Sunday 6 May 2007

Your Computer Just Died! Don't Panic!

Your Computer Just Died! Don't Panic!

What do you do if your computer dies midterm or starts getting more 'blue screens of death' than used to film 300? It's time to get a new machine. There are many issues to consider when getting a new machine:
laptop vs. desktop, Mac vs. PC, if a PC XP vs. Vista and many, many more. In this article we will explore some of these questions and you can journey with me in the process of replacing a seven-year old laptop.

Unfortunately, I went through this trauma last term. It started with a crash from time to time and worked up to my machine rebooting more often than running. So I was desperate for a computer, but not so desperate I ran out and bought the first machine on sale at Future Shop or Staples. Don't Panic! Take a deep breath -- you can survive without a functioning computer for a day or two if need be.

First, talk to your friends and find out what computer store they use. Here in Waterloo, there is a large variety from which to choose. My old laptop was seven year's old and had served me well, but I had not bought a computer or components in a number of years. Seek the advice
of people who have purchased recently, or who know computers. Talk to the geeks in your life and ask questions, especially if you're an artsy who doesn't know what the specs on computers mean.

Next, you have to look at your budget, what you can afford or what you are willing to spend. This will greatly affect your decision. If your budget is limited, or funds are at a premium, you eliminate Mac almost from the top. PC's and Windows-based laptops are significantly cheaper in general. You can also get significantly more computing power from a PC over a laptop for the same price. The second advantage, if money is an issue, is PCs upgrade far more easily than either Macs or laptops. Therefore, I had narrowed the decision to a clone PC.

The reason I went with a clone, is that Dell, Compac, HP and some IBMs all require proprietary hardware like an Apple. You have to go back to the original company for parts and work down the read. For a clone PC, you can pick up a Hard Drive or Optical Drive almost anywhere and pop it in to upgrade or expand your computer. Not so with these name brands.

But where to purchase in Waterloo? There are pages of Computer places in the Yellow pages. I started calling around and building quotes online at different sites. PC Waterloo is convenient, close to campus and used to have the best service in town. Yet a few people warned me off of them because of bad recent service experiences, including a machine not being ready 10 days after the date they were told it would be ready. Also, sometimes it is hard to get service while in PC Waterloo. Second, I check Vision Computers, at Philip and Columbia. It is also close to campus and was close in the ballpark for price. Yet the winner in my shopping experience was the Computer Service Depot. They took the best quote I had, and beat it. Their service was impeccable. Their communication was clear, they compensated when the computer was a day late and were very apologetic. While I was waiting at CSDepot to pick up my new machine, an older couple came in with a tower. They inspected it in front of them, then installed a new power supply, booted the machine and showed them it worked, and only charged for the power supply - not a service charge for 2 minutes to put it in. My respect for them went up immediately. They did not try to up-sell me just for the sake of a bigger sale. The only drawback is that they are on Lodge across from Benny's which is a little further from UW. But I have already sent 2 friends there who were just as happy as I was. I also compared spec for spec machines from a few of the independent resellers in Toronto and CSDepot always came in as the best bang for the buck.

That however does not answer all of our questions. Now that I had a new PC, I had to decide how to run it. At CSDepot they said the cost for various editions of XP or of Vista was the same. I decided to give Vista a try and see what it was about. (I could always install my old version of XP if needed.) I also upgraded to Office 2007 from the old 2000 version I had been running for a while now.

Whenever you upgrade programs or operating systems, there will be changes you like and changes you don't. It is taking me a while to get used to the new version of Office. Having no drop-down menus is pretty sweet; finding where stuff is, is taking some time. Some of the changes in Vista are just 'Eye Candy'. My wife loves the sidebar - I don't use it. Yet overall I am very happy with the upgrade. So far only two small applications will not run on my Vista Machine. One of the things that made this transition easiest is a tool downloaded from the Microsoft site, the Easy Transfer Companion. It is a tool that transfers installed programs from an XP machine to a Vista Machine. It saved hours in transferring about 90% of my installed applications, and only three of them did not work and needed to be reinstalled or upgraded to the newer version.

So I survived my computer dying in the middle of a term, and so can you. So don't panic! Yes - thanks to some friends I now have a new machine and it is very sweet, but that is another story. (You can check it out on my blog here.)

(This is a photo of my laptop and new PC running the Windows Vista Easy Transfer Companion that transfers installed programs from an XP machine to a Vista Machine.)

(This article was written as an op-ed piece that got bumped twice now.)

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