Buying a New Computer?

. . . and 8 things you can do with your old computer

If your existing computer is more than say, 3 years old, it might be time to buy a new one. Go check your receipt. You’ll find (like me) that what you think is 3 years is actually 5 years.

Upgrading a 5 year old computer can be like buying new parts for a 1950s washing machine. They may not make them anymore. If they do they might be refurbished second-hand parts, or the right part might not fit your old motherboard. If you are lucky and your old computer is only a few years old, new parts might fit. You’ll need old RAM. It might work.

That all sounds too hard. And how many years do I want my computer to last, anyway? I need a new computer.

Computer Operating Systems

Your Operating System (OS) is a graphic user interface (GUI) that sits on top of a boring command line. Anybody remember DOS? Well. That’s still chugging away (even DOS was superimposed over machine language – which is really writing binary). It’s all writing bnary.

An OS is basically a command line, tarted up in a nice dress, blush, eye-liner and lippy – all ready for a Friday night shin-dig at the club – or a trip to the opera.

Operating Systems (OS) usually come in three flavours…

  1. iOS
  2. Windows
  3. Linux

1. Apple OS

If you like “pretty” and you are prepared to pay for it, get an Apple computer. They are absolutely beautiful. You’ll have to take out a small loan or mortgage for a Mac Pro desktop computer (they start at around A$10,000) but for A$1,600 you if you shop around can get a nice, basic Macbook Air.

If you really want to save, go for a refurbished Macbook Air and save another 20-30%.

2. Windows PC

If you like getting under the bonnet of things, a PC is the way to go. There’s a lot more competition, but in short – you can buy a PC with the same grunt as any Mac for (roughly) half the price. You can do what I did and save thousands – build one yourself. I read an article in a computer magazine on how to build your own powerful PC for under $1,500. I literally made phone calls and spent a half-day visiting computer parts shops with my geeky computer friend. We built a water-cooled PC with plenty of grunt and buckets of storage for under A$1,300. The same computer with the same specs cost about A$4,500+ off the shelf (corners are cut with inferior parts there). I used to buy Dell.

But if you open my computer up with a comparable Dell computer – mine is so clearly a worked Hot Rod. You don’t even need to switch it on. The parts look the biz. Right down to the superior motherboard. Dell (or any brand computer) cuts corners. I only know how much so when I built one myself.

Here’s an article about DIY Computers in Wired Magazine: Want a Better PC? Try Building Your Own. It rally is better.

It’s the ultimate way to save and learn. $1,300 and a (full 12hr) day spent building your own PC from parts is incredibly satisfying.

3. Linux OS

If you’re even vaguely interested in building a robot, you’ll need to learn a bit of Linux. Maybe also some Python (computer language which reminds me of Basic in the 80s).

I’m learning Python (slowly) on Udemy right now (Tip: Join Udemy.com and wait for the specials to hit your inbox – often courses are 90% off).

Raspberry Pi and Arduino mini computers can be bought for under A$200.

Charlie
Once he gets out of this cot, Charlie will help me build a Robot. Long way to go as you can see.
You won’t be able to run Word or Photoshop on a Linux machine, but there are open source equivalents. Linux is all about Open Source.

Information wants to be free, right 90s kids?

You can experiment by building your own self-watering automatic irrigation system or maybe even one of these amazing small robots.

Real robots guys.

Charlie here is going to help me build one.

new computer arduino robot

Maybe when he gets a bit older.

What to do with a New Computer?

  1. Write documents, study or send emails
  2. Graphic Design work
  3. Make movies
  4. Make Music (not just electronic)
  5. Build a robot or experiment with IoT

Write & Study & Email

If you only plan to surf the internet, write emails and study stuff online, you don’t need grunt. A A$800-$1,200 laptop will do all of these things happily. If it’s a machine with very little space, say only 32Gb on board working memory, you can add a hard drive. Watch that you have ports for it though – some slim computers don’t even have a USB drive.

To make your dollar go further, you can get a slightly more powerful desktop for that price range.

