May have to get a PC - Advice?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by baby duck monge, Mar 26, 2012.

  1. baby duck monge macrumors 68000

    baby duck monge

    Feb 16, 2003
    Memphis, TN
    For a variety of reasons, I may have to pick up a PC for home use to replace my aging PowerBook (1.5GHz G4, baby!) or supplement a new Mac purchase. In either case, this hypothetical PC would need to be able to work as my primary computer. I have only ever owned Apple computers, though I work on a Windows machine (and old, soon-to-be-replaced P4). I don't know the first thing about buying a Windows box.

    I am open to a laptop or a desktop. I assume I could figure out how to put a desktop together, so I'm open to either building my own (though I would probably need a relatively complete list of things I would need to buy) or purchasing a complete unit. Price is not of special concern, but I don't want to spend money just to spend money, and there is a limit to how high I will go (e.g. $5k is too much, I would spend $3k but doubt it's necessary, but there's no reason to worry about putting together a $500 budget box).

    Here's what I want to be able to do:
    1. basic internet browsing/email/instant messaging (of course)
    2. typical office productivity stuff (Office Suite)
    3. run trial preparation/presentation software (Summation, Sanction, etc.)
    4. remote login/virtual desktop work with my office PC
    5. light programming work (Python for now, perhaps other languages later)
    6. Photoshop

    I do not game, though I guess I would like the ability to do some light-ish gaming in case I change my mind in the future. Ideally this computer would also be able to remain useful for a decent period of time. I understand that I may not get the 7-8 years out of it that I've gotten from my PowerBook, but I don't want to have to replace it in 2 years, either.

    Suggestions on specific computers or builds? PC makers to avoid? To seek out? Any advice would be appreciated. Except advice to stick with a Mac. I already plan on doing that if it makes sense to, but it may not make sense, and the decision may also not be mine to make. Thanks.
  2. RedCroissant Suspended

    Aug 13, 2011
    get a Macbook air or pro

    I would just look at the Apple Store online and look under their refurbished/clearance section. I don't know which version of Windows you are currently using, but if it is an OEM version, use Virtualbox to continue using Windows and working from home. You don't need to throw your money away on a cheap box that can run windows when you can put that same money to good use buying a quality modern machine that can run many operating systems.

    If you already have a monitor/keyboard/mouse that you can use, then buy a Mac mini and max out the RAM so that you can fully utilize virtualization apps.

    I have a 3 year-old iMac that has not slowed down at all and have OS X Lion installed and running Windows XP SP3, and Ubuntu 11.04 running in virtualization. I have not had any issues and love it. I have since purchased a MBP 15" and use it for the same purposes. Good luck with your decision, but I would advise you not to seek out the best combination of affordable/reliable hardware in order to make your choice. Get a refurbished Mac mini, or refurbish MBP. They should last for many years and I doubt you will regret it.
  3. lamboman macrumors 6502

    Aug 13, 2011
    Building your own is a great idea. You get to pick the parts that you want, it'll likely cost you less (I say this as Dell are able to offer systems that cost less than the retail price of the parts on occasion), and generally, the retail parts that you buy will be better than their proprietary or generic counterparts.

    Your requirements seem simple enough, and it doesn't seem you need a huge amount of graphics power at all, so a basic Core i3 2100 box would do you well, with integrated graphics (Intel HD3000), and could easily be done for well under $500 (I'm UK based so I can't really comment on that).

    However, the biggest concern is whether you will be happy with a Windows system, the operating system itself. It's probably worth heading to a computer store and having a play with Windows 7 before buying, as well as Lion.

    Another choice is to either run your Windows applications virtualised, or buy a recent Mac and run Windows under Boot Camp.
  4. Mike Valmike macrumors 6502a

    Feb 27, 2012
    Chandler, Arizona
    I would suggest you keep it cheap. Anything at the actual desktop PC level (not a nettop, in other words) should run everything you cited adequately as long as it comes with at least 4GB of RAM. If the price tag is north of half a grand, you probably haven't found the best deal yet. Given the steep devaluation of PCs, in fact, I suggest just going to Costco (if there is one in your area) and taking your pick. Last time I had to buy a PC for the wife for some Windows-only work she had to do for her business, that's what we did, and we haven't had any second thoughts about it. Hope this helps!
  5. elmo151 Guest

    Jul 3, 2007
    try parallels or VM ware
    no need for a separate pc
  6. baby duck monge, Mar 26, 2012
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2012

    baby duck monge thread starter macrumors 68000

    baby duck monge

    Feb 16, 2003
    Memphis, TN
    I love that I specifically say that the suggestion of stick with a Mac is the only thing I don't want to hear, and that's the first response I get... Again, I may not have a choice in the matter.

    Ideally either my new office will switch over to laptops and this will all be a moot point or I will be able to get some software license issues worked out so I don't have needless expense getting copies of things to run in both OS X and Windows (plus the expense of purchasing Windows). And basically any software expense is going to be doubled, as my wife is also in need of a new computer. We will either both keep our Macs or both switch to Windows.

