Upgrading Desktop PC require work and research, but it handsomely pays off

I just bought a new desktop after eight years living on a Dell 8300 Pentium 4 for which I plunked down $2562 on April 2, 2003.

This time around, I spent $799.98 for a HP Pavilion Elite 410F. My purchase reaffirms Moore’s Law that  says PCs double in power every 18 months (technically, Moore referred to doubling the number of transistors on the CPU). So I am paying a third for equivalent power by today’s standards – 6 core Phenom II, 5570 Radeon graphics with a 1GB of video RAM, 1T hard drive, 8 GB of DDR3 RAM, Blu-ray drive, memory slots and three USB ports on the front of the unit…..I wanted a loaded PC because it could be another eight years before I buy another one if they still exist!

But does Moore’s law really apply to the user experience? I think not. Using that logic, the PC should be 4-6x as fast than the one I am replacing and of course that isn’t the case.  

Nonetheless, so far, so good. The HP unit is up and running. I will detail more of the travails of working up a new system later in this post. But first, here’s the scoop on purchase experience.

After exhaustive research for more than month which I wrote about Nov. 22, I made my purchase, surprisingly enough, at Staples. I had often casually glanced at Staples’ slim selection of machines and thought they were pricey. For the exact same model, Staples beat Amazon by $45, Walmart mail order by $100 and HP.com by $30. And here’s the clincher: the machine I bought is now $920 at Staples online.

Timing is everything I guess and I am very a happy camper. The HP units are getting good reviews and must selling well. And prices are creeping up Christmas gets closer from their lows in the sales just after Thanksgiving. I made the purchase on Saturday, Nov. 27, which was sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

I also bought a 23-inch Samsung Syncmaster XL2370HD LED TV/Monitor for $$230 at Staples. At Amazon and most everywhere else , the same model is $280. At Staples online,  it’s now $300! What’s more, the monitor is more than half the story. More on that in a bit.

My experience at Staples would have to be A-. The floor salesman was the embodiment of a nerd who had trouble making eye contact, but he gave good advice on both the machine and especially monitor which was on sale, but out of stock. The harder he tried to sell me a service plan, the more I resisted, recalling Consumer Reports’ characterization that they are “notoriously bad deals.” I kicked in another $100 for Microsoft office 2010. All  told, I spent $1,130.

I am feeling damned good about this purchase. It pays to do research and price shop. I bought this unit on the spot because I knew it was good deal and that’s the way it turned out.

I waited about 10 days before I even opened the 401f box as I wanted to think about transferring eight years worth of data, apps, photos and songs via iTunes. I also wanted to wait until I got the monitor which took about four days.

Like the research for my purchase, the planning paid off in an easier transition than I anticipated. While there I services and software for mirroring one disk to a new machine, I decided to the manual route of transferring everything myself.  Here’s how it went:

Data and photos: I used memory sticks to transfer them over. It took a couple of hours and was allowed me to revisit and reorganize thousands on photos.

iTunes: It went reasonably smoothly. This machine is my thrid of the five I can authorize to hold my purchased songs so they uploaded as soon as I synched my new desktop with my iPod Touch. The pain will be re-uploading all my CD-based music. The fact is iTunes is restrictive. I’d be happy if all my music was in the cloud and easily transferable. The Apple police make it much harder than it has to be.

Microsoft Office: As I said, I bit the bullet and bought the three license version of Office 2010. As a freelance writer, I could have lived with Google docs and spreadsheets, but my wife and son wanted the new version of Office. It was time: we were using a combination of Office 2000 and 2003 which are a bit long in the tooth.

Other Apps: They were either free like Tweetdeck, Quicktime, Chrome or Skype or like Sony Digital Recorder and my printing utilities, downloadable from the discs. I will probably have to buy some of my performance and system clean-up apps because they are no longer free. But I will also for free new ones.

Contacts: I printed out super secret contacts and will re-enter them in something super secret and secure.

As for the TV/monitor, I am now  living in the full HD 1080p world at 1920×1080 pixels using landscape (wide screen) mode. I can see huge spreadsheets and four pages of the docs I create thanks to the wide screen monitor and Office 2010. At some point, I will plug my FIOS cable into the monitor so I can use  it as a TV (I am going to work on seeing if I can split the screen between PC and TV mode…that might be hard since the monitor/TV’s firmware seems to work only in single screen mode).  The images are super crisp, but have a smoky quality as the image here clearly shows.

I’ll have to fiddle with it  just like I did to get Windows 7 icons and toolbars not to bleed off the screen. It took about a half hour to find the full screen mode. What’s also new is that I turn my monitor on and off now with a remote control.

As for the system, it’s ok and incrementally faster. It boots up in a minute versus 5-6 minutes with my Dell; the video runs better given a more powerful graphics card; and I love the LED monitor. I can also venture into the world of Blu-Ray movies. Win7 is certainly better than XP. Is it blazingly faster than the old machine? No and that’s because speed depends on other factors besides what’s inside the box. FIOS has been particularly slow recently although I have learned that by doing trace routes, it’s not always your the Internet provider’s fault.

UPDATE 12/8 – Actually, the system is making my life a lot considerably easier, thanks to its speed, Windows 7, Word 2010 and the wide screen monitor. Together, they allow me to move between apps with greater ease. Operations such as opening a directories are a lot faster. This upgrade was overdue, but no one ever accused me of not getting my money’s worth out of my purchases!

Am I glad I made the move? You bet. Has it rocked my world? Not really, but it has exceeded my expectations.

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