29 Oct 2005

Computer Suggestions

Posted by AC

If I get paid for some recent work, I think I’ll have enough dough for a new computer. This is good because while I have a fleet of computers, they’re all old and getting older. My newest one is about 3 years old — about the usable lifespan of a computer. I’m trying to decide what computer to get next and am soliciting your input.

So far in my life, I’ve never purchased a laptop for myself. The two that I have came from 1) an old job and 2) my mom who pretty much just stopped using the one she bought for herself a couple of years ago. In buying hardware for myself, I always wanted the greater computing power for the buck that a desktop provides. Currently, thanks to my wireless setup and a general need to be where the action is in the house, I’ve found myself using my laptop(s) much more, whether computing on the back porch or in my new make-shift office (AKA table) in the living room. That said, once set up in one of those locations, I don’t tend to move it around much, so I’m still not sure how essential laptopage is. So, that’s the first decision that needs to be made: Laptop vs. Desktop.

The next decision is Mac vs. Wintel. I have a soft spot for Macs — the first computer I ever bought was a Macintosh SE, and I was the Apple Student Rep in college. But I’ve not owned a Mac since they made the transition from the MC6800 chip set to the PowerPC. Regardless of this decision, I will at least be dual-booting into Ubuntu (or some other distro, but I’ve been liking Ubuntu of late). I have one resource for finding out about personal experiences of Ubuntu on Mac, but I think he has a much higher tolerance than I do for trying to make half-baked packages work. (Hi, Victor) If anyone else who reads me has an opinion of Ubuntu (or other distro) on PPC, I’d like to hear it.

Another factor is that I’m a gamer. Fortunately, I’m not a bleeding- (or even leading-) edge gamer. I don’t have to have to be able to play the latest high-poly-count FPS (First-Person Shooter) at 60 FPS (Frames Per Second). But I was unable to even install EA’s LotR: Battle for Middle Earth on my current Windows PC, so I am going to need to catch up on that front before too long.

So, I’m looking for a certain amount of portability. I don’t need to be able to journal in bed (as I happen to be at the moment) but, it shouldn’t be too much of a hassle to move said machine from office to living room to back porch. I already have a flat panel monitor, so at least if I get a desktop, I won’t be trying to lug a CRT around. That said, I’d really like to have a dual-head setup. I’d love to be typing in my “IDE” (emacs) on one monitor with a syntax guide for whatever the language-du-jour is up in the other.

So, here are my basic computing uses, in order of either frequency or importance:
1) Programming — emacs. I’ve tried emacs under Windows, and just don’t like it. I haven’t really tried a native OSX emacs, so don’t know how it would fare, though I suspect I’d like it well enough.
2) Email/PIM — currently, I use Novell Ximian Evolution and like it fine, but have had trouble getting my Treo 650 to sync with it under (Redhat) linux, and am not wedded to it. Oh, and I wish I had the ldap object class defintion for the contact manager in Evolution.
4) Surfing/Blogging – Firefox — exists just fine under OSX, Windows, and Linux
5) Photo/Graphic manipulation — Gimp’s getting better, but I still have a preference for photoshop – but $600 is a LOT of money for one piece of software, even one as useful as photoshop. I also need to hook up my camera; Anything with USB will suffice but a media reader for the xD card would be cool.
6) Remote access — I list this low because it’s not really a factor. I won’t be getting a platform that doesn’t have an ssh/sftp client whether shell (Linux/Mac) or PuTTY(Win)
6) Gaming — see gaming paragraph above

Oh yeah, and quiet. It doesn’t have to be silent, but I’d like a computer of a lesser hum.

How would you crack that nut? Even better, what do you recommend for me in this situation? Thanks!

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3 Responses to “Computer Suggestions”

  1. My three cents:

    (1) My strategy for Mac laptops has been to buy low-end gear, especially something from a line that has just gotten a newer better version, ’cause those are often available at discounts, and I only really use it as a terminal, web browser, and Quicken, anyway.

    (2) For a laptop, the Macs are pretty nice. But, the screens are kind of small; they’re big and wide for movies, I guess, but you won’t find 1200×1024 or 1600×1200 on Macs, which is too bad.

    (3) For a desktop, I like buying whitebox hardware from a place called Directron, who will build a custom box for you, either based on one of their standard configurations (with upgrades or downgrades as you like), or assemble a machine completely from parts. (Or just sell you the parts to assemble yourself, or just individual spare parts, as you like. One of their lines is “quiet systems”, and I have one of those which is pretty quiet and which I like a lot.

    I dunno whether you should get a desktop or a laptop. I have a Linux desktop which I use when I want a bigger screen, better keyboard, and better environment overall, and a Mac laptop that I use when I want to be somewhere other than where my Linux box is. :^) It’s a decent combination.



  2. Yeah, my last box was one I built from parts (from mwave) which worked out fine — it was (I guess still is) a great machine. But not quiet in the least. Also, at the time, I was much more up-to-date about what were good components, and was in closer touch with a friend who lived and breathed that stuff.

    The keyboard thing is a little bit of a concern too. I really perfer full-sized keyboards. I’m finally getting somewhat used to the keyboard on this Dell Latitude, but I definitely want a “real” keyboard under my fingers again. And don’t get me started about how keyboard makers have put the Caps Lock key where god meant the control key to go. I have to swap it on every machine I own. And heaven forbid I use someone else’s computer. The number of times that “PA” appear on command lines in those situations would be funny where it not so painful.

    I should be less greedy about system specs for the laptop, maybe that would free up enough for a both-upgrade. But I still don’t think I can swing it. Thanks for your input!



  3. […] In response to this query, I ended up with a 15″ powerbook. It’s a pretty sweet machine even if they did just replace it with the “4-times more powerful MacBook.” I tried an Ubuntu install, but it failed to recognize the Superdrive as a source for the CD —apparently Apple made some change to the drive with the October(’05) model updates. There’s a patch in Gentoo, but not (yet?) in Ubuntu. Between that and iffy (at-best) support for the “airport” card, I decided to just deal with the Mac OS, and not chop up the drive for dual boot. I finally got it set up reasonably. My monitor has both DVI and D-Sub inputs, so I had the Mac in the DVI, my dual-booting Ubuntu/XP machine into the DVI, and (almost) all of the peripherals switching with just a switch of which machine had the USB connection to the monitor. Just when that happened, Penn State took back the loaner laptop that Carolyn had had. To be fair, she’d had it a good long time—longer even than scheduled. So, the powerbook had to move out from being entangled on my desk to where it could be easily accessible for Carolyn during nursing sessions, Carolyn for school work, and either of us for SamTrak updates. So, I still use it little bits, but not nearly as much as before. I’d even started playing with Objective-C and X-code thanks to a book I got from my sibling-in-laws for Christmas. So, I guess I need at least a little more work so I can at least get a Mini. But maybe this time, I should wait until the mini has made the Intel transition. Then, maybe I can tri-boot it with Ubuntu and XP. […]


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