What's best chip & memory bang for my buck?
January 26, 2007 7:46 PM   Subscribe

What's best chip & memory bang for my buck? For my upcoming laptop purchase, any reason to upgrade the configuration from an Intel Core 2 Duo 1.66GHz 2M L2 Cache to something speedier like the Intel Core 2 Duo 2.00GHz 4M L2 Cache ($140 upgrade at Dell)? Is there a noticable difference? And, what's the ideal amount of memory? 2.0GB DDR2 SDRAM ($195 upgrade from 1GB at Dell)?... I'm inclined to skip the chip upgrade and get the extra RAM. Do you agree? What sort of use would necessitate the faster chip...gaming? No hi-graphics games for me. I just like my apps and my Web pages to load fast and tolerate multiples open simultaneously. And I'm not all that interested in a Vista upgrade...
posted by timnyc to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm.. the memory upgrade will only run you $120 / GB or less (I'm looking at a Canadian site right now, it'll be cheaper in the U.S.) if you do it yourself.
The processor, that's a different story. There are some things which will take cpu power. HD video, any video editing you do, rendering, games, video encoding. In addition, you get an extra 2MB cache on the more expensive processor. If it was me, I would go for it just for the cache, hold off on the ram for a few months (it's an easy upgrade) and do it yourself in 6 months for less than $100. The cache really makes a difference, because the more you can store on-core, the less often the system has to go to main memory.
posted by defcom1 at 8:15 PM on January 26, 2007

... to finish the thought, the more cache, the faster / more responsive the system is for tasks which are loaded.

So in conclusion, do the processor upgrade, do the ram upgrade yourself in the future if you feel you need it. 1GB is gobs 'aplenty for XP running a couple of firefox windows with flash etc. and outlook... (and a bunch of other stuff too)
posted by defcom1 at 8:23 PM on January 26, 2007

When configuring a laptop it's always better to invest in the best CPU you can afford as this component usually isn't easily upgradeable on laptops. RAM on the other hand is easily and cheaply upgraded anytime you like.

For the $140 upgrade you're getting a good sized bump in clock speed (2.0 vs. 1.66) and you're doubling your L2 cache.

Certainly you'll want at least 1gb of ram and you can save a little bit of cash by picking two 512mb chips - but be aware you'll pay more in the future when you replace both 512 chips with two 1gb chips. Then again you can recoup some of your investment by selling your used ram on eBay or Craig's List.

In short: splurge on the CPU, skimp on ram. But note the difference between 1gb and 512mb is night and day. So go with at least 1gb of ram.
posted by wfrgms at 8:38 PM on January 26, 2007

RAM, RAM, and RAM. Unless you are doing media, scientific computation, or games, in which case, both. An Intel Core 2 Duo 1.66GHz is about three times the processor that you need for the kinds of apps you describe (web, MS Office), and is not far below 2.0GHz (a 20% boost).

Yes, once a month you'll be annoyed that you didn't get the faster processor as you do a global search-and-replace on a 200-page Word document, but you'll be forgetting about the hundred times a day that you didn't have to wait for Windows to swap in an app as you switched to it, since you can open twice as many apps without paging with 2GB of RAM.
posted by reventlov at 8:59 PM on January 26, 2007

The difference in cache is significant, and can't be upgraded later. Go with the CPU with more cache.

That said, even with 1.5GB of memory, I occasionally find myself wishing I had more.
posted by wierdo at 9:02 PM on January 26, 2007

I cant imagine how youre going to exhaust 2 gigs of ram on a laptop. What applications are you planning on running here? If its typical 2D/web/email/office stuff then 1 gig is more than enough. Its very difficult to answer this without knowing your usage profile.

If we can rule out 3d applications, which means more an investment in a high-powered video card than anything else, and resource intensive applications I would suggest to pocket the money you'd blow on another gig or ram or a faster chip (something that is largely unnoticable by humans) and save it in a year and a half when this laptop is just too old, obselete, and beaten up, and decide if you need a new one. Futureproofing a laptop is difficult at best. Who knows what pc makers will be selling then. quad cores, hdtv tuners, modular video, etc.

Your biggest bottleneck for your stated needs will be your IO devices. if you want faster web and internet invest in a faster WAN connection. Are you on the fastest broadband connection offered in your area? If not spend that ram/cpu money on an upgrade to 6mbps cable. THe hard drive is the real performance killer in a laptop. What are they offering? Is it at least 7200 rpm? All that power if going to be sitting there wasting electricity as it waits for data to come from your slow 5400 rpm hard drive.

I think you might be happy just saving that money than spending it on capacity youll never use. Take the wife out and leave the 2 gig uber-machines for the gamers and the suckers.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:23 PM on January 26, 2007

I swear the marginal mhz upgrade = noticable performance is the $30,000 audio cables of the computer world.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:27 PM on January 26, 2007

The answer is almost always RAM. The only thing that even makes this a real competition is the extra 2MB cache, but you're not likely to notice the difference between 1.66GHz and 2.00GHz. You ARE likely to notice the difference between 1GB and 2GB of RAM, especially if you ever touch anything that's remotely memory intensive or if you like to leave a bunch of applications open at the same time.

