Thursday, November 04, 2010


Ach, it's time to invest in a new computer. The hard drive is making sounds it never made before, it takes forever to turn off, the USB connections are dodgy and Windows XP is playing silly buggers. Any suggestions?


Sean said...

The options are Windows or Apple and the choice is whatever you feel comfortable with. OK, OK. Before someone also have the Linux option.
If you've already got a Windows PC (and it sounds like you do), then stick with it--if for no other reason that all your files will transfer over. Make sure you get Windows 7 as it's vastly superior to Vista.
If you want a change, then go with a Mac. I don't know much about them but I'm sure the Apple evangelists will weigh in with their opinions.

Graeme said...

Wave a spanner at it or bang it on the side like it's an old valve operated telly.

I've worked in IT for ten years now, and it's never failed me yet.

If there's room, you can bump up the memory (if you're only running 1gb). Defrag it, clean, defrag it again, put your data files on a caddy not on the main drive.

Or by something new and stick your old drive in a caddy as a slave or back up. The options are endless.

Kirby Uber said...

bah! you beat me to the yelling of linux! ;p

i do suggest linux for no other reason as a writer of sci/fi, possible the best ever, running linux would just be cool. 8)

mac is slick and pretty surely, more expensive up front, but does come with a legion of rabid fanboys. so that's nice. 8)

Sean is however right, i believe. I imagine you are more interest in getting to the business of getting work done, and not making a political or fashion statement (linux and mac respectively.) windows 7 is my vote too.

Neal Asher said...


Sean, I get a little tired of the endless updates from Windows and wondering what's better.
Graeme, done all the defrags and clean ups etc. The problem is that the XP on this computer ... ahem ... can't update.

Kirby, got Windows 7 on my laptop and I lost some work because of a fucking update. I don't know. Windows seems like a new car with all the gadgets, but it get unreliable later on and, of course, you then need the new car...

Jebel Krong said...

with all due respect to grame (and he's right but that's the involved way to do it...) just buy a cheap 399 pound dell or whatever, remove any (inevitable) crapware, get avg free 2011 - removing the need for pointless expenditure on anti-virus software they like to saddle you with - and you're pretty much set. oh and just buy a cheap 8/16gb usb stick to back anything really important up regularly.

simonwoof said...

Sounds like your thinking Mac?

They have just reduced the price of Apple hardware in Europe I hear so it's not a bad time to try

A bit more expensive that the equivalent Windows machine but super high quality stuff and OSX is really very mature OS

There is a lot of really nice software for writers as well have a look at Scrivener (fullon project writing tool-char dev, plotlines corkboarding etc) and Writeroom (simple writing space)

the new macbook air is extremely cool but a macbook pro 13 with external monitor is a really nice set up

It's all compatible windows/mac now with the exception of some specialist programs

is that fan boy enough?

cameron said...

Go for iMac... just bought one. A bit pricey, but it just works!... no more windows asking stupid questions all the time and getting updates for all the crap pre-installed programs every 4 minutes.

Plugged the old printer in, expected to wait a while like you do with windows but a message came up about 3 seconds later saying something like "what are you waiting for, are you gonna print or what!"

... and Mrs Cam like it cos there is one cable that comes out of the computer (which is also the screen)... no more tangles of wires and cables...... great bit of kit!

EvilSoftwareDeveloper said...

If you want Word use Windows 7. I'm running it for games and it works just fine.
If not - ie. live with ooffice - use Ubuntu. I'm running it for everything else and it works just fine and it's for free.
If you have too much money and go for nice white stuff use Mac.

Anyways if you'd select anything other than Mac get an Intel i3 based system. It's cheap, doesn't eat too much power and sufficiently does all the tasks you'd need.

Djehuty said...

I would personally recommend getting a PC, and going with Windows Seven, getting a Portable Hard Drive, and not paying through the nose.

Macs SOUND good, and look good. They are also a complete pain in the arse to upgrade. They're really made more for people who want to work industry graphics etc. It's the prestige thing.
However, they are also a breeze to use. OSX is incredibly intuitive and user friendly.

This said, I sometimes despise Windows for its lack of reliability, but really just saving all your files to a PHD is easier. It's what I do with all my graphics and game saves.

In the end? Mac is reliable in most cases, but you will pay a lot more than you actually have to.

And Windows is getting better, but it's still incredibly arse-backwards. You really do pay for what you get, however.

Saint said...

I didn't think I was going to but I really like Win 7. It has been very stable. Don't much care for Apple because of their closed system. Pick up some bits from Newegg and build your own. Mine has three hard drives for the backup of my work/pictures. Naturally with all that insurance nothing has been lost.

