Updated on 09.17.14

The Workstation Debate: Making a Rational Purchase

Trent Hamm

As I embark on a career as a full-time writer, I’ve come to discover that I truly need some sort of workstation on which to do my writing. My laptop (upon which every single post ever posted to The Simple Dollar was composed) works great for a couple one-to-two hour sessions a day, but for a full day of writing, it doesn’t cut the mustard for several reasons. It’s giving me minor ergonomic pain already and the screen size gets in the way of some of the editing that I want to do, for starters. Plus, given that I am now completely reliant on this laptop for all of my writing with no redundancy at all gives me some pause. Even more so, I want to start recording some audio and video for various purposes (podcasts? videos? what do I have in store?).

This leaves me with a handful of choices.

Option one includes hooking up an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse to my laptop. I have a dusty old 17″ monitor in the closet, so I attempted this solution. It worked to a degree, but the video card in my laptop has serious compatibility issues with the monitor. In a nutshell, this solution partially resolves one of the four issues I’m concerned with, but leaves me out to dry on the video and audio recording, the single unit reliance, and the screen size, as the monitor isn’t much bigger than the laptop.

Option two is to go all out and just get the exact system I want. This is expensive and specs out at around $4,000 – a staggering sum of money. Basically, this system is an iMac with a 24″ screen and maxed out memory, a new printer/scanner/copier, a backup system, and all of the software I might potentially need for any of my plans. This is expensive, but it solves all of my problems.

Option three is compromising between the two. This basically means a desktop PC of some sort with a large monitor. It’s not the exact system I dream about, but it does afford me the solutions that I need.

Right now, I’m using the first option. It partially solves the biggest issue (ergonomics), but it doesn’t really resolve any of the other concerns I have. In short, this is a stop-gap solution.

This leaves me with one monster question: how do I distinguish between option two and option three over the long haul? Here’s my gameplan.

Step 1: Specify exactly what I actually need.
This is the real challenge, actually. What components of a system do I actually need? I plan on using this machine for work day in and day out for the next several years, so actually getting a grip on my honest needs over that timeframe is vital. The problem, though, is that it’s very easy for wants to slip into the needs section.

Here’s an example. In my previous life, I got very used to a 20″ monitor, and now using my laptop’s 15″ screen (or even my old 17″ monitor) feels small. I feel like I’m chasing windows around much of the time and that’s a time waster. Coupled with that, recent research seems to indicate that six more inches in monitor space can save two and a half hours of time per day. If that larger monitor actually led to a 20% bump in personal productivity for me, it would be well worth it. But is that larger screen a necessity?

Similarly, whenever I spec out a system, I tend to want to add as much memory as possible to the thing, because I’ve witnessed time and time again how much difference plenty of memory can make for a workstation. My wife and I have very similar laptops, but mine has 2 GB memory while hers has 1 GB – and mine is light years faster while doing the same tasks. But is that speed difference necessary?

What I’ll effectively be paying for with both of these options is a bump in system speed over the next several years. That bump might translate itself into enough productivity to allow me to write an extra article or two a day – or it might be negated by other factors.

In the end, it comes down to me. The system will increase the speed with which I’m able to write and create, but will that extra time go to productive use? If the answer is a clear and confident “yes,” then I should go for the upgrades as they’ll pay for themselves. If the answer is “I’m not sure” or “no,” then I should hold off.

My genuine belief, based on my level of productivity recently, is that the answer is yes and I should go for the extras. Is that a justifiable choice? I’m sure it will be debated in the comments for this post.

Step 2: Look at my various options for a system that achieves those needs.
So, I know what I’m getting: a reasonably fast desktop system with a large screen (22-24″) and plenty of memory. I can then hop along to Dell and Apple and spec out these machines … and I quickly see that the Dell version is cheaper.

This brings up another question: what are my concrete and compelling reasons to go for an Apple instead of the Dell? This is a brand choice – it could extrapolate to any major purchase, like choosing a more expensive Honda Odyssey over a Ford Windstar. I can name several concrete benefits for the Apple (built in PDF creation, the relative portability of the iMac, the high quality and inexpensive price of the basic productivity software I’ll need (iWork and Final Cut), and more sensible user interface with less security and driver compatibility concerns, for starters).

Are those extra benefits of the Apple over the roughly equivalent Dell enough to pay a premium price for? I’m not sure, so I hold onto those two specs and move on to the next step.

Step 3: Work on minimizing the price on these options.
For the PC, I might be able to find a similar build from another manufacturer – or perhaps even build the system myself. Pricing the parts out online results in a couple hundred dollars’ worth of savings, but also a long day or two of configuring and setting up the system, which I doubt is particularly cost effective at the moment.

This means I move on to finding opportunities for discounts with Dell or Apple. Do I know anyone who can help me with a discount or a coupon of some sort, like the rumored 15% discount for friends of people who work for Apple? This basically comes down to social networking – who do I know that can help me out with a deal for either brand that might help me make my final decision – and research. What can I find that reduces my bill?

Step 4: Execute sooner rather than later.
At some point, I collect my best deals and move ahead with the purchase. There is some danger here of “analysis paralysis,” where I keep analyzing the situation and seeking better deals, but eventually there’s a point where that’s not cost-effective and I need to move ahead with my purchase.

What’s the point?
For many of you, this might have seemed like a great deal of navel gazing. Why fret so much over the purchase – just get what you need and get on with it! In this process, though, there are some valuable lessons that can be applied to any purchasing decision.

Figure out what you actually need before you start looking at products. It’s easy for me to go to Apple’s website, spec out a system, and go “Wow, that’s impressive!” and then talk myself into it. Even more dangerous is actually visiting an Apple Store, where the systems are out on display. I see them – and I want one. The best way to combat this is to know what you want before you even start looking at real systems. Figure out the specifications you actually desire, do research on the item itself in a general fashion, and then start matching this information with real-world items that match up.

Distinguish the needs from the wants. Obviously, it’s sometimes fun to buy stuff you simply want rather than need, but it’s very easy to go too far down that road and wind up with something overly expensive that goes far beyond what you need and goes into budget-busting excess. As you analyze features (and that should be done before you start actually shopping), focus on defining the things you actually need versus the things you want – and be honest about it. Recognize when you’re buying to fulfill a want rather than a need, and try to keep the wants under control – that will help keep your bill under control.

Tug on your social networks for discounts. Major purchases are a great time to ask around to see if any of your friends – or their friends – have opportunities that would allow you to make your purchase at a discounted price. Coupling this with effective research can often result in a nicely diminished bill at the end of the day. Even better, if someone asks you for help and you have the means to make it happen, make it so – it’s all about paying it forward.

Don’t add “impulse” add-ons. Most major purchases come with pitches for “extras” that you almost assuredly don’t need. Just say no to all of them and figure out any accessories that you might really need later on, and buy those separately with an independent purchase. Electronics stores and car dealerships are both notorious for this, as much of their profit is tied up in slipping little extras in with your big purchase.

I’ll let you know in a few weeks how this all turns out.

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  1. Tyler says:

    What about buying used?

    Also, items like memory and monitors are easily upgraded. I would get a really basic system first, then if you find it’s too slow, or that your 17″ monitor isn’t cutting it, THEN upgrade, rather than try to anticipate all of your needs up front.

