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What I've Learned From Buying and Building PCs - A Guide for Those Looking
Posted: Posted Tuesday
Edited Tuesday by mariomguy
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A computer is not something you buy everyday. It's not something you can buy on a whim. It's a machine you spend your life on and so much of your time with. If it's not good, your life sucks. It's a big investment, and stores are not likely to accept easy returns for computers. If you haven't bought one yet, this guide will help you on your journey.

When Chromebooks were first announced, no one thought they would amount to a thing. I bet they typed that on Facebook, then tweeted their friends about it, then browsed Youtube until they stopped using their crappy computer. If that's all you use a computer for, web browsing and apps, then a Chromebook/tablet is not a bad option. I recently purchased a Chromebook for meetings, and I gotta say, I am loving the ability to use a computer in my living room, or anywhere I go.

A Chromebook is more than just a larger phone with a crummy interface: its bigger size and keyboard means you could feasibly type documents and take notes, and the battery lasts longer. Getting a Chromebook with touch gives you the best of both worlds, keyboards and ditching the trackpad for your favorite commands. Log into Google and everything you want is pulled up on the first go. Yes, you will have to manage tabs things slow down the more you try to do at once), but a cheap Chromebook might be the way to go for most people. Sorry for misguiding you, S.O.H. Chromebooks are not bad. Just different. For most people, this is my solid recommendation.

Tablets, on the other hand, are too different. It's everything you do on your phone, minus the phone, and just bigger. Bigger is nicer, especially for playing Solitaire and streaming Spotify, but let's get real: nobody watches Netflix on a tablet. NOBODY.

Budget Windows PCs are not better: they're actually worse. 4GB in Windows 10 is abysmal. RAM gets choked very quickly, and it becomes apparent Windows needs more heft to run smoothly. Windows Surface Go, the cheapest Surface tablet, is dropping their 4GB models in favor of 8GB. And notice I said tablet! Windows Surface does NOT come with the keyboard: those cost over $100 and come separately. What you're actually paying for in most laptops is a nicer screen. The name brand, "Windows Surface" and "Lenovo Yoga" are geared towards small, thin, light, portable computers that tend to sacrifice power for a specific set of features that just feel nice to use: touch screen, pen capabilities, good screens, and build quality. Do take this to Panera Bread. If you're not a power user, a quad-core i3 or Ryzen 3 nowadays is definitely good enough.

If you are a creative illustrator, there are some benefits to having a Surface tablet or laptop with pen functionality, but know that you will be hindered by the hardware. Expect to shell out dearly for the portability. A proper desktop and Cintiq would be more like it.

Gaming laptops tend to have more heft: dedicated NVIDIA cards, better CPUs, and more memory, at the cost of touchscreen and pen features, a super high-res display, and battery power. They get hot fast, and they're definitely NOT a lap dog, I mean laptop. They were designed to plug in a mouse and keep it there. Take it with you in a backpack to show off. Do not take this to Panera Bread. Do not pass go. Do not collect any money. This is a waste.

If you're serious about gaming, get a proper machine. I recommend DIY: get a Ryzen 5 3600x, an NVIDIA 1660 ti, a micro ATX AMD motherboard, a 500 GB WD Black m.2 SSD, 16 GB RAM on two sticks, a Bronze or Gold-grade 450 watt PSU, and any micro ATX case you want. Download the Windows 10 installation media on a flash drive, and boot it up for free without registering. Assuming you get a $50 case, this build will cost you $900 in supplies and runs better than most things you can buy at the store. $1,000 is the sweet spot for a gaming computer nowadays. Max out that bang for your buck!

And finally... if you're a workstation power-hungry workaholic rendering CGI animations, baking lighting for open world maps, or just some idiot who edits multiple 4K video streams, you'll need to spare no expense. Ryzen 7 or 9, and a Noctua cooler. RTX 2060 Super. Same motherboard, same RAM (maybe up to 32 GB if you really need it), same brand SSD (but 1TB), and if you need more space for archiving a large-capacity CAS drive, like WD Red. 600 watt Titanium PSU, and any standard ATX case you want (there will be lots of hot air). Parts cost $1300 - $2000, depending on the parts chosen, and this will FOR SURE run faster than everything else. It may not be quiet, and it may not be cool, but it will work just as hard as you do.

