Help update me on modern compies
October 16, 2008 10:22 PM   Subscribe

I haven't bought a computer in 6 years (pre-multi-core). Help update me on what are "acceptable" specs for a computer or laptop.

I'm so out of touch. I built my compy 6 years ago with an AMD 2600+ uni-processor. I need to upgrade my desktop or buy a laptop (leaning laptop), and I don't know what's "good" anymore. I guess Intel is now the bee's knees, and having less than 2GHz is acceptable for a multi-core.

What I use my computer for in order of frequency:

+ Excessive internet use
+ Software and Web development
+ Although I want to know I could play decent games, I really hardly ever play them. I know I want to play Spore, despite the DRM.
+ I'd also like to use Windows but also virtualize a Linux box.

This laptop seems good. ::shrug::
posted by TimeTravelSpeed to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Hmm. Part of my original description went missing. Basically I have a <>
What is the average processor speed these days for dual-core?
What's a processor type that I should shoot for?
What are your opinions on laptops these days?
Where should I shop?

Really any information or opinions are helpful. I just need to get up-to-speed a bit here.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 10:28 PM on October 16, 2008

I'm unqualified to answer your question (in fact, I'm feeling a bit out of the loop as to the state of the art with these things too), but I'd just like to point out that the 2GHz area that modern chips are in is not only due to the multi-core thing, the benefits of which are in fact problematically small--nothing like twice the individual clock speeds except when doing very parallel things like running two CPU-intensive apps at once. They're because Intel has moved onto architectures that get much more computation out of each MHz, unlike the somewhat pathetic Pentium 4, which allowed for huge clock speeds but got nothing out of them. This means their original attempts to tar AMD in the public's mind for having fewer GHz--when the performance was comparable--are now working against them as they now market chips with way lower clock rates.
posted by abcde at 11:13 PM on October 16, 2008

IMO the latest MacBook provides a solid benchmark.

3MB L2 Cache (P8400/P8600 CPU)
NVIDIA 9400M integrated graphics
DVI (or DisplayPort) out
1066Mhz FSB / 2GB DDR3-1066 RAM
LED backlit display

You can get Intel's price-list here, which breaks out their portable offerings, from the 2.8Ghz T9600, on down.
posted by troy at 11:15 PM on October 16, 2008

That laptop is a reasonable spec. It's not significantly slower than something at the top end of the notebook range right now. That said, it only has integrated graphics which might suck for games (i.e. Spore), but someone here says that Spore works on the same graphics (Intel X3100) on a similar spec fine at "medium" settings. EA's specs confirm that Spore does work on the X3100.

For the average user, once you're on Core 2 Duo the clock speed hardly matters unless you really need some juice. The gap between 2GHz and 2.4GHz, say, can be a lot in money but doesn't feel significant. It comes down more to hard drive, graphics, and softer elements.
posted by wackybrit at 11:30 PM on October 16, 2008

I will go out on a limb and say that almost any modern laptop will be suitable for what you need. Things that bug me most about my current laptop are stuff like
- inconvenient audio jack so audio cable gets in my way when I'm typing
- no S-video or component video out
- overheats too much - I have to raise it an inch off the desk to improve air flow
- shitty speakers that don't get very loud
- USB ports all on one side
...though it was dirt cheap and it's served me well for what I paid for it. Next time I buy a computer I will pay more attention to how well it's designed.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:33 PM on October 16, 2008

I do pretty much what you do: Spore, some other older games, particularly the Orange Box games, Linux in Vmware, development in C++ and various scripting languages.

I took a hit on specs to get a tablet PC (Lenovo X61T) and can verify that these work great for the stated purposes:

1.8Ghz dual core
2GB ram (I was planning to buy another stick when I bought the machine but I never see swapping even with Vmware running)
Crappy onboard Intel graphics card

The only thing I ever miss is the compilation speed on the Mac Pro desktop I use at work, which has 8 fast cores. If you have the budget to do both and you do either compiled languages or serious data munging it's pretty sweet to have a small laptop to ssh into a beefy linux desktop stashed somewhere for the heavy lifting.
posted by moift at 11:35 PM on October 16, 2008

As Percussive Paul says pretty much anything will do spec-wise. I would want discrete graphics for gaming and probably err on the side of 3gb or more ram if you'll be running Vista, but the rest is all down to battery life/size/weight/heat/design/price tradeoffs.

If the one you linked looks ok to you, official hp site gives you a ton of customization options (although I don't see that particular model, I'm thinking maybe it's equivalent to the dv5 series which has discrete graphics as an option).
posted by juv3nal at 1:40 AM on October 17, 2008

I highly recommend the Ars Technica System Guides as excellent benchmarks for PC specs relevant to what a user needs (compared to specs relevant to what manufacturers are selling).
posted by Jairus at 4:01 AM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

One thing to look out for.

Stronger graphics capability is directly inverse to battery life. Do you want a moveable laptop you can sit in a coffee shop writing your novel on for hours, or one you can play games on, that will generally need to be plugged in continuously?
posted by Sparx at 5:04 AM on October 17, 2008

It seems like the one thing that so many manufacturers skim on is RAM. No idea why, considering how cheap the stuff is. I've seen so many bargain computers that should have been blazingly fast crippled by not enough RAM. 2 GB is fine, but don't go much lower.
posted by advicepig at 8:05 AM on October 17, 2008

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