  2. Ryan says:

    Whether or not a large monitor is a necessity is up to the individual, but I have no doubt that a large widescreen monitor and a RAM increase are the two best upgrades anyone can do for their computer. When I moved from a 17″ monitor to a 22″ widescreen, it was like night and day. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

    My newest computer came from Velocity Micro. I’d look into them as well if I were you. They’ve gotten some really high marks in the reviews I’ve read online. They specialize in top of the line gaming machines, but their lowest end machines are still powerful, cheap (but not as cheap as Dell), and I’ve heard they have local, reliable tech support.

  3. Rick says:

    As far as the monitor goes, I would consider getting two 17″ screens instead of a large 24″+ monitor. It usually ends up being a lot cheaper and has more physical screen real estate.

    Good luck!

  4. Joe says:

    With your monitor situation, I would recommend looking into getting a dual-monitor system. 2×17 inch monitors side by side can greatly increase your productivity. You can easily keep one side opened onto a webpage while you’re typing up an essay on the other side.

    On another note – if you go with a Dell, be sure to delete their crap-ware off your computer. I recently purchased a desktop from them and this computer was actually running slower than my previous computer. Once I did a little research, I discovered that Dell preloads lots of stuff that doesn’t benefit the computer – only Dell. Once you get the computer, run the system-restore disk (which is free of the junk-ware.)

  5. Becky@FamilyandFinances says:

    My husband got a new Dell laptop a few weeks ago. He was all set to buy it, though it came out to a lot more than we were hoping to pay.

    Then, his brother told him about the website gotapex.com. They have coupon codes for Dell (maybe Apple???). We got $500 off the cost of the computer! We were obviously thrilled as this put us back under budget. I love good deals :)

  6. Tana says:

    I went through this whole debate at the beginning of the year. My husband has a low-end Dell laptop that became our sole computer when the desktop died (and yes, it was backed-up). But when I started a new job from home, a computer that took ten minutes to “wake up” every time you shut the lid and only had a fifty-five minute battery just didn’t cut it. I am a SAHM and my work opportunities come in short bursts. So I’d spend the majority of my opportunities either waiting for the computer to be ready to work. And when the battery ran dead, plugging it in and keeping the baby away from the cord was a nightmare. I was all stressed out and beginning to have health problems as a result.

    My solution was to get a low-end MacBook. It was like a miracle. It cost a pretty penny, but I used the extra money I was making to buy it. It was totally worth it.

    There are some decisions that are quality-of-life decisions rather than strictly dollars-and-cents. I spend a lot less time being frustrated with trying to get work done so I have MUCH MORE PATIENCE for my kids (seriously!). It was $1000 well-spent.

    Yeah, extra memory and all would have been nice, but it wasn’t necessary in my situation. I am saving my dollars, though, for a better one. I’ve heard getting a top-of-the-line computer that lasts five years can save you money over time rather than buying a low-end computer like my husbands and having it be defunct because it can’t handle the latest technology in a year or so. I plan to test that theory.

    So I feel your pain. It’s a tough decision. My only advice is that it isn’t a straight dollars-and-cents decision. Having a better computer doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get more done. It can also mean that you have more time to do other things, like spend quality time with family and friends.

  7. Stu says:

    uh you think as a writer you need a 4k mac? do you want to be a writer or do you want to be a videographer and video editor?

    maxing out ram is good to a point, but bad to buy it from apple (who charge 3x the price for ram).

    you don’t need 4gb ram to do word processing… (my wife is a writer, her cheapo box has 1gb ram and a 19″ lcd panel. works flawlessly for writing)

    go to ibuypower.com and you can get a fully customisted pc for 1/2 the cost of the named apple/dell.

    anything you buy now will be obsolete in 3 months.

  8. Kevin says:

    Coming from all of my experience in television and other video production areas I will say this: If you are serious about productivity and want to save time and you’re considering doing any kind of audio/video editing, get the Apple. I’m not trying to start and OS war here but everything that I’ve ever experienced on this subject comes down to the fact that Apple’s are far better at that kind of work. They just work. I’ve never installed anything on my Apple that suddenly made my sound card stop working and then when I fix that, my ethernet driver is gone. Don’t waste your time.

    If you need to justify the extra cost to yourself or anyone else don’t forget that all Apple machines are Intel based now anyway which means that you can install Windows on it and run Windows based applications side by side with the OSX compatible ones. You’ll be buying two computers running on rock solid hardware. You’ll be fully Windows compatible and can enjoy the security of the MacOS when you browse the web and check e-mails in addition to getting more done more quickly.

  9. Saving Freak says:

    Gotta agree on the obsolescence of computers. The best thing you can do is purchase a laptop or desktop that is the next to the top line. This means you get the price break of it being obsolete already and still get the benefits of it being more than ready to take on all the software that is available.

  10. Stephan F- says:

    If you are serious about doing audio and video, then get the Mac. It is _so_ much more productive to do those things on a Mac it isn’t funny.

    Once at a pervious work I used the video system they had to try and make an in-house training video. It was a disaster, I finally took the tape home and it only took me three hours to do it at home on my Mac and that included the two hours to import/export the footage.

    The iMac can also have a second display, which can come in handy.

  11. Ben Dinsmore says:

    IMO, the average person buys WAY more computing power than they will every use during the life of the computer.

    Reluctantly, I finally purchased a new laptop to replace the 8 year old model that I had been using (I know, I know!!). The new computer only cost me $460 and I can’t see myself every reaching the capacity limits of it.

    On the other hand, I was talking to one of the housekeeping staff at work who needed help with her new laptop. I’m not joking, she had a $2500 dell XPS laptop and she didn’t know how to start the thing up and get onto her yahoo messanger page.

    I felt so sorry that here was a lady making barely minimum wage and had spent $1kss on a new laptop

  12. Heidi says:

    I did a similiar analysis at the beginning of the year and ended up going with an 17″ Dell inspiron. It’s a pretty big for a laptop, but I love that it’s portable and the keyboard has ten key (that was the deal-breaker for me since I do so much work in Excel). Apple doesn’t make a laptop with ten key pad built in, you need buy a plug-in, which just wasn’t acceptable to me.

    I think my fiance, the graphic designer, is going to get the desktop system you have identified – he started freelancing earlier this year and his little sidebusiness is really beginning to grow.

  13. Chris says:

    When looking at buying a computer, anyone who drops 4k on a machine should instantly take a step back and evaluate what they actually NEED. Four thousand dollars is a massive amount to drop on a machine thats essentially obsolete the second you hit “buy” on the screen and lacks really any upgradability.

    For four thousand dollars you’re paying a massive brand “tax” that really has no payoff. You need a machine for writing and editing? Ok, buy a or peice together a windows based machine for $500 thats dual core, 4Gb of memory, integrated graphics (you don’t need more for what you’ve stated are your needs) a speedy hard drive and then drop another $1200 on dual 24in monitors for massive screen space. You can even run OSX on it if you absolutely must. The system, since its based on a mATX board (the new AMD 780G boards will let you run dual monitors over HDMI/DVI and VGA) will even fit in a pretty small case. Grand total? $2k if you splurge on everything

  14. Another Tech Geek says:

    If you are simply looking at productivity software on the Dell, I would recommend you look at options already available for free on the internet. For word processing and other “office” tasks, check out openoffice.org. It’s free and has built-in output to PDF.

    If you want PDF options from other programs, look into free programs such as CutePDF or PDFCreator. I’ve used both and have a slight preference for PDFCreator since it’s not given me issues with landscape duplex output. Both work well for basic everyday tasks and likely have been improved since I installed them over a year ago.