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Posted Tuesday by mariomguy
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but a cheap Chromebook might be the way to go for most people. Sorry for misguiding you, S.O.H. Chromebooks are not bad. Just different. For most people, this is my solid recommendation.

I've known this for years. A chromebook got me through undergrad. The laptop I purchased had extras like an Ethernet port/ CD/ DVD drive I thought I would need. I was wrong. But chrome books are useless when you have no internet. If I could go back I would have poured money into a switch lite and then a Lenovo ThinkPad with windows 10.

Oh well.



Posted Tuesday by S.o h.
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S.o h.
 

Who reported mariomguy's reply here? It was clear from the original post originally being blank that something is wonky with the site or something because he probably saw it as a full post but it didn't come out that way given how he edited it.

Posted Tuesday by Grey Echelon
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a gaming laptop is absolutely not a waste seeing as how mine has lasted years and I still regularly use it for portable gaming

Posted Tuesday by 9x19
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. If that's all you use a computer for, web browsing and apps, then a Chromebook/tablet is not a bad option.


Agreed. Definitely good also for people who don't really use computers much.

its bigger size and keyboard means you could feasibly type documents and take notes


I bought a thin convertible laptop on a whim (yes, I know you made a point about that) that did things like this very well. It also had an eight-hour battery life and a touchscreen. I altered it a bit and turned it into a very capable development machine. Great use of 400$, imo. Very old at this point (pentium CPU, ewwwwwww) but I wish it still worked.

but let's get real: nobody watches Netflix on a tablet. NOBODY.


This is literally the only way I watch netflix. Also a lot of youtube. I'd also use it for hulu if hulu supported it, but it's quite old now.

Tablets are great for responding to stuff here or on reddit or w/e as well once you get used to typing on them -- they're portable like a phone but the bigger screen means you can type and see what you're typing and also what you're responding to very well. Phablets are the best of both worlds, though I still prefer tablets for some things (like netflix or youtube).

Budget Windows PCs are not better: they're actually worse.


Agreed. However, you can do quite well with a budget PC + a few cheap upgrades + installing linux (unity for newer machines, xfce for older machines). Sometimes you need to do something more extreme, like install funtoo. Windows and budget PCs definitely don't mix.

Windows Surface Go, the cheapest Surface tablet, is dropping their 4GB models in favor of 8GB. And notice I said tablet


Windows tablets are a god-awful idea, and that's an objective fact not an opinion.

Gaming laptops tend to have more heft: dedicated NVIDIA cards, better CPUs, and more memory, at the cost of touchscreen and pen features,


If you get a "desktop replacement laptop" instead of a "gaming laptop", it's significantly cheaper, bigger (numeric keyboard, also monitor-sized screen), and these days they tend to have touchscreens equipped as well. Desktop replacement laptops are my personal preference -- I bought my current one 7 years ago and it's still a monster (although granted I shelled out 1700$ for it at the time). The older graphics card doesn't *quite* play nice with newer graphics techniques for games (there's some minor lag), but it still holds its own for development, video editing, or creative stuff. It'll even run VR to some extent.

The downside is lowered battery life on high-performance mode and overall weight -- my laptop is a pain to carry, and the charging brick is itself around 10lbs. It is still technically portable though.

All-in-ones (if those are still a thing) have similar benefits and drawbacks.

This is a waste.


Again we're going to have to disagree -- desktop-replacers are my personal favorite due to them having all of the strengths of a desktop (other than the price) with built-in battery backup and also some nice portability that comes in handy sometimes. My computer desk is also a portable fold-up table so I can literally pack up my entire workstation and take it with me on long trips.

Parts cost $1300 - $2000, depending on the parts chosen, and this will FOR SURE run faster than everything else. It may not be quiet, and it may not be cool, but it will work just as hard as you do


As far as this kind of thing goes, the bigger the physical machine is the better -- way cheaper, way easier to build and modify. My friend built a VR machine back in 2016 that was the size of a garbage can.



Edited Tuesday by Xhin
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Xhin
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Who reported mariomguy's reply here? It was clear from the original post originally being blank that something is wonky with the site or something because he probably saw it as a full post but it didn't come out that way given how he edited it.


Yeah @mariomguy: I want to know what happened here too.



Posted Tuesday by Xhin
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Xhin
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The laptop I purchased had extras like an Ethernet port/ CD/ DVD drive I thought I would need. I was wrong.

