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Journal CleverNickName's Journal: i need a new computer - advice? 29

Simple tasks like switching between Firefox and Thunderbird are driving the load on my machine up over 4, and if I'm trying to run Amarok at the same time, it drives it up to 8. In fact, my machine frequently climbs up into the 7-9 range, bringing my apps to a crawl and frustrating the hell out of me.

So I've decided it's time to buy a new computer. I'm going to replace my aging Sony Vaio desktop machine (which runs Linux) with something newer that has more RAM, a faster processor, and a bigger hard drive.

The thing is, I'm not entirely sure where to start looking. A quick walk through Circuit City a month or so ago lead me to believe I can get a rather "big" computer for as low as five hundred bucks, which further leads me to believe that if I were to buy something online, I can get a huge pile of RAM, a fast processor, and a big honkin' hard drive for even less.

I run Kubuntu, and use KDE as my desktop (though I occasionally switch to Gnome when I get bored) and I mostly use Firefox, Thunderbird,, Amarok, and run PokerStars in wine. I'm looking for something that can do all of that without slowing my machine to a crawl.

Anyone have any suggestions on where to start looking?

Edit: I don't think I have the patience to build my own machine out of individual parts. I also don't have any real loyalty to any particular company or architecture. New Egg has lots of machines with AMD processors, and though I've always had Intel processors because more things seemed to run on x86, that's not as much of an issue as it once was, right?

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i need a new computer - advice?

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  • Maybe one of those "custom rigs" you hear about ... from Alienware, etc.?
    • Ditto. If you want something that will have a long "shelf life" and will still feel powerful in a couple of years, (and if you have the cash to spend), I would go with Alienware. Or maybe one of the pro-level macs. But getting Linux on one of those is not a slam dunk.

      The advantage to building your own is that you just get components that you know will work with Linux.

      • by Pii ( 1955 )

        Actually, Parallels is so good, you can run Linux in a VM, and still have all the yumminess of OS X, though there's a danger that you'll never bother with Linux.

        I've had my Macbook Pro for about a year... First Mac ever. I'm not going back.

  • Pricewatch.

    Read the reviews on the store, try to find one place with generally lower prices, and go to town - go nuts, in fact. You use your computer for lots of stuff. Might as well enjoy it...
    • I have to agree here. Hit pricewatch and pick the biggest bang for your buck.

      But remember: you're not gonna get much of a computer for half a G. Hell, you'll spend a fifth of that just on shipping.
  • Mac. Being the uber geek you are, you need the latest MacPro with quad core Xeon chips to render all that Star Trek videos and stuff.
    • Honestly, you could do worse than getting a mac to run linux. I've found the build quality on the intel macs to be really great.
    • I love my Macs. I have a Powerbook and an iMac, and will probably upgrade my Powerbook to a Macbook Pro if I cover the World Series for Pokerstars again this year.

      However, I want to do this for around or less than $500 (is that entirely unrealistic? I haven't bought a computer in a long time, so I don't know for certain) and I think that puts a Mac out of the budget. (
      • Mac Mini? Refurbished? I have a G4 Cube that I bought that way, and it still runs like a champ. Or if you wanted to wait a week or two, you could get a Apple TV and put linux on it ;-)
      • As much as I really want a shiny new Mac Pro myself, I have to say that my Dell Inspiron 640m has been GREAT, and is in your price range. Still, you have to admit, the thought of a Mac Pro, duel quad core CPU's, and a boat load of ram... Wouldn't that be WORTH spending the extra money on? ;)
      • by CokeBear ( 16811 )
        What about an AppleTV hacked to run Mac OS?
      • by nizo ( 81281 ) *
        Under $500 but you don't wanna build it yourself is going to be tough :-) But if you are willing to plunk in a harddrive/DVD yourself you could get a barebones machine from someplace like, which was what I did at work before we switched to ordering directly from Dell. One thing to consider about some of the in store "deals" is they either force you to send in a rebate or sign up for some braindead isp. Another good option is, which sells new and refurbished name brand machines (I see ple
      • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *
        Building a decent clone for around $500 -- yes, it can be done. I strongly recommend starting with a nice case with a quality power supply and lots of drive bays (and solid steel sides) and the best motherboard you can afford, and a gig of RAM in as large of sticks as it will take (so you can add RAM later without having to throw out what it already has). Then if you must skimp, do so on easily-upgraded parts like hard disk and video card.

