I need help buying a new computer. Please be gentle.
March 13, 2019 11:41 AM   Subscribe

I’m coming out of a long period of personal tragedies and depression, and I need to resolve one thing immediately. I need a new computer.

I have an aging 10-year-old franken-desktop that is incredibly slow and prone to crashing. My monitor is too small & has terrible resolution. I’ve tried to research online, and going to stores and talk to people, but I’m totally overwhelmed at this point.

Here’s what I need.

A PC, not a Mac
A desktop or all in one, not a laptop, not a tablet. I DO NOT WANT a laptop or tablet, please.
A minimum 24” monitor, all cords, peripherals, etc. Basically I’d like to buy everything with one click.

Here’s what I use my computer for.

Uploading photos from my Nikon D90 (I may upgrade my camera soon). Uploading photos and video from my iPhone. Downloading TurboTax and doing my taxes. Surfing the web. Watching YouTube. Very minimal photo editing, mostly cropping. Basic spreadsheet crap. Paying my bills.

I would like to buy the absolute cheapest thing that meets my needs. I really feel like anything is going to be 10x times better than what I have now. I have access to Costco in store or online.

BONUS question. I have 12 years of photos and videos of my family that I am terrified of losing. They have been minimally and sporadically backed up to various locations, but not at all recently. What is the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to get these backed up to a single location? I’ve needed to do this for so long, but I’ve been reluctant to use a cloud service because I’m terrified of what will happen if I am not able to continue paying an annual fee or whatever. But I’m also scared of an external hard drive failing or being damaged.

This has been hanging over my head & caused me a lot of anxiety & tears. I would appreciate any help. Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
For your bonus question, Google Photos is a reasonable option for backing up all your photos to one place. It's quite easy to set up; you install their app on your computer (and maybe your phone) and tell it where your photos are. It'll take care of uploading them for you.

Google Photos is entirely free if you accept the "high quality" option. That format is limited to 16 megapixels / 1080p video, which is generally sufficient for consumer uses. If you want to store your exact original images it's free up to 15GB, then they charge. If this question stresses you out, you should be fine with the "high quality" free option unless you're a professional photographer.
posted by Nelson at 11:50 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]

If at all possible, get a solid state hard drive (SSD). With it, my desktop computer boots up and is ready to go in under one minute, and any programs I access open virtually instantaneously.
posted by DrGail at 11:50 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]

I'm a mac user, so I can't speak from personal experience, but I'd look at the recommendations that The Wirecutter puts out. Here are a couple that speak to your question:
Best all-in-one desktop (top one is a mac but the second one is windows.)
Best mini-desktop (you'd need to acquire a keyboard, mouse, and monitor separately but depending on your situation this might work)
How to back up your computer (focusing on backing up to external hard drives, not the cloud).

Obviously there's some privilege here, but I spend like $4/month on a backup service that is billed to my debit card automatically, and the peace of mind it gives me knowing that my photos and documents are stored somewhere else is enormous. It costs the same as a nice cup of coffee per month, which I can afford. The rare possibility that I'd change debit cards and not update this account is one that I am willing to take for the peace of mind that I can get.
posted by gauche at 11:53 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]

You mentioned Costco, so you're comfortable with shopping there, so I give you this.

I don't often like all-in-ones, but I like Dell, and this will be better than what you've got.

As far as above, I agree with the suggestions of Google Photos, as if you upload in High Quality (not Original Quality) the storage will be free. If you've got a lot of high quality raw files, that won't work, but most others you'll be close on quality differences.

You should also back up locally to an external hard drive, so if the internet is down or you're afraid of space requirements, you can do that. Here's a link for a suggestion.

