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What do I need?
June 25, 2012 9:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm buying a new laptop, and I need to be able to watch a lot of live-streaming on the web on it. So which is more important for that, RAM or CPU speed?

So my main laptop is pretty much dead, but when I can boot it up I see it has 4 GB of RAM and a processor speed of 2.10 GHz. This has always served my biggest need in terms of what I use a computer for, which is as a substitute for the TV I don't have. We'll call this the "good" computer.

But since it started acting up, I've been using my girlfriend's old laptop as a backup. Watching any streaming video (as opposed to recorded video like youtube, which is better) is nigh on unwatchable. It stutters, lurches ahead, and everything appears to be in slow motion. It has a 1 GHz processor and 1 GB RAM. Obviously my internet connection is the same with both devices. We'll call this the "bad" computer.

The time has come for me to buy a new (new to me, that is, used is fine) and I need to do it as cheaply as possible. I'm seeing lots of ads for laptops under $300 (that's what I'm shooting for... the further under, the better) that seem be equal to or greater than the good computer in terms of either processing speed or RAM, but less than the good computer in the other category.

I don't know which is more important, or if they are both equally important, for my purposes...or perhaps another bit of system info I'm ignoring. So before I take the plunge I was wondering if any hivesters can guide me towards the most important spec(s) for watching live streaming. Thanks!
posted by mreleganza to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Go for CPU speed. RAM is easily upgradeable by the user (and for cheap too, check Newegg). You're pretty much stuck with the built in processor.
posted by nickhb at 9:56 AM on June 25, 2012


You aren't going to find any underpowered notebooks for web streaming on the market. I would stay away from netbooks as those can be YMMV.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:00 AM on June 25, 2012


Seconding woncorgi. You should be shooting for at least 2.5-2.7 GHz processor and 4-8 GB of RAM or you're just shooting yourself in the foot down the line. You can get a decent system for $500 if you have an eye for deals. Good sources:
Dell Outlet
HP Outlet
Dealzmodo (Daily Deals Summary)
posted by nickhb at 10:05 AM on June 25, 2012


The bad computer does not seem to have bad specs for what you're doing with it. I have a computer with Windows XP, less than 1 GHz processor, and 512 MB of RAM and it handles streaming video fine. There might be something else wrong with the bad computer, such as a program hogging all the resources.
posted by massysett at 10:05 AM on June 25, 2012


Pretty much any laptop you buy new should be able to handle streaming video, even in HD, no problem. Netbooks, like wongcorgi says, are another matter as they can vary much more widely in capabilities.

You should be shooting for at least 2.5-2.7 GHz processor and 4-8 GB of RAM or you're just shooting yourself in the foot down the line.

I don't think you have to look for yourself too far down the line for this purchase if, again, your main use is streaming video.

Go for CPU speed. RAM is easily upgradeable

I do agree with this though. If you go the used route, definitely value CPU over RAM but make sure you check that it has room for more RAM. "Expandble to 4 Gigabytes" or better "8Gb" is what you're looking for. If it only comes with 2 or 1Gb that's awesome; RAM is cheap. Buy yourself 2x2Gb and have at it.

But really though, if all you're using this thing for is streaming video on the web, why don't you take some time to pare down the OS on your girlfriend's old laptop? Nuke it from orbit and reinstall the operating system with only the bare necessities*, and see how it performs then. You may not even need to plonk on a new computer right now.

* There's a lot to unpack here that I'm not even remotely qualified to explain. If it sounds like gibberish to you, maybe do a lot of reading and googling, but also maybe just forget it and buy a 'new' computer. Or if you were like 'oh yeah, why didn't *I* think of that?' then maybe try a linux install on it and see how that works.
posted by carsonb at 11:38 AM on June 25, 2012


The 1GHz computer is not going to be fast enough to play Flash or Silverlight video at full screen, so you're correct there.

You say you can see that the "good" computer's RAM and CPU when it boots. What's wrong with it? It may be that you have a dying hard drive, which is generally cheap and easy to replace.

