The Computer Helper: Buying a Windows 7 computer (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Mar 10, 2010, 2:08 GMT
Washington - Now that Windows 7 is widely viewed as a worthwhile upgrade, many are looking at buying a new computer that will take advantage of Microsoft's new operating system. What you look for in a new machine, though, should depend in part on what your primary tasks will be. Read on for some answers.
Q: I'm interested in buying a new desktop to run Windows 7. I'll be using it to edit photographs, video, and for doing general chores. What components should I focus on?
A: Photography and video editing are two of the more demanding tasks that people use their computers for these days, so a beefier machine will be in order.
First of all, you might want to consider installing the 64-bit version of Windows 7. It's good to know which version you intend to install before you buy a machine because that knowledge will help you determine how much memory (RAM) you might want.
The 32-bit version of Windows 7 can access up to 4 GB of memory. Today, though - especially when editing multiple large photographs while running several other applications - more than 4 GB of RAM are helpful, and only the 64-bit version of Windows 7 will allow that.
There's really no machine made today that is 'too powerful' for photo and video editing, so you should start by looking at higher-end systems.
An Intel Core i5 or i7-based machine would be preferable to a Core 2 Duo or Core 2 Quad. The latter two processors are on the way out, The i5 and i7 processors eliminate a significant bottleneck of older chip designs - namely the so-called 'front side bus,' a pathway between the processor and other components in the PC.
The chips also can automatically 'overclock' themselves, meaning they can deliver more performance when required. Intel's i7 chips are more powerful than i5 chips.
For memory, consider 4 GB a minimum, but make sure you get a machine that will not only accept more - many these days do - but also one that will not require you to replace the existing RAM in order to fit more in. The best idea is to get the maximum amount of RAM you can afford: six to eight GB is not too much.
You'll want a powerful graphics card, since with photo editing, you'll likely need at least the capability of running a large monitor and pushing around a lot of pixels on it. Look for a machine outfitted with an nVIDIA or ATI-based card with 512 MB to 1 GB of DDR3 or DDR5 RAM.
If your budget allows, consider getting a solid state drive (SSD) as your operating system and application storage drive, and add a lower-cost but higher capacity traditional hard drive for file storage.
Today, an 80 - 120 GB SSD will cost about 300 dollars, which is a lot for a single component, but an SSD can provide the most significant boost in performance in today's computing environment. That's because hard drives have long been the primary bottleneck in PCs, and SSDs are the solution.
Finally, don't forget the monitor. For photo editing, of course, a large monitor can be not only pleasing to look at, but also improve your productivity, as you'll have to do less scrolling to see images or groups of images. A 24-inch monitor should be your minimum, while a larger monitor won't hurt.
Q: I need to buy my daughter a Windows 7 notebook for college. What should I be looking for?
A: The computing needs of college students can be fairly demanding, depending upon their course of study, so you should be looking at a mid-range notebook computer with a preference toward portability and durability.
Processor speed is probably the least of your concerns. Any mid- range notebook sold today will be sufficiently fast for your daughter. Other features - weight, screen size, and features - are likely to be more important: get her input. Look for units that integrate a webcam and microphone so that she can take advantage of any tasks that requires them - such as placing free video calls to you via Skype!
Screen size will be a big determinant of how heavy the unit is: 14-inch LCDs provide comfortable viewing while helping to keep the size and weight of the unit manageable. 15-inch screens start to make the notebook a bit unwieldy. Larger screens are nice, but only if the notebook won't be carried around much.
Durability is perhaps the most important consideration - and one that's frequently overlooked. Consider 'business class' notebook computers in addition to those geared toward home users. Business notebooks are built to withstand more abuse than other models, and these days they're priced on a par with other types of notebook. Dell's Latitude series and HP's Elitebook and ProBook models are examples of business class computers.
Finally, don't forget the warranty. Three-year, no-fault, full- coverage warranties or insurance that covers damage, malfunction, or theft make the most sense for students.
Q: I need a small notebook to take on business trips. I will use it primarily for email. Will Windows 7 run on netbooks?
A: Any new or recent netbook with at least 1 GB of RAM will run Windows 7, although performance will likely not be thrilling. Many netbooks still come with an option to use either Windows XP or Linux as an operating system.
However, it's probably a mistake today to focus entirely on the netbook arena if running Windows 7 is a primary consideration. There's a new class of notebooks that sits in-between netbooks and traditional notebooks.
These 'netbook plus' models are a touch bigger and heavier than netbooks but - with 12 or 13-inch screens rather than 10-inch screens - provide a much more comfortable viewing experience, not to mention more computing horsepower for real-world tasks.
All of the major notebook vendors are now offering these models, which attempt to recoup some of the ground lost to netbooks in recent years.
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