How to save money on tech

CNN offered up some good tips on saving money on tech. But of course I want to analyze and comment on it myself. Anything else would be out of character. Here’s how I save money on tech.

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Office 2010, early impressions

I’ve mentioned several times that I hadn’t seen Office 2010 yet, so I couldn’t comment on it, and would reserve judgment until I’ve seen it. I’ve been working for companies that were a bit behind the times on that.

I’ve been working with it for a week now. I won’t be buying it for my own use at home.

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Living with a past-its-prime computer

I’m playing catch-up a bit. This weekend, Lifehacker ran a guide about living with a computer that’s past its prime.

I’ve made a career of that. One of my desktop PCs at work (arguably the more important one) is old enough that I ought to be preparing to send it off to second grade. And for a few years I administered a server farm that was in a similar state. They finally started upgrading the hardware as I was walking out the door. (I might have stayed longer if they’d done that sooner.) And at home, I ran with out-of-date computer equipment for about a decade, just this summer buying something current. Buying something current is very nice, but not always practical.

So of course I’ll comment on a few of Lifehacker’s points.

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If you’re looking for a cheap motherboard

If you need a dirt-cheap, dependable motherboard, Computer Geeks Discount Outlet has a refurbished Asus M4N68T-M V2 available for under $34. It’s a socket AM3 board, so it uses readily available AMD Sempron/Athlon II/Phenom CPUs and up to 8 GB of DDR3 memory (and there’s little reason not to put the full 8 GB in–4 GB DIMMs cost $19). I’ve been running one of these boards since September or so and I’m thrilled with it.

You can build a nice 4-core system around this board, or, for a budget build, drop in a $40 Sempron and 4 GB of RAM for $19 to upgrade an aging system on the cheap, or build an affordable, low-power HTPC. A low-end Sempron will outperform an Atom while using less than 45 watts.

I spotted that this weekend, and thought you might like to know.

Is overclocking over?

Extreme Tech (via Slashdot) asks if overclocking is over. It’s an interesting question. It has a long and colorful history. But maybe it is history.

I have a 4-core machine whose cores can all run at a top speed of over 3 GHz. And it’s a midrange PC at best, these days. The only time I ever push its CPU usage is when I’m encoding video. Web pages that bring a P4-class machine to its knees momentarily bring this PC’s CPU usage to 10%.

Not being a gamer, I haven’t had any reason to overclock in years. In fact, even back in 2000 I was recommending against it. Bad things can happen when you overclock.
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Is that price a good deal or not?

So you’re shopping online, and want to know if you’re getting a good deal on something. It’s pretty easy to shop around, and check multiple web sites to see how they’re pricing an item. But sometimes prices change over time, and wouldn’t it be nice to know if pricing on the item is relatively stable, or if it’s something that frequently goes on sale for less?

Enter the Camelizer.
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PC Magazine’s sub-$200 PC

PC Magazine has reprised its sub-$200 PC. I think it’s a good guide, and a savvy shopper can potentially do a little bit better with some care and some luck. At that price, it’s running Linux, but it also serves as a good guide for upgraders looking to upgrade an existing PC inexpensively. If you have a case and hard drive you can reuse, you can either buy better parts, or just pocket the savings.

Here’s my take on their selections.

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64 bits or bust

I’ve resisted the pull to 64 bits, for a variety of reasons. I’ve had other priorities, like lowering debt, fixing up a house, kids in diapers… But eventually the limitations of living with 2003-era technology caught up with me. Last week I broke down and bought an AMD Phenom II 560 and an Asus M4N68T-M v2 motherboard. Entry-level stuff by today’s standards. But wow.

If you can get one, an AMD Phenom II x4 840 is a better choice, but those are getting hard to find. And if you can’t afford a $100 CPU there are bargains at the very low end too: A Sempron 145 costs less than $45, and a dual-core Athlon II x2 250 costs $60.  The second core is worth the money.
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How to decide if a computer upgrade will pay for itself in power savings

I occasionally read an offhand comment where someone says he or she just bought a new computer, and the new computer is so much more power efficient than the old one, it’s going to pay for itself.

I wonder if they did the math, or if that’s what the salesperson told them. Because while I can see circumstances where that assertion would be true, but it typically would involve extremes, like replacing an aged Pentium 4 computer with, well, a netbook. They probably didn’t do that.

Part of the reason I got into computers professionally was because I was tired of hearing lies from salespeople and technicians. So let’s just take a look at this claim.
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