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New Computer? A Few Tips for Purchasers

Thanks for the Memory!

One of the requests for topics to cover that came from my inaugural post here at DA was about tips for buying a new computer or laptop. I get asked that question a lot and despite the fact that we now have more choices in computing devices than ever, my advice has remained unchanged for 15 years. What is that advice, JSON, you ask?

Whatever amount of RAM comes installed with whatever you buy, double it. Don’t hesitate. Ignore the screams from your wallet. Work through the pain and do it.

If your device of choice comes with 4GB of RAM, buy it with 8GB. If it’s 8GB, get it with 16GB. If you can, and these days I’d recommend it, max out the RAM. I am, I’ll note, on the edge of advising that installed RAM should be tripled.

Doubling the amount of RAM is just about the single best thing you can do in order to come home with a computer that won’t have you cursing at it sooner rather than later.

You’re welcome.

Well, all right. I guess I’ll expand on that advice.

RAM. Doesn’t that Hurt?

RAM: Random Access Memory.

The usual disclaimer about things being more complicated than this…

Because I still see this confusion a lot, here’s some RAM basics.

RAM is not storage disk capacity. To use a car metaphor, it’s not how big your trunk is, it’s more like how many cylinders it has. The size of the trunk of your car is not going to affect how fast you can drive the car. (Oh, come on. Yes, we can all imagine a trunk so massive, you can’t get your car around a corner let alone up to 5 MPH… Please accept that I am talking about normal cars.)

Suppose you have a car with a HUGE trunk. ALL your luggage fits in the trunk, possibly with room for your buddy’s luggage too. Yippeee! That huge trunk has no effect on how fast your car can go. Full up trunk or empty one, you car’s speed depends more on whether you have 4 cylinders, 6 or 8 or whatever.

(Yes, this is an incredibly lame metaphor.)

If you buy a new computer with the default amount of RAM and you’d like to run multiple applications or applications that do complicated things, you will soon wish you had more RAM. (Yes, I know, you will also want not to have bought the low end CPU, but that is another post, K?)

Fine. I drew you a picture:

Lame drawing depicting the ways in RAM is not disk storage

It’s ART, people

So, here’s a thing you might notice in the artwork. In the upper left corner I drew a horizontal rectangle with 4 vertical gold lines. Those lines represent RAM chips. In this case, we are pretending they are DDR4 SDRAM chips. Because.

There is this horrible thing computer vendors do that you should understand when you buy your new computer.

But first, some more explaining.

There are a number of slots N on the motherboard that hold RAM chips. How many slots there are depends, but let’s say there are four of them (N=4!) as in the picture.

Now let’s say the base computer comes with 4GB of RAM (GB = Gigabytes) but the computer is capable of addressing 32GB of RAM. You buy the base model with 4GB. You might think you will get a computer with one 4GB DDR4 SDRAM chip (because that is the kind I say we have) in one of the four slots, with the other three being empty. Because then you could just buy more chips as money becomes available for the investment.

You would be WRONG.

You would get a computer with four 1GB DDR4 SDRAMS.

Let that settle in.

What does that mean when you realize you need 32GB of RAM, and all 4 slots are occupied?

Yes. That is right. You must discard your four 1GB SDRAMS and buy four 8GB SDRAMS so that you now have 32GB of RAM.

Because there is no mix and match. So, if you go cheap at the start, thinking you will upgrade later, it’s not a matter of buying more RAM, but ALL NEW RAM.

Possibility: You could decide to bet that in a year or so, those screaming fast DDR4 SDRAMS will be substantially cheaper than they are now. You limp along on 4, waiting, waiting, waiting for the price to come down, and really, why?

Possibility: You might be able to resell the old RAM, but you won’t be able to sell it for what you paid for it.

Just accept that if you want to love your new computer for years to come, you should just max out the RAM from the start. I know I said double it, and really, you should do that. But max it out if you can.

Other Random Stuff

Yes, CPU is a consideration, especially if you are running applications that do a lot of calculations, like drawing programs. Then you’d be looking at top end CPU–the faster (more mHz) the better. If you game, then you’d also want a high end graphics card with its own RAM etc.

But, for the average user, the upgrade that will give you the biggest performance boost is more than the base amount of RAM. If you’re a Windows user, NEVER EVER get just the base RAM. Always double it. Seriously. Macs tend to suck a lot less at the base amount of RAM because Apple tends not to sell machines that are seriously under resourced.

This is because Apple is selling you the hardware AND the OS and it’s their brand. In the Windows world, PC manufacturers seem to have no qualms about selling low priced machines that can’t really run the OS and Word at the same time. Because hey. So what?

