Monday, June 11, 2007

Buying a New Computer

As many of you know, I play Second Life. But playing Second Life on my five year old computer gets a bit trying since SL is pretty graphics intensive. So I've decided, rather than try to upgrade my graphics again...I should get a machine better suited for SL. At work I can play SL on my new iMac, and since my school is considering buying an island on SL and having a virtual campus or at least 'presence' on SL, I can justify using my iMAC for academic SL playing. But what are my options for home?

My first impulse is to buy a Mac. I love Macs and their operating system is still better than Windows. You know those new Windows Vista commercials where users first viewing Vista go "oh wow", like they are having a mystical experience? Well on first seeing Vista, my reaction is "oh ok, this is it?" But buying a Mac presents a problem. Apple does not have a good range of desktops. There is the Mac mini-cool little machine but it has an integrated video chipset. Not good for SL. Some SL Mac users claim it runs...barely. Next up the desktop chain are the iMAC's and I love my 20" iMAC. It's fast and bright-SL plays like a dream now. But it is an all in one machine. Difficult to upgrade. At the top of the Mac desktop chain are the Mac Pros...wonderfully juicy machines but they start at about $2,499 and that is without the monitor! Apple really needs a mid level desk top, say in the $1400 range. Apple does make reliable machines. We had a Quadra 650 for over 10 years and did several upgrades on that machine myself.

OK I want a regular desktop, something with lots of slots. Good graphics. I'm thinking a dedicated Nvidia video card with at least 250mb, so that means a Windows machine since Apple is out. The complication here is there are almost too many choices. So first stop is Best Buy and the usual round of suspects-Gateway, E-machines, HP. The problem is I don't like the machines. Most have integrated graphics-little upgrade potential and are bundled with things I don't need or want. Oh and there is another issue..which processor? Both AMD and Intel have these dual core processors and which is better seems to me like a crap shoot. The reviews seem to go back and forth depending on what iteration of the technology is being sampled and the sorts of benchmarks run. My current machine has an AMD Athlon xp 1800 and I have never had a problem with it, so I am not wedded to Intel.

I have never bought a machine online but since I don't like most of what I see at Best Buy, I decide to look at the main manufacturer's web sites. Most of them allow you to select a base model and configure your own machine, selecting from a range of options-processors, video cards, drives and operating systems...that is versions of Vista. After lots of trial and error on Dell, Gateway's and HP's site, the mainstream machine that most interests me is the Pavilion d4890y series which when tricked out with the most useful stuff for what I want and can afford comes to just under $1800 including the monitor after rebates.

In case your curious here the main specs:

Operating System Windows Vista(TM) Home Premium (32-bit)
Processor Intel(R) Core(TM) 2 Duo processor E6700 (2.66GHz)
Memory 2GB DDR2-667MHz dual channel SDRAM (2x1024)
Graphics Card 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 7500LE, TV-out, DVI, VGA
Networking 802.11 b/g Wireless LAN PCI Card
Hard Drive 320GB 7200 rpm SATA hard drive
Primary CD/DVD Drive LightScribe 16X DVD+/-R/RW SuperMulti drive
Secondary CD/DVD Drive 16x max. DVD-ROM
Front Productivity Ports 15-in-1 memory card reader, 3 USB, 1394, audio
TV & Entertainment Experience No TV Tuner w/remote control
Sound Card Integrated 7.1 channel sound w/front audio ports
Security Software Norton Internet Security(TM) 2007 - 24 Months
Productivity Software Microsoft(R) Works 8.0
Premium Photography Software Combo: Paint Shop Pro XI Photo / Photo Album 6
Keyboard and Mouse HP wireless keyboard and HP wireless optical mouse

Oh yes and a 19 wide screen monitor HP w1907. I have a pretty nice 17" CRT that is five years old and it still works great so I am thinking of keeping it as a second monitor. Maybe I am being like those tube stereo amp purists who insist that tubes give a warm sound that modern electronics can't match, but I don't think an LCD can match my monitor. Maybe I'll change my mind when I see them side by side.

One thing that I have been seriously considering is a lower level game machine. Second Life is a game right? Or is it? After reading scads of reviews and quite frankly seeing two of the machines from this company at Best Buy, I am looking at Velocity Micro's Gamer's Edge 1500-1500 seems to refer to the base price of $1475. This is an Intel Dual core machine and has the Nvidia graphics card I want. Another option is their Gamer's Edge 1000 which as a base price of...you guessed it. Actually it is $999. It uses the AMD Athlon 64x2 processor set. Aside from that, both machines seem to be the same.

The Lawrence Best Buy has two Velocity Micro machines which appear to be sold exclusively through Best Buy. They are Intel duo core machines and similar to the Gamer's Edge machines. So I am watching and hoping to snap one up on sale since both machines are on the floor. The one I am eyeing is the Promagix E6600.

The last option I am currently considering is a local custom builder. Fortunately we have one in Lawrence, Uni computers and I have had them put together a proposal based on VelocityMicro's specs for the E6600. Surprisingly, the local builder comes in at about the same price at the Promagix machine, and just a little less then than the Gamer's Edge 1500. The advantage here is that if something goes wrong I don't have to ship the machine to Timbuktu or Virginia.

What will I decide...who knows. But all the machines in my price range have very similar capabilities. The iMac by the way is really no more expensive than the closest Windows machine, I just don't want an all in one machine. So Apple...work on that mid range desktop. It looks like I have a number of pretty good options.

As for my current desktop. My son needs a computer, so it may end up there or since I just replaced the hard drive I might keep it around as a file back up machine-it is RAID capable so maybe I will set it up that way and network it to my other machines assuming I can still use XP on it. Or maybe I can find someone that won't treat it as a, well, commodity.

Stay tuned...

And the Winner Is...
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