Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New PC for MIL

Being the resident computer geek in my extended family, end user support naturally winds up being my responsibility.  So, when it comes time for someone in the family to get a new home computer either I put it together or they ask me for a recommendation.

For example, my mother in-law (henceforth “MIL”) currently has a PC I built up for her about 5 or 6 years ago.  It’s an MSI minitower, one of the PCs WalMart was selling sans OS several years ago.  It worked OK for awhile but it’s long in the tooth now and in dire need of replacement.  It has a 900 MHz AMD Duron CPU, 256 MB of RAM, and a 10 GB hard disk.  This afternoon, I ordered the parts from NewEgg to build her a new PC.

Based on the good results with her existing MSI PC and my Wind netbook, I chose an MSI Wind barebones PC as the basis for the new box.  The Wind barebones apparently takes a motherboard very similar to the one in the Wind netbook and puts it into a small form factor desktop/minitower case.  Like the netbook, it comes with a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom CPU and takes a maximum of 2 GB of laptop RAM.  There’s space for a 3.5” hard disk and a 5.25” optical drive.

To complete the machine I also ordered the following hardware:

  • 2 GB stick of Kingston RAM
  • 160 GB Western Digital SATA hard disk
  • Samsung SATA DVD burner
  • Logitech USB keyboard and mouse

This is low end by today’s standards, but her most important applications are Firefox, Skype (for talking to my brother in-law in Okinawa), and Office.  My Wind netbook handles these with aplomb so the desktop should be just fine.

Other reasons for choosing the Wind barebones is that its small form factor will fit into MIL’s cramped bedroom easily and it has low power consumption.   It didn’t hurt that NewEgg had it on sale and there’s a $10 mailin rebate.

The software load with be XP Pro SP3 with IE6 (IE7 sucks up too many system resources even when you’re not using it), MS Office 2003, Firefox, AVG antivirus, and Skype.

So why not a Mac?  Two words: low budget.  This setup is costing less than $300 (we already have the XP and Office licenses).   Even a low end Mac Mini would cost at least $300 more.

And why Windows instead of something like Ubuntu Linux?  If MIL didn’t use MS Office, I’d be perfectly happy to load Ubuntu  on it.  A few years ago I had my parents using SuSE 7.3 at home and it worked fine until they had a few windows programs they really wanted to run. For MIL, Firefox and Skype would work just fine on Linux.  MS Office, not so much.  (No, for her is not good enough.  OO.o does not perfectly translate heavily formatted Office docs, which she sometimes brings home from work.)  I’m able to configure XP so that it needs relatively minimal attention, and the only networking she does is Internet access from behind a router.  She doesn’t live with us so being around to help her learn a new OS isn’t really feasible.  YMMV.

I’m hoping my order will arrive next week so I get to move her to the new machine by the end of the year.  I’ll post a follow up once it’s up and running.  Assuming it works out well, I may wind up getting a second one for use as a home server here.


Dan Seto said...

OF course, you could use Codeweavers Crossover Office to run MS Office. It's what I use in Ubuntu and, although not perfect, it's enough to get most work done.

Dave Markowitz said...

I have Codeweavers Crossover installed on my MacBook Pro to run Visio and Project. It works ok for very light use but large docs, especially with images, bog down. E.g., even on the MBP which has a dedicated video card, Visio docs frequently take a long time to refresh.

Not really a viable solution on the MSI's low end hardware, IMO.