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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
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    4,713

    Computer advice?

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    I need a new computer for grad school. My current one is five years old, and while it still runs well enough for "entertainment purposes" (ie, the Internet), it will probably not handle the statistics programs I need it to without having a conniption.

    Computer shopping is driving me up the wall. I've been mostly looking at Dell because there's a AAA-member discount (and even barring that, the university discount gets me ~12% off some systems). Unfortunately, this discount limits my options, otherwise I'd have had this sorted out. I have it down to three systems:

    System 1: Cheaper (like $200 cheaper.) Nicer display, keyboard set up the same as a desktop. Tray-type CD/DVD drive. Better battery life.

    System 2: Backlit keyboard (Good for nightowls like me/darkened classrooms). Thinner and lighter, though slightly bigger. Slot load optical drive. Shorter battery life. Bigger hard drive.
    (Both of them have the same processor.)

    System 3: Most expensive (by about $60), but this is the option with the better processor (2.5GHz vs. 2.3), 8GB RAM (vs. 6), bigger hard drive (though I'm planning on getting an external hard drive anyway). HD display. This is one of the "performance" laptops, and unless I develop a gaming habit, it may be more computer than I need.

    Any advice? I need to be able to run giant Powerpoint presentations (that's what they use instead of textbooks) as well as the statistics programs they want us to use. None of these have a Blu-ray drive, which is something DBF is concerned about. (He's looking at other computers for me as well.)
    At least I don't leave slime trails.
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  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southeast Nebraska
    Posts
    470
    Are you looking for laptop or a desktop? Oh..laptop..LOL.

    I'm a Mac fan, but I don't know if Powerpoint runs on it. Macs don't have a Blu-Ray player on them though.

    I would get as much computer as you can afford and if needed look for one with a blu-ray player as there are several out there. Or, better yet let DBF get one as well or you'll never see yours. They do make portable blu-ray players as DH has one and it's really nice.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Location
    Central Missouri
    Posts
    626
    Mine won't be helpful, but I am going to tell you not to buy a dell. Especially since your computer is your lifeline, I wouldn't do it!

    During my senior year of college when I was faced with conferences, writing a thesis, and papers, my computer died before school even started. It was about 9 months old. The consultant contracted by Dell further broke my computer while replacing the HD. I then asked for another consultant but he came back and verbally abused me as well as screamed obscenities at the Dell CSR helping him when he couldn't get the computer to work.

    This left me with a computer that did not work for 4 weeks before Dell agreed to send a replacement. The replacement was delayed another 3 weeks. By this time I had bought another (acer netbook) computer. The computer I eventually received was NOT a good replacement. it was about 10X's too big and did not have any of the components my previous $3000.00 PC had had. It was about 1/2 the PC. I was told to keep the replacement and there was nothing they could do.

    Finally, the Dell was failing after a month of ownership. An email sent to Michael Dell himself got me another computer which is now only about 15 months old. It is also having issues and I have had to replace the OS. In this time, I spent probably 150 hours on the phone with customer support.

    I will never buy another Dell and will also never buy a protection program on ANY PC I buy. If I bought another computer, it would be a cheaper one that I could upgrade.

    That said, I run everything (including STATA) on my netbook currently. It is probably 4 years old now (it was a Tiger direct refurb). I can't say enough good things about it. I do a lot of presentations on it and it will be coming to Ottawa with me when I present in the fall. I would not get JUST a netbook, but I think a lot of the BS Dell tells you about performance is "bunk". the XPS system I originally purchased was doomed to fail from the beginning and was a gaming computer that my boyfriend at the time (a computer scientist and electrical engineer) could NOT game on.

    If you are a grad student, something RELIABLE is what you need. Do not be like me and go a whole semester without a computer. The one I have now is like a brick. I just hook an external monitor up to the netbook and run off of that. I can't wait until I can replace this dang thing because it sucks so bad! Get the biggest battery you can get - period. That is worth more than just about anything. Get something SMALL and LIGHT. You will be carrying it all over the place. Get a monitor for doing STATA or whatever you use. Save yourself some money and hassle, though.

    Edited to reply to Bethany:

    Yes, they run powerpoint. However, they do not seamlessly do so and require a very expensive adapter to do so. Several people in my department tried it this year and after much frustration and a lot of money spent, several times we could just not get it to work and had to just transfer the stuff to a PC.
    Last edited by colorisnt; 07-10-2011 at 05:50 PM.
    ***graduate student and avid cyclist***

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  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    4,713
    Dell must have some weird quality control issues or something, because my five-year-old laptop (my only computer!) is a Dell (Latitude) and I've only had 2 problems, one of which was nothing do to with the computer itself (it had the plague). I'd love a netbook for the portability and would get a desktop as my primary computer if I weren't going to be moving every year. I thought about a Mac, but they're expensive, and the stats program doesn't have a Mac version.