If you're slightly lacking in CPU power, your system tends to be a bit slower overall—maybe everything feels slightly sluggish at worst. If you're slightly lacking in RAM, everything tends to feel fine until your system needs to grab something from the virtual memory pagefile, at which point the whole thing slows to a crawl and you'll wish you had more memory.

Finally, it's worth noting that on many laptops these days, you CAN upgrade the CPU, but it's generally not regarded as a user upgrade and you're screwed if the CPU is soldered in rather than sitting in a socket (this sort of thing happens on smaller laptops where a CPU socket would take up precious millimetres). Everyone's absolutely right that it's better to get the CPU upgrade if you think you'll ever need it, as RAM is much easier to swap. But I'm not all that sure that you'll really notice the CPU upgrade, bigger cache or no.
posted by chrominance at 9:56 PM on January 26, 2007

CPU. Save the money and do a RAM upgrade yourself. CPU upgrades are a pain to do.

By choosing the better processor, you will see a difference in the things you wanna do, even with less ram.

CPU - 1st
RAM - 2nd
posted by richter_x at 11:01 PM on January 26, 2007

I just got the dell with 1.6. Installed Vista, Dev Studio, Word 2007, MentorWorks, and everything is running quite snappy. I do development tasks, but no really processor intensive tasks, and frankly, it's more than enough for me. Anyways, as a developer, one should not go too high end, as it disconnects from the reality of end users.
posted by markesh at 11:24 PM on January 26, 2007

If this were a desktop, I'd say RAM in a heartbeat. But this is a laptop. Whatever CPU you choose, you're stuck with forever. Adding RAM is easy and cheap; adding CPU is impossible. So I'd suggest getting the upgraded CPU now, and adding the RAM aftermarket when you can afford it.

A good-quality 1GB SODIMM from Newegg is about $110 US. You can very easily add this yourself. You don't say what model you're buying, but the Inspiron 9XXX series has a little pop-out flap over the RAM... two screws, five minutes, and you're done. Spend the extra $25 or so to get a single 1GB DIMM instead of 2 512GB, and you'll save money if/when you upgrade.

1GB is really very good, and unless you are a very heavy user, you're not likely to feel very limited by it. Basically, you don't really NEED either of these possible upgrades. But if you do want to upgrade, remember you're stuck with the CPU. I'd suggest putting your money there.
posted by Malor at 11:40 PM on January 26, 2007

Used to be the faster the processor's running, the more power it uses, which means less battery life. I know there's pretty advanced power management in today's laptops, but if you're always going to be running the thing in stepped-down mode to conserve power, why pay for a faster processor?
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:25 AM on January 27, 2007

I just ordered one of these and opted for both the processor upgrade and the RAM upgrade. My logic was that doubling the L2 cache and increasing the processor speed as well as going from a Core Duo to a Core 2 Duo (which increases performance, even if the speed is the same) was worth the $140, but going even higher to the 2.16 GHz processor wasn't worth yet another ~$175. Since the model I chose had to have the RAM chips installed in pairs, I went ahead with the 2GB, since I didn't want to waste two 512MB chips later on or bother with eBaying them.

Also, I went with the WUXGA with TrueLife display. The extra high resolution (1920x1200) and better contrast ratio and wider viewing angles should make for a great experience watching DVDs and give me lots of screen real estate when working.

I also added the built-in bluetooth for next to nothing, although I am surprised it isn't standard.

Good luck with your purchase!
posted by hankbear at 5:45 AM on January 27, 2007

Response by poster: Damn Dirty Ape mentions HD speed. I forgot to address this variable in my original question. If anyone's still reading this, can you chime in on how important this is? I was leaning towwards the 160GB HD @ 5400 RPM (lots of space is good for me) but there's a 100GB HD @ 7200 RPM for $40 less. I could live with the smaller HD if there's a noticable performance difference. By the way the machine I'm looking at is the Dell D620. Thanks everyone for your answers!
posted by timnyc at 6:24 AM on January 27, 2007

I forgot to check back in this thread, sorry!

7200 RPM is a BIG deal. It makes a very large difference. Usually, you don't need that much storage in a laptop... use a networked desktop drive instead.

Unless you need to carry lots of large files with you (like DVD rips or something), the extra space won't help much, and you'll lose a great deal of performance.
posted by Malor at 12:08 PM on January 29, 2007

If you already ordered the 5400RPM drive, remember that you can add aftermarket drives pretty easily. They're in a standard form factor these days.

You could potentially move the bigger drive to some kind of external USB enclosure, though I haven't seen any that are meant for laptop drives. I think they'll work electrically with an adapter (it's a standard IDE connector, just smaller), but the physical mounting could be an issue.
posted by Malor at 12:11 PM on January 29, 2007

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