    I also agree with the comments Stud made in #5 above. Don’t overbuy if all you’re looking to do is writing.

  15. Daniel says:

    As a person who works in this field, I would recommend getting the minimum amount of ram offered with the computer, and purchasing extra memory separately (but soon after the purchase.) The price of ram is dirt cheap at the moment, but the price tends to go up with time. I wouldn’t go with 4Gb of ram, however, as 32bit operating systems can not utilize all of it. 2-3Gb is the sweet spot, especially for a computer you plan on keeping for years to come.

  16. boardmadd says:

    There are a lot of options you can explore to spec’ing out a system. As one who has done many odd A/V projects on PC’s, there’s *lots* of ways you can bolt on interfaces and methods to even medium powered machines (I use a USB sound device made by Roland whenever I want to do quality audio; it plugs right into my laptop and does a bang-up job).

    If you do decide to go with a dedicated workstation, I would recommend the dual monitor approach over a single larger monitor. I love working with dual monitor systems. It makes a big difference when you can have multiple apps running simultaneously, and it’s also cool to use the monitors to separate physically what you are looking at (i.e. have one monitor be your editing and code space, while the other monitor is where you run the actual application or view the finished work).

    Also, I echo the sentiment that buying “last year’s model” is a good plan to getting decent power at a fraction of the price. Unless you have *very* specific niche needs, you’ll rarely need to go all out and pay top dollar for a bleeding-edge system. Also, if you do find that most of what you will be doing is in the A/V sphere, a Mac really is easier to deal with for these particular applications. You *can* do all of the A/V stuff on a PC, but it’s a bit more cumbersome.

    As in all things, YMMV, so go out and kick a few tires :).

  17. Penny Squeaker says:


    I think an emachine @ bestbuy, or gateway would be a better way getting a faster and larger monitor for the price.

    Last year I brought a brand new computer, w/all the software to run a home business. Very happy w/the desktop, but can’t say the same thing for Microsoft Vista Ultimate operating system.

    If you can run MS XP or 2000 must stable, faster, and better, in reference to productiion + time.

  18. Michael says:

    Jeff Atwood discussed multiple monitors vs. large monitors recently. http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/001076.html

  19. Ben says:

    I would certainly go for the extra RAM, without question. If you’re planning on doing media work, especially with video, you will definitely need all the RAM you can get (maybe even 4 GB). The extra RAM will also make your computer more future-resistant. That is, though 1 GB might be enough nowadays for basic work, it will be dismally slow in 2 years. Computers increase speed all the time, and software requirements rise to match them. Thus, you’ll want a system that will run at a good speed for a long time, and 2 GB of RAM will prolong that enough to make it worth the extra money.

    I’ve never heard of GotApex.com (as Becky@FamilyandFinances noted), but it looked similar to TechBargains.com, which provides coupon codes and deals as well. I’ve been able to use coupons from TechBargains to get %30 off a new Dell before (for a savings of about $500!), and I recommend it. It looks like they have deals for both Dell and Apple.

  20. Ethan says:

    I would have to say that two mid screens would be better than one large. You get more area for less money. Also, Ram may seem like it is a want instead of a need, but the amount of time you waste waiting for your system to catch up can really add up!

    I only have a gig on my computer at work, this causes a program I develop to compile very slowly. Most of the time its around 15 min. Consider the fact that I have to compile several times a day, that can be up to an hour of wasted time every day!

    At home I have nothing less than three gigs in both my desktop and laptop and I suggest you do the same.

  21. KC says:

    I bought a new computer about a year and half ago. One upgrade I made that I don’t regret is getting the flat screen (space saving) monitor. That was well worth the $50.

    I kept my old printer, eventhough its white and the new system is black. I have the 17 in monitor, which is fine for my young eyes, but I can see where others might want a larger one. Since I only use my PC for e-mail, a little data processing, and internet surfing/information retrieval I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles. Gamers, though, will have to spend some money to satisfy their needs. Just think of it as your entertainment budget and trim from those areas to pay for the upgrades you need – fewer movies, less eating out, fewer ballgames, smaller cable package, etc.

  22. I’m a professional freelance writer. Been doing this 12 years. My preference has always been to buy the lowest-end Mac available. Why? Because: a) it will always be cheaper b) it will always be better than what I’ve been using, and c) it will still represent a massive leap forward in technology. I do this with the knowledge that a writer doesn’t need much beyond word processing. Even if you were going to make the jump to podcasting, editing short videos, etc., you still don’t need much more than the bottom of the line. My current desktop is pushing 6 years old. I will run it ’til it drops.

  23. Jeff says:

    I’m sorry, but a computer is not obsolete in three months. This is simply something the industry wants you to believe. Are there faster processors, larger memory DIMMS, better resolution monitors three months from now? Likely, but this certainly does not equal obsoleteness. A computer is obsolete when it can no longer do what you need it to do. For everyone except the absolute extreme bleeding-edge of technologies, this is simply not the case. I have a 7-year-old system at home running as a firewall, a 4-year-old system in daily use, and a two-year-old that meets all other needs. At work, we have six-year-old systems still running complete computational fluid dynamics models.

    Please, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain screaming about obsolete systems. They don’t call them upgrades for nothing.

  24. t says:


    you could write the system off if you would use it solely for work purposes

  25. James says:

    Related to your Step 4, are you familiar with the concept of Satisficing:

    I think it’s a interesting way to look at that problem.

    Also, if you do decide to go with the expensive Mac, you could look into buying the basic amount of RAM and upgrading yourself. I’m not that familiar with Mac’s, especially Mac desktops, so I have no idea how easy that would be. However, I have heard of people doing this with their Mac laptops, so it could be worth looking into. The markup on RAM does seem exorbitant.

  26. Chen says:

    I believe Apple stores offer 10% discount for students. I am pretty sure you know someone who’s a college student. Of course it’s even better if you know any Apple staff.

  27. Brett says:

    I strongly agree with Rick – One of the best decisions I ever made with my computer was to install a second monitor. I’m an attorney and do a lot of writing and would NEVER go back to just one monitor. The two monitor approach on my Mac allows me to keep one window open with my current Word document and the second with email, web browsers, a second Word document, etc. I can copy and paste from one monitor to the next and do much less minimizing to organize my work. This increases efficiency enormously. I find this better than simply buying a larger monitor because it allows me to partition my work and kelps keep me organized (and, as mentioned, it’s cheaper). In fact, Bill Gates uses THREE monitors to keep up with his pile of work. Of course, I’m a few billion dollars away from needing a third monitor. Good luck!!

  28. Jason says:

    You should separate out the components rather than heaping it into a giant bundle.

    Computer – Apple or Dell are likely going to end up being pretty cost-competitive, and likely you could keep an eye out for refurbished machines, too. Be cautious of eBay, though, often I’ve seen used machines that were a couple of years old get bid up to within $50-100 of what a new one would cost. I’d also recommend adding other brands into the mix like Lenovo. I know you get Consumer Reports, they generally do a pretty fair comparison of the different brands.

    Printer/copier/fax device — likely you can find it at an office store cheaper, with coupons and discounts.

    External monitor – the 22″ monitor is sort of the “sweet spot” right now, you can find them through places like newegg.com and so on.

