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talljasperman's avatar

What general use computer/laptop should I save up for?

Asked by talljasperman (21858points) October 13th, 2015

Also where should I buy it from. I’m thinking Staples because they have a repair bay on sight. I live in Canada.

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8 Answers

talljasperman's avatar

Under $1,000.

jerv's avatar

First, forget a laptop. While they have their uses, mostly as a second machine, they also have enough issues that I would not consider any laptop under a grand to be “general use” unless I were traveling so often that I didn’t even have a home. This is doubly true for gamers.

Second, Staples knows next to nothing about computers. In fact, the only ones I trust for computer repair are those who do absolutely nothing except computers. Seriously, the Geek Squad, the Staples goons and the like really don’t know much more about PC repair than you do. And that goes triple for laptops, though we already determined that you shouldn’t get one of those.

If you absolutely never plan to run games then you could get by with a $200 Chromebox. Seriously, it surfs the web, it can do YouTube at 1080p and you really don’t need much more power than that.

However, since I know you are a gamer, and one with extremely limited technical skills, your only options are pre-built systems that are usually just random parts tossed together from crap components. I mean, I’ve seen gaming rigs with GT-series nVidia cards; for those that don’t know computers, that is like entering the Daytona 500 in a Geo Metro. But since you (personally) cannot build your own system, or even take a regular computer and add a video card, that is what you’re left with.

With that in mind, your best bet would likely be buying direct from CyberPower. They are about as good a quality as most other PCs you can get for that price, yet more capable. Also, much to my tastes, they have plenty of custom options so that you don’t wind up with whatever mismatched cheap-ass parts the accountants or marketing people said to use. If I were in the market, I might pick up one of their Vapor-series offerings

If having the service center down the road is such a big deal though, maybe, just maybe, you should forget about computers. Or make friends that have those skills who are also close enough to you to be able to go over to your place. I mean, that is a pretty bad criteria to make a buying decision on.

Apparently_Im_The_Grumpy_One's avatar

I always get my computers from newegg . There you can buy the parts yourself and put them together.. or get one that is already built. They’ve been around for a lot of years. Whatever you do.. don’t get something stupid and over-priced like an alienware computer.

If you do end up getting it from staples, pay close attention to the specs on each system. Sellers like to upgrade only one tiny thing and then re-package under some “bigger/better” name for more money.

Newegg has systems anywhere from $300—$1000. I’m using one now.

jerv's avatar

@Apparently_Im_The_Grumpy_One The prebuilt systems at Newegg are part of the reason I refuse to shop anyplace that doesn’t do custom orders at no charge beyond the cost of components. Not knowing what sort of brick-and-mortar stores @talljasperman has nearby that do that sort of thing, that leaves us ordering from system builders that have a “configurator” page.

As for those that upgrade one item and repackage, a common one is slamming a bigger video card in without upgrading the power supply. While the Haswell CPUs and newer video cards have lower power consumption than their predecessors, a moderately powerful computer can still put enough strain on a 300W power supply that it may have trouble living more than a year, yet 300W is bigger than many of those folks use. Even worse, many use “generic” power supplies that are incapable of even delivering their rated power.

If you configure your system yourself though, you avoid that risk. For instance, when I went to that Vapor-series config page, I noted that the stock PSU is a no-name 250W unit. I’ve had video cards that could melt that thing without even adding the load from the rest of the system, so I ticked the box to upgrade to a name-brand 300W unit. A lot of places like Staples or Best Buy are usually too dumb to do that swap on their own and/or too lazy to do it even if you pay them. However, people/places that actually know something about computers will just pull a couple cables, undo four screws and swap the power supply out for one that is worth a damn.

Newegg is generally good for parts if you’re up for DIY, but I’m pretty sure that @talljasperman isn’t up for building his own box, and finding a pre-built system on Newegg that would meet my standards of “general use computer” just isn’t happening. That said, my current system started life as a $500 off-the-shelf Gateway that got it’s power supply swapped out and a video card put in. It is possible to get many systems up to snuff if you can swap a PSU and install a GPU. I just don’t think OP has those skills.

talljasperman's avatar

@jerv Most of what you wrote is over my head. What about me buying from Dell computers?

jerv's avatar

@talljasperman Short answer – no.

Medium answer – Not just no, but HELL no!