Graphic Design Work

You need a stronger machine with a bit of memory (RAM) for this. Go for 8Mb RAM minimum and maybe a 1Tb Hard drive. Expect to pay around $1,500.

As soon as you start loading up 40Gb print-ready high-resolution PSD files, though, you may need a bit more RAM (16Gb is enough for anything).

Making Movies

A $1,500 off-the-shelf laptop will do a basic job, but for the same money you can get a better-spec’d Desktop PC. You need a lot of space for video as teh file sizes are huge. While you can get away with 8Gb RAM, 16Gb RAM is better. A 16Gb RAM laptop can be $500 more than its 8Gb counterpart.

If you’re making a feature film on a laptop, $2,500 might be better starting price.

Making Music

Similar to above. You’re not dealing with images, so you could go a bit cheaper. If you are thinking that computers only make electronic music, you’d be wrong. Pretty much every film you see on Netflix has an orchestral score made on a computer. No orchestra involved.

Build a Robot or IoT Devices

I’m going to leave this one with you, but you can make anything with the tiny IoT computers.

I’d start here: Instructables is a community for people who like to make things.

Your Old Computer

Don’t throw your old computer away. You might get a few bucks on Ebay for it, but unlike the old washing machine, a mature computer is probably more valuable to keep than sell. I use an old Dell Inspiron (laptop) as a complex mp3 player. While it’s a bit slow compared to my (also old) i7 Toshiba P57(A) laptop, it has a 10 hour battery and I can take it to a cafe where I can write and code all day long.

Fun, right? . . . Ah, me.

8 things you can do with your old computer

time for a new computer

  1. Turn it into a server (don’t give it too much to do though)
  2. Donate it to a school, charity or church
  3. Give it to a relative
  4. Dedicate it to distributed computing (Cure cancer or find aliens)
  5. Use it as a game server
  6. Use it to play old games (like “Galaxian” or “Joust”)
  7. Set it up as a light-duty living room PC (for surfing/emails)
  8. Run Linux (to learn about making robots)

You can always give your old laptop to the kids and let them smash it up with a hammer (boys) or pull it apart gently and put flowers in the circuit boards (girls).

Laptop or Desktop?

What did I do?

  • I upgraded my laptop’s main HDD to a 1Tb SSD and now I use the old 1Tb drive just for storage.
  • I upgraded my main desktop computer main drive to 500Gb SSD and use old, but error-free, 2Tb HDDs for storage. I also added 8Mb RAM so I now have 16Gb.
  • I use Dropbox.com to sync my Pcs, Laptop and Phones
  • I have a Google account for my domain and emails

It’s all a matter of taste.

Total cost for both was about A$600
New computers = A$4,000

They are old, but they work fine.

The big question is usually whether to buy a laptop or a desktop

I mainly use a desktop computer. The wonderful, 5yr old water-cooled i7 (Gen 3) which I mentioned. It can overcrank to 4GHz, but I’m happy with the 3.2GHz speed. I upgraded my PC computer and laptop at DV Computers Myaree and they both feel like a new computers.

A laptop is nearly twice as useful. You can take it anywhere. I can, literally, take my entire work-life to a cafe.

They are a bit more expensive when it comes to grunt. Desktops are better value. You also get more bang for your buck buying a PC than a beautiful Apple Computer. But aren’t they so pretty to look at? You can house a whole swag of HDDs (hard disk drives) and media specific cards such as 3-monitor graphics cards with ultra high definition (often for gaming – but also professional 3D graphic work) in a PC, but you’ll have to visit an Apple Shop to upgrade your iOS machine.

Takeaways

Why not make a robot with your kids or an intelligent, blue-tooth enabled door alarm.

  • Laptops are usually about 25%+ extra for the convenience. But you get portability.
  • Macs are about 50%+ more expensive and harder to upgrade.
  • Macs look beautiful (although PC tinkerers won’t take you seriously).
  • Cheaper Micro-PCs like Arduino and Rasberry Pi are taking over the world.

There’s nothing cooler than sitting under a tree with your Macbook Pro – editing a movie. You’ll also look great, too.

But remember . . .

“It all starts with the chip

Get a good Chip.