Richard Fletcher said...

You probably want a laptop don't you? So you have the same computer in Greece as you have in the UK?

You could buy a spare keyboard and monitor for each home and have the laptop plug into the monitor and the nice keyboard.

I suspect you'll care about the keyboard given what you do for a living.

Laptop keyboards are all shitty if you have to do a lot of typing.

Once you have that set up, or even if you choose to do things differently, use online backup, like, so if your laptop goes to computer hell (there is no computer heaven, as none are yet worthy) then you can just buy another, install and get all your files back.

It will probably mean you hammer the wifi when you go to the internet cafe in greece, but only if you deal with lots of large files. And of course you'll only get backed up when online.

Dropbox also keeps old versions of files, which comes in handy at times.

With apple you'll end up paying top prices, but you wont have to be advised to "remove all the crapware, degfrag, clean, check for viruses, clean again" etc.

With linux you'll be fine until someone sends you a .docx file and OpenOffice looses images and formatting.

Neal Asher said...

Jebel, that sounds about right to me. I bought Nortons with the laptop and wonder if I should have bothered.

Simonwoof, actually I'm only thinking Mac in terms of alternatives to Windows. But perhaps I just ought to think in terms of how to trim away all that crapwear Jebel mentions.

Cameron, sounds interesting, I'll probably take a look.

Evil, Intel i3 -- noted.

Djehuty, I save to pen drive, though I do have a portable hard drive. Thing is, one book is just one meg.

Saint, I find Windows 7 as stable as the XP I use here, or rather, the XP as it functioned some years ago.

Richard, I was thinking of a laptop, but I have a new Logitech keyboard someone gave me, still in its box, and the big screen before me is very good. So I suspect I'll be going for the sort of option Jebel suggests. As for online back-ups, everything important is already backed up at numerous locations, but whatever I'm working on I usually back-up every day to a pen drive, sometimes two separate pen drives.

Thanks for all the advice everyone!

Wraitholme said...

A reliable computer is an oxymoron. Having said that, there are ways you can increase the stability of any particular machine.

1) Keep it clean. Dust, smoke particles (I gather you're a smoker) and fluff are mortal enemies for your hard-working machine. They're corrosive, they're static-bearing, and they're insulatory... heat is bad. It's probably the smoke that's killed your USB connectors.

2) Sounds like you have a good backup regime, so we can forgo the usual patronising lecture there :P

3) Defrag regularly. It tends to sort data away from bad sectors on the drive, it is supposed to sort your more frequently-used apps closer to the beginning of your drive, and it generally speeds things up if you've done a lot of moving around of files.

4) The HDD is probably showing its age, that's the usual reason for discomfort-inducing sounds. you may just need a new drive and a fresh install of your current OS, rather than an entirely new machine.

5) When you can, pop the side off your case and take a look while it's actively running (This is a good time to not touch anything inside). You want to look at the various cooling fans, make sure they're all running. Also, make sure there isn't a nice thick layer of dust on the fans and heatsink. Overheating can cause many interesting problems that are subtle in effect, like strange slowdowns.

The above are my 'standard' checklist for when I'm being the computer geek for friends and family :)

Assuming you're going for a new machine...

Apple is awesome, but the analogy to a walled garden is still quite apposite. It's a very pretty garden, with a comfortable bench and a nice fountain... but that's a high stone wall over there, and you don't get a key to the gate.

Linux is great, socially conscious and very slick these days, if you get a good distro. But if Windows is a nice house with a white picket fence and neat garden, then Linux is a house that belongs to an obsessive alternate energy nut who's also a DIY expert. It's a brilliant OS if you really like mucking about in your PC.

Ultimately, M$ still has the lion's share of the market for a reason... it's user friendly, and there's massively more support for it. This is changing, and the change is accelerating, but it's got a way to go still :)

In summary (I like to blather sometimes, sorry)... I recommend sticking with the evil M$ empire, just replace the HDD if the rest is serving your needs, and try keep smoke and dust away from the box :)

Neal Asher said...

Wraitholme, I think it was the year before last I dealt with the dust problems. Horrible noises led me to a small fan all clogged with crap, which I replaced (though I had to alter the replacement to fit). The USB problems have been around for quite a while and everything is a bit old and tired. I'm going for the new pc I think. Just looked at some at local computer store but the cheapest there was about £450. Now time for a bit of Internet searching.

Mark said...

I just switched to a Mac after using windows PC's for years. Extremely easy, quick and user friendly. You can even get Microsoft Office for the Mac now, so files will work no problem if you transfer them over.

IMO, my iMac is vastly superior in every way to any windows PC I've ever used.

Mark T Croucher said...

