developers are unaware/unfamiliar with them). For the most part you probably wouldn't notice it as a problem, and it would certainly enable the system to do other tasks (like run CAD) if needed.

Aside from the Z800, the ThinkCenter M93 towers from Bluelink (10A7000PMH and 10A7000LMH) are both solid looking machines, however neither has very much memory, nor do they use dual-channel memory. I would add 4GB to either configuration both to allow dual-channel to be enabled (This means higher memory throughput) but also because 8GB is a good amount of memory for heavy multi-tasking. The lack of discrete graphics in both machines will hurt for 3D gaming and some other 3D tasks, however the Intel HD graphics will handle things like H.264 decoding just fine.

Working on the assumption that you can purchase anything available at retail in the Netherlands, I also went and looked for systems on my own based on your general criteria and what I was seeing from the machines you linked.

Something like this tower, from Dell, looks to be a much better value for around 800EUR:
http://www.dell.com/nl/p/xps-8700/pd?oc=cdx8701&model_id=xps-8700

It comes with 8GB of memory, the i7-4770 found in some of the nicer Lenovo and HP towers you linked, and a discrete nVidia graphics card. Overall it will be a better performer, and the price isn't too much higher than the 700-750EUR of the top models you linked (The Z800 would still be superior, with 16GB of RAM and two quad-core CPUs; it will probably be much bulkier and louder though).

If you require more specialized performance for either gaming or professional applications, do let me know; it will influence my suggestions.

-bob

Buying a computer system

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Bobbert

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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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I have been an enthusiast of PC's for many years, and can answer questions about the purchase/use of a new computer or the purchase, installation, and use of upgrades for existing computers. There probably isn't a whole lot related to the home computer that I haven't seen over the years.

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15+ years of experience

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