    Glad to get confirmation that pretty much anything out there will suit my purposes. I figured as much (especially considering the age of my current computer), but I wouldn't want to buy something and then be frustrated when it didn't meet my needs.

    And just so it's out there, I am running XP on my work computer, but will be switching to Windows 7 when we get new computers. My wife currently uses Windows 7 at work. While I would prefer not to re-learn how to do things, I'm going to be using it one way or another and I'll learn to deal.
  7. yojitani macrumors 68000


    Apr 28, 2005
    An octopus's garden
    Yes. If you can spend $3k, get a Mac and install Windows using Boot Camp, so when it's in Boot Camp it is completely a Windows machine.
  8. elmo151 Guest

    Jul 3, 2007

    use Parallels or VMware emulators

    work fine for about every PC task
  9. lamboman macrumors 6502

    Aug 13, 2011
    To be honest, if you are a competent Mac and Windows user, you won't have anything to learn when moving operating systems, they're all similar and easy to use. Still surprises me how many Mac users cannot operate a Windows PC, to the same extent of a Windows user not being able to operate a Mac.

    To be honest, it sounds like the best choice would be to go for a budget desktop PC unless you really, really want a Mac for yourself. Money is the main reason; a i3-based desktop will offer similar performance to a Mac mini at around half the price.

    However, if we're talking laptops (which it seems we aren't), then I'd say Apple in a heartbeat if you genuinely need the laptop as a laptop, rather than a desktop replacement.
  10. RedCroissant Suspended

    Aug 13, 2011
    I still advise a Mac purchase...

    I also love that.

    I read your post and considered what you said about the advice you were seeking, but chose to offer it anyway especially since you said you might have to stick with a Mac.

    With your requirements for both use and the period of time you hope to use it in mind and my experience with Macs and PCs along with system requirements for both boot camp and virtualization, I still think that staying with Macs is your best option. I am currently running OS X Lion and have Windows 7, Windows XP, and Ubuntu 11.04 running in virtualization an a 20" iMac from 2009. I also have a 2011 MBP virtualizing XP and Ubuntu. With the proper amount of RAM, you can easily run another OS in virtualization with no lag and in fullscreen mode without having to reboot simply to run an application designed for another OS. There are also free and open source options for many, if not all of the applications you might need for a Windows based computer. I like Sketchbook and Gimp for photo editing/creating purposes and I use OpenOffice in addition to iWork for my productivity suite to make sure the formatting is proper when I export pages/excel documents and presentations.

    Unless of course you definitely don't want to stick with Macs at all(which you didn't specifically state), then as you said, pretty much anything out there will suit your purposes.

    In the future, to avoid receiving advice to purchase Macs or other Apple hardware/software, try posting in a forum dedicated to PC users or forums mostly frequented by those that build their own PCs? Have a nice day and good luck with your decision and future purchase.
  11. thejadedmonkey macrumors 604


    May 28, 2005
    There's plenty of PC users on this forum. It's a valid question.

    OP, I'd avoid getting anything from Best Buy or the like, as they cater to consumers, and you're used to machines that are built a little bit better, and with a little less bloatware.

    Look at any of Dell or HP's business lineup.

    Personally, I use a Dell Vostro 3450 laptop, the build quality is fantastic, it looks nice in bronze'd aluminum, and it wasn't very expensive. I picked it up for about $1000 last summer, including a 2-year on-site warranty and a 6630m graphics card. If you don't need the gaming horsepower, they had i3 models without a backlit keyboard or dedicated graphics card for $500, and it's a very capable machine.

    One of the businesses I do IT consulting for has been upgrading to new PC's, and I pushed in the direction of the Vostro desktops. They've had them for about 2 years now, without a single problem.

    For me, the best part of the business lineup is the lack of bloatware or anything extra. The new Vostro 3550 at another site came with Dell Backup Manager, 15 months of anti-virus, and an Office 2012 trial, and that was it.

    I've had too many bad dealings with HP printer support to personally recomend their company at all, but I know people that swear by the HP EliteBooks, and you don't become the #1 PC manufacturer for nothing, so I'd assume they do something right.
  12. baby duck monge thread starter macrumors 68000

    baby duck monge

    Feb 16, 2003
    Memphis, TN
    Thanks for some of these suggestions. Especially the mention of the Vostros. I had not even heard of those.

    For those who keep pushing the Bootcamp/Parallels approach, let me try to put this in simple terms...

    Assume that 95% of what I want/need to do can be done on either OS X or in Windows, but that I will absolutely need access to Windows for the remaining 5%. My wife is in essentially the same boat. If I get a Windows machine, that takes care of all my needs. If I get a Mac I will also need Windows and Windows compatible software.

