Reasonably quiet PC: an update

A few weeks ago, I posted this request.

I got some good advice. I did some looking. I wasn’t convinced I’d found an answer. I was reminded of why I shop at Fry’s reluctantly and why I’m even more reluctant to shop at the big-box electronics chains (but really like our neighborhood Office Depot).

Looking at that post again, I can see that I ruled out an obvious choice–but my wife, who’s the smart person in the household and didn’t read the post, offered that obvious choice. To wit, she redefined the problem:

“You want a quiet computer? Why not buy a notebook?”

Consider the reasons I gave in the post for requiring a desktop and expansion slots:

  • I wanted to keep using my wonderful wireless MS Natural Keyboard and mouse.

Hmm. Funny thing about connecting keyboard/mouse combos through a USB port: On any properly-built notebook, it adds them to what’s already built in.

  • I wanted to go to a dual-screen system, sooner or later, which with most inexpensive desktops (might?) (would?) require adding a dual-head graphics card.

Hmm. Most contemporary notebooks have VGA ports–and at least with Windows Vista, the ability to define the internal screen and an external display as a two-screen system (as opposed to showing the same image on both) is supported at the OS level.

I also said I wanted at least 2GB RAM (the minimum for high-quality Vista Premium operations) and that I’d really prefer 3–and that I wanted at least 400GB disk space.

My wife really didn’t know about that last requirement–and when I thought about it, I had no idea why I wanted so much disk space. After all, in 5 years and 7 months, I’ve barely managed to fill half of my old computer’s 80GB drive, and the bulk of “my” files are 320K MP3s of my entire CD collection. And, you know, if I did start to do something requiring lots of storage space–well, external drives are really cheap and getting cheaper. Chances are, if I needed another (say) quarter-gig quarter-terabyte a year from now, it would cost less than $100 even as an external drive (that may be true now, for all I know).

So I broadened my search–and raised the price point to “around $800.”

That did the trick. While this is typed on my old computer, I’d guess I’ll finish shutting down that computer within the next week. Office Depot introduced a new “store-exclusive” notebook last week and, for some reason, chose to offer a $150 rebate up front, bringing the already-reasonable $850 down to $700–for a notebook with 15.4″ screen, Core 2 dual-core CPU (1.67GHz, but that’s fast enough, I think), the usual Intel integrated graphics–fine for the kind of work I usually do, 3GB 667MHz RAM, and 250GB disk.

And enough USB ports (3), a built-in webcam (dunno if I’ll ever use that, but it works just fine), 802.11 a/b/g/draft n (but I’ll be using it as a pseudodesktop, so the ethernet port is more important, since it’s one foot from our router/wifi/DSL modem)… Oh, and a startling garnet case. It weighs about 6 lbs., but this isn’t what I’d use on the road anyway.

Took it home to test the three critical factors: Was it quiet? Would it drive my desktop display as a second workspace? Would it recognize the wireless keyboard and mouse? Yes, yes, yes. I still have 12 days to return it–but since I’m just finishing the “easy transfer” of files and settings (21GB worth, and it seems to have picked up pretty much everything except Firefox bookmarks, which was an easy catch), it’s pretty certain I won’t be returning it.

Definitely not a technolust notebook–the CPU’s contemporary Intel technology (Core 2 Duo) but near the bottom of that range (1.67GHz), it would be a terrible gaming system, the display’s just fine but not quite as good as my wife’s Toshiba. But a technolust notebook would definitely be in the four-digit range, and the fact that I’m only anxious to replace this aging beast because Friday-afternoon virus/spyware scans slow everything else down so much suggests that I don’t need a high-end notebook.

I did a little due diligence: I tried putting together a comparable configuration at Dell and looked for closest Toshiba and HP models. A comparable Dell system would run around $1,100, as near as I could tell; same for the others. So, well, here’s another cow box. I guess that’s really Acer these days, and that’s OK with me.

