New Computer or Tablet

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Dear Trusted CTO:
What laptop do I buy and where do I get it?
1st buying a laptop is NOT a science.  Quality and millage changes widely.  By the time a laptop has a track record it is out of stock.  So a square trade warranty plus the 60 day return policy at Costco is hard to beat.  As a result of their return policy Costco is forced to be more careful about which laptops they buy/sell.  Meanwhile other retailers don’t really care because there is opportunity for them when your laptops fails.  As you bring it back and they can just sell you another one.  As they have no vested interest they make you a loose win proposition.
Today not everybody needs a laptop.  I use my phone the most.  My desktop second most.  My tablet 3rd most.  I rarely use my laptop.  I only really used to teach others or test their network connections.  If you have never tried a nice tablet then maybe get some experience before yo buy that next Laptop.
When buying a laptop it is most helpful to get you hands on it because then you can see if it is too big or to small for your taste? There is a delicate balance of personal taste here. When using it as at your desk people like a large one. When lugging it around people want a small one.  Pricing and levels stock change rapidly so it is difficult to plan too much ahead.  Maybe look at amazon for current deals and print one that looks good.  Then bring those details to the Costco guy and see what he has.  Costco has a great warranty which works basically like money back guaranteed free trial.
Dear Trusted CTO:

Is a refurbished Computer safe?

Some are more reliable than the new PC’s and can be a much better value.  Thanks to more plentiful product reviews great values on reliable Refurbished Computers are actually easier to find than reliable New Computers.  Think of a new computer like hiring a 13 year old while a refurbished computer is like hiring a 28 year old.  You can check the references.  The 13 year old has few real references.

PC problems do NOT happen along the same patterns as Car problems. PC issues tend to happen on new PC’s and on poorly made PC’s.   Those PC’s are also called retail lines of PCs.  However, the better manufacturers also make “Professional lines.”  Examples of retail lines are Dell Inspiron or Studio vs Dell Optiplex is a professional line.  The Optiplex are made much better and must have lower failure rates.  Most retail PC’s are made to be cheapest and a high failure rate is acceptable.  Manufactures know they easily get away with failure through retail buyers.  When your 370 day old PC fails the manufacturer and the retailer can get away with telling you that your problem was unique and retail buyers just have too little data to know better.  But when a large company which leased or purchased 500 of the same unit suddenly has 200-400 fail the manufacture can’t pretend that never happens. So the better manufacturers also sell a more reliable “professional lines” which are sold to volume buyers.  Dell has Optiplex models and HP has it’s WorkStation models. Out of financial necessity, these models are built to last.

Next, where do you find quality and value?   Should I build myself a basic home desktop computer?


Time vs money, If you think of a computer is a business expense then I recommend determining  it’s value based on total costs to buy & maintain divided by hours of use.  It may also be a trade off on low cost per hour/vs how much of your time the slower computer wastes.  So to figure value,  you should add the cost of your wasted time as an additional cost.  This will help you see why low price is not the only focus of my recommendations.   At the same time most common business operations like surfing the internet, reading and writing email and running software like quickbooks is easily handled by any windows 7 or newer computer in good repair.  So the worlds newest and fastest computer will not really save most users any more time.

The easiest to maintain computer will have a proven tack record.  New computers sold in retail stores (like best buy)  have no track record and manufacturing quality is too often very poor.  Unlike a used car the right refurbished Dell Optiplex computer will have a much longer useful life than the average new retail computer plus they are available for $150 and up.

Building a computer from scratch is a pain and more expensive. Parts reliability reviews are hard to come by so you may be using low quality manufacturing.  Later, driver updates and support is complicated and shortens the useful life of the desktop computer.  On the other hand can diagnose your computer hardware and automatically locate out dated drivers.  You will not find that convenience on a PC you built yourself.


