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Author Topic: Choosing a new PC package for a relative.. Post your recommendations  (Read 13421 times)
mouser
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« on: November 15, 2009, 07:13:01 PM »

I thought I might start a thread about choosing a complete pc package for a relative, or advising them on what to do.

Actually I should say that there is no reason that the posts here wouldn't be suitable in advising anyone here on how to buy a complete system for themselves, it's just i thought it might be useful to start a thread specifically focused on figuring out a really simple one-stop-shop place to get a complete computer system with the least amount of confusion and risk.

And I thought it would be useful to have a thread to talk about general issues of helping out a relative to pick a new computer setup.
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mouser
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« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2009, 07:41:04 PM »

Ok so to get us started:

My father loves assembling computers; both of the computers in my house were built by him from parts.  The idea of buying a complete assembled computer package for him is unthinkable.  The building it is funner for him than the using it i think.

My mother, on the other hand, is very computer literate, but wouldn't dream of opening up a computer case and mucking around in there.  She decided it was time for her to get a new computer (her old one is a compaq which she likes fine but it's old and she was ready to move up to Windows 7).

Now honestly, in the current day it's a lot easier to go out and buy a complete pc package.  In the old days there were lots of "mistakes" that someone could make if they weren't careful (oops forgot to buy a cd burner, oops got a crt instead of an lcd, oops got too small a hard drive).  But now even the lowest end pcs have reasonable hardware i think.

However, when i told her to just go out and get something she was just overwhelmed with the number of choices and dizzying options, etc.  I went online expecting to find something for her right away, but in fact it took me a while to find something for her, and that's what prompted me to start this thread.

So i set off to find her a place where she could order a complete pc package (computer, monitor, keyboard, etc.) -- a full system ordered online and delivered to her door, with one number to call for problems and warranty, etc.

Note that i am *NOT* in any way an expert on hardware, and i'm sure the hardware pros will be able to point out options that would have been better, but i think those details are less important for this particular topic.



Now i buy most computer hardware from newegg.com and that's where i went first.  However, while newegg is fantastic for computer parts, it didn't have much in the way of complete pc packages.  After some searching at other online shops (buy.com, amazon.com), i concluded that the best thing for her would be to order a system from one of the big custom pc builders like Dell, gateway, hp (compaq).

What she wanted:
  • Her budget was somewhere around $500-800.
  • She wanted a tower pc (i didnt want a slim one because i think you should be able to open up a pc case and work in it).
  • She wanted a biggish lcd with integrated speakers, for her small desk.
  • She wanted Windows 7.

Now I should say, if you don't have really specific needs and aren't too picky, you can definitely get a pre-built system with standard options, from more places than this, and make the process a lot smoother.  But while i wasn't trying to get her a hand-built computer, she did have a few requests and that combined with my own pride, meant i wanted to have some control over the hardware options in her particular purchase.  Thus my desire to use one of the sites where you can customize your build.

My first inclination was DELL.  The Vostro line was highly recommended to me, and looked like a good match for her.  

But while I really liked most of the DELL customization process, one thing REALLLLLLY bugged me.  When you are choosing options, i couldn't find any way at all to get more info about the options.  For most things this doesnt matter but check out the monitor selection options:

One of the things she wanted was a monitor with integrated speakers.. guess who had to spend 15 minutes searching the web for those models listed above trying to get specs.  not cool.
They didn't have any monitors with integrated speakers and eventually i gave up on dell, thought i'm sure they would be good if you found the right options.



Since she had a good experience with her previous compaq/hp, i headed over to the hp site where i found what i hope will be a good system for her. It's one of the lower end HP Pavilion 6200 series.

Specifically, this is what she ended up ordering, which ended up being $786 when you add in shipping+taxes:


Some thoughts:
  • It was at the top of her budget, because she decided to get a nice big lcd (w/ integrated speakers), and upgraded to non-integrated graphics card, 4gb ram, dual core processor, and added a wireless network card, etc.
  • She didn't strictly need some of those upgrades (2gb would have been fine, as would integrated video), but they fell within her budget.  You could shave a couple hundred off that price if you didn't upgrade the bits i did.
  • If I was advising someone else i would recommend a wireless mouse upgrade but she has a trackball she likes.
  • I wasn't happy about her having to pay taxes on it, but i think the price issue around this point was not nearly as important as having a smooth experience.

