Monday, June 03, 2013

Hide the wallet !

Or the credit card at least.

Thinking about spending cash again ... This time it would be on a laptop because mine has been suffering almost as much as me from my skin condition. Plus I think recent software updates courtesy of Microsoft being idiots and destroying their own software have led to both laptop and desktop being less stable.

What's the most important thing to consider buying computer hardware ? You'll be surprised at my opinion there :

Processor - not relevant. Whatever you get now will be superpowered compared to what you had before and you just won't use it. My next laptop will have more processing power than my gaming desktop (cos you can't buy less now) but I'll only use it for web browsing, iTunes streaming, Skype (bleh), email and a few other low requirement things. The hardest thing that it'll be used for is TV on Demand streaming - that's too intensive for my current laptop.

Memory - minimum of 4GB now because of Microsoft being unable to write efficient software.

Disc - in a desktop you can play a bit but there isn't the space in a laptop to fit the 2 drives that make this desktop go Very Fast. My mum's new Acer has 2 drives (and flies) but that comes at a cost. You're better off not paying the premium.

Graphics - as long as it can play HD video, fine. Gaming with complex 3d graphics is something that laptops shouldn't have to be subjected to. That said, my next laptop may be subjected to a little Defense Grid.

So that's the major performance things marked as - Irrelevant, ignorable, too much compromise and "limited is fine".

What is the thing to think about most when buying computer kit ?

Time. Definitely time.

Computer kit has a tendency to operate in stages. There are 3 major manufacturers out there who set the tone for the most expensive bits of a PC. Intel make almost all the processors that get sold. nVidia make high end graphics cards. AMD make an effort at keeping Intel honest with processors (and by doing so, drive Intel to keep their development going) and since acquiring ATI, they make high end graphics bits too.

Most of the kit we get is based off the same design. This desktop has an i5-2500K and the only difference between that and the more expensive i7-2700K was that the i7 had a few performance widgets turned on. They'd be present in my i5 chip, just not turned on (that bit of the chip probably failed tests).

It's similar with graphics. One card may have the same processor design as the next one up in the range, just that 1/8 of the processor is disabled. Possibly for the same reason as before, that bit of the chip failed the testing.

The key is that Design Stage. It tends to operate in steps and we're seeing two steps coming imminently :

Graphics - there's a new nVidia design coming out, the 770 and 780 cards. That's 2 generations ahead of what I have, so my curiosity is sitting up and paying attention. The curiosity goes back to sleep though when it sees benchmarks that don't show it to be significantly better than the last generation. It's also cost prohibitive.

Intel chips - there's a new one coming ... These tend to be faster and cooler than what came before. Both things which count as Very Good Things with PCs. I believe the new one is called Haswell and is coming out within a month, although I haven't caught any good articles about what it is yet. Here's a Tomshardware article on it.

Ok - your techie alarm went off ages ago and you're asking "Relevance ?"

Everybody wants the latest shiny. The retailers want the latest shiny on their shelves. However ... the retailers also want to get what they have now off their shelves to make room for the new stuff.

This can be a good time to buy. However ... Remember the following :

Procrastination can be a good thing. If you don't need to buy now, wait for better kit and better deals.
It's not in a retailer's interest to tell you that you could buy better in a month. They want your money now.
Before a design change step, retailers want you to buy stuff they don't want to return later and will try to entice you in with deals.
But - what's left on the shelf is what noone else wanted to buy.
Don't jump for any old thing, keep your quality control (see end).
A new generation tends to come with bugs ... beware.

Only buy if you think you're getting value.

Ok - all that said, what am I currently looking at ? I have 3 requirements :
Made by Acer - because the family has owned a string of them and they have (mostly!) survived. The only casualties were my mum's which broke the power connector and my dad's which had a critical software failure. We could possibly have rebuilt it, given time ... but we don't get that much time to visit. And it was coming up to his birthday anyway - lol.
Touchscreen - yeah, it's a gimmick and I won't use it much but. It's SHINY !!!!!
At least 15" screen - I like my 17" Acer but somehow I don't think fashion will let me get a 17" touchscreen because fashion doesn't like massive laptops.

I have my eye on something like : Acer Aspire V5-531P (Amazon link). But I'll keep my options open. Acer have a few interesting designs coming - I'd avoid getting a separate tablet (I don't see the purpose) but if my next laptop could become a tablet, I'd be interested. I'd use the tablet mode for web browsing and other "sit and watch it" activities but not for writing blog posts.

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