    DBF's hunting down a few computers for me to look at as well. I'm going to go look at Gateway as well, though I'm not really thrilled with my parents' laptop.
    Last edited by Owlie; 07-10-2011 at 06:03 PM.
    At least I don't leave slime trails.
    http://wholecog.wordpress.com/

    2009 Giant Avail 3 |Specialized Jett 143

    2013 Charge Filter Apex| Specialized Jett 143
    1996(?) Giant Iguana 630|Specialized Riva


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  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Seattle, WA
    Posts
    2,210
    I don't know that it's worth $260 to get 2 more GB of RAM and a slightly faster processor. 6GB is still pretty good, and it's not like you're going to be playing fancypants computer games or doing massive graphic design. If you can upgrade the RAM later, you can always increase longevity that way and spend the money when you feel a need (computer feels slow or needs change).

    The backlit keyboard is nice to have, I really like mine and miss it when I don't have it. Slot vs. tray, not a huge difference. Battery life can matter if you go a long time between being able to plug in, but not so much if you're often near a plug.

    We use Dell laptops at work, have not had many problems, but that could be luck of the draw, they are all under 2 years old. My husband has two Sager laptops, they are not a major brand but Sager/Clevo are responsible for building laptops under other names so it's kind of like going factory direct but still getting support. So far so good there.

    On the Mac, I haven't had any problems with viewing powerpoint presentations with Office, but sometimes giving powerpoint presentations can be fun. If your department/school is standardized on Windows I might not want to stray so that I don't waste time on technical support issues, though, unless you have built in technical support (self, spouse, good friend). You can run windows side by side with Mac OS on a mac, but then you have to pay for a windows license on top of it.

    Good luck... computer shopping is more overwhelming than bike shopping.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southeast Nebraska
    Posts
    470
    Colorisnt,

    You're right. Most Windows programs don't run well on a Mac even if they say they are compatible or run on a program like Parallels. I partitioned my hard drive and installed Windows XP just for those reasons, but I have a desktop Mac.

    Dell used to be good until the past few years and then went downhill and most stores and manufacturers make it a pain to get them replaced or fixed right. I

    Also agree on getting one with a good battery life especially if you want one with a blu-ray player.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    4,713
    Quote Originally Posted by colby View Post
    I don't know that it's worth $260 to get 2 more GB of RAM and a slightly faster processor. 6GB is still pretty good, and it's not like you're going to be playing fancypants computer games or doing massive graphic design. If you can upgrade the RAM later, you can always increase longevity that way and spend the money when you feel a need (computer feels slow or needs change).

    The backlit keyboard is nice to have, I really like mine and miss it when I don't have it. Slot vs. tray, not a huge difference. Battery life can matter if you go a long time between being able to plug in, but not so much if you're often near a plug.

    We use Dell laptops at work, have not had many problems, but that could be luck of the draw, they are all under 2 years old. My husband has two Sager laptops, they are not a major brand but Sager/Clevo are responsible for building laptops under other names so it's kind of like going factory direct but still getting support. So far so good there.

    On the Mac, I haven't had any problems with viewing powerpoint presentations with Office, but sometimes giving powerpoint presentations can be fun. If your department/school is standardized on Windows I might not want to stray so that I don't waste time on technical support issues, though, unless you have built in technical support (self, spouse, good friend). You can run windows side by side with Mac OS on a mac, but then you have to pay for a windows license on top of it.

    Good luck... computer shopping is more overwhelming than bike shopping.
    Yeah, at least with bikes you can tell that they're not going to work with a test ride!

    The $60 difference between systems 2 and 3 I'm looking at is for an extra 2GB of RAM. The better processor is standard; what you're paying for with system 2 is the fact that it's lighter and thinner, I'm guessing.
    There's a $200 difference between 1 and 2, even with the better graphics card option selected for 1. I'm guessing it's for the size of the thing, backlit keyboard, and wider variety of internet connectivity options and memory card reading.
    Last edited by Owlie; 07-10-2011 at 07:00 PM.
    At least I don't leave slime trails.
    http://wholecog.wordpress.com/

    2009 Giant Avail 3 |Specialized Jett 143

    2013 Charge Filter Apex| Specialized Jett 143
    1996(?) Giant Iguana 630|Specialized Riva


    Saving for the next one...

