New Laptop, or New SSD?

When should the system you have be replaced? When is a upgrade the better choice? My job is evaluating the cost to performance ratio, pointing out what can be gained and what would be lost with the choices available. There are always variables to take into account when deciding to upgrade components or the whole system. Here we can explore some those variables. What is the hardware in your current system? What upgrades are available for it, what do you want to use the system for, what will it cost to get it ready for that kind of work?

When choosing the path to a better computing experience, I almost always start with looking at what the system is going to be used for. Graphic design work? Well, that should have large system memory, fast CPU, and SSD, plus a mid-range GPU with dedicated memory. Let's say you only browse the web and check emails, and you only do some light tasks. You can benefit from an SSD, but really don't need it, anything from second generation i-series, Intel CPU and 6 to 8 gigabytes of RAM would be fine. So cost for upgrades would be the only thing to consider to make using the system better. Looking to do some gaming? You need a powerful GPU, with dedicated memory on a 128bit bus or more, an SSD, and 8GB RAM with a quad core CPU. So what you will use the computer for is important in carving out the cost for what you’d need.

Most systems still don't come with an SSD and it is often the best place to start for upgrades. If your system doesn't have an SSD, then you have never seen what your computer is capable of. Most systems bought in the last four years can benefit from an SSD upgrade. It would make the system feel like a new computer. Boot times are 15 seconds or less in most devices. Applications launch instantly. Even new computers are still being sold with the old hard drive technology, with moving parts and spinning platters, and that is slowing down the rest of the hardware. So even buying a new laptop, you still end up getting the same speeds, stuck with the same bottleneck, and the performance to cost ratio is in an upgrade because of this.

It was, a few years ago, that RAM was the best option for upgrades. The gains in performance where small, and the cost was low. A SSD was over a dollar a gigabyte, and even though the performance gain was large, so was the cost. Current prices on SSD’s is much closer to what a regular hard drive was five years ago, per gigabyte. Even under a heavy load, you don’t see any performance gains with putting more than 8GB of RAM in a system. Only under special circumstances is more RAM recommended. If your system has 8GB of RAM, then SSD is the next upgrade to get any extra speed from your system. Boot times get slower after adding more than 8GB of RAM, as does waking from sleep, shutting down the system and the extra memory never gets used.

You got a machine with a third gen. i5, and can buy the sixth gen. i5 laptop for $450, but have the same 30 second boot time, and still wait for applications to launch because the system is always waiting for the hard drive to deliver data to the RAM. You upgrade the hard drive on the third gen. i5 laptop to an SSD and now it boots up in 10 seconds and you never wait for anything to launch, and it costs you $250 to get the upgrade.

If the hardware you have now has untapped potential, running an old hard drive, the SSD is clearly worth the cost. Two years ago the upgrade could have been $350 and the decision would have been harder to make. Now days the cost of an SSD is low enough to make the choice simple. Few people have a computer that would need replaced and lacks the performance to gain from an SSD. If you are thinking of getting a new computer, consider the gains in an upgrade before scrapping the system you have now. You could save a lot of money and get the real performance you are looking for without replacing the entire system.

Windows 10. Is it for me?

So it has been some time since I have take time to write anything for Laptop Zen. With all the work I've been doing, making the time for this blog has been a greater challenge than I was expecting. I really needed to re-frame my own thinking to start handling this project of writing something about tech and answer questions that are common to my customers. If asked about technologies, I have no problem giving a down to earth answer. The issue for me was writing about it, and recognizing the questions that keeping being asked. As I've started to understand what you want to know, I have been giving much more satisfying answers. Which tells me I understand the questions you all are asking me.

The big questions I'm getting currently is about the Windows 10 upgrade. "Should I?" is what most people ask. The answer is more about what you want, need and expect from your computer or laptop. Only a third of the laptops I've upgraded had issues with drivers after the upgrade. Most of that was graphics software needed to be uninstalled and the new Windows 10 driver software installed after that. Sometimes the issues where from chipset drivers or old software for other hardware. So these take a little time to fix. This takes a little extra effort to track down and correct. Some software is also not compatible in Windows 10 and will be uninstalled during the upgrade, and sometimes is left behind in a non functioning state. These software issue can be the worst to try and overcome, and could be a continued source of problems down the road.  You could roll back to your previous version  of Windows if the problems are to much, but the software that was disabled during upgrade will likely need reinstalled. The other issue you will be faced with is finding thing you used in your previous version of Windows in the new interface. It isn't much of a learning curve, but if you are in the middle of a project, need the machine for work, or classes, then putting the upgrade off till you have time is the only option. Having a second machine to fall back on make the process easier, just in case something comes up while you are learning to navigate the new OS. 

After taking everything into account, and you make the decision to upgrade, you'll need a good check list. So here are my thoughts on what you will need.

1) Time. give your self a week to two weeks for installing, configuring, and learning the new OS. Stress kills, and normal everyday use can feel frustrating when you need files, you want something printed, or you need to figure out how to do tasks that are done differently or are just broken in your new OS. Give yourself time to do this in comfort, not under a deadline. The OS will upgrade in less than two hours, but that doesn't mean you will be ready when it is finished.

2)Backup! OMG, this is so important. if your hard drive is near the end of its life, and the upgrade starts, you could loose everything. This process will work your hard drive more than it does in normal every day use. So if the drive hasn't shown any signs, it could still be pushed over the edge and you won't get anything back. Don't risk it, backup, backup, backup. And just so you don't forget, I'll say it again, backup.

3) Cleanup. Remove junk file, run CCleaner and use the tools it has to uninstall software you don't need or use. Clean the startup items for Windows and your browsers, run the built in registry cleaner. Run disk cleanup, and defrag if needed.

4) Check your manufactures website for Windows 10 drivers, if they have them, download chipset, video drivers, audio, and network drivers. Anything else you can get after the upgrade, but these should be added right after upgrading and then uninstalling the old software. Install in the order I listed them for the lest chance of issues.

5) Upgrade! You can check the software and drivers and do updates when it is done and start enjoying the new OS. Don't assume it is to broken or slow before loading your new drivers, getting updates and checking on your software for functionality. If something is wrong after all the updating, check event viewer by right clicking the start button on the task bar and selecting event viewer, and select Windows Logs and then system. Check here for any critical errors, and see what they indicate as the cause. Copy parts of the log description to search Google if your are not sure what it is indicating. 

At any point in the process, you feel stuck or you got questions, even you just want it to be took care of for you, contact me. I am always ready to help. I've been on Windows 10 since last year when the Dev edition was first released, and put copies on a variety of system back in March to test for issues on different types of hardware. I made sure I was ready for anything and got early view on the solutions that we all will need for this transition.

I can also install Linux for you if you are just done with the Microsoft thing.

First Posting. Backups!

For the first post on the Laptop Zen blog, I think I should inform you all on the importance of backups. Hardware will fail, and it is only a matter of time. The number of backup solutions is incredible now days. There is no reason to loose anything, there is so many options, it is just a matter of finding the option or options that fit your needs best. As a rule of thumb, you should expect to experience hardware failure at the must inconvenient time possible, and with no backups, you reach a new level of stress. As I read on a coffee cup once, "Everybody makes mistakes, but to truly screw up you need a computer" and this is why the backup is so important. There is solutions for every device and every file and every situation. I personally use many of the Google solutions, like Google Drive, Photos and Music. It is great taking all those files with me on my phone, without having all of them using all the space on my phone.


If you do't know where to start on doing backups, send us a message or call and we can help point you in the right direction, and we are willing to take the time helping you setup the backup to keep your setup current and trouble free.