More Random Stuff

In the tablet world, RAM is not something upgradable after the fact. Nor is it in the smart phone world. But for any device where the amount of RAM is an option at time of purchase, you are likely to be better off with more rather than less.

What do I buy??

The answer is: it depends.

It depends on what you do and where you like to do it.

One time, I decided to buy a laptop with a large monitor because, I reasoned (badly, as it turned out) I would spend so much time looking at the screen, I would be glad of the awesome monitor. The reality was that I soon began to take trips without the laptop because it was too big and too heavy.

Another time, in the days before touch screen devices, as I observed cell phones get smaller and smaller and smaller, I thought to myself that anyone with big hands or fingers was going to have a heck of time using those devices. And this was true.

Netbooks kind of never took off because they were the trifecta of bad compromises. Not powerful enough to be useful to most people on the road a lot. Too small to be comfortable to use if one’s hands are large. It turns out we weren’t quite at that place where you can compute with only an internet connection.

You must, therefore, have a serious talk with yourself about what you actually use a laptop for and where you would be using it, all while keeping in mind that you may not be able to envision the ways in which a new design will prove useful. A small, lightweight computer is one that is easier to bring with you. A machine with a long battery life is one that may still be running after your 13 hour journey to another location. Assuming that machine does not kill you with bad ergonomics for the size of your body parts, you will use such a computer in more places.

This means assessing which applications you MUST have and accounting for the power they require to run.

Example: I would love a MacBook Air. I want one so bad, I sometimes cry because I don’t have one. BUT. I run Parallels on my Macs and so far (…..but this appears to be changing…..) the MacBook Air is underpowered for what it takes to run a Windows Virtual machine without me wanting to scream.

You’ll need to talk with people who have devices you think you’d like. Find out what they’re using it for before you accept a rave review as relevant to how you will feel about that device.

Mac vs. Windows vs. Linux vs ?

Linux is unlikely to be the best OS choice for a normal user. If you already have a Linux install, you are not a normal computer user. So, really, it comes down to Windows vs. Mac.

It’s not a wrong vs. right decision. The Windows OS is OK enough usually. As long as you buy a computer where you at least double or triple the RAM it ships with, and you stay at Windows 7 or skip to 8.1 (as of this writing, obviously if you’re reading this in the way future the OS decisions will be different) you’ll be OK. You’ll have to develop religion about updates and malware and anti-virus applications, but you will have a decent machine that will get the job done.

Story for you.

I was a dedicated Windows user because I could not afford a Mac, and since I muck around with computers all the time, I’m not afraid of registry hacks or other customizations.

Then through a complicated series of events I can’t tell you about, I was given an iMac. I didn’t want to switch but circumstances were such that I had to.

30 seconds after I turned on the machine, I knew I was never going back. If you have the money, go there.

A Mac is more money out the door but a lot less money over time, and here I include time = money because I now spend significantly less time fixing things that don’t work. Significantly. Less. Not everyone is able to make that upfront expenditure but if you can, you probably should.


Next Week

I’m planning to write about what you can do to make sure your family and loved ones can deal with everything that will need to be taken care of computer-wise after you die.


Json is a longtime technology geek who has been, more or less in order, desktop support, Netware Admin, Network Administrator, web developer, lead web developer, data architect, database administrator. Json has a strong interest in network and computer security and currently works on the database end of software development. On the side, Json has set up a DocBooks workflow and would be done with the Hadoop install if Mongo db weren't so shiny.


  1. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 07:51:48

    nice article, JSON! But what about the choice of whether to go for a laptop or a PC? For me it’s a PC, and all this laptop stuff is for travelling. So many reasons. I started with a tower 3 years ago, and almost everything in it has been replaced or upgraded over the years. I still have the same i7 CPU and motherboard, but that’s about it. So much more economical and so much easier to upgrade and tailor to what you want rather than what the man in the shop thinks you want.

  2. Ros
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 08:29:07

    I am very sad about the demise of netbooks. I am typing this on mine as we speak, but it is at the stage of being hot and slow and I know it is not going to last me much longer. I love it. It is great for travelling, being light and small enough to go in my handbag, relatively cheap enough not to worry too much if it gets a few knocks along the way. And it works perfectly well for what I use it for – running a basic word processor for writing first drafts, and internet browsing. I don’t need my netbook to run a graphics programme or do gaming or any of the other functions that it isn’t really powerful enough for. It’s my third netbook, and when I bought it a couple of years ago it was already hard to find one that met my needs. I think when it gives up, I’m going to try replacing it with a Chromebook. I’ll still have my big laptop for running MS office and Photoshop and all those things. But for working on the go, I think that’s going to be the best alternative at a similar price and size to the old-fashioned netbooks. Better than a tablet, anyway, which seems to me to be a huge compromise too far.