    If I cannot make use of volume licenses through my work, an Apple purchase would mean buying:

    - 2 Apple computers (one for me, one for my wife)
    - A dual-license copy of Office Business Edition (need Outlook; one for me, one for my wife) for Mac at ~$280
    - Two Windows 7 Pro licenses at ~$140 each
    - A dual-license copy of Office Business Edition for PC at another ~$280.

    While a PC purchase would mean buying:

    - 2 Windows computers
    - A dual-license copy of Office Business Edition for PC at ~$280.

    So I would have to pay not just the Apple Tax (which I'm OK with), but also an extra ~$560 just to get Windows and Office running on the PC side for both our computers. And I can't just skip buying Office for Windows, because we need access to Office to use along with and at the same time as some of the other Windows programs we use for work (which, fortunately, definitely have volume licenses).

    Could I just pay the extra money and get on with my life (again assuming I get the choice)? Sure. But that's a significant amount of money to spend without a compelling reason for doing so. Not being particularly limited by a budget and being frivolous are two completely different things.

    Still pushing for them to give us the option of laptops when they upgrade all our computers. Then I could just bring my computer home with me if I needed to do Windows-y things.
  13. rockyroad55 macrumors 601


    Jul 14, 2010
    Phila, PA
    I build PCs for gaming and such and I would like to suggest that you register on tomshardware or anandtech to ask questions. The users there are very knowledgeable in PCs.
  14. monokakata macrumors 68000


    May 8, 2008
    Hilo, Hawai'i
    Building (which really only means assembling) your own can be very satisfying. I used to do it for myself and for friends, and I never had a bad experience. True, I always bought high-quality parts.

    If the notion of making your own appeals to you, I'd say go for it. As somebody's already said, you're not going to get your build down to the entry-level machine price level, because you can't buy parts that cheaply, but you can assemble a nice machine for not much more than that.

    If the idea of rolling your own doesn't give you a little surge of excitement, then don't do it. But if it does, you ought to.

    Just be sure not to buy the cheapest components, and to get as close as possible to a Mac-like aural experience, explore every "quiet" option you can find. Not all power supplies are quiet and not all case and CPU fans are quiet, and not all cases are well-insulated. But it's easy to find those that are, once you know to look.
  15. Panch0 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 23, 2010
    It seems like your 4th item from the original post :
    "remote login/virtual desktop work with my office PC"
    would have covered all of these concerns. Also, with Virtualization, you can cut and paste between environments, so having both Mac & Windows versions of Office doesn't seem necessary.

    ASUS & Lenovo have pretty good reputations for Laptops. Lenovo's Thinkpad lines are especially nice.

    For a desktop, the Business (Dell OptiPlex) & small business (Dell Vostro) lines have the advantage of less bloatware pre-installed and I have generally found them to run quieter than the consumer (Dell Inspiron) versions. However, the consumer models usually seem to be priced a bit lower for the same 'specs'. I think that is because the pro models have upgraded cases and power supplies. among other things that don't really show up in the CPU/RAM/HDD listings.

    If there happens to be a Micro Center in your area, they seem to have more of the prosumer models available than a consumer oriented store like Best Buy.
  16. baby duck monge thread starter macrumors 68000

    baby duck monge

    Feb 16, 2003
    Memphis, TN
    Ah, now we're actually getting somewhere worthwhile.

    I seem to have misspoken slightly when I said "virtual desktop." You are absolutely correct that if I could virtualize my office desktop I wouldn't need my own copy of Office. It's is remote login/VPN to our server, with access to shared programs and documents, but not a virtual desktop. And then for some stupid reason Office is not on the shared server...

    That said, I was unaware of the ability to cut and paste between OS X and Windows if you were running them simultaneously. That alone would probably be a good enough reason to skip Bootcamp and deal with the slight performance hit of emulating Windows.
  17. Panch0 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 23, 2010
    I actually read that as meaning a Remote Desktop Client, which you may be able to do any way if you have a VPN connection available. RDC lets you remotely control a computer - say the desktop in your office - from another location. This is different than accessing a network share, and may companies prefer it because none of the documents ever leave their location. Microsoft actually produces a free Remote Desktop Client for Mac - see Mactopia (the MS Mac site). It also performs better for most uses, because only an image of the other computer is transferred - you don't actually open/edit files on your home computer. This works great for pretty much everything other than maybe working with video. This is my preferred method for remote work for everything other than eMail - not that it doesn't work for email as well, just that it's so easy to set up a local client...

    Anyway, VMs can interact with native Mac Apps. In fact, both Fusion and Parallels have display modes that make the Windows Programs open in windows as if they were native to the Mac - it's pretty cool. This is called "Unity" on VMWare Fusion. I forget what Parallels calls it - maybe "Coherence" - but the features are equivalent.

    I would suggest taking a closer look at what your office will allow and what they will support (not always the same) before buying anything. If you are able to leave your work computer at work and connect to it via RDC, you can work from the client of your choice - maybe even an iPad!

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