Friday, October 7, 2011

Hardware. Finding the perfect little black dress.

I get the hardware question a lot.  What do I recommend? What do I have? What do I like?  It's a toughie.

First off, let me say I am not a hardware expert.  I ask a lot of questions from people I trust and do the best I can.  This is my take on that info.

It's a lot like getting a little black dress for a big event.

You could spend $500 at a boutique or find one on sale at a department store for $20.  The dress from the boutique may be a classic and you could wear it for years. I have a few of those - I gained weight and can't wear them, but also can't just donate or sell them at a garage sale because I spent so much on them.  So they take up space in my closet waiting for me to lose weight.  The dress from the department store may be cute at first but sometimes the cheap dresses don't last - sometimes they do - but often enough they lose their shape or fall apart. Sometimes it's a great deal, sometimes not.

So what we do is find the dress that we can afford but that we know will last and will be good for a long time. We find that comprise. 

The same thing with computers.  We need to find the one that is the best we can afford and that will last.  

Here are some factors to consider:

  • Your IT department - Do you have one? Do they really know what you do?  Are they responsive when you need help?
    If you have a great IT department you can trust them to get you what is best for you and what they like.  Make sure they know how your software works, that having a laptop designed for gaming doesn't mean you are a gamer.  If you don't have the best IT support you may need to stick to your guns about the hardware.  I have heard many designers tell me that the IT person didn't believe them when they said they needed a good graphic card and got a cheapie and the designers are paying for it with crashes and slow machines.  If you are your IT department then support from the manufacturer is going to be very important.
  • Laptop vs Desktop - Are you going to work from home/clients/Starbucks?
    A desktop computer can be upgraded and can have more power for less money.  However, with the graphical nature of our programs and the work anywhere attitude people have a laptop is much more practical, even a large heavy laptop is better than a desktop and a monitor if you want to work from home or do a quick presentation at the clients.
  • The brand of the other computers in your office.
    If your office has a contract with Dell you may get better pricing.  Or your IT person may have a good working relationship with someone. 
What do you need? 
The most important issue when getting a computer for designers today is getting the best graphic card you can afford.  My experience is get a Nvidia GeForce Graphics Card but there are lots of them so here is a chart to figure out if the one you are getting is as good as you can afford. 

The second most important is the hard drive, then getting plenty of ram to support that awesome graphic card.

What Brand
Just like dresses we all have our favorite brands.  I can't wear Ann Taylor because I'm just not thin enough but I know there are people out there that love her.

I don't have a favorite brand right now. It used to be Alienware when they were a boutique shop and they are still fine but then Dell  bought them and if I'm going to buy a Dell - I'll just buy a Dell.  Which I think is a good computer.

I wouldn't get an HP.  Rumor has it they are getting out of the hardware business and my experience has been a bit like getting the dress form the department store. Sometimes they are solid other times not so much.

I like Lenovo ThinkPad and the Thinkstation  but they are on the higher end of the price scale. You do get what you pay for and I have some clients that have them and are very happy.

Mac are right out.  Our software doesn't really run on them.  Oh well.

This is what I have right now:

Malibal P150H Lotus P150HM

  Display: 15.6" 1920 x 1080 FHD LED Backlit Glossy Display
  Processor: Intel® Core™ i7-2920XM, Extreme 8MB L3 Cache, 2.50-3.50GHz
  Memory: (12GB) 12288MB, PC3-10660/1333MHz DDR3 - 3 SO-DIMM
  Graphics Card: NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 485M 2GB GDDR5
  Hard Drive: 160GB Intel® X25-M SATA II 3Gb/s SSD2 Drive

I got this laptop in June and I haven't been happy with it because I think I got a lemon.  My friend Jason at Configura loves Malibal and has over 20.  I have heard others say the same thing.  However, my experience with their customer service was bad.  They were unprofessional and unresponsive to my problem - blaming me for my hard drive crash.  I would only recommend them if you have an extremely good IT person.

Keep in mind, all of this could change in a minute because there is always something new. You are also going to want to get a new one in a couple years to keep up with all the new software that is going to come out!  Trust me, it won't stop.  I buy a new computer every 18 months - but that's pretty much my only business expense so you  may want to budget for every 2 to 3 years.

So, have I answered the question?  No, but I hope you can make a more informed decision now.

Good Luck!

1 comment:

Peter-the-QA-guy said...

With regard to Hard Disks - it is worth noting that they come in four major "speed variants" today.

Disk speed tells you is how fast the disk will read data when launching software or loading drawings, and how long it will take you to write files to it (saving your work).

Breaking things down into easy to understand numbers, this is what you look for:

5400 rpm - slow
7200 rpm - average
10 000 rpm - fast

Most laptops tend to come with the 5400 rpm disks since they require less power. But this means you pay for power saving with lots of waiting.

If you want the best of both worlds, look for a type of disk called SSD.

SSD stands for Solid State Drive. In simple terms it means using similar technology to that USB memory stick you have.

SSD disks are less power hungry - leading to more battery time on that laptop. And if you get a good one, they are blazingly fast!

The main drawback with SSD is that they cost more per GB of storage.