  3. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 08:52:58

    Ros, I have an answer for you. I recently bought an Asus Book T100TA for “light” travelling. If I know I’m going to be needing a bit more oomph, then I’ll take my ultrabook, but that cost over $1000. The Asus cost me (English money alert!) £300. It comes with little storage onboard, but that doesn’t bother me. There’s enough for the OS and a few other things, but I work either from the cloud, or from my passport drive, which has a full backup of my stuff. Easier than copying and pasting, and not internet-dependent, so I can work on long flights. I think the newer models have more storage space.
    This comes with full Windows 8.1, a micro SD port for storage expansion, it’s a touchscreen and it is a tablet with detachable keyboard. If your hands aren’t too big, the keyboard is lovely. The touchpad is a bit small, but it supports multi touch. I’ve found it a really good replacement for my old netbook. When I bought it, the middle of last year, I did some research and that was the best one on offer, but there might be others now. If I could afford it, I’d buy a new Surface, but I have the ultrabook (it’s an Asus Zenbook) for heavier lifting away from home.

  4. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 08:57:44

    @Lynne Connolly: I use it far more as a netbook than a tablet. And BTW, it comes with Office Home and Student 2013 pre-installed, which was a big plus for me.

  5. library addict
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 08:57:54

    I think I am that rare person who had a Mac and went back to Windows.

    I liked your picture about memory. I maxed out the memory when I purchased my most recent laptop and PC and it was well worth the cost. I got my laptop for travelling, but ironically haven’t really been anywhere with it. It’s nice to be able to use in various spots around the house though.

    A tablet is nice for reading and quick internet stuff but I cannot imagine using mine for more than that.

  6. Mikaela
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 09:23:00

    My laptop is 3 years old, and I have a feeling that I’ll have to replace it soon. I really don’t like Win 8, so I’m thinking over my options. So this article was really helpful!

  7. Mzcue
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 09:42:10

    May I sneak in a tangentially related question? You suggest staying “at Windows 7 or skip to 8.1.” I was very happy with Windows 7, but ended up with W8 when I purchased my new laptop last year. My resident tech adviser discouraged me from upgrading to 8.1, saying it wasn’t clear what the advantages were, plus it had proven difficult to install on his machine. May I take your statement as advice to go ahead and do the update?

    Thanks for these articles, BTW. I appreciate their clarity and accessibility.

  8. Ros
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 10:49:08

    @Lynne Connolly: £300 is £100 more than a Chromebook (and, incidentally, more than I’ve ever paid for a netbook). I’m also pretty suspicious about tablets with detachable keyboards. My netbooks put up with a lot of wear and tear that I don’t know if the tablet/keyboard would withstand. Plus I just don’t like tablets. But I fear I am the only one.

  9. Darlynne
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 11:05:58

    Your explanation about the RAM slots was something most people don’t think about; we don’t understand there may not be any real estate available when we want to expand. I also like your analogy of cylinders to describe RAM. When I taught DOS classes back in the day, I would draw a computer on the white board with a bubble above it to show the same thing; the bigger the bubble, the more activities the system could think about/handle efficiently.

    But I wouldn’t confine Linux so completely to other-than-typical users. When XP was going away, I had to evaluate my existing computer needs with its hardware limitations. Linux Mint 16–and now 17–has been a revelation and a delight. It has also been an incredible amount of work to figure out how to make some of the programs I need function in that environment. I’m currently taking an on-line Linux course, but I pretty much dove into the deep end of the pool in April. What I know is that Mint and Xfce work out-of-the-box for basic computer operations, including Internet. My advice to anyone interested: convert your non-essential PC, particularly a Netbook, and play with it. Take Linux for a spin and challenge yourself to learn something new, when you have time and the inclination. Computers have become fun again, for me.

    And, yes, there’s no one quite so annoying as a Linux convert. Apologies for getting carried away.

  10. Sunita
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 11:37:33

    Great post, JSON. I agree about the RAM issue and your explanation of it is clear and convincing.

    The one thing I’d add on the choice between Mac and PC is that you should think about the kinds of programs you use. Are they as good on both platforms, or are they better on one than the other? For example, Scrivener was written for Mac and the Windows version has not been as good. But then there are other programs that are the reverse. If you are truly agnostic between platforms, pick the one that the programs are most full-featured on.

    Darlynne, I played with Linux for a few years on a netbook and installed several different versions. I agree it’s a great system and very enjoyable to play around on, but there were just enough programs that either didn’t exist for Linux or that I had to run under Wine that it wasn’t worth it in the end for me.