Modern laptop alternatives: I know that typing is easier on a big keyboard and a flat screen but did you know that you can hook both up to a smartphone, tablet, hybrid, chromebook or a raspberry pi?  Before you go off and start buying new Laptops you should be aware that smartphones, Phablets, Tablets and even Raspberry Pi  are replacing desktops and laptops.  Give pause to the fact that your old PC now sells for $70 on ebay while the smartphone in your pocket cost you $500-$1200.  What do you need a PC for again?  Are you sure it is necessary to your life?

Many that formerly used a laptops can find that they have lower cost, more durability and more versatility by owning a tablet and a desktop.  A tablet for portability & presentations  while the desktop serves best for power, large local file storage and even as the brain of your home entertainment media center.  Still others simplify with just one Phablet and a dropbox or OneDrive account for storage.

Laptops are still quite versatile but have always been the least durable and most expensive PC’s made.  In my book laptops generally have the worst ROIs in computing.  They have a place with those who can not make up their mind what they want or need a little of everything.  Laptops do everything OK but nothing well.

Here is my old 2011  Motorola Razr Maxx in an HD Station phone docking station.  You can hook a HD TV keyboard and a mouse to it using the HDMI and USB ports on the back.

and a raspberry pi as a desktop.


Desktop Computers recommendations  vs your budget:    


  Windows 10 Computers

OK so you thought about the alternatives but decided you need a desktop computer.  That is probably a good decision.  Next, where do you find quality and value?  I have had great luck with the Dell Optiplex line.  Some have lasted 15+ years and still going. Dell Optiplex are my recommendation for lowest cost per hour of use on a reliable computer.  For standard business computers I recommend the extra value of a refurbished off lease dell Optiplex computers.  There lots of spare parts available and there are lots of replacement in the event that your computer fails before your software goes obsolete.   Look on Amazon or Ebay for great reviews on that particular Del Optiplex (great examples of Optiplex computers for $90 to $350).  On Amazon or eBay you want ratings of over 90% AND over 100 reviewer scores.  Avoid new sellers and low scoring sellers and you will also avoid wasting time with scamers.  You will want to get a Microsoft COA sticker with the OS you are using.  For windows 10 computers also look for MS certified refurbishers.  All hard drives will fail.  So you might consider a new hard drive or an internal back up or mirror  drive.  If you do not need over 100 GB of data then an SD hard drive might be an affordable upgrade.

If your business is video editing, CAD rendering or intensive graphics arts you 1st need to find the system specifications for your software.  Video Editing hardware requirements are several steps below gaming computers.  Gamers require higher resolution video rendered in real time so they drive the top end progress of computer hardware.  So great news for video editors.  Your more standard needs helps keep your cost down significantly.  Once you have your software system requirements then find a new or newer Dell Optiplex or an Apple that exceeds those specs.    For price comparison start with a $190 Dell OptiPlex Desktop Computer – Intel Core i5 i5-3470 3.20 GHz – Mini-tower Amazon.  After that your specs and current options will lead you in a good direction.


Loading and configuring a NEW computer…

… costs at least $100   So  if you are not doing it all yourself add setup to your budget.   The recommendations below include the computer,  some common upgrades and the configuration.  They do not include MS Office as the price and need for that varies greatly.   See: Your Office Suite for 2014 or Standard Software for free alternatives on MS Office.  If you do not have time for that I say then at least prepare you computer by visiting our post about and you can quickly and easily and automatically installing the essential recommended software to make your new computer more functional and safer online.

This link is my Amazon list of best value Windows 10 computers.  Markets change rapidly and computers go out of stock so I try to keep this “Amazon Wish List” updated with several good options.  Last I checked there were 12 good options on the list.  Any of these should meet most anybody’s needs.

You will also notice that the Optiplex lines come in different size cases even for the same model number.  Generally case size is more about desk space than performance.  The sizes range from:  Ultra Small Form Factor (USFF),  Small Form Factor (SFF), Mini Tower (SMT) to Desktop (SDT). The larger form factors generally have spare open slots for extra hard drives and RAM upgrades.  This explains some of the differences in the models in the wish list.