        And unless you're into the latest-and-greatest games, last-year's mot
  • In SoCal, if you don't have another clone shop you're already familiar with, PC Club or Alice Computers are two good places to go. You'll get a far better quality, *genuinely* custom-built machine for less money than at any of the big chain stores.

    PC Club started as a little clone shop and grew into a chain, and they still have that clone-shop feel -- you can get any component you want, and any custom rig you want, and their sales guys are typically also the repair dudes, so they generally have a few clues.
    • PC Club has several stores in the area. Alice has one that I know of on Foothill Blvd in La Cresenta, and maybe other locations that I'm not aware of.

      Heh. I grew up in La Crescenta and San Marino is real close to my place in Pasadena, and I had no idea about either of them; small world, apparently.

      Here's a article I wrote a few years ago, for our user group: []
      Getting a bit outdated, but will give you an idea what *I* look for. Others' CPU speed may vary. ;)

      • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *
        These clone shops don't advertise anywhere most people would see it. Yet clone/white-box machines STILL outsell any given OEM, with around 40% of marketshare. Bloody wonder, considering how invisible they are -- even to people who know the neighbourhood!

        PCs aren't the Marvelous Adventure they were even as little as 10 years ago, where all us geeks eagerly built our own from whatever scraps we could scrounge or afford. Now the PC is more like a household appliance, and nobody wants to build their own microwa
    • "Personally I would *not* buy a namebrand (OEM) computer. As the hardware guru for the local PC user group, I've had my hands inside too many of 'em, and frankly they all suck. The average lifespan is only about 3 years"

      I have found that to be the case. I worked freelance tech support for home users and those OEM systems were limted in their utility. However I did find their lifespan to be a bit longer than that.

      I built a system myself back in 02 and it still kicks away now, but it was not a $500 system.
      • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *
        Some OEMs do last longer than 3 years, but there are so many that die at 2 years (usually of the weak PSU frying the motherboard) that it pulls the average way down. And even when the rest of the machine keeps going, a lot of OEMs start having problems after 2 or 3 years that we never see in clones, like the RAM or HD repeatedly dying. Again, I think the marginal PSU is the major culprit. If they make it past 4 or 5 years old, they're usually out of danger, tho by then you may have pulled out what's left of
  • A MacBook is a nice suggestion, but carries a somewhat hefty price tag, for what you get. However, it can runs Windows XP (in BootCamp, which is essentially a dual boot configuration). MacBooks even run Windows apps faster than their Mac counterparts in OS X. Heh. If you don't care about portability, build a PC from the ground up. Get a barebones system from somewhere and add goodies to it as budget and desire allows. I personally have a strong affinity for the Core 2 Duos (best bang/buck), since they're q
  • There are currently no compatibility issues to speak of and haven't been for many since the K5's (the predecessor to the Athlon) came out. Some things might run a lot faster on Intel, but that's likely not going to be an issue on Linux.

    Even though Intel currently makes better chips if it were my choice I would still buy AMD. This is because I want a duopoly instead of a monopoly, and because Intel has engaged in predatory practices with an eye towards killing AMD.

    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *
      Actually the compatibility problems went on longer than that, well into the K6-2 era.

      When WinXP was in beta, I followed the issue in the newsgroups, and for several months I logged complaints of "XP crashes all the time" vs reported CPU and chipset.

      Turned out that even tho AMD CPUs only had about 10% of the market, they generated 70% of the complaints, and about half of those had a VIA chipset.