Anyway, that's what she ended up ordering.. No idea yet if she will be happy with it.  She can report after she gets it.



Anyway I thought it was information worth sharing, and that others might have their own recommendations -- post em!

I'm hoping maybe this thread can be useful for others in the same predicament, who are suffering information overload and just want a little guidance on ordering a full system without too much agony.
« Last Edit: November 15, 2009, 07:49:35 PM by mouser » Logged
mouser
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« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2009, 08:26:17 PM »

One other thing i wanted to mention.  Her original intention was just to upgrade the pc itself, and use her current monitor, keyboard and mouse.

While this would have saved some money, it's my general feeling that, if you can afford it, it's better when doing this kind of upgrade to keep the entire old system intact, so that you can use it as a backup computer, for spare parts in emergencies, and just to aid the transition and migration of files.
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« Reply #3 on: November 15, 2009, 09:24:37 PM »

It's nice to keep the older computer for a lot of reasons.
To remember how your setup was for one.
Testing programs and experimenting with whatever you want to.
As long as you have a good backup, or can reload it from scratch.
Play music on the old one, or run a pic slideshow or both,
while working with the new computer.
If there's room for it on your work area.

That's a nice computer you got for her!
Good choice.
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tomos
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« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2009, 09:06:27 AM »

Related query (I think!):

when researching a readymade product, if you use one of the price comparision sites (not familiar with english language ones, e.g. http://Geizahls.at & http://www.schottenland.de) I often see a model that's a lot cheaper than other models that seem to be exactly the same e.g.
Samsung NC10@nyNet N270BBT  and  Samsung N130@nynet-N270BN
both described as
Quote
10.1 Zoll Netbook (Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz, 1GB RAM, 160GB HDD, Intel GMA 950 XP Home) schwarz
-
and 40 euros price difference from same supplier (Amazon.de) (after a bit of digging, I think the cheaper - the N130, has a less good display but also has WLAN which other doesnt)

So I guess my question is: if there's a good site that will compare models so that you can quickly see the difference between models. In general I find the producers sites are useless for this - e.g. Canon does compare but doesnt show any models that arent totally uptodate - which is typical, yet those models no longer shown on homepages are on sale for months afterwards...
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Tom
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« Reply #5 on: November 16, 2009, 09:50:46 AM »

This could be an interesting discussion.  I bought my first computer "off the shelf" in 1981 and then went on to build or have built many units after that. However, when looking for a machine three years ago, I bought my first HP - my friend, who still builds all his own thought I was nuts, until trying to come anywhere near the HP price.  Granted I didn't have true specs of each part but why would that bother me at my age. The machine has served well until recently - I am not sure if its MS updates that are making the OS (WinXP MCE 2005) become a little unstable or its time to do a re-install.  Now that's wherein lies the rub - no CD although I burned 3 rescue DVDs on the first day even HP recommends getting new disks from them (OK why waste 3 DVDs) restoring looks like a daunting task. I don't think the power supply is up to handling all the USB devices that could be plugged in. 
I am now looking at upgrading?downgrading to Win 7 so will watch this thread to see what others have to say.
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tomos
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« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2009, 11:00:23 AM »

I think there's a lot to be said for buying locally from someone who actually builds the computers. Although, that's maybe not so common as it used to be due to internet prices. My experience that way was very good at least.
Pros -
  • if there's a problem, bring machine into town (but not as good as a pickup-return guarantee).
  • There's one person (or a couple) that you deal with.
  • after the guarantee time you still have someone there to fix hardware problem
Cons
  • they could always go out of business
  • you'll probably pay more

