Buying a Computer

What I’m Looking For

  • Reliability – I’m not looking for a computer that never breaks. All computers break. I’m looking for a computer that I can fix quickly if it breaks.
  • Modularity – the two parts of a computer most likely to break are its hard drive and its keyboard. Its good if you can replace them easily.
  • Standard – I don’t want to spend a lot of time learning the charming eccentricities of my particular computer. As a computer consultant I have to run a lot of different software and I don’t want to deal with “one off” problems unique to my computer.
  • Rugged – I carry the thing around. When other people entertain themselves with their smart phones (what are they doing with those little screens?), I am inclined to take out my computer and work for 10 minutes.
  • Human Factors – I like a comfortable keyboard. I write a lot.
  • Price – if its cheap, I can replace it, and its parts, pretty easily. I also can buy more than one.

What I’m Not Looking For

  • Speed – faster is always better. Speed does cost money though and is likely to compromise other attributes. Hardware has outstripped the computational needs of most computer applications. Common exceptions to this rule are computer games and video editing. I rarely edit video and I never play games.
  • Weight – I don’t mind carrying an 8 lb. computer.
  • Wide Screen – as I use the computer with a monitor at home, I don’t want a wide screen. I buy laptops with 15″ diagonal screens.

What I Buy

Lenovo T61I have 3 Lenovo Model R61 or T61 laptop computers. I use one and have 2 in reserve. Sometimes I use one of the others when I have to try to do some networking work. These cost less than $200 each.

Docking StationI have a docking station which has a 23″ monitor connected to it. When I work at home, I plug the computer into the docking station and then I have two monitors. The screen on the computer and the screen on the docking station. The computers have USB ports and Bluetooth connections. I like Bluetooth as I use a wireless mouse instead of the touchpad and I don’t have to use a USB dongle connector that I would worry about breaking off. The docking station cost $25, the monitor $150 and the external drive cost $150.

Software

You need to get these with Windows System 7,  any version, installed. If you don’t know enough to know the difference between versions, the version won’t matter two you. Most dealers selling these on Amazon have an OEM license to install System 7 and you get a fresh copy. If you buy the computer on craigslist, make sure you are not buying a pirated copy of System 7.

What I don’t have

Things that I would like to have but live without.

A built-in camera, handy for Skype. HDMI out, handy for watching HDTV on an external monitor.

These computers are available from Amazon resellers for less than $200. You need 2 GB of memory as a minimum and Windows System 7. You can buy one and upgrade Windows or the memory.

Mouse

Evoluent MouseI have an Evoluent, blue tooth mouse. It costs about $100.00. Carpal tunnel is no joke and if you use a mouse long enough, you’ll get it. My arm used to get numb before I bought this mouse. Now I give them away as my form of technical evangelism.

Hard drive:

Most of my work is on a 128GB Solid State hard drive. The Lenovos I use can swap out the hard drive in about 2 minutes. Two things about SSHD drives: They are faster, and they are solid. No moving parts. Cost: $100.00.

Backup and additional storage:

3 Terabyte External hard drive: I use this to backup my internal drive and to store movies. I use Google drive to backup everything else.

Monitor

I recently purchased a Samsung LS23C570HS monitor. This is a 23″ monitor that I plug in to my docking station.  It costs $150-$200. The thing about this monitor is that its also a 1080P high definition television. It has speakers, HDMI input, etc. You can plug your cable box into it. If you are a college student renting a room, this is the way to go. You get your TV and your dual monitor work setup all in one.

LCD Arm

I have this LCD arm, the Ergotron 45-174-300. Getting the monitor stand off my desk gives me a little more desk space but more importantly, the monitor rotates. This lets me use it in portrait mode instead of landscape mode which shows much more text on the monitor. The monitor arm is about 80 dollars.

Life with this setup

When something breaks in my laptop, I remove the hard drive and put it in one of the other laptops. This takes 5 minutes. Sometimes my Microsoft software needs to be reauthorized, which Microsoft does.

At home I work with dual monitors: the laptop screen, and the 21″ monitor. This is nice, as I usually have documentation up on one screen and work on the other. The monitor and the external hard drive are plugged into the docking station. Both, “just work” when I plug the computer into the docking station.

Every other day, I need to take the computer out of the docking station and work at a client’s office, or at a coffee shop. I have a traveling power cord and mouse in my laptop bag. The power cord is from one of the other computers. All I have to remember is to put the computer in the bag.

Future Enhancements

Can’t think of any. I used to think I would need HDMI out, but you can get a ROKU box or a Blu-Ray player for under a $100 now, and 32″ TV’s are $150. I’ll probably stay with this for the known future.