    And, as for the software purchases, buy what you need right now. If you aren’t doing video/podcast/etc, don’t spend the money yet. Put off the purchase as long as you can, and also consider F/OSS offerings. In many cases, there is a decent enough application out there to do what you need, or at least to get your feet wet to determine what your needs really are and what features you really need.

  29. Aaron says:

    If you do stick with the Mac, don’t forget the refurb section of Apples store. That’s how both my business partners got theirs (I’m still PC) and saved several hundred dollars over retail.

    You get the same warranty (this goes for iPods too) but the unit may have some superficial damage; scratches or something on the case. Worth the savings IMHO.

  30. elaine says:

    This post reminds me of your How Quitting My Job Saves Me $8000 a Year article last week. At my workplace, my employer purchased the computer I use and there are staff who deal with problems and upgrades as needed. Having to purchase and maintain equipment certainly eats into the $8000 saved.

  31. Dennis says:

    If you elect to go the pc route, then I highly recommend a video card with at least 256Mb of memory that supports dual monitors coupled with 2 17-19″ monitors. If 2Gb of RAM is sufficient for now, then you may try configuring your system of choice with 2Gb using half of the RAM slots available. Leaving half of the available slots open will give you the option of upgrading your system RAM simply by purchaing extra DIMMs. Finally, discount coupons and tech deals are often quite good, but it may also be worth networking with friends to see if have access to EPP (Employee Purchas Program) discounts. Such deals often include previous models in an updated hardware series and are priced accordingly. Keep in mind that usually the most difficult component to upgrade post-purchase is the motherboard.

  32. Bradley says:

    Have you considered a docking station for your laptop? You could have a (brand-new, large) monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc. hooked up and ready to go, all you need is the desk space to plop down the laptop into the slot and you’re done. I have this for work and it is wonderful; the best of both worlds!

  33. Jeremy Hall says:

    Most of the comments made to this point are sound and offer good advice. Though I try to be frugal in all aspects of my life, I am also one that is willing to put good money towards the tools I use for productivity and therefore my means of making new and additional money. This means when it comes to computing capabilities I am willing to spend a bit more as this is how I make my living and where I spend a vast portion of my day.

    There is something to be said for making your computer an asset rather than something that gets in your way from doing the most you can. Having extra RAM and screen real estate may be indulgent after you have reached certain productivity gaining minimums, but there is also value in making your time spent enjoyable as well as productive. With the extra productivity and ergonomic gains, frugality need also be weighed in with making the workstation at which you perform your craft a pleasant experience.

    Another vote towards perhaps spending higher than minimum requirements is giving you the opportunity to expand your capabilities. Of course good intentions only take you so far, so be sure you actually will spend the time and effort to take advantage of new possibilities. By having a computer capable of doing new things allows you to learn and grow.

    An additional consideration when switching platforms is the cost of software to accomplish the same tasks you did in your previous environment. Though there are good open source/free options, check them out in advance and be sure they will meet your needs.

  34. Flaime says:

    If you wind up going with a PC based system, there is no good reason not to build your own system and purchase software seperately. Then you can be assured of the relative quality and security of each individual component. No, it won’t be any cheaper in the short run, but it can save you tons in the long run.

  35. KMunoz says:

    If you want a Mac, you should look into the refurbished ones that are available on their Web site. They look brand new, come with the same warranty and all the other stuff, and are a bit cheaper (for example, I got a faster macbook for the price of the base model). Also, their education store is really good. You don’t need a university e-mail address or anything. Just select your school and head to the Apple store that way, and everything is discounted.

  36. Matt says:

    I have a couple of thoughts on this. For starters I think the Apple route is a good one for you. You’re self employed now, which means you want to spend as little time as possible messing with the machine. You’re also focused on things like writing, and audio editing which Macs are good for. You’re going to pay a bit of a premium, but it can save you some headaches in the long run.

    That said, there are some things to remember when ordering a Mac. Never spec your RAM on the Apple website. RAM is dirt cheap these days, but Apple charges you an arm and a leg to upgrade. For instance a 2gb kit from Crucial.com is $44.

    Also, I would consider looking for a used or refurbished Mac Pro instead of an iMac or Mac mini. The reason I recommend the Mac Pro is because a screen should last you much longer than the rest of the computer, but the Mac Mini is probably not powerful enough for your needs. However, a brand new Mac Pro can be pretty pricey so check out refurb models first.

    As for the screen, 20″ is pretty standard these days and you can get a decent one for under $300. Check out Newegg.com as they frequently have good deals on a large selection of monitors.

  37. Jonathan says:

    I agree with some of these comments regarding the quality of machine for writing. Do you really need a 4K machine to WRITE on? Are you happy with writing or are you hoping to get into image manipulation and video editing?
    My development machine has 3 GB of RAM and runs as fast as I need it too, all while also running a development server on it that eats 1.5 GB of RAM just on startup.
    PDF creation is easy on any OS, not just Apple. Portability of a 24″ iMac? How often are you moving that it makes that much of a difference over a tower and flat panel?
    It sounds like you’ve already talked yourself into the Apple and are now trying to justify the cost to us.

  38. Matt says:

    Sorry to double post but I have a few more comments to add. On the topic of building your own machine, I’m a big fan. It can save you a lot of money and you can get exactly what you want. It can also be a great learning experience and teach you a lot about the machine that you use.

    That said, I’m not entirely sure it’s for you. It does take some time investment, not only in the initial setup but also in the maintenance of the PC since you have to be your own tech support. For a computer that you’re using for business purposes, this isn’t exactly what you want to be putting your time into.

  39. GeekMan says:

    As a full-time writer there’s no valid argument for you to spend $4,000 on JUST a COMPUTER. Actually, there’s almost no valid argument for a writer to spend more than $2,000 on a computer, and at that price we’re only discussing ultraportable laptops. For a writer you’d probably be best served buying a computer that will last you two solid years of writing for as little as you can possibly spend and using the rest of your budget to purchase the items that will last longer than the actual computer (i.e. Monitor, printer, backup). I’m sure that your original cost estimate includes items other than just a computer and monitor (you mentioned file backup solutions, software and a printer) but you could certainly spend less than $4,000 to get a decent beginning office desktop solution. My suggestions, especially since your writing is MOSTLY web related, would be as follows:

    Maingear Dash (Maxed Out inc. WinXP)- $1,070.80
    Software (Open Office) – Free
    Dell 24″ monitor – $379.00
    Canon PIXMA MX700 AIO – $147.99
    Infrant ReadyNAS Gigabit Desktop Network Storage – $1,399.99
    TOTAL – $2,997.78

    Mac-mini (maxed out & with software)- $1,306.00
    Dell 24″ monitor – $379.00
    Canon PIXMA MX700 AIO – $147.99
    Infrant ReadyNAS Gigabit Desktop Network Storage – $1,399.99
    TOTAL – 3,232.98

    If you want to discuss any of this with me, feel free to email me. I help people with computer purchases every working day.

  40. Kris says:

    I use my Macbook Pro as a laptop and a desktop, with a second 20 inch monitor (a Samsung, not a Mac monitor, those are too expensive), a keyboard, a mouse & a drawing tablet. The laptop is raised up to match the height of the larger monitor and it works very well. I can travel with the laptop, use it at the office, or use it at the home office. I can use it at my desk or work on the porch on a nice day. I back it up on regularly, and can’t imagine using a desktop system ever again.

    If you are not doing graphics work or video editing, you can probably get an out of the box Mac & be very happy.
    One of the Mac advantages is the far lower rate of virus infection.