Now comes the fun part: Checking everything that matters, so I don’t get rid of the old machine too soon. As soon as that’s done, I’ll have an odd dual-screen system (1280×1024 on one side, 1280×800 with considerably smaller pixels on the other) that should be highly productive and suit me just fine.

Updated to change “quarter-gig” to “quarter-terabyte,” since that’s what I meant. Working at two computers simultaneously = the worst form of multitasking. Instant confusion.

And, just checking, I see that even relatively pricey chains do, in fact, already sell name-brand 250GB external 7200RPM drives for (just) under $100–but they also sell 500GB name-brand external 7200RPM drives for $110 to $150. So much for keeping up with the continued price efficiencies of that obsolete electromechanical device, the hard disk.

5 Responses to “Reasonably quiet PC: an update”

  1. Seth Finkelstein Says:

    “Why not buy a notebook?”

    Because notebooks run HOT and are not rated for continuous use. Plus the screens are not comparable to a desktop monitor.

    See how the whole thing feels after using it for eight hours or so.

  2. Blake Says:

    Maybe a few days late, but just saw this:

    FREMONT, CALIFORNIA (Feb 19, 2007) – To better integrate with various room types in the modern digital home, ASUS®, producer of high quality Digital Home products, has released a new desktop PC – the Nova P22. The space-saving Nova features an Intel® Coreâ„¢2 Duo Desktop Processor, WiFi 802.11n and Bluetooth 2.0 technology for robust multitasking and communication. Operating at a mere 25 decibels, (below human hearing) the P22 offers multimedia enjoyment free of distraction. Its diminutive footprint, slot-loading drive and a classy exterior revisits the multimedia system concept on a whole new level.

  3. walt Says:

    Seth: Well, I don’t really run continuously–typically 3.5 hours in the morning, another 2-3 hour stretch early afternoon, maybe another hour end of the afternoon. Yesterday, though, the notebook was running continuously from noon until 6:30, and running fairly hard (a long stretch migrating files & settings–22GB worth–and another long stretch doing volume-leveling and other checking on MP3 files). Sometimes the fan ran a little more often, but never offensively so. I’m not using the notebook on my lap (and don’t ever intend to); it’s really a “mini-desktop” (unlike my “desktop,” which was a full tower sitting on the floor). I checked just before turning it off; the bottom of the notebook was warm but not uncomfortably so, and it hadn’t really heated the desk significantly.

    I didn’t buy a “desktop replacement” notebook–it doesn’t have the fastest CPU, it doesn’t have a 7200RPM disk, it doesn’t have a separate GPU. And it’s using a Core 2 Duo CPU, which should run cooler than previous incarnations of Intel chips.

    I certainly agree that the screen isn’t comparable to a good desktop monitor–which is why I’ll be doing most of my real work on the “secondary display”–my 19″ 1280×1024 Sony LCD–and using the “primary display” (the 15.4″ 1280×800 Gateway) for secondary uses, e.g., source documents I’m working with. (As I write this, that window shows mostly desktop but also has my open work mail window–and Firefox is maximized on the “secondary” display.)

    Blake: Well, ASUS does some interesting things–the eee would still be my choice for a “road PC–but, as you say, it’s a few days late.
    Hmm. I just checked–and, at least from PC Connections, it’s woefully underconfigured for a relatively high price: $893 gets you 1GB RAM and a 160GB notebook-class disk. The CPU’s a little faster, but running Vista Premium with 1GB RAM is generally considered to be a bad idea. It’s basically a screenless notebook in a slim desktop container–either a Mac Mini competitor (making the Mac Mini look pretty good by comparison) or a dedicated media center PC.

  4. MJ Says:

    Walt – I have been looking for just such a notebook…could you please email me the brand you ended up with? search of Office Depot with your configuration elements didn’t turn up anything close (at least that I could see)

    Many thanks – and for all your work for libraries!

  5. walt Says:

    MJ: It’s Gateway M-6752. It may not be available online. (Gateway M-6750 and M-6751 are identical configurations exclusive to Best Buy; Gateway M-6753 is a silver equivalent for retail sales at some stores.)

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