Buying a general-purpose PC: Quick advice?

So let’s say someone I know (ahem) is ready to buy a Vista Home Premium system, to use for telecommuting (mostly browser-based), lots of Word and Excel, various other nonsense, and a fair amount of multiscreen work for various reasons. Probably no gaming. Some music, some photo-editing.

Let’s also say this person has a great 19″ LCD display and some great 7-year-old speakers and a wonderful wireless keyboard and mouse.

So now let’s say there are two systems on special at two different stores–both from the same maker (a brand this person likes), both with 400GB hard disks, both with DVD burners…

  • System 1: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 4-core processor, 2GB RAM, no display, $650, from a chain this person gets along with very well.
  • System 2: AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ dual-core processor, 3GB RAM, nVidia GeForce 8300 GS graphics with 256MB display RAM, 19″ widescreen HD LCD display–which this person might use to make a two-display system. $780, from a chain this person can deal with but isn’t as fond of.

It’s already clear that the GeForce 8300 GS is low-end nVidia graphics–but System 1 is presumably Intel integrated graphics, of the Viiv persuasion.

So: Which would you buy? Why?

This person will probably make a decision in the next day or two. I’ll pass along any good advice. No, “get a Mac” is not useful advice.


Followup “in a day or two”: I passed along what I got here and the checking I did myself–which reveals that System 1 has room for more RAM (up to 8GB, and DDR2 PC2-5300 SDRAM goes for around $30/GB name brand at Fry’s) and a PCI-Express 16x graphics slot. I found it interesting that nobody thought a near-state-of-the-art quad-core Intel CPU was more valuable than a year-old dual-core AMD CPU.

The person was more-or-less convinced to buy System 1 and add 1GB or 2GB more RAM (experience with the person’s spouse’s notebook, with 2GB RAM and integrated graphics, suggested that graphics speed wasn’t going to be a problem–and, of course, the GPU cards keep getting cheaper)…but didn’t.

Why? Too much else going on. The person concluded that they didn’t have time for the two to four days of screwing around involved with moving files, restoring programs, etc., etc. between now and mid-January.

Anyway, thanks for your advice.

8 Responses to “Buying a general-purpose PC: Quick advice?”

  1. Steve Says:

    No, “get a Mac” is not useful advice.

    Oh come on, Walt! That’s a real stick-in-the-mud kind of attitude to have! Just can’t resist poking you on this one :-)

  2. walt Says:

    OK, let me modify that:

    “Unless you can point me to a Mac with equivalent specs–that is, either a high-speed dual-core chip with 3GB RAM and 256MB graphics RAM, or a quad-core chip with 2GB RAM, *and* a 400GB hard disk, *and* a dual-layer DVD burner–for $800 or less, ‘Get a Mac’ is not useful advice.”

  3. darcilicious Says:

    Always go for more RAM :-)

  4. GeekChic Says:

    Hi Walt: As a systems person who has built several computers (including one Vista one) I would recommend #2. Why?

    – 2 GB is the bare minimum for a Vista system and you should never run a Windows OS on the bare minimum – the fact the you plan to do some photo editing only reinforces that fact
    – having a discrete graphics card will also help keep some load off of the system when doing photo editing and if you want to use the new Aero interface (and that particular card is a reasonable one)

    I do have a question for you though…. why Vista? I have built a Vista system and it was a pain in the neck (and other body parts) to get running with the legacy devices that the person had. Are you sure that XP might not be a better choice?

    Hope this helps. Good luck with your decision.

  5. walt Says:

    Interesting. In fact, if the buyer chooses #1, they’ll probably spring for another gig of RAM–which would cost less than the price differential between the two systems.

    As for OS, I doubt very much that you could get either system with XP in a retail store.

  6. GeekChic Says:

    Hi Walt,

    Fair point about buying more RAM later but I was commenting on the systems as given. As for not being able to find systems with XP in a retail store… I guess it depends on the store. Our local computer store will sell systems with XP (Home or Pro) on them – you just have to ask. The chains probably wouldn’t – but I tend to avoid electronics chains like the plague (I buy online or build).

  7. mimo Says:

    it IS difficult to find XP cheaply in a retail store. i looked and looked, but in the end settled for vista (i couldn’t spare the time or energy to go geek and build one). if you are planning on keeping vista, factor in the cost of office 2007 because anything lower is not compatible.

  8. walt Says:

    Well, that wasn’t my understanding (I thought Office ’03 worked just fine under Vista)–but in any case, this person wants to move to Office ’07 more than they want to move to Vista. Their spouse has been using Office ’07 for a while, and they think it will suit them just fine. Of course, since it’s for home use, that also means there is no additional cost, since the $130 (sale price) Home & Student Office 2007 is licensed for three computers in the same household. This person’s looked at OpenOffice, for that matter…but wasn’t overly impressed.


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