My desktop computer died a year ago and I have been getting by with my 8 year old Vostro notebook set up as a desktop with external keyboard, mouse, and extending the desktop to a second monitor. But the Dell is showing its age, still running Windows Vista, which is no longer supported by the Chrome browser. Even using Firefox, a lot of the security certificates don’t work. And it tends to run slowly at times, though I am using it right now and it is working just fine.
Still, I was having some serious issues today with internet speed, which may not have been the fault of the Vostro, but I started looking at new notebooks. I don’t want a desktop because they use too much electricity and laptops seem just as capable, but you can take them with you if you want. I have a Dell Inspiron 15 that I bought a couple of years ago to be my main laptop and it is pretty good, but has a few little things that are disappointing like the wi-fi cutting in and out and a bad trackpad and mouse buttons. It works fine, so I am not replacing it, but after buying 5 Dell computers over the years, I am looking at other brands too.
I needed to find out what the differences are between processors now. Intel has the i3, i5, and i7 chips, for budget, mid-range, and high-end uses. AMD has processors that I’m not as familiar with, but I found the A10 seems to be pretty good and maybe between the i3 and i5. Intel is currently on its 7th generation processor, just released, so you can get the 6th generation ones from last year for a decent price. That seemed to be the way to go. I’d like an i5 or i7, but not if there is a substantial price difference. And I wanted 8 GB of RAM, 5 hours of battery life, and a weight of less than 5 pounds. And I didn’t want to spend much more than $400, but could go a little over. A touchscreen would be nice, but I have a touchscreen on the Dell and I don’t think I use it that much.
I found an HP laptop at Walmart of all places for $399 which had the 6th generation Intel i3, 8 GB RAM, touchscreen, 6.25 hours of battery life, and weighed 4.73 pounds. Sounds pretty good. I looked some more and found a very similar HP for $319 but it only had 4 GB of RAM. I figured for $80 savings, I could pay $20 for 4 more GB of RAM, so I made sure my local Office Depot had one in stock and drove over there this afternoon. They only had one and it was opened. After plugging it in and starting it at the store, it was definitely used. But they said the one near Northlake had plenty in stock, so I went there and got one. As they were getting it from the back, I wondered if it had a touchscreen, and looked at the ad and figured it must not. Not a huge loss, but it explains part of the price difference. The other thing I had checked was to see if the RAM was only using one slot, which it was, so I could add 4 more GB of RAM in the other slot (if it had 2 GB chips in each slot, I would have to buy two new 4 GB chips; sometimes you have to add in pairs, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here). I think the maximum is 8 GB, but I’m not positive.
I started it up and initialized it when I got home. I wondered what kind of RAM it needed. There is DDR3 and DDR4 and DDR4 is a little faster. Office Depot and HP’s websites said it uses DDR3 and I found some reviews where similar HP laptops used DDR3. However, I found a video on YouTube explaining how to open it up and it pointed out that the ones with the Gen5 and Gen6 i3 processors use DDR4 (later I noticed that the sticker on the box also said it was DDR4). That’s a key thing, so I proceeded to try and open the computer to make sure before I ordered another chip. I’m not sure how they get that kind of battery life, because the battery is tiny. It is only 3 cells, just a long stick. They don’t have panels that you can unscrew to get to the different components like the memory and hard drive. Instead you have to remove 12 philips head screws, which are all identical at least, but two are hidden under rubber footings. Then you have to use a spudger to pop all the snaps all around the laptop’s base to remove the entire back cover. That wasn’t easy and it was made much more difficult for me by missing two of the screws. Anyway, after a lot of work I was able to remove the cover. The RAM was then easy to access and is in fact DDR4, made by Hynix. I looked on Amazon for 4GB modules and found what looks like an identical module by Hynix (probably removed from an HP) for only $19 shipped. So that’s nice.
Next thing is I want to hook up my external monitor, but laptops don’t have VGA ports anymore. My monitor doesn’t have a HDMI port, but it does have both VGA and DVI inputs and DVI is basically the same thing as HDMI, but with a different port. So I found a cable on eBay for $5 that should let me hook the laptop (or the newer Dell, which also lacks a VGA port) to my monitor. That’s pretty painless. The memory and cable should be here by next weekend. Meanwhile I left the new computer taken apart because I don’t want to go through the hassle of putting it together and taking it apart again.
Eventually I could get a really big monitor with twice as much room as the laptop screen and run that as my only screen, but for now, this should work and the cable was a lot cheaper than a big monitor, even though you can get a 27-inch HD monitor now for less than $200. Maybe a future upgrade. Eric got a 27-inch monitor while he was staying at my house but it has a higher resolution than HD’s 1080p. Instead it is called quad-HD or QHD, or 2k, and is 1440p (1,440 horizontal lines). They also make 4k monitors that are 2160p. However, my worry on that is that 4k would shrink the pixels down so much that everything would be too small on the screen. I did some calculations and figured that a comfortable pixel size is 0.25 to 0.32 millimeters. My 10″ windows tablet was too small to be comfortable at 0.16 mm pixels. A 27-inch QHD monitor is 0.23mm, so a little small. A 29-inch monitor would give the same pixel size. The 4k monitor would be only 0.16mm, way too small for me. I would need a 42-inch 4k monitor to keep the pixels a reasonable size. At work I have two 22-inch HD monitors and the width isn’t quite enough to have two windows open on the same screen. An internet window needs to be about 1100 pixels wide and a HD monitor is only 1920 pixels wide. You could rotate the monitor to portrait and have a width of 1080 pixels and stack the windows vertically, but I’m not so sure about having such a tall monitor. Anyway, the 29 inch QHD monitor is probably the way to go.