There's a guy in town here selling refurbished pc's & laptops.
For basic use & maybe not so cheap (in comparision with new) but good quality machines & monitors etc. with one year warranty and the pros listed above.
Of course my relatives are all very very basic computer users smiley
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Tom
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« Reply #7 on: November 16, 2009, 02:18:32 PM »

Cool story.  I love hearing about the experiences of others in these kinds of things.  So much of this is not talked about enough around the internet, you know what I'm saying?  Nobody talks about the headache of buying a computer for someone who's just a casual computer user.  yet, that's how it always happens with people like us, right?  We're the computer geeks, so our friends and family come to us about advice about what to buy and so forth.  And when we're young and foolish, we get all excited and recommend these cool parts and nice things that we like, but then you quickly learn...you learn that these people have no use for the cool things you're getting them and they will probably be overwhelmed by some of the fancier items.  That leads to follow up sessions for you, and it becomes this big headache.

That's why I now recommend the easiest solution for most people.  A dell, or hp (like mouser).  Heck, I may even recommend Macs to people if I see they want something like that.  Recently, I got my mom a Dell and my Dad an HP, and it's worked out great.  My mom barely uses it to browse the web.  My dad uses his every day, but only for email, web browsing, and some solitaire.  I've had no headaches.  My dad calls me every now an then because kaspersky gives him a message about something, that's about it.

What mouser did was exactly the right way of doing it.  Find out what your friend/family member wants and make sure you get that.  For everything else, keep it as simple as possible.  Nothing fancy, nothing expensive.
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« Reply #8 on: November 16, 2009, 04:44:04 PM »

Most of the relatives who ask me about PCs have very basic needs - word processing, email, web browsing - and minimal computer literacy. Since they are going to call me to handle anything that goes wrong anyway, I prefer to set up a system for them in a standardized manner, so that I can troubleshoot most problems over the phone and, if all else fails, easily recover from whatever they have managed to screw up.

My PCs of choice are IBM refurbs purchased directly from IBM. They are certified by IBM, have a 7-day no questions asked return policy (including return shipping), and a 3 month warranty.

http://www-304.ibm.com/sh...Id=-1&subject=2576394
 
These are usually systems that were leased to large corporations and are better made than most of what you can buy in electronics stores, which means that once I set one up, I don't have to worry about hardware problems. Also, because they were business systems, they come with a legal copy of XP Professional instead of Home, a recovery partition on the HD, and have good downloadable documentation and support from the IBM/Lenovo web site.

The refurbished IBM desktops are so cheap that it's almost like buying a legitimate copy of XP Pro with the hardware thrown in for free. The notebooks are not as much of a bargain.

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40hz
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« Reply #9 on: November 17, 2009, 12:02:11 PM »

What mouser did was exactly the right way of doing it.  Find out what your friend/family member wants and make sure you get that.  For everything else, keep it as simple as possible.  Nothing fancy, nothing expensive.

+1 with that. There's a lot to be said for the "just enough computer for the person using it" approach.

I've recently been forced to rethink my whole build/buy decision formula. With the amount of "bang for the buck" you can get from HP or Dell, I've become somewhat disinclined to scratch-build a general purpose machine for an average user* unless I'm building multiples. Especially now since most of the big players can sell you a very decent box of chips (with correct hardware drivers, legal OS and mfg's warranty) for less than it would cost you to duplicate the same configuration on your own. The price of the OS is the tipping point in most cases.

So unless you are planning on running Linux or BSD, a Dell or HP PC will very likely be a less expensive and more practical solution than building your own.

About the only thing I'd do to 'improve' things is max out the physical RAM on whatever I bought. From my experience, the more physical RAM you have, the fewer problems the average user will encounter with the OS.

