Looking gift tech gear in the mouth.
July 8, 2011 6:04 AM   Subscribe

Potential Computer Upgrades for Misers, or should I accept this free laptop?

I'm really cheap when it comes to computers. Mine is old. A friend has offed me a somewhat less-old laptop that I'm considering as a replacement for my old desktop. Please help me decide.

The laptop in question is a Sony vgn-fz190 manufactured in late 2007. The original Vista OS has been displaced by Ubuntu, but I can get a copy of Windows 7 (for cheap). I haven't figured out how to find much basic hardware info on the machine itself, but I've been able to discern that it's got a 120GB hard drive, which probably makes it a "Configuration 4" in the taxonomy used in Sony's old sales literature. Configuration 4 would mean it has a 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 processor. I'm guessing it shipped with 1GB of RAM, but like I said, I haven't figured out how to tell for sure.

Meanwhile, I am tapping away at the keyboard of a 2003 vintage Dell 4600 with a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 "hypertheading" processor. I've had to replace the original HD and power supply. I've also upgraded the original RAM to 2 GB, and thrown in a better graphics card ($1 at a garage sale) so that The Sims' landscape looks richer when my wife decides to kill an evening helping imaginary people succeed.

My computer use is pretty basic -- internet, spreadsheets, accounting and photo processing (Photoshop 6!) are most of what I do. Very few games, played very rarely.

Setting aside obvious factors like physical size, reduced fan noise and novelty, would you describe the Sony as an upgrade, downgrade or perhaps a wash? Would switching over benefit me in some substantial way, or would it just be a bunch of work for nothing?
posted by jon1270 to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
Sounds like an upgrade to me, but regardless, here's a relatively painless way to try it out and see if you like it. Take the newer machine. Then go online with the Dell, download the basic drivers for the Sony (ethernet, etc). Swap hard drives, install the necessary drivers, then go back to Sony's site to get the rest of the drivers. Now you've got the brain of the Dell, with the body of the New Hotness.

If you like it: yay. If you hate it, grab your screwdriver, undo the switch, and all will be right with the world.
posted by Optamystic at 6:13 AM on July 8, 2011

I wrote the above before taking into account Sony's utterly craptacular hardware design, which turns even the simplest ugrade into major surgery. That said, the hard drive swap will still be fairly easy, here's a quick illustrative video.
posted by Optamystic at 6:23 AM on July 8, 2011

Best answer: That sounds somewhat close to the upgrade I just purchased for myself. I went from a 2004 vintage Dell 600M with a Pentium M processor to a late 2008 vintage HP desktop with a lower end dual core AMD chip and 3 GB RAM. The performance difference is been staggering.

My only concern would be the reliability of a Sony laptop. A previous employer bought all Sony's and we had lots of problems.
posted by COD at 6:26 AM on July 8, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the thoughts so far.

Swap hard drives...

Not possible. My desktop has 3.5" IDE drives.
posted by jon1270 at 6:37 AM on July 8, 2011

I'm not sure what the choice you're making is. Can't you take and use the laptop and discover first hand whether or not it meets your needs, and still have your desktop? What is the work involved in switching over? An external HDD and Windows 7?

There are benefits to having two computers around, and I can't think of a huge number of downsides...
posted by papayaninja at 6:51 AM on July 8, 2011

Response by poster: I guess what I'm worrying about is that after installing Windows 7, I'll have to find and learn replacement software for my old XP programs that may not run on 7. I don't have the expertise to know what will and won't work, and fear that my current arrangement of hardware and software is so outdated that changing anything will mean changing everything. I don't know how to compare a 2.4GHz P4 to a 1.8GHz Core Duo. or to guess whether I'll perceive a difference while doing the stuff I typically do. Also, I live in a very small house and would rather not have extra hardware sitting around.
posted by jon1270 at 7:03 AM on July 8, 2011

Not possible. My desktop has 3.5" IDE drives.

Sorry, was reading too fast.
posted by Optamystic at 7:08 AM on July 8, 2011

I guess what I'm worrying about is that after installing Windows 7, I'll have to find and learn replacement software for my old XP programs that may not run on 7.

I wouldn't sweat that too much. The vast majority of progs that run on XP will run on 7. If you get Win7 Pro, there's an included "XP Mode" for problem programs. If you buy a lower version of 7, and have a legal copy of XP you can install Microsoft's VM and make your own XP Mode.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:30 AM on July 8, 2011

Best answer: There are enclosures that take hard drives and make them "external" hard drives, although my experience has mostly been with SATA ones.

You can compare the benchmarks for the processors at CPU Benchmark, but with a Core Duo, it's probably light years better.

In modern computers, the most perceivable "speed" increases typically come from increases in memory amount and speed, as well as hard drive read speed (SATA is WAY better than IDE especially the ones with the 6 GB/s speeds these days).

Many XP programs run natively on Windows 7 or have some updates that allow them to do so. If you post a list of what software you use, we could probably suggest alternatives if necessary. Windows 7 will likely run faster than XP on a notebook in general, as they have some optimizations set up for it.

If Windows 7 is fairly cheap, your friend's laptop is likely a big upgrade, as long as you can spend the time to get it set up.

It may be useful to get an external hard drive to put your files from the XP machine on and as a backup strategy. They're usually fairly cheap at stores and on Newegg.
posted by bookdragoness at 7:34 AM on July 8, 2011

The chip is a big upgrade.

Googling Photoshop 6 on Windows 7 brings up a bunch of people struggling to get it work. People who know more about Windows than I do may be able to tell you why, or if there's a way around it.

Still, I'd accept this laptop with thanks. Eight years is a long time for any computer to last, and if you don't like spending money on hardware, you'll be glad for it when the Dell invariably dies.
posted by Georgina at 7:48 AM on July 8, 2011

Best answer: Starting with the processor. The T7100 gets a Passmark CPU score of around 1000. Passmark doesn't list an P4 under 3.0GHz. The 3.0GHz P4's get around 500-600, so a 2.4GHZ should get around a 400-500, which implies that the desktop proc going to be half the processor of the laptop proc.

The RAM on the desktop is obviously more than the laptop, but the laptop can be upgraded cheaply to 4GB. Here's a nice cheapo kit ($50, free shipping) that matches spec with the laptop (4GB max, DDR2-667 SODIMMS, 2x2GB).

The video comparison is hard to tell without knowing more details. A $1 video card might be good, it might not be. The laptop could have come with a good-enough-for-Sims NVidia 8400M GT card or could run on crappy integrated Intel 965. If you know the video card in the desktop, you can try to compare it in Tom's Hardware's Graphics Card Charts. The closest graphics in the laptop would be 8400M GS or Intel 950. Bonus: if the laptop has the NVidia graphics it should have an HDMI output, which can be handy if you wanted to hook it to a better monitor.

The power consumption is something you don't think about much, but here's a quick breakdown. If you run your computers 24x7x365: The laptop will pull around 110 watts. The inefficient PSU in the Dell is probably pulling around 300 watts. At $0.10/kWh that's around $166 per year in electricity. (300W desktop - 110W laptop) * 24 hours/day * 365 days * $0.10/kWh / 1000(watt to kilowatt conversion). Adjust accordingly for the amount you leave it on.

Overall: If the laptop has the better graphics then it is a considerable upgrade. If it doesn't have the graphics then it is a decent upgrade. I'd personally take it and keep both until I found the desktop to no longer suit my needs.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:42 AM on July 8, 2011

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