    Ros, I’m still using my Chromebook as my netbook-equivalent (i.e., I use it when I don’t need to run programs). I have a 15″ Macbook Pro as my office machine, but for my daily use it’s the Chromebook. And I love it enough that I abandoned my 2011 Macbook Air as my default home/travel machine. I have small hands, but tablet keyboards just don’t come close for me.

  11. IAM JSON
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 11:58:47

    @Lynne Connolly:

    Laptop vs. PC is an interesting topic. I would say the answer is, it depends. It depends on money and what you do.

    I have both a desktop and a laptop for my non-job stuff. If it came about that I could only have one of them, I would have to chose the laptop because I do a lot of work off site. At the job, I have don’t have a desktop at all. I have a laptop with docking station and dual monitors. I work at home all the time and this works great.

    Thus, it would be perfectly possible to set up a sweet work environment where you have a laptop and docking station and can take the laptop with you whenever you want.

    In that situation, you’d have to power-up the laptop so that it can run everything you need it to.

    The average user doesn’t want to be mucking around in their computer updating and upgrading parts. For people who love the mucking about, you can build an awesome PC just about totally DIY and then keep doing that — which I have definitely done.

    @MzCue :
    Regarding Windows 7 vs. 8 vs. 8.1:

    From everything I have heard, Windows 8 was essentially broken and the 8.1 release fixed all that and made a lot of users move from “hate” to “hey, not bad!” I think with Windows, it’s important to look closely at the .x releases. They tend to have critical improvements. For this, I’d say made sure you have installed all the Win 8 updates that are required, that you are fully backed up, and that if you are not the geekish sort that you do the update during a time when you can contact an expert if you run into trouble. I think that’s unlikely, by the way. But no one wants to have things go south at midnight…

  12. IAM JSON
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 12:14:07

    The comments so far really highlight that there isn’t one-size-fits-all solution. Some people love getting under the hood and DIY, others not. Some people aren’t using applications that would stress a lower powered machine.

    My prediction is we’ll soon see “netbook-like” devices. They’ll be the same concept, but won’t be called the same thing because Gen-1 did not quite hit the usability mark and now for consumers “netbook” means “doesn’t really work.”

    I know people who write on tablets. There are some good external keyboard solutions, too. For example, the Apple bluetooth keyboard is lightweight and works well. For a brief period I had a Logitech solar-powered keyboard where you could dock an tablet, but then the dog ate the keyboard, so note: not dog proof. I don’t do much writing on tablets, mostly for ergonomic reasons. But I have done so, and it is doable. Even for Windows stuff because there are apps that are essentially MS Office for iOS. Sweet.

    I have a young relative with a Surface and it’s nice. It’s pretty, and she enjoys using it. I found there was still some of the MS hierarchical thinking in the UI that was a little frustrating, but I thought it was a more than decent device. I think MS should give away 500,000 of them to normal people and say, go forth and play.

  13. Ros
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 12:25:11

    @IAM JSON: I hope you are right about the netbook-like devices! They really do fill a niche for me that nothing else quite does, though I am optimistic about the Chromebook on the basis of Sunita’s recommendation.

  14. IAM JSON
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 12:25:22


    Linux installs are getting closer to being user-friendly. But they’re not there yet. One upside of finding a Linux install is there’s some really great open-source or GNU applications that are pretty great.

    But, for the average user, Linux requires a level of interaction at the /. level that is going to frustrate or scare them.

    @Sunita Your recommendation to look at applications is essential. There are two Windows-only apps I am not prepared to give up, so I also run Windows on my macs. MS Office, however, is seamless between Windows and Mac, and for most people that’s all they need.

    Before you switch OSes, make an inventory of the applications you use and research whether they are available on the OS you’re considering. If not, is there a replacement? If not, are you up for the expense of running a virtual machine? Because you must license your VM OS, too.

  15. Erin Burns
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 13:26:20

    I agree with Sunita re: Mac v. Windows. There are just some things that flat won’t run on one OS or the other. Our tech person replaced our Windows lab with a Mac one for all the reasons outlined, and it’s been disastrous. None of our programs work on Mac, and despite the fact we were told they could be run using Windows in parallel or bootloaded,it turned out nothing could be made to work.

  16. Evangeline Holland
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 13:29:08

    My poor laptop is on its last legs after six years. I’ve been looking around for a new one, but I hate Windows 8! I have a thing about being locked into one ecosystem, so I shy away from Apple products, but I might have to turn to one because I do so much on the computer. That upfront price…eek!