Dell doesn’t do the sort of custom work I would want done before I paid a nickel. I’m also still a little mad at Dell for their years of using non-standard components that made it difficult/imposssible to repair their systems without using overpriced proprietary parts. Plug a standard PSU into a Dell motherboard? Congratulations, you just fried your motherboard!

What exactly do you plan to do with this system though? I know that you do some gaming, but what sort of games? That right there determines a bit about the two components that most pre-built systems have replaced to meet my standards. Most systems have adequate RAM and, to be honest, a bit too much CPU while having power supplies that can’t handle upgrading/adding anything to the system along with either integrated graphics or a weak-ass thing that they claim is a video card.

The real secret is knowing what you want. Given the performance of Haswells, even a Core i3 would work quite well. While Windows takes up too much memory to run comfortably on a 4GB system and still be able to do much else, only those who do CAD/CAM or heavy-duty multimedia editing really need more than 8GB.

On the video card front, things are a little confusing with all the numbers and letter going around, but if you aren’t sure then look at Passmark’s list of GPU benchmarks and pick one that has a score of at least 2800 if you do any real gaming. The AMD R7 260X and nVidia GTX 750 are good budget cards; under $100 yet capable of running >30 FPS at 1920×1080 with details cranked. Don’t even think about a GT or GTS card; if you go nVidia, it’s GTX or GTFO. If you go AMD then don’t bother with the R7 250; the R7 260 is twice as good but only $10 more. Either go with an R7 260 or 260X, or spend a little more to get into the R9 series.

Power supply… most Haswell systems can run on a brand name 300W unit. If you go Brand X then you’ll probably want a 450 watt unit to make sure you can even get 300 watts out of it… though going that route also gets a power supply that is prone to voltage spikes that may fry your system. Easier to just stick with name-brand their; Corsair, Thermaltake, Rosewill…

talljasperman's avatar

@jerv I want to watch lots of youtube and do online banking and maybe learn how to program in c++. Most of the mmorg I used to play but I got bored. Also I want to video chat with my mom and listen to music and DVD ‘s. I ALSO want to cut and paste links to my Fluther answers. Also I want to print up my resume and other writing.

jerv's avatar

In that case, even the cheapest PC on the market will serve those needs. Much of the expense of a computer is in it’s ability to render high resolution images/models quickly, a task that involves an ENORMOUS amount of number-crunching, and thus more powerful (and more expensive) hardware, with a little tacked on to ensure that it’s power supply can meet the power demands of the system.

Compared to gaming, the hardware required to watch YouTube or video chat, even in 1080HD, is relatively modest. Whatever computer you have now can do it. The phone I had 3–4 years ago could manage it. There’s $20 knock-off tablets in India that can do it. There is nothing in that task list that I see that couldn’t be done on even this little thing or this old refurbed relic.

Of course, running Windows on that low-spec hardware is dicey, and I don’t know how you feel about learning Linux… after installing it yourself, which may lead to tears if you lack confidence or choose the wrong distro. Not so much skill as you really only need to know your name, time zone, and what language you speak (presumably English) to install, but some still find it intimidating.

So basically, the only real criteria you have are cost, reliability, and pre-installed Windows because, no offense, I just don’t think you could handle a dramatic change like running Linux; while simple, it’s different enough from Windows in ways that I’m not sure you could adjust to without considerable external guidance. Windows requires a bit more powerful than many distros of Linux need, which drives up the price, but since we are so far below your $1,00 limit, we can afford to spend a few hundred more if we need to.

The only real complication there is that “reliability” covers not only how often it breaks, but also whether it will still work well enough 3–5 years from now; how future-proof it is. If your needs truly are what you listed in that post then the computer you have now will be plenty fine for at least another year or two, but if your needs change then so will your hardware requirements.

For that reason, something in a tower case is good as it has room for expansion as well as enough space to work in along with easy access through the side panel. Plus, most computer components are designed for ATX or compatible desktop cases. Some of your smaller computers require special power supplies, may not be able to fit a video card, or have some other restriction that makes buying parts for them trickier than just giving up a little space for a mid-tower (the most common sized computer there is).

With that in mind, I think a Lenovo K-series might not be bad. And despite my personal misgivings about Dell due to their Inspiron series and some past misdeeds, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that their current generation of computers is well-regarded by many, and their XPS 8900 series seem powerful enough to remain relevant until at least 2020.

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