Thursday, June 14, 2007

Computer Geek Alpha Force Assemble!

Computer geeks, I need your help. I sold stuff off the shelves at Best Buy for a few years, but what little expertise it took to do that ("The service plan covers everything that can possibly befall your computer except liquids, physical abuse, and insect infestation, Ma'am. I can't tell you whether you need it or not, but I buy it on everything I get from the store.")

Anyway, now I need a new computer, and I'm out of date. My wife's laptop is OK, but I'm getting broadband next week and I don't think this old workhorse is going to handle it so well. Just so you know how long I tend to keep things, I bought this desktop when I graduated college in 2000. It's a Compaq with a 533Mhz AMD Athlon K2, 512 Ram upgrade (PC100) and some no-name video card, power supply (the original was good for a whopping 85 watts!) In short, I've upgraded just about as far as I can. It still handles dialup internet (most of the time) and my photos. I don't need a monitor, speakers or printer--mine are awesome.

I don't play games and don't intend to start. Most of what I do won't stress any modern machine much. The only exception is that I want to edit video. I have a nice little digicam, two boys and a baby, but at the moment I don't have a good way to edit video into a nicer finished product.

So, I'm looking for just a desktop machine, nothing expensive, nothing fancy except that I need power to edit video. So I'm thinking dual-core Athlon X64's are cheap now and stuff, a gig of ram is cheap too, so how hard can it be?

Vote for one of these choices or supply your own:

1. Build my own. I've got a DVD +-RW drive sitting around in a case, a 160GB hard drive, and great peripherals. Buy a case, processor, RAM, vid card, etc. and build something.

2. Buy something cheap. I'm thinking about a refurbished Dell. I used to hate Dell, but Ogre swears by his, and when I looked into it, I found that the company actually tried very hard to make things right for Jack Weigand.
Right now, the manager at the Best Buy store where I worked is sensing a great disturbance in The Force, but my loyalty is directly tied to my employee discount. You charge me full price for my batteries and my PRIDE FC DVD sets, buddy, you're on your own.


Unknown said...

Go to or and buy a barebones kit. I slapped a 3GHz rig with 1GB of RAM, CD Burner, and decent graphics card together for Robin, and the total cost was well under $400.

Todd said...

Compare what you can get scratch and dent from Dell w/ what you can build. I bet you'll find something that'll blow your socks off for the price.

David Neylon said...

Last time I bought a system I just bought something cheap and added what I needed. But it was almost bare bones cheap.

Since you're interested in video editing I'd emphasize cpu speed, video card, and memory. Oh and probably a good size HD. That 160gb won't last long if you're saving a lot of video clips even with good compression. Based on today's prices I think I'd find a .5tb.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Call me liberal and innovative, but I'd migrate to MACs as fast as possible. Buy refurbished. Make it fly.

Prairie Mary

JR said...

I'm with Mary. You spend a little more, but you're getting the best guts, compare a pc to a mac with the same mac support is good, plus if you must run windows you can run parallels/bootcamp.

Don said...

Meh . . . . I need to cheap out this time. I like the idea of Macs, but I never quite pull the trigger. Heck, I've been talking about this upgrade for years now. It was the baby being born and realizing again that I don't use the digicam much for something that cost more than any gun I own (!)
I could've gotten a brand-new Springfield Loaded, an XD, or like . . . . I mean . . . like, five K31's with that money. I need to get some use out of the thing.

Here's what I'm looking at for the moment:

Markman said...

Dude, don't get a Dell! Their techsupport is so horrible it'll make your eyes water. Worse, all of their desktops (as far as I can tell) come with the IASTOR RAID controller that's basically a timebomb and will interfere with copy-protection software. It took me days of searching the web and fruitless hours on the phone with Dell trying to wipe my PC and reinstall everything without the useless RAID controller. I still lost the Dell-supplied DVD burner software and had to get my own copy of Nero. I'd never buy a Dell again.

Don said...

That's two things I forgot--I have pretty good Nero software and a licensed copy of WinXP.
Is there any legitimate reason to go to Vista? It doesn't sound like it.

Larry said...

First, congrats on the practical and wise decision NOT to buy a laptop- for the price difference and upgrade ability, dsktop every time unless you NEED portability.

+1 here on not getting a dell. Go barebones and build. It's not hard.

I had a brief gig at Microsoft, and even most guys there don't want to go to Vista yet- not until at least one major service release comes out. Stay with XP for now, especially since you're legal with it.

Take your 160GB drive and partitition it into two, with at least 60 GB for your OS partition. Then get another drive. They're cheap, and you'll need it if you're going to store video. If you're going to want it very portable, external drive enclosures with USB connectionsare pretty nifty and reasonably cheap.

If you're not going to game (I don't either) then you need a reasonable video card, but not top of the line. 256MB of onboard RAM, maybe.

For main system RAM- get 2 GB. That's the most you'll efficiently be able to use, it's not that expensive, and graphics takes a good bit of memory.

Look into Dual-core CPUs (and compatible motherboards). Dual 1.5 GHz cores DO NOT equate to 3GHz single core- still a little bit slower, but lower power consumption and cheaper. Your budget will have to determine how much you need.

Personally, I would keep the old machine going. Use the new machine for your video editing, old machine for web browsing. Set up your cable connection with a cheap firewall (linksys works pretty well and isn't too complicated)in between the cable modem and the internal network. You definitely need this as a minimum for an always-on connection.

Strip down everything you don't need for efficient web browsing off the old machine, and make a back-up image. If it gets infected with malware, just re-image it. Set yourself up with a "user" account in this one that you use for web browsing (XP pro has the capability to make different user profiles with different levels of privilege. Never browse the Web with admin privilege.)

Don said...

I think I understood part of that. Thanks.

Jack said...

Okay, here's what you want to do. I also advise going with a Mac - they're actually not more expensive when you compare them dollar for dollar with a PC (especially a Dell!) but if you already have parts a PC is cheaper.

For processor, I would spend a little extra up front and get an Intel Core 2 Duo - fastest available today, and will last well into the future. Don't go lower than dual 1.8 if you want to do video. That'll blow a 3ghz P4 out of the water, or anything else for that matter. At least 1gb of ram, 2 preferably. You can't address more than 2gb of ram without Windows XP x64, which is a separate license from WinXP anyways. Make sure the motherboard you get supports both IDE and SATA, so you can use your 160gb IDE drive as a system drive. Then get some obscenely large SATA drive for your video storage.

For your system partition, I would go smaller than 60gb - I work at Michigan State University's Systems and Network department and we usually go 20-40gb. Put only your applications and WinXP on this partition. That way, when you have to reinstall Windows in two months you can do so without worrying about losing your data.

Since you don't game you shouldn't need to worry about too hefty of a video card - you can get a NVIDIA GeForce 5200 for about 25 bucks these days. 128mb of graphics ram, digital and analog connections, and TV out. Great for when you retire this machine and decide to turn it into a TiVo, too, cause it's tivo-software compatible. It's fully DirectX9 compatible so you'll be good for quite a while.

GET ANTIVIRUS SOFTWARE! I suggest Nod32 cause that's what we use at MSU, but get something good and KEEP IT UPDATED! Run Windows Update religiously, run your antivirus update at least once a day, and BACK UP BACK UP BACK UP. At least weekly, and more often if possible. 750gb or 1TB external drives are under 300 bucks now - YOU HAVE NO EXCUSE. You WILL at some point lose a hard drive.

And for the love of god, stay away from Vista. Far, far away.