Most people upgrading desktops keep their old favorite keyboard, mouse and monitor.  Otherwise almost all monitors and USB peripherals are compatible with newer computers.

If you are upgrading then some older printers are not compatible with windows windows. There are too many printers to name or compare but a good base place to start is comparing against Printers

Gamers with over $800 to spend on a desktop?  This site is generally not written for you.  Your priorities and needs are pretty opposite of the concerns of business computing on a budget.  You might start at Alienware – Custom Gaming Computers.  Also gamers are generally buying a new computer at least annually so reliability is generally unknown.

Do you recommend Windows 7, 8 or 10?

Windows 7 is reliable an familiar but support is stopping in 2018 but Microsoft doesn’t plan to stop fixing security problems in Windows 7 until January 14, 2020.  So keep you windows 7 until 2018 but buy 2010 if you need a new PC.


Windows 8 is not stable unless you upgraded to Windows 8.1.  This is fair but not recomended.  Upgrade it to windows 10.


Classic Start 8 | Free Classic Style Start Menu  it is easiest to install this software and other hand software using

What about Windows 10?

Yes this is the way to go for a new PC Desktop.

What about a Tablet?    

 Amazon Tablets & Laptops   Costco Tablets

Tablets are very durable and functional for certain uses.  They are very stable and especially great for reading or viewing email webpages, books or videos.  People who type or create a lot will want a unit with a keyboard.  If that is you than buy an optional Bluetooth keyboard and a tablets can replace a laptop for most users.  For size, durability, cost and versatility I generally favor a tablets over laptops for many households.  Tablets  also generally include touch screens for easier navigation in Windows 8 iOS or Android.  If you are smart enough to tether your tablet to your cell phone or connect to Wi-Fi then you can get by with the wifi only version of the tablet and avoid the monthly bill for your tablet internet service.

Over and above the cellular internet service Tablets can tap your monthly budget with other costs.  A lot of the tablet marketing is aimed at selling you additional services.  These include:  music,  videos, apps, and shared cloud storage. However with a little digging there are often free ways to do the same things.  Consider free alternatives like smaller versions of, Dropbox, One Drive,  Google Drive, and even  iCloud.  To connect your tablet to your network files or printer see the article: Productivity vs the App

Despite the advertising all tablets  generally do the same things because popular apps work on any mobile platform.  Start with the OS that your phone uses.  In that case you will find learning the tablet to be easy.  Next it is a matter of determining the size and connections you want and then consulting the current reviews.  The next important consideration is the retailer of your new tablet.  Also contrary to popular misconceptions tablets can open Office documents and print to your home printer with minimal configuration.  Costco’s pricing, selection and great return policy makes it a great place to start looking at tablets. Amazon for tablet accessories.   Don’t forget to order a case and a keyboard.

Screen size is the first thing to consider.  Generally you get 7″, 8′ 10″ or 12″.  Try them out  hands on. Each size has its advantages.  Larger tablets and laptop screens are better for people with large fingers and for seniors who want to read with out their cheater glasses.  However with the zoom feature I do not need my cheaters to read a 7″ tablet.

Second, consider the connections you want.  Windows 8 and Android tablets generally are easier and cheaper to connect to external monitors, flash drives and have more functional docking stations for lower costs.  Apple seams to aim you towards tapping your budget for connections that would cost almost nothing for tablets with more versatile connections.  see: Technology for your Presentation

Third is where you buy it.  Costco Tablets are my favorite due to their forgiving return policies, quality product offerings and competitive prices.  If you “go wrong” at Costco you can simply return your electronics device for a full refund (in the 1st 60 days).  If you are getting an Apple then go to the apple store.  Apple fixes prices so retailers can not discount off the MSRP.  If you want to look at all at the same store then consider Fry’s.  Mail order?  Amazon is always has competitive options.

Once you have figured out the basics you can split hairs with product reviews.  Amazon and cnet reviews are great resource for that.  Start at:  Tablets and Tablet PC Reviews Reviews

What about a laptop?