  17. Sunita
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 13:37:40

    @IAM JSON: @Erin Burns: I meant to address the Windows-through-Mac issue in terms of my own experience. I know that there are people (like you, JSON) who run Parallels successfully, but I hate that program with the heat of 1000 suns. I haven’t tried the most recent versions because between the crashes on my supposedly-powerful-enough Mac and the endless email crap Parallels sends out, I was fed up with them. I had planned to run BootCamp on my current Mac but for various reasons haven’t done it yet. At this point I’m just waiting until work gives me the opportunity to replace the Mac with a Windows machine. Since I rarely use Scrivener any more there’s nothing for me that Mac does better and I’m disliking the OS more with every new version. Windows is far from perfect but I ran Windows 7 on a netbook for years and while it was kludgy, it worked for the things I needed (I have data programs that aren’t available for iOS).

    I do agree that using a good keyboard (like the Mac portable bluetooth or the Microsoft equivalent) with a tablet is a good experience. I did that when I used an iPad. But you have to buy the keyboard and the stand, which for me was an extra $100 or so. I also used the Logitech slim keyboard that covered the screen of the iPad, and that was fine for short spells of writing/surfing, but not for hours on end.

  18. Ros
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 13:44:50

    That’s a very good point about the software. All my academic work is on a program which only has a Windows version. I can’t imagine how I would go about transferring the databases and attached note-taking files to a different system, as well as the documents themselves. I’m sure there are ways, but it’s work I’m not interested in doing.

  19. MD
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 13:52:59

    @IAM JSON:

    I definitely agree with you that Linux is not for the general public yet. But here is a variation on Darlynne’s comment: if you have a Linux user in your family who is already helping you with Windows or Mac setup, consider giving Linux a try.

    My 70 year old mother uses Linux. While it was a bit of adjustment at first, in a long run we both found it a good deal. She mostly browses the internet and does email and Skype, with a little document editing and movie watching. I configure these, and then they work just fine.

    The big advantage for both of us is remote debugging. It used to be, I had to talk her through clicks of Windows menus on the phone. She would click something wrong, we would both get confused, and it would take ages. Now I taught her the basics of using the terminal – starting it and copying and pasting between it and email. This means, anything goes wrong, or she needs new software, or configuration changes for certain things – I send her a list of commands to execute, she copies and pastes, and pastes the response back to me if need be.

    This doesn’t eliminate the questions of “where do I click on this website”, but we found that it made many things, especially software installs, much smoother. And yes, these days there are remote screens for Windows etc., so some of the remote debugging is probably easier than it used to be, so it is clearly the case of YMMV.

    I have a couple of friends who did something similar with their parents. It really only works if you don’t manage your computer, anyway, and rely on someone else to do that, but that’s a thought for a niche market. Otherwise follow JSON’s advice — he is right on target here.

  20. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 14:12:52

    @IAM JSON: I like the PC because it’s cheaper. Oh, so much. I can afford to upgrade as I go, and tailor it for my purposes. I bought the best I could afford, and then upgraded it over the years I’ve had it. I used to have my computers built for me. Does anyone build laptops to spec? I bet they do. I’ve never asked.
    And keyboards. After a bad bout of RSI early this year, I was measured for a desk at the right height, and also advised to get a mechanical keyboard. I bought three, was going to send one back, but liked it too much. These things are a revelation and because I don’t have to hammer on the keys, because they’re so responsive, it’s helped me recover from the RSI without needing an operation. Why get a laptop if you’re not going to use the keyboard? Why not get separates and have exactly what you need? A nice big screen, a comfortable mouse and a mechanical keyboard? Of course that’s for someone who does most of their work at home.
    I don’t work in the cloud, not with my precious writing. I have set up a personal cloud, to see how it works. Mainly, though, I just back up all my data to a passport drive and carry that around with me. The updates are weekly and automatic. Then I can plug in and go.
    With Windows 8.1, sharing and One Drive means you can pretty much access everything on the road, but since I’m often in places that don’t have the internet, or have risky connections, I prefer not to put my passwords and data at risk.
    For writers, it’s not so much high quality graphics, as word processing capability at an advanced level. So good keyboards and Microsoft Office are a must.
    These keyboards weigh a ton, but I really miss them when I’m away. I’m wondering which mechanical keyboard would be the best weapon in the zombie apocalypse?
    @Evangeline Holland: What’s not to like about Windows 8.1? It’s faster, more secure, smaller footprint. The Start menu is a screen, that’s all. My PC boots up to the desktop, my tablet boots up to the screen. And I can talk easily between the two without jumping through masses of hoops and complicated instructions. Horses for courses, I guess, and Windows 7 will be around for a while yet.