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Posts
    6,465
    Horrible problems with my Dell Lattitude 531, mostly an engineering issue. The cooling vents are on the bottom. The thing gets so overheated. I replaced the hard drive at 3 years because I had so many other problems, and it didn't really help. We're thinking it may be a motherboard issue. Yuck. Currently using 8 year old gateway laptop, has new hard drive and battery. Both crashed prior to the Dell purchase. Much higher quality machine than the Dell.

    Sigh. My next computer will be a Mac. FYI, they have a pretty good student discount available, and you can get a refurbished one direct from Mac at a discount as well, though I'm not sure if you can get a student discount on a refurbished Mac. That would be nice though.

    Mac Refurbished Page:
    http://store.apple.com/us/browse/hom...co=MjIyNjMyMTM
    So long as the wheels are still turning, life is good.

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  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    Big City
    Posts
    444
    I will admit I didn't read all the thread, but I thought I would mention - have you looked into education discounts? Apple offers one and I believe it's somewhere between 10-15%. It's how I got my new macbook. As long as you attend a university you can use it and they don't require verification (at least, they didn't for me, but I used mine to buy three computers during my 7 years of post highschool study).

    Edit: Ah, I see Miurenn is on top of things already as usual!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Posts
    26
    I am a MAC fan as well and you can download a free office Suite from openoffice.org that opens up PowerPoint, excel and the other office programs and work on them. Get the free download and try it out, not sure if the shortcuts and key commands are the same, but it is a great office suite thT opens tons of programs. You can also run both Microsoft OS and MAC OSX Lion on a MAC if you go that route. I made the switch many years ago and will never go back. No viruses, no spyware, love it!

  11. #11
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Location
    Central Missouri
    Posts
    626
    Dell really used to be my go-to. I do graphic design and use lightroom for photography in my spare time, so I am picky about machines.

    My old Inspiron notebook is still going strong somewhere in Europe with my ex boyfriend. It's 7 years old now. Unfortunately, all attempts to upgrade the RAM failed and it was just futile. The programs I needed to use would not work on 512 mb of ram. Other than that, it was a GREAT PC.

    When I buy again, I will get a cheap refurb and get something from either Acer or Asus probably. HP has enough issues. Sony's Vaio line is very expensive, but generally high quality. Macs are good quality machines but they don't run the programs I need like oh... STATA and Windows.

    I would go to Linux if all my computer programs were compatible. I'm a computer nerd, so that sort of thing doesn't bother me- neither does tinkering.
    ***graduate student and avid cyclist***

    Owned by:
    Le Monstre Vert - 2013 Surly Cross-check
    Willis, my chiX

    "Carl" - 2010 Kia Soul (when necessary!)

    Elle on Wheels - my cycling blog!

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Location
    under the Tucson sun
    Posts
    489
    I have a Dell Inspiron laptop that I used during most of my undergrad (2005-2008) ,which still runs fine, though I use it very infrequently since a new laptop was my graduation/heading off to grad school present from my family. I got a MacBook, but that's not really relevant--I'm not going to try to convert anyone here. They're darned expensive, and while I love my Mac, if it died tomorrow I'd probably replace it with a PC for sheer affordability.

    Anyway, my mom got a new Dell laptop a couple years ago, and it had problems right out of the box. Spontaneously trying to eject CDs that weren't there, adjusting the volume all on its own, etc. I think Dells just aren't made like they used to be. *waves cane in air*

    I have an Asus netbook that I got a little over a year ago because I was tired of hauling my MacBook around campus every day (and stressed that my primary computer was spending so much time outside of my house, perched on narrow classroom desks, etc). I run Win7 on it and have been quite happy with it, but I can't speak to what Asus's "full-sized" machines are like.
    Last edited by badgercat; 07-10-2011 at 10:27 PM.
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  13. #13
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Location
    California
    Posts
    371
    Quote Originally Posted by Owlie View Post
    HD display.
    That's often code for "everything is really really small on the screen". If you select such a display, make sure you are OK with this, or make sure the software you want to use can adjust.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Posts
    2,738
    When shopping for our latest laptop, we purposely skipped Dell because of the location of the fan (on the bottom). We ended up with a Toshiba (side-mounted fan) that was cheaper than a Dell or HP of equal spec, even with my work discount. Those discounts aren't always what they're cracked up to be.

    Best of luck!

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Uncanny Valley
    Posts
    14,645
    If you'll be running CAD type software you'll probably need every bit the processing power you'd need for big image files. DH (a photographer) recently upgraded the memory on his box (already with the fastest available processor when he bought it) and it made all the difference in the world for him.
    Speed comes from what you put behind you. - Judi Ketteler

 

 

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