 Amazon Tablets & Laptops  Costco Laptops

For the price of a laptop you can buy a desktop plus a 7″ tablet and of all devices laptops have the worst reliability and highest repair costs.  So you may be wise to  re-evaluate why you are still choosing a laptop against other 2014 options.  If you still want a laptop then I generally buy new and generally shop for a good warranty as well.  As far as the search process do the same as for the tablets above.  Laptops are bulkier than tablets but normally offer larger hard drives and may or may not offer larger screens and graphics resolutions. Laptops are not very durable and the most expensive to repair.  If you use CAD or do video editing then consider a gaming Laptop.  Otherwise you may not find  screen resolutions to exceed your software system requirements.

Which one is faster?  

What you are asking is what geeks and gamers call “Bench Test Comparisons” of the CPU and or the graphics card.  Find those at this webpage:   Search bench tests of a CPU Model etc.    You may be surprised that not all i5 processors are faster than i3’s etc.  You will want to look more closely into the model numbers of your specs.


If you have a windows XP computer please be aware that Microsoft support for those ended April 8, 2014.  I have owned windows XP for 13 years and I have never gotten any support directly from Microsoft.  However there is still some cause for concern.  See this light USA today Article for more info about the end of Windows XP

6 step Process for buying a software specific PC:

Some people have a specific software tool that is essential to their purchase.  Examples, are CAD, video editing, a specific game etc.   You want to make sure that your computer is correct for that need.   Here are your steps

1.  Google your system requirements for the software you want to run for example:.

Sony Vegas Pro 12 system requirements

Microsoft® Windows Vista® 64-bit SP2, or Windows 7 64-bit
2 GHz processor (multicore or multiprocessor CPU recommended for HD or stereoscopic 3D)
500 MB hard-disk space for program installation
4 GB RAM (8 GB recommended)
OHCI-compatible IEEE-1394DV card (for DV and HDV capture and print-to-tape)
USB 2.0 connection (for importing from AVCHD, XDCAM EX, NXCAM, or DVD camcorders)
512 MB GPU memory
Windows-compatible sound card
DVD-ROM drive (for installation from a DVD only)
Supported CD-recordable drive (for CD burning only)
Supported DVD-R/-RW/+R/+RW (for DVD burning only)
Supported BD-R/-RE drive (for Blu-ray Disc™ burning only)
Microsoft .NET Framework 3.51 (included on application disc)
Apple® QuickTime® 7.1.6 or later for reading and writing QuickTime files
Internet Connection (for Gracenote MusicID Service)
GPU-accelerated video processing and rendering require an OpenCL™-supported NVIDIA®, AMD/ATI™, or Intel® GPU with 512MB memory or more. (please see the GPU acceleration page for more detailed specifications and driver requirements)

2. consider only hardware that exceeds those requirements:  Look for specific bench marks for video rendering of the types video sources and outputs you prefer to render.  This will help you consider how many seconds/ big task you are saving for each $100 you are spending

3. price computers with those specs in a dell Optiplex or a MAC desktop. (Others are designed to fail in 1-4 years). while I know of  1998 Optiplex Gx150’s still in use 16 years later.

4. If buying a Dell Optiplex consider windows 7 64 bit vs windows 8 or 10.

5. Price refurbished options with in your budget and specs.

6. consider a SquareTrade 3-Year Computer Warranty

.  (Most others have loop holes that are not favorable to the purchaser).


*Partially vetted Shopping links by category:  Products change quickly in technology.  Almost impossible to find reliable products every time.  However using strategies you have a better chance of locating a reliable product.  Products choose are chosen by experience, popularity and/or customer reviews.  These are a god place to start. Anytime you buy a product on eBay or amazon it is essential that you look at the individual seller’ reviews.  Look for a seller with hundreds of comments and the highest rating possible.  Shady sellers tend to have low number of reviews as they change identities often to duck claims or poor reviews.

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