    If you do need Windows programs, you can run Windows through Parallels. This works well, although is prone to crash, rather like a regular PC.

  41. Joe says:

    Absolutely make sure that whatever you purchase has ample warranty on it. Dell is by far the best in regard.

  42. Marcus Murphy says:

    If you really want an apple with a 24-inch screen buy it with the software for $2,000 – $2,500 and like Matt says, install the memory yourself and save $420 and buy a 1TB hard drive and add it to the default 320GB and save yourself $300 and have even more hard drive space.

  43. Danika says:

    What no one has considered yet, is that an apple will improve your quality of life. :) I work on both mac and pc everyday, and I’m happier with my macs.

    Also, unless you are going to get into complicated video editing, you might be able to get by with iMovie. It’s not nearly as fun, but it has the capability of doing most of the things consumers want. If you are going for more high end video, I would HIGHLY recommend using final cut pro over any pc system.

  44. Blake says:


    Firts the usual formality… long time reader, first time poster! Any way, I love The Simple Dollar. One thing I know is that RAM is by far the cheapest upgrade you can make to a computer. As was posted earlier, don’t buy the RAM from Apple/Dell/xbrand, wait for a sale at one of the big box stores. Some type of RAM or other goes on sale every weekend. The time you wait will be well worth the price difference. When the sale does come around, max it out! Another thought I had was that since blogging is now your main income stream, could the purchase be a tax deductible business expense? Also, I am a big advocate of F/OSS software and agree with the previous poster about there being plenty of products out there for you to test before you buy the big enchillada. Good luck and I look forward to reading your cooking blog whenever that gets started!


  45. Allison says:

    Trent, since you are professional writer now, there are things to consider. Taxes? How will this purchase affect your taxable income (if at all). Secondly, have you considered getting a local computer store/distributor to trade you merchandise for advertisement on the site? You might not be able to get the whole system from them, but it could ease the margin between the apple and the dell. Apple is the way to go.

  46. BYOPC + linux + monitor, its not too hard you.

  47. Andrew says:

    I’ve been building my own computers for a long time. My current system has an Intel E2180 dual core overclocked to 3ghz with 2GB of RAM and does everything from gaming, programming, image editing and audio mixing. I spent more on my monitor than the actual computer.

    Hardware is cheap right now, don’t overspend on something you might not fully utilize. Spending an extra $1000 might shave off a little bit of time on a video encode. For real time applications like word processing, any modern computer will be sitting there tapping its toe waiting for your next keystroke.

    And don’t forget to allocate some money for a backup solution if you don’t have one already.

  48. Andy says:

    I would say build a moderate machine now (with maybe a big monitor if you really want one of those), and then just upgrade a year or two down the road. I built mine almost four years ago (summer of 2004) and it is running nigh flawlessly. I definitely think building it is more reliable than the stuff from Dell et al. (I don’t know about Macs, don’t have the experience). But get what you need now, and upgrade. Frugal and it keeps up with your needs. And building one shouldn’t take more than a day (especially since you seem pretty computer saavy).

  49. Roman says:

    Know the difference is very important, but don’t forget you have to please the soul sometimes too

  50. Justin Reese says:

    I echo what others have said:

    * Buy refurbished from Apple (they’re refurbed to original quality, and come with the same base warranty and optional AppleCare warranty)
    * Don’t buy RAM from Apple; you can get it much cheaper elsewhere, and all machines except the Mac mini and the MacBook Air are easily self-installed
    * I recommend the Mac platform. It sounds like you specced out “too much machine”, unless by audio/video dabbling you mean “producing short films full-time”; the base 24″ iMac is a hell of a machine as-is. Combine with a 500GB Time Capsule for backup and wireless, and you’re solid on machine + backup.

    Also consider the state of shareware and open-source software on the Mac and Windows. As a *NIX-based operating system, Mac OS X has strong compatibility and support with the open-source community. There is certainly free/open-source software on Windows, but the quantity (and, frankly, quality) are head-and-shoulders above on *NIX systems (ergo, Mac OS X). Also, consider that Leopard (the current version of OS X) has some truly insane developer tools that are making the current crop of Mac apps amazing, and they’re only getting better.

    It’s a personal decision, so make whatever choice your priorities demand, but I don’t think you would regret going with the Mac… unless you out-spec your needs.

  51. Matt says:

    “BYOPC + linux + monitor, its not too hard you.”

    I have to strongly disagree. This is a great project as a hobby, but as a business PC that your family’s livelihood depends on this is not a good solution unless you’re really an expert in computers. Again, when you BYOPC you are you’re only tech support. If something fails and you can’t figure out how to fix it then you’re only source of income is down for as long as it takes you to work things out. This goes especially for Linux, which definitely takes a certain level of expertise in order to get it to work all the time.

    For a business PC you want something stable. That means either OSX or XP SP3 for your OS and hardware that is covered by a warranty. Yes, it will be more expensive but sometimes you get what you pay for.

  52. Andrea says:

    I would personally go with an Apple maxing out the memory. For several reasons. My main issue is point blank, I don’t trust Vista. I have been a long time proponent of the PC world for a long time, but since Vista has come out, I have flat out told my husband on numerous occasions that our next computer purchase will be an Apple. The security and processors on Apples machines is much better than that of any pc you could purchase. From the sounds of it the iMac will fit your needs much better than any Dell can. I do agree with Geekman, there should be alternatives to get you exactly what you want without the $4000 price tag, even if you can deduct it as a business expense. Good luck! Be sure to update us when you make your decision.

  53. Doug says:

    I highly, highly recommend 2 LCD monitors. Get two smaller monitors (17-20) rather than 1 larger monitor. Not only are they cheaper (LCD price jumps quite a bit the larger you go) but once you go 2-monitor you never want to go back. When I started working at my current job everyone had 2 monitors, it just was, and I cannot even put into words the difference it makes. It is now an official requirement for me if I ever went looking for a new position in my field.

  54. Andre K says:

    Though I don’t do it personally since I switched to writing full time (a 15.4″ laptop is fine for my needs), having a dual-monitor setup at my former workplace was amazing. I processed web orders that all came in by email, and fulfilled them on the drop shippers’ websites. One monitor was used primarily for the browser; the other for email. Having your main application in your primary visual field without toggling between applications is a much more focused way to work.

    I considered doing the same at home when I started writing an blogging full time: one monitor for Q10 (writing), and one for Firefox (research). But since I write at home now, I don’t have to mitigate as many distractions and interruptions, so the dual-monitor setup hasn’t been a priority. I like the zen of a minimal toolkit.

    I agree with Jeff and Jonathan about the dubious need to advanced hardware requirements. For a writer, a workstation robust to handle contingencies like the occasional podcast or video production may be more of a distration than anything else.

  55. Doug says:

    Although I agree that BYOPC + linux isn’t a good solution for Trent I do want to just say I cannot agree with this statement:

    “For a business PC you want something stable. That means either OSX or XP SP3 for your OS and hardware that is covered by a warranty. Yes, it will be more expensive but sometimes you get what you pay for.”

    Linux is quite stable if you go with a mainstream distribution like Redhat or Ubuntu. I worked as an IT person for about 5 years and our XP machines required at least 3 times the babysitting and fixing as did our Linux systems. Too much junk gets mysteriously installed and there are far more conflicts between software packages. Unless you are running something crazy like Gentoo I have found the Linux operating system significantly more stable than Windows XP. That is my personal (over 5 years in a professional IT position) experience.