  21. hapax
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 14:15:53

    Gaah. My laptop is starting to give me fits, but I’m going to grimly hold onto for it for as long as it boots up. I don’t love Windows 7, but 8 and all its relatives are just *horrible*, completely unfriendly and impossible to run basic programs. And M$ has announced that all future Windows iterations are going to be “cloud-based”, which no thank you. I don’t mind using public restrooms, but I’m not going to keep all my personal files stored in one.

    Which pretty much means I’ll be stuck with either learning Linux (and I’m tired of learning new computer “stuff”) or switching to Mac (less to learn but harder on the wallet).

    I did just get a new Galaxy tablet and bought the wireless keyboard. Right now I use it mostly as a toy, but perhaps it’s time to see what kind of serious work I can do on it.

  22. IAM JSON
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 14:27:28

    @Erin Burns:

    Erin: Speculation only, of course, but this sounds like the Mac was underpowered and/or this was done with one of the middle versions of Parallels that were … not so great. Since Version 7ish, I think, many of my Parallels issues went away.

    But, for the iMac that was given to me, with Parallels 4 installed, on a system with only 4GB RAM, Parallels was a horrible horrible experience. Less than a month later, I maxed out the RAM on that iMac (which was 8GB–I would have added more if I could have) and then gave 4 GB to the VM and that solved just about all my problems.

    Fact: Parallels is barely functional with 1GB give to the VM. It does much better with 2GB, but if your Mac only has 4GB, then you’re also starving the Mac OS of RAM and everything is just awful. I wouldn’t bother with Parallels with anything less than 8GB, and then I’d give as much to the VM as possible without compromising Mac OS.

    I have skipped the Mavericks OS … if you have Mavericks, my hunch is you’d need 16GB on that machine so you could give 8 to the VM, particularly if your Win OS is 8+

    Those middle versions of Parallels were … terrible. The current version is much much better.

    I find it … odd that someone would install Parallels and a Bootcamp Windows partition, you’d need two licensed Windows OSes. One for Parallels and one for the Bootcamp partition. But I guess.

    For myself, I prefer Parallels because of Coherence mode, which means my Windows apps run seamlessly in my Mac environment. I only leave coherence if I need to get to the registry or elsewhere in the file system.

    There are some bugs in the current Windows ISO files if you’re trying to install the Bootcamp Windows partition without physical media so, alas, it’s a horror (to me) to work around.

    Anyway, my personal experience is that Parallels needs more memory than low-end macs offer, and without sufficient memory allotted to the VM performance will be terrible all around. And, Parallels 6 and 7 were problem-ridden versions.

  23. IAM JSON
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 14:35:39


    I have serious, serious concerns about this Software as a Service notion, particularly for an OS.

    Adobe swore up and down that SAS would be beautiful for users of its Adobe suite of products. What happened? Exactly what people said would happen. Paid users lost access to their expensive applications for an entire day when there was a problem with the Adobe servers.

    My guess is that a cloud based OS would not require you to store your work files in the cloud, you’d still have local storage for that. Which would do you no good at all if your cloud-based OS was unable to authenticate you. You’d be down completely.

    As someone who lives where internet is unreliable, capped, and hideously expensive, I think I’d be completely shut out of such a service.

    Wait until Comcast comes to MS and says, pay us more money if you want your cloud OS users to have decent speed. They’ll do it, too.

    Users are f*cked under this model.

  24. IAM JSON
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 14:48:06

    @Lynne Connolly:

    Lynne: You are not the average user, though. The average user is not going be modding their PC.

    As to graphics, I’ll offer an competing scenario. When I switched to Mac OS (reluctantly) it was the beauty of the graphics that sold me. For me, Mac OS was like sinking into a luxury hotel suite. It was beautiful and it made a huge psychological difference. Huge. We discount that too much.

    For people who have very little money to spend on a computer, then a PC with additional memory added is going to be their only affordable choice. Because yes, money also matters.

    If you have a docking station, you can get by with only a sufficiently powerful laptop. But you’d have to pony up for an external monitor, the ergo keyboard of choice and an external pointing device, and, of course, the docking station.

    Laptops usually have integrated motherboards, so, other than RAM, any mods would require a new motherboard — so, basically, not really. DIY options for a laptop are really limited.

  25. Sunita
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 14:50:49

    @IAM JSON: TheHusband just bought a Surface Pro 3, which runs Windows 8.1 and Office 365. The latter requires authentication when you register it (or, on other computers, when you download it) but the program is resident on your computer and you don’t need connectivity to use it when you open a file, for example. The files you create are sent to OneDrive as a default, but you can also store them locally (I haven’t asked him whether you can avoid OneDrive altogether).

