Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Buying a new PC for your library?

Some of you who've been around the Montana library community for a few years might recall fondly  when Montana State Library personnel would periodically post current recommended computer specifications for those looking to buy new PCs for their library. We stopped doing that several years ago, when Mike Price, our computer guru at the time, stated that just about any computer currently on the market would suffice for library usage. And I think he's right. But that still doesn't help much when you find yourself overwhelmed with all kinds of numbers and terms in a language that doesn't make any sense.

I've been asked for help by a couple of librarians lately so I thought I'd share what some of the terminology means and how I make my way through the jumble.

The key question to ask and answer is, what will you be using the computer for? If it's for office applications, browsing the web, answering emails, etc., you can get by with a fairly inexpensive computer with modest specifications. And by modest, I'm referring primarily to Processor and Memory or RAM. If you want a computer for graphics or video processing and/or especially for gaming, you're going to need much faster processing power, more memory and better graphics cards. All of that makes for a much more expensive computer.

My favorite place to start shopping for computers is the Costco website. I like it because they have a nice mix of higher and lower end computers without there being thousands to choose from. So, I can do some quick comparisons to get an idea of what's reasonable. So here I grabbed a quick comparison of the cheapest and most expensive models they had on their website:
Description Dell Inspiron Desktop - Intel Core i5 CyberPowerPC Supreme Liquid Cooled Gaming Desktop - 9th Gen Intel Core i9-9900K
Storage Type Disk Drive + Solid State Drive Disk Drive + Solid State Drive
SSD Size 128 GB 1 TB
RAM Included 12 GB 64 GB
Processor Intel Core i5 Intel Core i9
Optical Drive DVD±RW No Optical Drive
Hard Drive Size 1 TB 3 TB
Graphic Card Intel UHD 630 NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080Ti
Generation Intel 9th Generation Intel 9th Generation
Price $499.99 after $200 off $2,799.99

Keep in mind, these are ends of the spectrum. If you're looking for a PC to do office applications, you'll be looking more at computers on the Dell end. If you're looking at gaming PCs or high end graphics/video editing PCs, you'll be looking more to the CyberPowerPC end.

A few points to keep in mind. These two computers feature both hard disk and solid state drives. That seems to be increasingly common. You may also see just solid state drives or SSDs. You'll notice that these are generally smaller than the hard disks. They're also faster and more expensive. They give you a quicker start up for one thing. You'll note that the Dell has a DVD drive while the gaming PC has no optical drive. A DVD drive is handy if you have software or perhaps movies on DVD you'd like to run on the computer. Otherwise, everything must be downloaded from the Internet or added on with an external DVD drive.

The RAM varies considerably between these two computers. More RAM generally gives better performance. The processors are both Intel 9th generation. That can be helpful information if you're comparing computers and one has older components. These specs don't provide the number of cores or the speed in Mhz, but the i9 is a faster and more powerful CPU. Another big difference in performance and price comes with the graphics cards.

If you want to see just what is needed to run the particular software you're looking at, you can always go to the requirements page for that software. As an example, here are the requirements listed for Office Professional 2019 from Microsoft as of 1/14/2020:


Computer and processor
1.6 gigahertz (GHz) or faster, 2-core

4 GB RAM; 2 GB RAM (32-bit)

Hard disk
4.0 GB of available disk space

1280 x 768 screen resolution

Graphics hardware acceleration requires DirectX 9 or later, with WDDM 2.0 or higher for Windows 10 (or WDDM 1.3 or higher for Windows 10 Fall Creators Update).

You can see that the lower end Dell is probably sufficient, but you may want to get more details to make sure that the processor meets the specifications.

If you want to run Adobe Photoshop on the PC, here are the specifications as of 1/14/2020:

Minimum Requirements

Intel® or AMD processor with 64-bit support*; 2 GHz or faster processor

Operating system
Microsoft Windows 7* with Service Pack 1 (64-bit)**,
Microsoft Windows 10*** October 2018 update (64-bit) version 1809 or later

2 GB or more of RAM (8 GB recommended)

Graphics card
nVidia GeForce GTX 1050 or equivalent; nVidia GeForce GTX 1660 or Quadro T1000 is recommended

Hard disk space
3.1 GB or more of available hard-disk space for 64-bit installation; additional free space required during installation (cannot install on a volume that uses a case-sensitive file system)

Monitor resolution
1280 x 800 display at 100% UI scaling with 16-bit color and 512 MB or more of dedicated VRAM; 2 GB is recommended †

The Dell is probably okay for everything but the graphics card. Photoshop requires a more advanced graphics card but not one as high end as in the gaming PC. You can either shop for another PC with better graphics capability or shop from a website that will allow you to customize certain features of your PC. The Adobe Photoshop system requirements page gives lots of information on compatible graphics cards.

So, while there's a lot of information and the numbers and details can be confusing, there are really only a few that you really need to concern yourself with. And what you get in those depends on what you want to do with the PC. If you have that planned out ahead of time, you know what you have to look for as a minimum. Then, it's usually a good idea to get a bit more to allow for improvements and greater capabilities and demands over the next few years.

If you still have questions ask your tech support and/or contact us at the State Library.


Anonymous said...

What is your take on the Dell Inspiron (personal PC) versus Optiplex (business PC) in regards to library staff computers?

Suzanne said...

While as you indicate the Optiplex is geared toward business and the Inspiron is geared toward home/personal use, I would go back to the question, what do you want to do with it? Unfortunately, Dell's website doesn't seem to make it easy to do side by side comparisons of home vs business PC options. You can customize on their website. One difference that might make it worthwhile to go with the Optiplex is a standard 3 year on-site warranty vs. a 1 year mail in but that's also customizable. It looks like Dell is also marketing safety and security features with the Optiplex. I notice the chat box keeps popping out to offer assistance. It might be worth chatting with them.