    I do agree that in this case, Linux is not appropriate because it is still difficult to install the first time. Also during the first install it is: “It works” or “it really, really doesn’t work” situation and unless Trent could phone up a technically savvy person in the case of “it really, really doesn’t work” then it is not appropriate for him. However, once it is installed and running I have seen no comparison in stability or uptime. Though OS X is a very close substitute in stability and uptime.

  56. Tuck says:

    Trent —

    One thing not addressed yet is customer service. Even though you are very skilled with computers, at some point you may need to call Customer Service, and having both Apple and Dell, Apple is far and away, by several orders of magnitude, superior. PC or not, when your system needs help, you don’t want to have to deal with a non-native English speaker. (Though I should hasten to add that the Dell reps have generally been helpful: but it always seems to take 50-75% longer on a call with Dell’s call center.) I do suggest you buy the Apple extended warranty: I believe this is one of the few warranties out there that consumer mags recommend. It really is worth it. Finally, again as someone who has used both Dell and Apple extensively, sitting for long periods of time in front of my Mac just feels better, in an unquantifiable way…I just feel “sunnier” when I use my Mac. The Mac feels less of an effort to sit down to, get going on my work, etc. Yes, Apples probably cost more than they need to, and you are paying a social premium, but regardless, it’s been worth it to me.

    Also, and you may already know this, but you can generally use your preferred keyboard (I do prefer my Dell keyboard) and you PC two button scroll wheel mouse, instead of the Apple mouse(s), which I’ve never cottoned to.

    Good luck!

  57. thehungrydollar.com says:

    I think the best option sounds like the middle ground. I support getting what you need to get the job done, but I also feel $4,000 is probably a little overkill.

  58. Matt says:

    “Linux is quite stable if you go with a mainstream distribution like Redhat or Ubuntu. I worked as an IT person for about 5 years and our XP machines required at least 3 times the babysitting and fixing as did our Linux systems. Too much junk gets mysteriously installed and there are far more conflicts between software packages. Unless you are running something crazy like Gentoo I have found the Linux operating system significantly more stable than Windows XP. That is my personal (over 5 years in a professional IT position) experience.”

    Perhaps I chose my words wrong when I said stable. Basically what I meant was that he wants something that’s hassle free, which is definitely not Linux. In particular I think he’ll run into driver issues, especially if he plans on adding a lot of specialized hardware for manipulating images and audio (which it sounds like he does). I’ve found Ubuntu’s wifi issues to be downright infuriating.

  59. dougis says:

    Speaking of the social networking option, may I suggest a vendor?
    I just went through the same exercise (my desktop was throwing all kinds of errors) and had a system all specced out and even placed the order (got a good price on it).
    I then spoke to my systems vendor at work (who supplies FANTASTIC SERVICE) and he matched my price.
    I returned the system I had ordered (I made sure it had a return guarantee) and got it from my vendor.
    The end result is if you are going to go the PC route, I would strongly recommend at least contacting kedar@genstor.com and ask what he can do for you (tell him you got his name from Doug @ trackmaster).
    The company website is http://www.genstor.com and they typically do servers and such, but the support and build quality is OUTSTANDING.
    I ended up spending a little bit more than I would have from Dell initially, but
    1) I got a much better system in terms of workmanship and overal quality
    2) if I ever have an issue, I know it will be resolved quickly and efficiently.

    #2 alone is worth the slight price difference (maybe $10-$15 over what Dell would have cost).

    On another note, if you do go with a Dell or other prebuilt system, check dealram.com for memory upgrades rather than pay what the builder themselves want, could save you $100 right there (as an example there is a deal right now for 2GB of desktop RAM for $28 after rebate, that upgrade would cost you over $100 from dell at build time)

  60. rstlne says:

    I have never needed to spend more than $800 every time I upgraded my computer. Of course, I’m in the Windows world, not Mac, so do not expect this price there. Don’t skimp on display size though.

  61. Nathan says:

    If you want to build a computer, just get some college kid to do it for you. I set up someones computer and guaranteed a year of phone tech support by myself for $50. I’d probably charge about the same to put all the pieces together to build the computer and do all the configurations. College Kids man, they are like white-collar migrant workers. I can’t tell you the work I have done for the promise of a nice meal.

  62. I was in the same boat. I had a 5 year old dell laptop with a fried video card, which couldn’t be replaced. As much as I wanted a $3,000 super machine I convinced myself that money was speant better elsewhere.

    I got a $700 PC in a box from costo. 3 gigs of ram was the selling point on this machine. I replaced the video card, bought a wireless card, and a 17 inch monitor. Now I have two side by side (so much better than one big one). All this for less than a grand. I’m buying an EEE PC for a small portable laptop (I blog on my lunch break). All together, less than $1,500 and honestly better than the $3k dream machine I wanted.

    Speaking of workstations, got to have a desk for all this space. My dad had the greatest idea in grad school, something I have implemented:

    Go to Lowes and buy a plain hollow door. Stain it and put it on top of two 2-drawer file cabinets. Tell me how I can get more real estate for $75. I love it, and its really easy for moving, which I’ve done quite a bit lately.

  63. girlrobot says:

    ok honestly…as a writer i really see NO reason to spend 4K on a computer. what programs are you using that needs such a high end computer? My last dell computer I bought for $300 dollars and it works fine (and this included a 17 inch monitor and it was back in 2002!!!). I also have a dell laptop i bought 2 years ago for $450 that works fine for me too. Even if it doesn’t…you can buy THIRTEEN dells for the price of that mac. just buy a new one every year! btw, i’ve never had to call dell tech support. just get antivirus (i suggest superantispyware) and you are good to go. BTW, for cheap dell prices i just browsed fatwallet/slickdeals for their hot deals.

    if you get a mac, it’s not what you need but a luxury. it may be what you are used to as well so maybe it’s worth it to you? But to save that much money, i would not mind getting used to a dell. i think dells have a bad rep because a lot of non-computer savvy ppl use it and get viruses or whatever and start complaining.

    in the end, i’m not saying PCs are better than MACs (i figured i better defend myself against the apple diehard fans who are going to jump all over me for picking PCs! hehe)…but for the cost savings, i just can’t justify spending that much on a mac for myself..

    ps. i think with the success of your blog, you deserve to get what you want…so if a MAC is what you want. u should get it! u deserve it!

  64. jtimberman says:


    Definitely true – computers aren’t obsolete as soon as you buy them. I’m a PC gamer, which is a hobby that is known for requiring bleeding edge systems, and I was able to play the games I wanted on a 3 year old system, ancient by PC gaming standards.

    I finally upgraded last month, though. $1900 for the system with a 24″ display. I build my own systems and save a lot more money than buying retail big box systems.

  65. Kristin says:


    I agree with the comment that if you get the Mac you should definitely install your own RAM upgrades – it’s *much* cheaper that way, and relatively simple.

    Also, if you have any friends or family who are teachers or students (they might need to be college students), they get a discount on Apple products – I think 10% – with certain limits. So think about talking to anyone you know in the education business. The details are on the Apple store page, under ‘Education’.

    Good luck!

  66. Amy says:

    I’d consider a new or refurb mac mini.