      I suspect another factor is that until relatively recently, systems built with AMD CPUs had also skimped on quality
      • Oh, oops. I got my timelines wrong. The K5s had issues, but I was thinking the K6s didn't. I'm apparently wrong about this.

        And yeah, you're right about the supporting component issues. That really irritated me for awhile. It was hard to find a good, rock-solid motherboard. It was good for awhile with the Athlon. But now my current dual Opteron board locks the machine hard when I do a lot of disk IO and network IO at the same time. :-(

        I'm willing to make sacrifices in the service of furthering compe

        • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *
          Given equal choices, I *used* to buy AMD.

          Then I got a K6-2 CPU that had a fatal bug (it would crash with certain 32bit operations, including Win9x's installer AND linux) and AMD would not warranty it nor even acknowledge that there was a problem. Somewhat later, a friend who got a CPU with the same issue dinged at AMD until he got to a dev tech, who told him it was a known issue, and finally replaced it.

          Since then, I haven't bought an AMD, and it's their own bloody fault. (The AMDs I've got here now were al
  • Depending on how soon you want this and how fast Dell moves to keep their promise of Desktop Linux, Dell might be an option. I think Lenovo has Linux certified desktops.

    System 76 [] sells desktops with Ubuntu pre-installed, although you don't get as much bang for your buck as you might from building your own or buying from one of the big names. If I wasn't going to build my own comp, and I wasn't going to use System 76, I would look for a good local computer store.

    Re: AMD and Intel - AMD chips are x86, and are
    • by plover ( 150551 ) *

      Dell might be an option.

      I second this. At work I bought a Dell Precision 610 three years ago. Dual Xeons running at 3.6GHz, and a pair of 80GB Barracudas in a RAID 0 config. Silent as a church, and it's so fast that I still have no desire to replace it. Of course it was all the money, but the boss was footing the bill.

      And their new Precision line is even faster. Since we had to buy a bunch of new boxes for the new hires, we've benchmarked the latest stuff and pitted their Precision 690 against the

  • I have an employer provided Dell Inspiron 9300 laptop and it runs very well. It only has 512MB, but even so, I have little trouble doing my thing on it. openSUSE 10.2 default memory footprint was a bit much for it, although it could still run aixgl/beryl no prob (I'd just sometimes have to close one app before starting another). Kubuntu has a much friendlier memory footprint and I've had no trouble with it. Aixgl/beryl runs fine. Multimedia works fine (after you install the uncrippled libxine of cours
  • by rafa ( 491 )

    In my humble opinion, the two things that will have the most lasting impact on your new machine is plenty of RAM and fast IO.

    Pretty much any CPU you'll get (I recommend a core2duo, any speed) will be fast enough, and even onboard audio, gfx will likely be good enough for what you've listed. However, if you get two gigs of ram and a pair of mirrored HDs, you'll find applications will feel noticeably snappier all round. The mirrored drives will make your read-intensive apps much nicer to use, and provide so

  • by roalt ( 534265 )
    Hi Wil, Unless you want play games like Oblivion, choose a simple graphics card based (saves about $150). As you want to run linux, choose NVIDIA, it makes your life easier (I'm not an NVIDIA addict, myy last 2 cards have been ATIs). Something like a GEFORCE 7300 or 7400 will do.

    As mentioned before choose a 64-bit dual core processor. That is either an AMD Athlon 64 X2 or Intel Core 2 Duo (note: It's "Core 2 Duo" not "Core Duo" as that's a lesser processor), in general AMD is cheaper price/performance wi

  • Many people focus on raw speed. If you like running lots of applications at once, you will experience some paging, thus becoming IO bound. If you like using applications that need to edit many files or large files, you will once again become IO bound. The solution here is to speed up your disk IO. I'd say that extra RAM and a fast disk are more important than CPU power.

    Another think that people overlook is the value that multiprocessing provides to users who use a lot of apps at once. If one app starts hogg

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