PC hardware--CPU & Motherboard & RAM/upgrade recommendations-new laptop

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QUESTION: Hi,

I am looking for advice on where to best spend my dollars on a new laptop.  I have 2 old computers at home with WinXP and with the upcoming change to have no support for XP, I had thought about getting Win7 one of them, but it seems to make more sense to just get a new laptop.

I also have a Dell Studio 1535 at work which I will put Win7 on.  I maxed out the memory at 4GB and had a Solid State hard drive put in which upgraded the speed very dramatically.

The reason I mentioned that is that I really want the fastest computer I can get, but my max price is around $800.  I want to get at least a hybrid hard drive, or a small SSD and a larger storage drive because the speed increase I have seen on my studio is so significant due to the SSD.

I don't need the speed for gaming at all, but I tend to have 6 to 10 browser windows open at a time, Libreoffice running multiple windows, maybe a photo editing program open, and want good video playback.

So, my question is where to best to spend my money?  
-Do you agree that a hybrid hard drive or a combo small SSD and larger sata is the best place to spend for speed?
-Is saving money on an AMD processor okay?
-I'd like as much RAM as I can get, 8 MB for sure or even 12.
-Do I need a video card above the integrated one?  (Based on the types of applications I run mentioned above)

To give you an idea of what I am looking at I am considering either of the following.  Steer me away or towards these types of configurations based on your expertise.  Or if it's possible to build your own anywhere?
So an HP Envy 15z-j100 for $774 with:
• Windows 8.1 64
• AMD Quad-Core A8-5550M Accelerated Processor
• 2GB AMD Radeon™ HD 8750M Discrete
• 15.6-inch diagonal HD BrightView LED-backlit Display (1366x768)
• 12GB DDR3 System Memory (2 Dimm)
• 750GB 5400 rpm Hybrid Hard Drive
vs. a Lenovo IdeaPad Y410p with:
    4th Generation Intel Core i7-4700MQ Processor (2.40GHz 1600MHz 6MB)
   Windows 8.1 64
   14.0" HD+ Glossy LED Backlit with integrated camera 1600x900
   NVIDIA GeForce GT755M GDDR5 2GB
   8.0GB PC3-12800 DDR3L SDRAM 1600 MHz
   1TB 5400 RPM+8GB SSD
   DVD Recordable (Dual Layer)

Appreciate the advice!

ANSWER: Depending on your existing computers, you may be able to just install Windows 7 or Windows 8 onto them; if they're new within the last couple of years they shouldn't have any problems (generally Windows 7/8 will only be incompatible/unsupported by hardware that was brand new when Windows XP came out).

As far as the performance goals for your new system:

- SSDs do not actually improve processing performance - what you may notice on your work computer is about the limit of what an SSD can do: lower latency seek times and faster read times which contribute to the system starting Windows faster (this has no influence on anything), or applications opening faster (this has little influence on anything once the application is open). If the system was coming from a very old/slow/poor hard-drive, the difference would likely be fairly substantial, but modern hard-drives (especially if they're relatively large hard drives (larger capacity means higher internal density, which helps performance)) will hold their own quite well, and have reliability benefits over an SSD. Having said that, for a laptop computer, I would NOT suggest a conventional mechanical hard-drive at all - SSDs survive vibration/shock much better, and will improve battery life when the machine is running on battery - what I would suggest is that you keep any important data backed-up to some form of external media however, because of reliability concerns about SSDs in general. If you decide to go with a desktop computer, a mechanical hard-drive is what I would suggest. I wouldn't spend the money on a "hybrid" drive, nor on an 8GB stand-alone SSD (there's no benefit; it cannot even hold the Windows install - truly an example of marketing run amok).

- For the kinds of applications you want to do, a faster processor is basically all you need, and in general there will be no difference between modern processors for what you're doing. A decent graphics card (integrated or discrete, it does not matter) may provide some acceleration for h.264 playback, which can help certain HD playback situations (more on this in a minute), and if you go with a very modern discrete card, it may provide some acceleration to specific parts of the latest versions of Photoshop (this isn't really essential though, as in no features will be locked out, and the performance gains may be negligible depending on your specific workload). 8GB (I assume you meant GB and not MB; 1GB = 1024MB) is more than enough memory - you do not need 12GB or more, however if you can get it without paying too much for it, there's no reason to shy away (but don't add another $500-$100 to the system's price just to add that extra 4GB of RAM).

- AMD CPUs are absolutely okay.

- Between the two machines you've found, the Lenovo has a higher resolution screen, which will make it nicer for productivity/multi-tasking than the HP. If you can get them to drop the 8GB SSD and go with integrated Intel HD graphics (if available) you could probably save a reasonable amount of money too; without sacrificing much of anything. If they have an option to put a single 128-256GB SSD in there as the system's sole hard-disk that would be good too, assuming it doesn't run the price up too far.

- If you need more mobility, you might look at an Ultrabook; I'm not sure what the current Lenovo "brand" is, but from HP it would be the Folio series.

If you have further questions, feel free to ask.

-bob


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

QUESTION: Thanks very much.  Your info was very helpful.  It sounds like a laptop with a modern processor, 8GB of RAM, and a HD integrated video card will be good enough for what I am doing.

The only hurdle I have in getting a SSD for a laptop as you recommended is that all the manufacturers won't let you get into a SSD until you get into the $1100 range or so as the base drive choice.

So I see my only choices to be to buy the smallest drive I can find on a laptop that meets the other specs I want and then buy a SSD on my own and put it in.  Is that a possibility, and if so do you think they will give me a copy of the OS on a disc to re-install?
Or, are there barebones laptops available where I can buy the SSD I need?
It would be great if there was more flexibility in the $500 to $900 range in major manufacturer laptops, in choosing the SSD as an option but I am just not seeing it.

Answer
You could install the SSD yourself, but it'd add the price of the drive (they aren't terribly cheap), and they may not give you a stand-alone OS installation disc (it may be tied to the recovery partition on the hard-drive. Given the budget limitations, I'd say settle for the mechanical drive (it isn't worth an extra $300+) - just be careful not to drop or bang the machine around too hard.

-bob  

PC hardware--CPU & Motherboard & RAM

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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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