I know you're anonymous here, but feel free to MeMail me or email if you need suggestions or help.
posted by deezil at 12:01 PM on March 13 [6 favorites]

Also, if you back up to an external hard drive, store it somewhere other than your own house. If you can, keep it at work, or at a trusted friend's house, and bring it home at a regular interval to update the backup. That will protect your data in case there is a fire or some other catastrophe.
posted by gauche at 12:08 PM on March 13

You should know that the cost of Google Photos is fairly nominal per month for full-res, so it's entirely worth it, I think. I pay $1.99 per month for 100 GB of that, and it's set up to be paid automatically, so I really only think about it when I receive the receipt once a month. It's worth doing something else in addition to that, because downloading all your photos from Google Photos is fairly cumbersome, and it's a little frustrating to me. But Google Photos is a good baseline way to get everything all in one place and backed up to start.
posted by limeonaire at 12:09 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]

Echoing Deezil. At this point, for your needs, most any desktop will do. I would go to Costco and buy the cheapest bundle that came with a 24" monitor. Or bigger if you're feeling like it.

I used to fret over specific model numbers and parts and specs, but at this point it's not really necessary unless you're gaming, video editing, or other things that require a lot of horse power. Whatever you buy will be a big step up, and certainly good enough™ for your needs.
posted by matrixclown at 12:18 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]

My one qualm about just buying something is that for photo editing, you really do want the monitor to be able to be calibrated properly to a degree. It would be worth seeing what's available in your preferred store and then reading reviews and looking at specs online for those models specifically. I say this as someone who currently is using an external monitor that can only be calibrated to a certain point, and that washes things out to a good degree. All my photos look great on properly calibrated monitors, but not on that one, and if I were trying to edit images using it, that would not go well.
posted by limeonaire at 12:27 PM on March 13

I would recommend pretty strongly that whatever you get should have a solid state drive rather than a spinning hard drive, and it looks like all the all-in-one machines on the Costco website (except the Surface Studio, which is definitely not in the "as cheap as possible" category) have spinning hard drives. SSDs are more expensive per GB, but they are so much faster that it's just an unbelievable quality of life difference.

Here's a decent system for $750 on Newegg. You can also get that with a 512GB SSD instead of a 256GB SSD for $800.

As far as backup goes, I'd suggest maybe a combination of Backblaze (which is the cloud backup The Wirecutter recommends; I also use and like it) and an external hard drive (and a second external hard drive to assuage your worries, maybe).
posted by implied_otter at 2:32 PM on March 13

From the original question: Very minimal photo editing, mostly cropping.

You do not need to stress about color calibrating your monitor for minor photo editing like this. (I barely stress about it, and I’m a designer who does a ton of photo editing for picky clients. For home use where you might print some photos through a place like Shutterfly, do a small run if you’re worried about it and you’ll get a sense of your monitor’s quirks for a lot less hassle.)

Just keep it simple, Costco all in one is going to be great option and quite stress free. You have 90 days to return computers (used). If you do run into a snag you will have more information about what you want and don’t want and can return and try again without being hassled.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 3:14 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]

Go to Costco, buy a Dell or Lenovo setup with an Intel processor. You will get precisely what you pay for, meaning not a spectacular deal, but a good deal. Better deal = buy a monitor at Costco and a good used Lenovo refurb. online. That's more hassle, so a Costco bundle will be fine. I am not an all-in-one fan, and the touchscreen adds cost, but I know better than to disagree with deezil. The one thing I would add is that adding RAM is Very Easy, and is a smart after-purchase option. The system deezil linked will meet your needs handily.

Deezil, it it easy to add RAM to the all-in-ones?

Windows 10 has annoyances, but you'll adjust. Don't sweat the OS.

I would establish a separate gmail account for your photos, start getting them online, and when you go over the limit, consider paid storage. It's a good idea to buy an external harddrive and keep a local backup.

It's going to be easy, and you will enjoy it So Much.
posted by theora55 at 4:03 PM on March 13

I'll think about you as you recover from these hard times.

I don't see your specific budget listed. However you can go to just about any website that sells PCs and sort Price Low-to-High. Costco's first choice is about $330 and is almost certain to be better than your 10 year old rig.

In my eyes, you have one required spec, two optimal and one I would talk you out of:

Ports on PC match ports on monitor.