I'm sorry. I hope at least it worked for you.

Who reported mariomguy's reply here?

I did. It's a blank reply and needs to be deleted immediately. In fact, the thread was originally posted blank on accident, I had to type the entire thread as an edit.

a gaming laptop is absolutely not a waste seeing as how mine has lasted years and I still regularly use it for portable gaming

If you actually have a use for portable gaming, like living in a college campus, or you're a kid with divorced parents and you want one machine, etc. there are cases where the device makes sense. But you're spending $$$ for portability, and as a portable device it really sucks. You tend to fall back to square one, keeping it on a desk, and most games require a mouse, so for most people it's better not to even bother with those. Performance alone, you can build a kickass gaming PC for a fraction of the cost.

Very old at this point (pentium CPU, ewwwwwww) but I wish it still worked.

LOL! My Chromebook has an Intel Celeron N4000, so I feel your pain (ew ew ew ew ew ew!). Good news is I can stream Youtube just fine.

This is literally the only way I watch netflix. Also a lot of youtube. I'd also use it for hulu if hulu supported it, but it's quite old now.

D:

First of all, I sincerely apologize for your life. I watch Netflix off a smart TV. Typing on a tablet is doable, but definitely not an enjoyable experience, which is why I'd rather recommend a Chromebook with a touchscreen and keyboard than a tablet.

Agreed. However, you can do quite well with a budget PC + a few cheap upgrades + installing linux (unity for newer machines, xfce for older machines). Sometimes you need to do something more extreme, like install funtoo. Windows and budget PCs definitely don't mix.

Linux is weird. Then again, that's what I said about Google OS, and I ended up loving it. Compatibility issues with games is the biggest turnoff for me. If it's not a portable device, I'd rather do more with it. I can build a $400 barebones system that runs Windows really well.

Windows tablets are a god-awful idea, and that's an objective fact not an opinion.

Haha! Well, I really did consider the Surface and Yoga as a pro drawing tablet, and if I could get Photoshop on there the pen, screen, and hardware, it's worth the cost. The cheapest non-portable and clunky Cintiq costs $600. For a little more you can get a dedicated laptop. Two problems: 1, Photoshop can only go on two devices, work PC and home PC. No wiggle room for a laptop. And 2: since I have a workstation, it makes no sense to get a laptop just as powerful. This device would need to be for other purposes.

If you get a "desktop replacement laptop" instead of a "gaming laptop", it's significantly cheaper, bigger (numeric keyboard, also monitor-sized screen), and these days they tend to have touchscreens equipped as well.

Are you talking about All-in-ones? I forgot to mention those.

NEVER GET THOSE. YOU CAN'T UPGRADE.

I bought my current one 7 years ago and it's still a monster (although granted I shelled out 1700$ for it at the time). The older graphics card doesn't *quite* play nice with newer graphics techniques for games (there's some minor lag)

See above ^

All-in-ones (if those are still a thing) have similar benefits and drawbacks.

Ah, I see, you were talking about big laptops. This is a big problem: you can upgrade the RAM, MAYBE the SSD, but good luck upgrading the graphics card, CPU, etc. Usually all that stuff is integrated, and the GPU is the part you want to upgrade most frequently. At that cost, it's better to have a proper gaming desktop and something cheaper for out and about. Unless you specifically need both those things to be combined in one device, gaming laptops look flashy but are a really hard sell. It looks great now, but when NVIDIA goes through a few generations, good luck keeping the same perky attitude.

My computer desk is also a portable fold-up table so I can literally pack up my entire workstation and take it with me on long trips.

That's interesting!

As far as this kind of thing goes, the bigger the physical machine is the better -- way cheaper, way easier to build and modify. My friend built a VR machine back in 2016 that was the size of a garbage can.

I have to disagree with bigger is better. If you're running a home server and need 8 NAS drive bays, sure, go full tower all the way. But full towers are big, clunky, and unwieldy, without serving any other purpose besides taking space. I have a micro ATX housing a Ryzen 7 2700x (8 cores, 16 threads), 32 GB RAM, an RTX 2060 Super, and a 1 TB SSD. Nobody does SLI, they just buy the next step up. Nobody buys two separate CPUs, they just buy a Ryzen 9. And the best graphics cards can fit just fine in a Micro ATX chassis. You can build a Micro ATX Ryzen i9 with a Noctua air cooler, an RTX 2080 Ti, 2 TB of NVM.e storage, and 64 GB of RAM. It's a colossal waste of money, but the point is size does not hinder performance. Both can be whatever you want.

