Monday, May 22, 2006

Time to upgrade or simply buy a laptop to replace your old computer?

I am being asked on a daily basis, if it is worth upgrading the existing desktop or should I just buy a new computer and if so, should I be looking at a laptop instead?

Good question and my answer would most certainly be to look at the laptop seriously but not because you can now get them for under $1000, but quite simply, the fact that you can be mobile with your computer. The one thing to remember however, is the fact that there will be a new operating system available next year. With Windows Vista just around the corner, you should be aware that whatever computer you are using now or plan on purchasing very soon should be compatible for the new operating system. That is of course, unless you are planning on staying with windows XP. I know from my volunteering with, that there are many people STILL using windows 98, ME or 2000, therefore I highly suggest getting something compatible with XP at the very least! Since you are going to be spending some money on this upgrade or new computer, you should be focusing on staying current and that means ready for the latest operating system.

Microsoft has now released the list of specifications to be able to use VISTA and the one glaring issue is MEMORY! Yes, you are going to have to have a minimum of 1gb of memory (for the premium version) therefore that should be the deciding factor on upgrade or buying a new box. Regardless of your end decision, some of these new boxes currently available (notebook or desktop) will ship with only 512mb for example and in order to upgrade you will need at least 512mb more and that would typically mean filling up the available slots on the motherboard since it will come with two slots (typically). Now if you have an older computer that is using SDRAM for example, there may be the need to remove the old 256mb to install either 2 strips of 512mb or purchasing 1gb of SDRAM which could be quite pricey comparing it to the newer DDR and DDR2 memory prices. Supply and demand is the most obvious issues when looking in to computer parts and that usually means whatever the current type that is being used in the newer computers is what you ideally want to have in your computer and that might mean replacing the motherboard, which can be as little as spending $70 on this part, in order to buy the cheapest type of memory (DDR or DDR2). Since you can usually get 512mb of DDR memory for a fraction of the price of the same 512mb of SDRAM, you will find yourself better off buying a new motherboard that uses the DDR or DDR2 memory. That can be the determining factor of "upgrade or new".

What I am learning quite quickly is the unfortunate fact that companies like ACER are shipping notebook computers with 256mb as the typical amount of memory (before adding options) meaning you have the ability to upgrade to 512mb, the minimum requirements for VISTA, however you will then have your memory slots filled to capacity on memory (2 x 256mb) and in order to add more down the road, you will have to remove one of the strips to add the 1gb strip (for example) in order to increase your total amount to over 1gb. Most motherboards currently have a 2gb max with the higher-end boards topping out at 4gb.

The other issues are with the video card. In most newer computers, they are using 'shared memory' whereas the video card can run as high as 256mb (typically 128 or even 64mb of shared), but what this means is that you are sharing the memory from the overall memory, therefore if you were to buy a computer with 512mb of RAM, and your video card must be 128mb in order to use VISTA, then your computer is truly only running at 512mb minus the 128mb that is being used for the video, leaving you with an actual total of only 384mb. This same theory applies to buying a new computer with 1gb of RAM, which you would think is enough for VISTA however because it is using SHARED memory on the video card, which can be shared up to 256mb and since you do want to be compatible, you will find you do not have enough memory for this new operating system right from the start. I believe this is the problems that are going to show up pretty much from the moment consumers start purchasing their new operating system, therefore be aware of this NOW!

I personally have many clients asking the question, whether they should be looking at purchasing a laptop instead of upgrading their current computer, since the prices of laptops have truly become compatible with the desktop since the CPU sizes are now almost the same, but in reality they aren't since the laptop motherboard will have a limit to RAM amounts due to the overall size of the computer and that is where things still become quite different when comparing between the two. Even though they are making sub $1000 notebooks, I believe you should still be careful when looking in to these since you still 'get what you pay for' when it comes to overall upgrading. When looking to buy that laptop, you must remember that even though the demand will continue to grow and the prices will continue to drop, you are still going to find purchasing or upgrading your desktop to be the cheaper way to go, that is, if you want to stay 'leading edge' in technology.

My personal opinion is that if you are thinking about purchasing a laptop to replace your older desktop, at this point either plan on spending enough on the new box to be completely VISTA COMPATIBLE (and not with the minimum requirements but enough power to be happy with the unit as it is replacing your desktop) and for that reason to either hold off until VISTA is released at which time you will see a drastic change in what is available in the laptop market since the hardware will no doubtfully be truly compatible and will deliver with the latest O/S-Vista. Spending a little on the upgrade of your desktop will still be the way to go, since you already have purchased that LCD monitor and larger hard drive (for example). If not, knowing that you can install a new motherboard with scads of memory which will make it truly ready for VISTA will still be the cheapest alternative. Since the notebook prices will continue to drop and you will essentially be getting more bang for your buck with whatever hardware solution you end up going with, realize that once VISTA is released virtually all notebooks (and desktop prebuilt systems) will deliver with the latest O/S which means it will have to be compatible and will usually give you the flexibility you will require to still upgrade further down the road.

Microsoft is even introducing a PAY AS YOU GO system.. But then that is another story altogether since this deals with software and not hardware.

Don't forget my TIPS and SOFTWARE/SUPPORT are always good places to visit in order to keep your existing system maintained.