1. Big(ger) hard drive. 500 Gb is fine. 1TB is better. Anything beyond is cake.
2. Memory. You can get by on 4 Gb. 8 Gb will not change the price of the computer that much.

Talk you out of:
All-in-ones, in the long run, seem to be more expensive for what you get, harder to repair/replace parts, more costly to do repairs/replaces, just non-standard enough that drivers don't work fully (so some peripherals act funny/don't work at all), etc.

On the required front, connecing the monitory is really the only thing that can be messed up. With your PC needs, everything else is going to be better (and all cables, keyboard, mouse, etc. should be with PC so no worry there.) So, just check the specs on the PC. IMHO, HDMI is the way to go. Worst case, you buy a TV and use that as your monitor. Best case, better picture and future-proofing yourself to an extent. (HDMI ain't going anywhere.)

For ultimate ease of purchase, most of those sites (frys.com, newegg.com, etc.)let you configure and still sort price low to high. Here is one with almost all the "ideal" specs I recommended. Best part? They recommend the monitor for it! Truly, no stress. Click buy, enter cc: info and go on to your next best thing.

Any money left over that is already budgeted for the PC? Take some and do something special for yourself. It sounds like you have earned a break.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 4:49 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]

For ultimate ease of purchase, most of those sites (frys.com, newegg.com, etc.)let you configure and still sort price low to high. Here is one with almost all the "ideal" specs I recommended. Best part? They recommend the monitor for it! Truly, no stress. Click buy, enter cc: info and go on to your next best thing.

As someone with some computer savvy, I would say stay far far away from this computer. It's a 2nd generation Core processor, which was released in 2011, and made obsolete by the 3rd gen in 2012. It's already 7-8 years old at this point. Computer failure rates start to rise after 3-4 years due to many components (capacitors, batteries, bearings) not being specced for longevity much beyond that - hard drive failure rates spike upwards after 3-4 years. Data storage companies report 10% of hard drives die within the first 3 years of use, and another 10% die in the 4th year alone, so your failure rate already triples by the fourth year. There are computers that are still running after 10 years, like yours, but that's basically just luck at that point.

I would be far more comfortable with the system that implied_otter recommended - it's an 8th generation Core processor, released in 2018, and it's been discounted significantly below what its fair value should be.
posted by xdvesper at 5:27 PM on March 13

Yeah, sorry. I wasn't delving deep into the specs. More focusing on "Make this stress-free, make this as cheap as possible." My second sentence was, "I don't see your budget listed", so I was assuming the poster may be interested in other options that were cheaper AND ALSO other ways to look at purchasing which could be significantly less stressful.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 5:59 PM on March 13

You can find some incredibly cheap computers if you look, but you absolutely get what you pay for. Stay away from any bottom of the barrel systems that might be in the 200s or 300s range. They will work, but often feel cheap and never work well. A name brand in the $500 - $700 range will often be much better quality if you can afford going up a tier.

If your main goal is working with photos, more RAM (memory) is better. If you're not playing games, don't worry about having the super fancy graphics card as those are more for fast 3D images in games.
posted by nalyd at 3:35 AM on March 14

Others have given better advice on your main question than I can, but I wanted to address your bonus question about backing up family photos. For something as important as 12 years of family photos, I’d recommend having two backups: one on a hard drive at home, and another either in the cloud (easiest), or on a second hard drive that lives in a second location (like a safety deposit box, another trusted family member or friend’s house, etc.)

You are unfortunately correct that both cloud backups and hard drive backups can fail. That’s why it’s common practice to have dual backups — a belt-and-suspenders approach. That way, if one backup fails, you still have the other.

And it’s also common practice to keep one backup on-site (same place as the computer) and one off-site (cloud storage or hard drive in another location). That way, if (God forbid) something bad happens at your house (like fire, flood, etc.) and one backup is physically destroyed, the second one won’t be affected.

It does cost more money up front, which is the downside. But for files you really don’t want to lose, it will help you sleep a lot better at night.
posted by snowmentality at 4:45 AM on March 14

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