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Jim, you are a treasure trove of information. I knew I could count on you to give me the information I need to make my purchase. Now to start the search.
Thank you so very much.
On May 15, 2021, at 3:57 PM, Jim Stutsman via groups.io <onlinesewing@...> wrote:
There are legions of Windows laptops available, from many different manufacturers. Competition is so fierce that just about all of them are made to achieve the lowest price. Finding the "best" becomes challenging, because every single off-the-shelf model is compromised in some way to lower the cost enough for the manufacturer to make a profit. They are also mostly made to be disposable, and often people who get infected with a virus will just buy another computer and start over. To decide what's truly best for you requires you to know some basic facts:
RAM - this is Random Access Memory, meaning the actual chips that programs occupy while running. It's more expensive to make than hard disk drives. Typically a Windows computer will have 8GB, which is enough for Windows 10 to run fairly well, but not great for programs that use a lot of graphics and computation (like Digitizer). Plan on a minimum of 16GB for best performance. More is usually better.
Storage - RAM memory is completely emptied when power is turned off. Long term storage is managed with hard disk drives (HDD), which have gotten cheaper and cheaper. They spin during operation, and being mechanical will wear out eventually. The read/write mechanism is fixed in place, so reading data means waiting until its position on the "platter" gets under the read/write head. That makes them a LOT slower than RAM. One trick they use is to sell a computer is to offer a really large (1TB, which is 1,000GB), but relatively slow (and cheap) hard drive. The new trend is Solid State Drives (SSD), which as the name implies, have no moving parts. Data access is very fast, but these also will wear out eventually. Typically, though, they last a lot longer than a hard drive. I no longer buy anything else. Get SSD.
CPU Speed - This is a meaningless number. It's the equivalent to what a long deceased friend used to cynically say about cars: "It comes with high speed floor mats and racing door handles." More cores (also not that important) and higher megahertz numbers will be marginally faster, but not enough for you to notice.
Graphics - Another area for a manufacturer to cheap out in order to have a great price. The giveaway here is the word "integrated" in the description of the graphics. This means the graphics use some of the main computer's RAM for storing screen images. In programs like Digitizer this will result in poor performance, and it may not even work properly. Having a separate graphics card is best. These cards have their own RAM, usually in the area of 128MB or more. More is better in this case.
Case - If this laptop is going to be used on a desk with minimal travel, it doesn't matter much. But if you are going to be schlepping it to classes, retreats, grandkids, etc., then a plastic case (which is typical) is going to suffer. Some companies offer plastic that looks like metal, but isn't (Looking at you HP!). A sturdy aluminum case will cost more, but if you're going to be traveling with it, you'll be glad you spent extra.
Reviews - Last, but not to be overlooked. No matter where you plan to purchase your computer, you should check reviews. Sites that only sell computers may not have totally objective reviews. Amazon posts both good and bad. However ALL of the review lists on all sites tend to be gamed by both manufacturers and sellers. They will push 4 and 5 stars to promote a model, or 1 and 2 stars to take down a competitor. The only reviews you can usually trust are 3 stars. This will give you insight into what the purchaser didn't like. It may be something you don't care about, but if you see a trend you know there's a problem.
Since you mention Mac, which is all I use now, I'll add some comments about that. The main argument against Mac is the cost. Yes, there is a price premium. However the build quality is substantially better, and holds up over time much better. While you can install Windows on an X86 (more about that in a minute), I much prefer to use VMware Fusion or Parallels. These are programs that create a virtual computer inside the Mac. Typically they run almost as fast as a native computer. Backing up is easy, since the entire "computer" is one chunk of data that can be copied to an external disk drive. There are negatives - you still have to purchase a copy of Windows to use with these programs. You have to set up the virtual machine and install Windows yourself. It's gotten easier, but it's still not quite plug and play. One advantage of using a virtual machine is that you can run older versions of Windows, since the virtual machine is tailored to what you have. However you cannot use the Windows CD from an old computer, since those are all tied directly to the hardware they were sold with. You also can't use that copy of Windows your brother-in-law found that "fell off a truck". It has to be an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer, which in this case is you) version, and typically is not cheap.
Final words on Mac - it was a watershed event when Steve Jobs announced that Apple was switching to Intel hardware in 2007, because it opened the door for Windows to be used on a Mac. Starting with the 8086 chip, then 286, 386, 486, etc. this family of chips has become generally known as X86. Windows was built for X86. However starting last year, Apple has started making their own computer chips. The first one, called M1, is a full computer on a chip and is astoundingly faster than nearly all X86 computers while using substantially less power. That makes for longer battery life. There is currently no way to run Windows on a Mac using the M1 chip set. However because everyone is flocking to M1 machines (guilty as charged, should be here next month), the X86 models are being discounted by all the usual big box stores. If you want a Mac to run Windows, make certain that it is X86 based, not M1.
Now, having told you far more than you ever asked for, I will retire to my office. Cheers!