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calendar   Monday - March 18, 2013

PC #3 Advice Needed

The other day when I was having some computer problems, one commenter suggested that I just go buy a new machine; you can get a new computer for $200. That seemed like decent advice, so I went out looking. And opened a can of worms, and then dove in head first. Oops.

Yes, you can get a new PC for about that price. The bare bones, bottom end machine, no monitor, sometimes not even including a keyboard. And what you’d get is still far superior to the machine I’m using right now, a 733Mhz P3 that just celebrated it’s 14th anniversary. But I found out that it’s hardly worth it to spend that little unless you absolutely have to, when for just a bit more you can have ever so much more. $500 gets you a PC that was current 2 years ago, with the i3 or i5 CPU and 2Gb of RAM. $700 buys you a machine that’s just a couple hairs shy of the red hot cutting edge.

In my mind a computer costs $2000. That’s about what I paid for my first PC, a 12.5Mhz 80286 Dell with a 16” VGA monitor that I bought in the early winter of 1988. Hey, that was a hot machine in those days, and it came with a huge 12Mb hard drive and DOS 3.2. I got quite a number of years out of that one until a short appeared on the motherboard. In 1994 a new 33Mhz 80386 motherboard went it, and that ran just fine until my old job gave me this machine as a perk. Yup, they paid for most of it, and this machine cost just about $2000, 11 years after I bought the first one for the same price. In all the years since I’ve only added a bit of RAM to this one, replaced the OEM graphics card with another identical one for $40, and replaced the monitor twice. Now it runs a decent but not fancy HP2311 flat screen, but the original CPU and 27Gb HD are still chugging away. The OS has changed from Win 98 to Win 200 to Win XP Pro, and I’ve never had the slightest problem with any of them. It’s optimized to hell and back, but you can only do so much with old tech. I can’t even run the current version of Firefox; forget any kind of hi-res gaming or heavy computation.

So I went online and did research. IOPs. Core architecture. Chipsets. Ivy Bridge. Haswell. SATA III. Tri-D 3 dimensional transistors, 22nm architecture, i5, i7, 3rd Generation, DDR3, $500 graphics cards, Turbo Boost, the whole shebang. Impressive. And overwhelming. And this ... this thing out there that really upsets people, called Windows 8.

And what I found out, is that $700 will get you a new PC that is just one or two slight shades below cutting edge, and that $1000 will get you cutting edge, but as usual the sky is the limit if you want something both niche and extreme. A “gamer” machine. I don’t think I have much use for one of them, considering that my PC game of choice is probably Free Cell. It’s just not my thing. Not yet. And since my hindbrain thinks that a new computer costs two grand, $700 seems like a tremendous bargain, considering that it buys you (via Dell)

* an Intel i7 3770 CPU that runs at 3.4Ghz with 4 cores and all that multi-threading goodness, and can hit 3.9Ghz in Turbo Mode. Whatever that is.
* 8 Gb of 1600Mhz RAM
* a Terrabyte 7200rpm hard drive with 6Gb burst transmission speed
* Ivy Bridge architecture and the H77 chipset (aka Panther Piss or whatever it’s called) that comes with myriad SATA II and SATA III ports right on the motherboard
* a plethora of USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports
* a reasonable but mundane 1Gb graphics card but no monitor
* a built-in 10/100/1000 ethernet card (10 times faster than the 10/100 card in this machine)
* the latest Wifi with Bluetooth
* a full-on surround sound music card but no speakers
* a 460 watt power supply
* a new keyboard and a new mouse
* a new medium size tower case that will handle one (or two!) of the double slot wide 11.5” long super killer graphics cards should I ever want one.

and 64 bit Windows 8. Interestingly, getting the exact same machine with the older 64 bit Windows 7 costs $100 more. $200 more if I get the W7 Pro with the virtual XP environment built into it. Hmmm. Yeah, I might lose a few applications if I transfer stuff from old PC to new PC, but they’re ancient ones anyway. No big. Going with another company (HP) and spending another $100 on top of that can get me the 3770K and the hair better X77 chipset, in case I want to play Tweaker and diddle with the system clocks until I break something. Um, that may not be too smart. But it would be about 8% faster even if I didn’t mess about with it.