    We’ve been without regular internet access for a few days and he’s had no trouble using the Surface the way he would use any other computer with a normal Windows/Mac OS and accompanying programs. I, on the other hand, can only use my offline Google Drive files when the internet isn’t available, since I only brought my Chromebook with me.

  26. IAM JSON
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 14:54:56


    I wish MS would get off its butt and get the Surface into the hands of users. His set up sounds pretty nice. Giving away a bunch of Surface tablets would be great PR. I don’t get why MS isn’t doing this.

    I was looking at prices, and wow. Not competitively priced without a FanBoy/Girl community letting people know it’s worth the premium.

  27. Erin Burns
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 15:02:44

    @IAM JSON: This was two/three years ago, and I’ll admit that some of the issues might have been incompetence. But there are 9 computers in that lab, all maxed out when they were purchased. They tried parallels and boot camp on separate computers. The issues included being unable to access network login or other network services like printers or shared drives and software crashes out the wazoo. Granted Mac isn’t my mileu, but we needed it to work and it flat wouldn’t. I gave up and when these hit EOL I’m replacing them with windows. Audiology is a strange and insular profession when it comes to software (especially Noah), always a bit behind when it comes to compatible OS and a bit buggy most of the time.

  28. Erin Burns
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 15:04:38

    And I’m seriously lusting over the Surface Pro3, trying desperately to figure out how to convince TPTB that I should replace my iPad and my laptop with one.

  29. Sunita
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 15:06:28

    @IAM JSON: It’s a beautiful piece of machinery but it’s not cheap, that’s for sure. Basically the cost of a good laptop. He was able to trade in a couple of machines we’re not using anymore and that brought the price down, which helped. But I think the trade-in scheme is over now.

    I totally agree that they should be getting these out to the tech community. Or offer a really good discount for educational users. So many of the positive reviews come from students who used the previous version because it ran OneNote and could also be used as a tablet, and the new version is better on all dimensions.

  30. Maite
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 17:45:08

    Thank you, once more, for explaining something I was vaguely aware of in such a way that I now get it.
    On the Linux issue, I go with dual-boot. It’s the best compromise I know.
    I had to switch to Linux because I needed IRAF (that and Windows don’t work together), so I went with dual-booting (currently Mint 17 (xfce) and Win 7). I adore Linux, particularly after I was running a 5 year old PC with half the original RAM during my thesis. (Long story short: clean the heat sink/ventilator regularly).
    But I can’t avoid Windows. Why? ‘Cause of stuff like “This website only works in Internet Explorer”, or Adobe DRM’ed e-books which don’t download to Linux, or your own X-rays which come in a CD with an auto-run program that works only on Win. Whatever mistakes they make, Windows is still the standard people consider when testing their programs or their websites. Whatever the security issues, there are millions who still think Internet Explorer is the only thing ever.
    So yeah, yell all you want, but at some point you will need a Win OS. At least for the next two years.

  31. MD
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 18:40:42

    @Maite: You can’t avoid Windows for the auto-run cds, true. But, actually, Adobe DRM’d books download and run just fine on the Linux side.

    Just install wine, and then install adobe digital editions on it (which is as simple as running “wine ade_installer.exe). I read several books this way, though my preference is to download them and then strip DRM.

    Wine “drive” is just another Linux directory, and once Wine and ADE is there, at least on my distribution (OpenSuse) Firefox and Chrome automatically recognize that ascm files can be opened with them, and it all works seamlessly. I then point Calibre at “My Digital Content” directory under .wine/drive_c, add the books, and that’s it.

    I run Kindle PC the same way, under Wine. It tends to crash a bit more, but it certainly works well enough to get the books downloaded and de-drm’d.

    For me this has been a huge deal – I wouldn’t survive in a Linux world if there wasn’t an easy way to get at my books ;-)

  32. IAM JSON
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 18:54:41

    You guys are a bunch of geeks.


  33. MD
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 19:01:24

    @IAM JSON: So we are, it seems ;-) Sorry for hijacking the thread intended as reasonable advice for average users ;-)

  34. Statch
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 19:32:05

    Really helpful stuff – thanks very much for writing it. I’m really tired of Windows, especially after we just went through a malware attack on one home desktop that required restoring the system back to May. Trying to navigate the maze of what antivirus/malware detection/prevention/repair programs to use was really not fun. But I think I’m getting too old to switch. I used to love Unix when I used it at work (many years ago) and wanted Linux at home but never got around to it, and now it just doesn’t sound like fun to me any more to fool around with the computer that much. Both desktops and the laptop are getting old but I’m hoping they hang on for a while longer until the choices become clearer to me. Calibre is the other really big deal that would keep me from either a Mac or a Chromebook.