Also, seconding @nickhb's post. Add DellAuction and DFSDirect to that list. Dell Financial Services also sells on eBay.
posted by cnc at 11:54 AM on June 25, 2012


The bad computer does not seem to have bad specs for what you're doing with it. I have a computer with Windows XP, less than 1 GHz processor, and 512 MB of RAM and it handles streaming video fine. There might be something else wrong with the bad computer, such as a program hogging all the resources.

Do other people concur with this?

You say you can see that the "good" computer's RAM and CPU when it boots. What's wrong with it? It may be that you have a dying hard drive, which is generally cheap and easy to replace.

Well, you can look at my previous askmes about The Good Computer. Basically, it will only start at certain temperatures....well, it will start any and every time, and the fan will run everytime but I only get a startup or post screen sometimes and I haven't nailed down the formula. Letting it "heat up" and then restarting it sometimes does the trick, but most of the time I need to let it heat up and THEN cool back down and THEN it will start.

More distressingly, it's been shutting down more frequently when I'm watching streaming video, a trend that started when I was playing a high meg/ram video game (which I since deleted) and now has spread to more "simple" tasks like watching streaming video. I monitor the temperature closely, and when it seems hot I put an empty frozen pizza box under it (my DIY version of a PC fan).

When I have to leave for several hours, I play a streaming radio station, because IME that will keep it running without shutting it down. I have learned that it won't start up from cold (see above), and if I just let it either hibernate or sleep, it also won't "come back" when I return...it will still be on, but I can't bring a screen up. So it's like I have to find that perfect in between point between too much taxing activity and not enough activity, to keep it running. Mad Carew's comment makes a lot of sense given my symptoms.

I'm getting far afield from my ask here, because yes, if I can save The Good Computer that would be great and optimal. The previous asks didn't give me a lot of hope, but cnc's comment in this thread is a lot more "optimistic" than previous answers, which basically said that I might as well get a new computer rather than replace the motherboard, and if it's cold and fractured solder joints, that's beyond my personal expertise to repair.
posted by mreleganza at 5:12 PM on June 25, 2012


The "bad" computer is probably having video streaming issues because it's trying to buffer streaming data from wifi/ethernet to a slow laptop HD (which is probably really crufted over by now). You'd expect your programs to buffer to RAM, but hey, crazy software developers.

You might get some joy by running defrag software. Defraggler is very good and free-free. While you're at it, run CCleaner (don't worry about the name), also very good and free-free.

Also, check to see what your page-file status is. Something like right-click on MyComputer/Properties/AdvancedSystemProperties/whatever until you get to Performance. Under yet another Advanced tab, there should be a "Virtual memory" and "Change" dialogue. Hit change and make sure you have a "Page File" on some drive, and if its two different numbers, set it so the initial and maximum are the same number (the OS will recommend a number when you try to change them). If you have no page file, even if you have lots of ram, Windows runs like crap. If the page file isn't "static" (two different numbers) you can get some horrid performance hits when it tries to change the page file size on the fly - compounded exponentially if the HD is small, slow, and highly fragmented.

--

Your "good" computer - I suspect a fan issue. Blow out all the fan ports with compressed air. If you're confident enough, open it up and dissect out the dust bunnies quilting the interior of the laptop. Maybe oil the fans while its opened up (use very light grade mineral oil; most fans have a small hole/port on the fan-hub the leads to the bearings. These ports are typically under a sticker.

Might not be a bad idea to run memtest to see if the lack of reproducibility is due to slightly faulty ram. If you're confident enough, edit the BIOS and see if you can inject an additional 0.1 to 0.5 volts to the RAM. This can sometimes compensate for slightly faulty ram or push slightly faulty ram into full failure.

OTOH, the changes in temperature suggests that something is (mostly) connected ... but loose. If you're opening up the laptop, might as well wiggle the innards a bit. Maybe seat/unseat ram, video connectors, &c.
posted by porpoise at 6:22 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


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