-----
*Whatever that is. mrgreen

« Last Edit: November 17, 2009, 12:12:10 PM by 40hz » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: November 17, 2009, 12:15:33 PM »

I know in the OP a Dell just didn't fit Mouser's needs, but my usual recommendation is people check out Dell first, especially if they are relatives who live some distance away from me who I can't just hop in the car to make a service call. The fact that Dell includes a real, honest to goodness OS install disc with their PCs that are devoid of any crapware makes it an attractive feature for the newbie when I tell them over the phone, "You borked things good...where's your discs that came with your PC?"
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« Reply #11 on: November 17, 2009, 12:31:46 PM »

It might be worth mentioning that netbooks might be nice for some basic needs but lacking built-in CD/DVD drives limits them in terms of remote support for the reasons Innuendo mentions (ie OS restore and similar issues)
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« Reply #12 on: November 17, 2009, 01:35:30 PM »

... The fact that Dell includes a real, honest to goodness OS install disc with their PCs that are devoid of any crapware makes it an attractive feature for the newbie...

Oh good grief, crapware/junkware is a real pet peeve of mine. I understand why the manufacturers load all the trial junk ($$) so I guess I was naive to believe they would listen to customer complaints and eventually stop this practice.

So what's the story with junkware these days--has the practice lessened at all? Can anybody say, for example, if Toshiba or HP loads trialware junk on their laptops?

Much as I try to not be so picky, junkware actually affects my buying decision.
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superboyac
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« Reply #13 on: November 17, 2009, 01:50:05 PM »

... The fact that Dell includes a real, honest to goodness OS install disc with their PCs that are devoid of any crapware makes it an attractive feature for the newbie...

Oh good grief, crapware/junkware is a real pet peeve of mine. I understand why the manufacturers load all the trial junk ($$) so I guess I was naive to believe they would listen to customer complaints and eventually stop this practice.

So what's the story with junkware these days--has the practice lessened at all? Can anybody say, for example, if Toshiba or HP loads trialware junk on their laptops?

Much as I try to not be so picky, junkware actually affects my buying decision.
First thing I usually do is uninstall all that stuff.  I had a real problem with the Mcafee on my mom's laptop.  It wouldn't come off no matter.  I had to do all sorts of safe mode, command prompt, etc. to get rid of it.
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JavaJones
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« Reply #14 on: November 17, 2009, 03:57:07 PM »

I recently got my mom a Toshiba laptop - they had the best price/configuration combo, and a good rep, plus I have a Toshiba I've been very happy with for the last 3 years. It came with maybe 4 or 5 unwanted apps - Norton Antivirus, MS Office trial, Google Toolbar, and a few others. The worst (IMO) was the "Wildtangent" games package, but having said that it did seem to uninstall itself easily, and I think it did so relatively cleanly, unlike the old days.

So I would say the amount of crapware is definitely less these days, as Toshiba used to be a pretty big offender. Some vendors even offer specific options for no crapware in the custom configs, although some of them are also making you pay more for that privilege. Most often the best bet is to go with a business machine as they usually keep crap off of them. Dell's business machines have been very good in this regard as far as my recent experience goes. Especially now that Adobe Reader is on version 9 and it's actual a worthwhile PDF reader again, with decent speed, etc. (I used to be a big Foxit fan, but no longer).

- Oshyan
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40hz
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« Reply #15 on: November 17, 2009, 06:19:49 PM »

I had a real problem with the Mcafee on my mom's laptop.  It wouldn't come off no matter.  I had to do all sorts of safe mode, command prompt, etc. to get rid of it.

McAfee has published a how-to (Document ID: TS100507) and utility (MCPR.exe) to deal with that problem.



Link: http://service.mcafee.com...Document.aspx?id=TS100507

One thing that might have tripped you up is that preinstalled (OEM/crapware) copies of McAfee need to be activated before you can uninstall them. If you try to remove McAfee before you activate it you'll be given all sorts of grief.

I know. Truly weird, but that's the way they wrote it. Cool





« Last Edit: November 17, 2009, 06:24:15 PM by 40hz » Logged

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superboyac
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« Reply #16 on: November 17, 2009, 06:21:47 PM »

I had a real problem with the Mcafee on my mom's laptop.  It wouldn't come off no matter.  I had to do all sorts of safe mode, command prompt, etc. to get rid of it.

McAfee has published a how-to (Document ID: TS100507) and utility (MCPR.exe) to deal with that problem.
Link: http://service.mcafee.com...Document.aspx?id=TS100507

One thing that might have tripped you up is that OEM copies of McAfee need to be activated before you can uninstall them.