Your a hands on kind on guy. Build one from parts from e-bay. That's what I have done over the years and never had an issue. As long as you choose UK based suppliers with good ratings you will be fine and get the best deal for the kit you want and need. No free ware as well.

eva05 said...

Opinions will vary, but owning/using Windows XP Pro, Windows 7 and Mac OSX systems - I recommend a Macbook of some sort. Pro is probably overkill for your needs but if you were in America you would be able to write it off as a business expense considering your business (no clue about tax laws in England though).

I write a lot and do work on my computers(graphics, video and writing) and at the end of the day, if you like being fast and knocking work out, I find Mac's are faster environments to work in. It's in the little things like locating files, searching for data, creating new folders, navigating file structure, etc.

If I was to purchase a new machine today I would probably grab a refurb Intel Core Duo II macbook pro. There are some very nice deals on them if you look. If you want brand spanking new, traveling machine I would probably grab a Macbook Air 13" or a Macbook Pro 15".

That's my preference though. YMMV

Jebel Krong said...

macs are overpriced crap. apple is only concerned with controlling every aspect of their systems and limiting what you can do with them (oh and they also don't give a f*ck about the environment) - i know most other corps don't either, but apple have been able to get away with it whilst MS etc. haven't because they are a relative minority in the pc-maker space.

acer/ASUS/Dell/whatever - you can get better specs for half the price of any mac and it will be more reliable.

never pay for anti-virus, there are several companies who offer free versions which are decent enough, AVG is probably the best, and they have been doing it for ages.

crapware is (other than bad memory-hungry anti-virus) the reason most pcs run slower than they should - remove any/all of the "free" programs that are bundled (you can also buy a lot of systems stripped of it now, thanks to complaints - just don't pay extra) and do a defrag to get optimal response.

also in vista/7 you can set your startup programs - limit all the non-critical ones (media players etc) because you only want them running when you need them and voila - memory usage falls and speed increases (you have to check this because - particularly with apple programs (itunes quicktime i'm looking at you) any updates tend to re-set this).

Xanares said...

Pretty much agree with Jebel, although I would recommend Avast anti-virus over AVG. Just put it in quiet or gaming mode to remove sound when auto-update has run or sound/notice respectively.

I bought a Samsung R720 (17" laptop) for £550 last autumn. It's been rock steady - even with the millions of Win7 updates.

I keep my important stuff on an external HD running two HDs in raid 0, meaning one goes you just replace it. That's a comfort, as I've had 2-3 HDs go "noisy" over the years and it sucks. Graeme's spanner trick never helped me.

Apart from that CD/DVD-backups stored well can outlast the mechanics in HDs in my exp (20y). Very anecdotal though.

Neal Asher said...

The computer is ordered and on its way - Compaq SG3-250uk (though when I look on the Curry's site where I ordered it, it now says 'currently unavailable' so I don't know if I'll get it). I've also ordered a couple of 16 GB flash drives for back-ups and transferring between computers. I don't really need much more than this since the total space my files takes up on this computer (including photos) comes to 6GB.

Duracell said...

Hi Neal,

1. Go to and download the iso for Linux Mint 9 Live CD.

2. Burn the iso to a CD, and boot your new PC from this CD.

3. Play around with it to see if you like the feel of it, and to verify that your hardware is working with it. Bear in mind that it will be slower because you are running it from the CD, and have not installed it (yet).

4. If all your hardware is working as it should, then I recommend that you consider sacrificing some of the available HD space and click on the "Install Linux Mint" icon. It is very straightforward and simple to set up your new PC as a dual boot system during the install process, which will allow you to choose between Linux and MS after powering on your PC.

5. See how often you choose to boot into your new incredibly fast, reliable, stable and free OS, and how rarely you bother selecting the far, far slower, less reliable, and less stable MS option!

6. Try to stop yourself from resurrecting old PC that you thought were long dead, and giving them a new lease of life by installing linux on them!

Neal Asher said...

Duracell, maybe I'll try installing Linux Mint on my old computer first and play around with it. I haven't changed over yet since I'm waiting on some other bits and pieces.

Thanks for the advice.

Duracell said...

Good plan Neal. Best of luck. Let us know your thoughts if you do decide to give it a go.

Nuno said...

I've been using exclusively Ubuntu for about 5 years now, and it's relaxing, to say the least: no need for anti-virus, no need to defragment the drive, got thousands of free software packages always updated, no crashes, and much more. Oh, and works very well on my 6-year-old notebook (in fact, since it's free and only takes 15-20 min, try it on your old machine -- you may be surprised).

As for backups, Dropbox definitely made my life simpler by an order of magnitude.