  35. IAM JSON
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 19:42:18

    No worries!! It’s always helpful to have other perspectives!

  36. IAM JSON
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 19:47:58


    Calibre runs on Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and more. And since Chromebook is a linux port, I would expect Calibre run on a Chromebook just fine. You might want to contact the developer to ask about Chromebook just to be sure.

  37. Erin Burns
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 19:52:39

    @IAM JSON: Nothing wrong with a bunch of romance reading geeks ;)

  38. Erin Burns
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 19:56:17

    @Statch: Calibre actually does work well on Mac, the only issue that would come up is if you keep your library on Dropbox or the like. You can’t point both Calibre for Mac and Calibre for Windows at the same library like you can for two computers with the same OS.

  39. Sunita
    Aug 03, 2014 @ 20:08:38

    @Statch: @IAM JSON: I can access my Calibre library from my Chromebook because I keep it on Google Drive, but you can’t run the program on a Chromebook without running Linux on it (most commonly via Crouton), and that requires enabling developer mode. What I do is run Calibre on my Mac and do all my file management and conversions there, then if I want to download a book on my ereader when I’m not near the Mac, I just sideload (if you have a Kindle you can email the file to it as an alternative). I don’t think the content server has write support yet, which is what you’d need to do the file management and conversion stuff, I think.

  40. Evangeline Holland
    Aug 04, 2014 @ 01:34:29

    @Lynne Connolly: it’s much too busy for me. I’ve tried multiple laptops with Windows 8 and it’s not intuitive after years of Windows 95-Windows Vista. And it’s not easy finding laptops with 7 in stores.

  41. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 04, 2014 @ 07:01:21

    @Evangeline Holland: You prefer Vista to 8.1? Okay, then. You know that you can tailor the Start Screen to have exactly what you want on it, and that you can boot up straight to the desktop if you want to? Actually the newest iterations automatically boot up to the desktop with non-touchscreen setups in the latest version, so once you’ve installed a Start menu substitute, or modded the taskbar, you’re good to go.
    If you want 7, you’re going to have to pay for it, I think. Buy a computer with 8.1 and reinstall or get them to reinstall 7. Look for “refurbished” machines, which are often surplus stock, rather than used. Go straight past Windows 8 to Windows 8.1. There’s a big difference. It will be intuitive after about a week, just give it a bit of time. Remember Windows 98? Nobody wanted to give that up for XP, because it was too different!
    @IAM JSON: It’s not me, it’s a geeky son. I know a bit about software, but he does all the fiddling around inside the case. I tell him what I want (eg, “I want this thing to be faster” or “It’s making too much noise,”) and he does whatever to make it do it. New fan, clean the fan, install more RAM and an SSD (that really made my system faster!)

  42. Sara
    Aug 04, 2014 @ 18:40:53

    As someone who has worked as a graphic designer on macs since the mid nineties, i just have to speak up for how easy it is to use a mac. I have one at home and at work, and it is the easiest things to learn ever. And as an artist i’m someone who has 0 skills in any sort of computer science.
    I’ve never had a virus or the like. I’ve never had a problem that i couldn’t fix on my own. No weird drivers to install. No defragging. I even partitioned the hard drive and installed boot camp so i could play my nerd games on steam.

    My experience with windows has consisted of starting it in bootcamp, waiting for 10 million updates that takes hours, and logging onto steam, so i have no frame of comparison to normal use.
    I just know that my mac works. all. the. time. It’s worth every dollar.

  43. IAM JSON
    Aug 04, 2014 @ 19:20:38

    @Erin Burns:

    Romance geeks are hot. We all know that.

  44. IAM JSON
    Aug 04, 2014 @ 19:26:41


    No argument from me, Sara. There are some people who prefer Windows to Mac, but my Mac experience has been like yours (only not as long) .

    Having been poor in the not so distant past, I know there was a long time during which I was unable to shell out the money for a Mac. I just couldn’t. I didn’t have the upfront money to get to the medium to long term benefit. But the benefit has been real and quantifiable for me.

  45. cleo
    Aug 04, 2014 @ 19:50:01

    @IAM JSON: @Sara: I’ll just put in a plug for refurbished Macs for those who like everything about a Mac except the price. I’m a designer and I have a refurbished 6 year old MacBook Pro laptop (and I added the max RAM) and it’s great – it was a still little pricier than a comparable new Windows laptop (with a separate graphics card) but not by much, and it does everything that I need it to do.

  46. Statch
    Aug 04, 2014 @ 20:07:05

    Thanks to everyone for the tips on using Calibre with other OSes!

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