I know. Truly weird, but that's the way they wrote it. Cool
Yeah, i think I came across that.  i think I was being stubborn in refusing to activate it.  Screw Mcafee.  I hate that program.
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40hz
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« Reply #17 on: November 17, 2009, 06:25:45 PM »

i think I came across that.  i think I was being stubborn in refusing to activate it.  Screw Mcafee.

Um yeah...that showed em!  Grin

(kidding. just kidding... smiley )

---

P.S. I don't blame you. I tend to get crotchety and go into hack mode when somebody pulls stuff like that on me too. Thmbsup
« Last Edit: November 17, 2009, 06:31:50 PM by 40hz » Logged

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« Reply #18 on: November 17, 2009, 06:45:39 PM »

i think I came across that.  i think I was being stubborn in refusing to activate it.  Screw Mcafee.

Um yeah...that showed em!  Grin

(kidding. just kidding... smiley )

---

P.S. I don't blame you. I tend to get crotchety and go into hack mode when somebody pulls stuff like that on me too. Thmbsup
Seriously.  The whole time i was like "Why the F do I have to get a username and login for a freaking antivirus program."  Now, i know NOD32 does that also, but at least they don't nag you about it with every click of the mouse.  i remember a few years ago, before I had Roboform and before everything in the world required a username and login, i would just lose it whenever programs or web forms kept asking me for user names and passwords for every little thing.  now, I'm used to it.  It's like back in the day where Radio Shack would always ask for a zip code...as Kramer would say, "Why does Radio Shack ask for a zip code when you buy batteries?"
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« Reply #19 on: November 17, 2009, 07:46:52 PM »

It's like back in the day where Radio Shack would always ask for a zip code...as Kramer would say, "Why does Radio Shack ask for a zip code when you buy batteries?"

Reminds me of the play on their old slogan "You've got questions. We've got batteries."  smiley
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« Reply #20 on: November 18, 2009, 05:10:37 PM »

Depends on the relative. If it's someone in the family who doesn't need a laptop (I don't "do" laptops), then I use the opportunity as an excuse to build myself another system -- sans the cost of Windows, of course -- and hand over my old one to them. I always max out the RAM and put a big HD in them, so when they want to upgrade the system, all they have to do is buy an $80-$110 new videocard if needed down the road.

Yet as we all agree, it all depends on whom and how they will use the computer. My wife, for example, requires a laptop and takes a netbook on the road. My mom knows nothing, yet wants to buy the $4000 Mac with a $500 printer for some weird reason. Walmart sells cheap laptops. Check their online store, select your system, input your area code, and see which store closest to you has one in stock. Or have it delivered to your local store for $1.  If they need further cost control, such as a kid, a student, or retired person, I strongly urge them to install a nice Linux distro. Comes with all the software they'll need for free and none of those nasty crapware and licensing, validating, registering, activation hassles.
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« Reply #21 on: November 19, 2009, 06:25:01 AM »

as I've said already - after sales service is very important I think - but especially for laptops.

Would you people also recommend going the Dell HP etc route for laptops?

I see Oshyan recommends Toshiba laptops (for service & components), I've been looking at a MSi (CX 600) on special offer here next week - according to a google search they seem to have reasonable after-sales service. I've mentioned elsewhere that Acer has a very poor rep here (Germany) that way.
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« Reply #22 on: November 19, 2009, 12:56:19 PM »

If they insist on having a computer at home I'd encourage them to get a Mac.  That way when they have a problem I can say "Gee! I'd love to help you out but I've never used a Mac.  You know more about it than I do!"

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« Reply #23 on: November 19, 2009, 01:06:37 PM »

If they insist on having a computer at home I'd encourage them to get a Mac.  That way when they have a problem I can say "Gee! I'd love to help you out but I've never used a Mac.  You know more about it than I do!"


Grin I never thought of it that way...brilliant!
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« Reply #24 on: November 19, 2009, 01:25:01 PM »

 Thmbsup
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