    I’ve been using a powerpc mini at home and an intel mini at work for several years. The intel mini often runs excel, word, safari, firefox, mail, and a variety of server monitoring software simultaneously. It’s been working fine. (I have the 1.83 Ghz Intel Core Duo with 2 gigs of memory.) If you don’t have really intensive cpu needs, the mini might do it for you for not too much moolah. Also it doesn’t take up much desk space, it runs quietly, and it is conservative in power use.

  67. Eric says:

    If the monitor is the main issue, have you considered just picking up another one? You can probably get a decent used one if expense is at the top of the concern list.

  68. Barry says:

    Check out 3btech. I have used them for years and have always had excellent customer service. Plus, they’re based out of Indiana, so you’ll get your shipment quickly. They have plenty of deals, including pre-built systems.

  69. Trent,
    You can get refurbished machines from both Apple & Dell. I believe both come with warranties (I know my Apple came with a full warranty, and I was able to extend that. There’s an Apple store near me which actually makes this a good buy if I need repairs, I don’t recommend warranties on most things, but the livelihood needs it, and its a write-off compared to other times when I buy things for my personal use). Since I’m a full time consultant and my livelihood depends on my computer being fast, efficient, and reliable I would recommend getting the upgrades, just not from Apple necessarily.

    Dell outlet URL: http://outlet.dell.com
    The Apple refurbs can be found on their store at the bottom left hand part of the page. Buying a high end machine, but refurbed, is as close to frugal as you can get without losing performance.

  70. Anonymous says:

    Apple employees do get 15% discounts for their friends, but it’s kind of inconvenient, because the employee needs to make the purchase and then get reimbursed by their friend.

  71. Sarah says:

    Apple offers deals on refurbished computers/monitors on its site. The reputation is pretty good.

    I agree with everyone else–whatever you do, do not buy your RAM from Apple! The markup is between 300 and 400% on some chips!

  72. Kevin says:

    I just bought a MacBook, I think it would do everything you need at its base level, with an external monitor. Will you be able to run 10.9 on it in four years, no.

    The old iMac I have in my second bedroom can’t run Leopard but it can run Word and Safari just fine. Staying on the bleeding edge is expensive, stay on the edge of what you need the machine to do and you’ll be fine. Don’t fall for the “.x” releases, they don’t always improve your machine.

    P.S. the might mouse is horrid, plan on getting another mouse after the “mighty” mouse gets clogged up in 6 months.

  73. Mark D. says:

    You don’t necessarily need a new Apple system to do what you describe. Consider a used or refurbished Macintosh G5 Tower from PowerMax or Macofalltrades. Buy a large monitor separately (check a site like dealmac.com for current deals), and then look around on the web for RAM… (maybe ramseeker.com) it’s quite inexpensive now days. I’d also question whether you need the full version of Final Cut Pro for video… the learning curve for this is pretty steep if you’re starting from scratch and you’e need to buy the entire suite from Apple, which I’d suspect is really overkill for your situation. If you’re primarily looking to post video to the web, iMovie may be sufficient, and there’s a new “lite” consumer version of Final Cut (retails for around $250?) recently released by Apple that’s worth a look.

  74. !wanda says:

    I also say go for the double monitors. You get so much screen space that way. If they’re widescreen monitors, you can turn them on their sides and get a tall as well as wide screen. A lot of programmers I know at Google have their work setups this way, and it really does improve productivity to be able to see everything.

    If I were buying a machine, I’d max out the RAM. Then again, I run a lot of Matlab and Adobe suite products.

    You need to decide whether you really want to do a lot of video and audio work. (Personally, I would enjoy your blog less if you do, because I don’t consume video or audio over the Internet, but I’m aware that’s unusual.) If you do, the Mac software will be much easier to work with. If you don’t, just get a cheap computer with a big screen.

  75. mark says:

    For the last 5 years I’ve been working as freelance web developer and designer, for a host of international clients and here’s what I use: 8 years old PC workstation with 700 MHz Celeron processor, 384 of RAM, 19” LCD monitor and until recently only 20 GB of disk (upgraded to a used 100 GB disk I got for free along with a used DVD-R, which I didn’t have until now). I’m not bragging here, but what I’m saying is that a lot can be done with a lot less that we think we need. Now this computer IS my “bread and butter” and I will upgrade it with some extra (used) RAM and processor power soon, but I’m not going to go and throw a bunch of money at something I don’t NEED. The computer I have now is working fine and I can design and do everything I need on it. Yes, I use Photoshop 6, Windows 2000 and a lot of older versions of software people don’t probably even remember, but I can do everything with that. So Trent before you go on a shopping spree, think twice, know that you probably need a lot less than you think you do and maybe even find something used.

  76. CheapGirl says:

    Don’t know if someon already said this, but if a laptop is more usefull to you as a writer for portability but you hate the tiny screen, just but a cheaper laptop with a dual video card & buy an extra screen.

    Or you can save a lot of money by keeping the computer you have, get a dual video card & 2nd monitor.

    I have 2 monitors at work & you won’t believe how great it is to have something on one screen to read/analyze while you’re typing what you think on the other.

  77. Carolyn says:

    Also you should consider not just what you buy but when you buy it. Computer deals are cyclic and the best sales come on during the summer back to school time and christmas. If you can make do until then you could get some considerable discounts.

  78. Rick says:

    First off think how much work you will have do to cover that $4000 computer. You already have a lap top that works, but isn’t perfect… Why not spend a bit of money wisely to maximize the usefulness of what you already have?

    I would suggest: #1 Get an external monitor (or monitors) that works well with your laptop. You should be able to get a 20-22″ LCD monitor for a few hundred. Dual monitors are nice but not absolutely necessary, although if you system supports it you can get more screen space for less $ by getting two smaller monitors.

    #2 Get a backup drive (i.e. say an external typically USB drive). As a business you cannot afford to NOT backup your system.

    #3 Get a great ergonomic keyboard- I have one at work and it makes quite a difference. Since you are going to be doing a lot of writing finding a quality kb is really important!

    #4 You may actually need a better desk and or chair- or possibly just adjusting what you already have.

    As for Audio/Video etc. I would try to ease into this slowly; it could save you a bundle. Also, you are a good writer- but do you have talent delivering speeches? Do you have a good camera man and lighting expert to help you make quality video presentations? Do you have a sound studio to get quality audio recordings? Does your current audience really want AV? Why spend thousands more on an unproven concept? Also is it what you really want to do? I honestly prefer written content to A/V content. I can determine if it is interesting much faster, searches are much easier, I can skip parts if I choose, I can re-read important parts if I choose and finally I read faster than a video takes to convey the same information. Audio would be useful for listening in the car, but I’m not sure how popular it would be.

    You could try just doing some audio first – I suspect your laptop has a microphone input already. Even if it isn’t the best solution it should be good enough for a first pass. If it’s really popular then look into something better.

    -Rick Francis

  79. Bhavesh says:

    If you know anybody who is currently in university they can probably get a chunk off a new Apple laptop/desktop. I attend a Canadian university and they have $200 off a new Apple Laptop. I know students who attend other universities have the same deal.

    I would have gladly given my ‘deal’ to somebody. I never purchased a mac.

  80. Trisha says:

    I vote for the MAC. It took my husband forever to talk me into it. Now, I’ll never own anything else. Their motto is true (IT JUST WORKS.) and has saved me countless hours of frustration.