Either way, it’s quite impressive, since a white hot super dooper cutting edge gaming PC is nearly the exact same thing, except it has the i7 3770K CPU that runs 0.1 Ghz faster, 12 or 16 Gb of the same kind of RAM, when RAM chips costs about $40, and a 600 W power supply which generally costs about $40 more. The real difference is the $200-500 graphics card(s) thrown in, which will fit in this size case should I ever want them. So $700 is tremendous bang for the buck, and I could save $150 off of that by going with an older i5 CPU from 2 years ago, which isn’t really any slower but is less “extreme” for any future demands I might put on it. Compared to what I’m typing away at right now, today’s “cheap” $700 machine is about 40 times faster than mine, with 40 times the storage and 800 times as much RAM. Beyond night and day difference. Dead vs Alive might be more apt.

Yes, you can overclock the 3770K CPU and make it run 15% faster. But you’d better be smart about it, and you’d better put in a real killer thermal management system first. Liquid cooling and the radiator from a ‘92 Buick. And the X77 or J77 chips are a bit more potent and flexible than the “cheapo” H77 chips, but we’re not talking any kind of speed difference that a human could notice. Benchmark software can notice, and the better chips shave a second or two off some task here or there. They cost another $100 too.

One option I would consider for somewhere down the road would be one of those solid state hard drives, an SSD. The ones for the SATA III interface cost $125-250, and give you an eighth to a quarter gigabyte of additional storage on chips. No moving parts! And they are lightning fast and consume hardly any electricity. SSDs for SATA II cost $1200 for some reason, and they can only flow data at half the speed of the SATA III interface.

I am not planning on buying a new monitor any time soon. I just got this one 20 months ago and I expect it to last forever. It does 1080P and can support an HDMI or DVI cable, so it’s plenty good enough. But this whole Windows 8 “Metro” kerfluffle has sent me for a loop. I could use some advice: is it better to spend the extra $!00 and get Windows 7, which is admittedly a bit slower, or should I save the money, get Windows 8 (which is really designed to work with a touchscreen, turning your PC into an oversize tablet or iPad) and then use one of the work-around apps out there? Perhaps until I can save up to get a touch screen monitor, which are rather expensive for something of decent size?

Or, solution 3, which is to try and hang on until mid-summer, when the Haswell architecture comes out, as part of Intel’s never ending “tick tock” annual upgrade releases. And cross my fingers and wish upon a star that Microsoft codes in an Off switch for the dreaded Metro thingy. I don’t know if I can do that; this thing could go belly up at any time. And it has become terribly slow no matter what I do to it, so I’m doubting if I could find another 5 months worth of patience. If the $15 wireless adapter card had lasted, that was my original plan, but it up and died and now I have a big stupid data cable running across the whole house. Not a good thing. I can’t say if Haswell systems will cost more or less at that point, but they will cause the price of Ivy Bridge desktops to drop even further. And from what I read, the only real improvement is going to be to native graphics anyway, which don’t get used at all if you have a graphics card installed. I think.

And no, “buy a Mac” isn’t good advice, unless you can point me to a brand new one with the latest hot chips in it that goes for well under $800. Not refurbished. One that didn’t gently fall off the back of a truck in the middle of the night. Uh huh.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 03/18/2013 at 01:24 PM   
Filed Under: • Computers and Cyberspace •  
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Oh, and here's some kind of visitor flag counter thingy. Hey, all the cool blogs have one, so I should too. The Visitors Online thingy up at the top doesn't count anything, but it looks neat. It had better, since I paid actual money for it.
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