The fringe cases are really, REALLY fringe, and the cons of doing those things will start to outweigh the benefits long before you need to step up to a bigger desktop. Even standard ATX is quite roomy.

Posted Wednesday by mariomguy
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Yeah @mariomguy: I want to know what happened here too.

That was me :3

Posted Wednesday by mariomguy
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If you actually have a use for portable gaming, [...] there are cases where the device makes sense.


In other words, it's not just a waste. If you want something for a purpose and you buy a thing that fulfills that purpose, it's not really a waste.

But you're spending $$$ for portability, and as a portable device it really sucks.


I spent $$$ mainly for the performance of the device with the added convenience of not building a computer myself and also the portability. It doesn't suck as a portable device. It does exactly what I want it to do.

You tend to fall back to square one, keeping it on a desk, and most games require a mouse, so for most people it's better not to even bother with those.


I actually keep mine on the couch, where I can easily Chromecast to my TV and play Runescape and chill. I just put my mouse on a spare laptop pad as a mousepad.

Performance alone, you can build a kickass gaming PC for a fraction of the cost.


I paid $750 for my MSI gaming laptop that plays anything that I want it to. I did build a budget gaming desktop for much less than that (less than $400), but that was a hackjob, though it still works.

Before I had my current gaming laptop, I had an HP Pavilion g6, which is marketed as a multimedia notebook instead of a gaming laptop. It had integrated graphics and like 4 GB of RAM, but I still played ArmA II, Left 4 Dead 2, CS:GO and many other games with better performance on it than most people because I dug in and did detailed performance tweaks. That laptop cost me $500 and I ran it hard for years, but it never gave me a problem.

From what you said above, your cited price for a gaming desktop is significantly above my prebuilt gaming laptop and at least twice the price of my repurposed multimedia laptop.

Edited Wednesday by 9x19
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First of all, I sincerely apologize for your life. I watch Netflix off a smart TV.


A tablet 12 inches from your face is literally the same screen size as a smart tv 6 feet away. You're also way more comfortable through the whole process since you can move it around. And can take it into other rooms. Etc.

Typing on a tablet is doable, but definitely not an enjoyable experience, which is why I'd rather recommend a Chromebook with a touchscreen and keyboard than a tablet.


I mean I wouldn't use it for work, but it's definitely capable for anything social.

Linux is weird.


It's a lot less weird than it used to be. Also a great way to get new life out of an older PC.

Compatibility issues with games is the biggest turnoff for me.


Yeah that and my graphics program are the only reason I use windows. You can use wine, but that doesn't really work if you're doing something graphics-intensive, which both of those things are.

Well, I really did consider the Surface and Yoga as a pro drawing table


Well, those are more laptops than tablets. My cousin's surface has a really powerful CPU in it even. Actual windows tablets (with the decreased hardware) are garbage though.

The cheapest non-portable and clunky Cintiq costs $600.


What about ancient old-school drawing tablets? Those shouldn't run you anything.

Are you talking about All-in-ones? I forgot to mention those.


I talked about them later, but in this case I'm talking about what are essentially big bulky laptops.

NEVER GET THOSE. YOU CAN'T UPGRADE.


In what sense? I've already swapped out the RAM and hard drive, plus I have a detachable graphics card in addition to the two under the hood.

but good luck upgrading the graphics card, CPU, etc.


It makes more sense to just buy a new computer every 10 years or so for that kind of thing. My computer still runs really really well though -- one of the benefits of buying an i7 with three graphics cards I guess.

gaming laptops look flashy but are a really hard sell.


Again, I'm not talking about gaming laptops. Different form factor, also different price tag. Gaming laptops are basically a regular laptop form factor with a lot of potent hardware so are very expensive. Desktop replacements are larger and heavier but are still basically laptops. Mine weighs six pounds, then the charger probably weighs another three.

Nobody does SLI, they just buy the next step up.


I mean I literally do SLI.

It's a colossal waste of money


It is now, just like having 16GB of ram in 2013 was a waste of money then but it makes a lot of sense to go for longevity.



Posted Wednesday by Xhin
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