  81. Louie says:

    hey trent,
    while being frugal in a lot of aspects is truly worth it, i feel like when you are buying technology its better to buy more than you need, this combats the overwhelming technocurve.
    when i bought my laptop for school i opted for “the best of everything” and while i had to sacrifice some things, namely hard drive space i have no problem two years later and moreover my computer is still “with it”
    i am extremely analytical of my purchases and while i might opt for the quick fix sometimes, a lot of times i will opt for what is a bit better to save me in the long run. my laptop i have now i can see me lasting for quite a long long time thus warranting its higher cost as opposed to getting what would “get me through” and having to re purchase.
    thats just my .02

  82. Wendy says:

    I’ve helped friends buy many Apple computers over the years (and a few PC as well), but my main rule of thumb is to get the fastest processor your budget will allow at the time of purchase. Pretty much everything else is easily upgradeable down the line.

  83. Cathy says:

    I’ve traditionally been a “power user” and have bought desktops to be bleeding edge. Times have changed, though, and when I was in the market for a new computer, I decided a laptop would be the best for me. I bought a refurbished Dell XPS that brand new would have cost $2500 for $1200. It’s covered under exactly the same Dell warranty as a new one, but I paid a fraction for it.

    I kept my 20″ widescreen monitor from my desktop PC and plug the laptop in when I’m at home so I can use either dual monitor, or turn off the display and work exclusively with the monitor. I have a little usb hub at home with my keyboard and mouse plugged in, and use that when at my desk instead of the laptop keyboard. Much more ergonomic. It’s like having a portable desktop. I can take it to the couch with me if I want to relax, or setup at my desk for a “workstation”. The flexibility has greatly increased my enjoyment. The games I like to play are pretty “old” (2 years or more) and they run perfectly on my convertable laptop/desktop. I did compromise upgradeable components on my desktop, but honestly, I always bought premium parts and rarely if ever just upgraded individual components.

  84. Frugal Dad says:

    Of course keep in mind that whatever you decide could be out-dated in just 18-24 months and require upgrading or replacing. I’ve managed to use the same desktop for about five years, but as you know I am a “frugal” user.

  85. Matthew says:

    Wow, most of my advice was already given:

    -Judging from your online personality, Apple computers match your creativity
    -Please don’t waste money getting RAM from Apple – go with Crucial.com
    -Consider a Mac Mini or refurbished Mac Pro and get a cheaper screen from Dell or NewEgg.com
    -Macs are worth the premium

    Another thing to consider if you are interested in audio/video work is the speed of your hard drive. Laptop drives (like the ones used in Mac Minis) are usually 5400 RPM and video software runs much smoother with 7200 RPM discs.

    Good luck with your purchase!

  86. iDave says:

    Lots of advice here. But I’m going with KMunoz – the refurb Apples are great. And like Matt, get the RAM at a third-party store. I’ll betcha you can get a sharp Intel iMac (the white ones) for dirt cheap these days, and that’ll give you plenty of speed and screen real estate. Sure, you won’t get the fancy aluminum model, but I feel like you’re looking for a middle groud. Refurbished Apples are the middle ground. You could always get a Mac Mini, too, to hook up to your monitor and break it open for extra RAM.

  87. Peter Ellis says:

    Having seen people suggesting Linux in this thread I would definitely suggest downloading one of the ubuntu livecds and giving it a go on your existing hardware. This is a small outlay time-wise (call it an afternoon all-in) and effectively free money-wise.

    If you find it is not for you then at least you tried but personally I am using it fine at home and at work and have had no hardware issues.

  88. SJ says:

    i use a Dell monitor with my MacPro laptop and it works flawlessly. I hate Dell Computers, but agreed with previous posters – two 17″ screens will get you more space for the money than a 24″ one.

    Buy an external hard drive and do routine backups – and save towards a new computer for when/if this one dies. For the basics you could probably use your wife’s computer while you were shopping for a new one.

  89. Ryan says:

    Trent, you will absolutely love the 24″ iMac. I bought one this past November after being a lifelong Windows user, and am completely enamored with it. My productivity feels very boosted, and I attibute it to a combination of the screen size and the way the OS just works, with everything flowing together. I feel like I can work on several things at once if need be. And the screen is absolutely beautiful… the pictures from my DSLR have never looked better.

    When you do buy it, maxing out the RAM would be a mistake. Buy it with the minimum amount of RAM, then buy 4 gigs online for $94 total from Other World Computing to max out the iMac’s RAM. I did this with mine and the speed is tremendous now, and it only took about 3 minutes to install. Apple charges a crazy premium to max out the RAM for you.

    Anyway, just wanted to encourage you to get the 24″ iMac… I think you will absolutely love it and it will seriously help induce more productivity on your end, as well.

    PS – keep in mind when comparing pricing to a Dell, for instance, that you need to add all the extras onto the Dell that come stock with the iMac to get a real comparison, such as the built in camera and mic, software, 24″ screen, etc.

  90. LC says:

    there is a site to build your own mac for a lot cheaper

    I’m just happy to see a thorough analysis. Most people who have anything made by apple have become Apple junkies and immediately purchase every new item they come out with. I’ve avoided buying a Mac just because I am afraid I will catch the bug and not be able to stop buying them. Although I guess that says something about the quality of their products. :)

  91. Doug says:

    What are other writers using? That may sound silly, but I found in various fields that I have worked that others were using, what I thought was expensive tools. The old adage is that you can tell the difference between the pros and the amateurs by the tools they use. My experience taking the inexpensive route was that I ended up buying the expensive tools after I wasted money buying something that would hit the pocketbook less. The overall cost was definitely more. I would suggest getting the best that you can, probably Apple. The OS tends to stay more out of your way. You wouldn’t want to waste your creative energy responding to constant prompts to do the obvious or interruptions to your work to tell you the wireless card just lost connectivity or gained it again, etc. US the right tool for the job. The intial outlay will take care of itself in not fighting the machine to do work, the wasted effort and time trying. Do it right the first time so you don’t have to waste time and money doing it a second time.

  92. Faculties says:

    When my husband decided to stay home with our child, he committed to doing the housekeeping: washing the kitchen floor, etc. After a couple of weeks he went out and bought a fancy new mop system with a whole lot of components. Then he started looking at fancy vacuum cleaners with various attachments. Etc. Once he had laid these in, he started shopping for other things. My point is that sometimes the welter of feelings at changing your life and being home full-time *feel* like the need to buy new stuff. But there may not really be a need to buy new stuff. It may be one of those impulses that doesn’t address the real need. (To take time to adjust to the new life?) Incidentally he’s a professional writer with many published books to his name and he works on a simple laptop. The new mop system and all didn’t get used much either, once the thrill had gone. My feeling is that being frugal includes not giving way to the impulse to load up on new equipment while the old equipment is still functional.

  93. protomech says:

    Agree with the other posters above. $4k is a big chunk of change to spend on a computer, although peripherals and software are inflating that figure somewhat.

    You can sign up on fatwallet or slickdeals to have deals on certain keywords forwarded to you. They tend to disappear quickly, so knowing what you need ahead of time is useful. If you don’t *need* a system immediately, you can wait for similar deals to show up. Here are some of the systems that have been posted recently:
    Inspiron 530 – core 2 quad / 1GB ram / dvd burner / 24″ LCD – $650
    Vostro 200 – core 2 duo / 2GB ram / dvd burner / 20″ LCD – $360, quickly bumped to $500

    Ram is very cheap now. Adding another 2 GB to either system should be < $50.

    Add a pair of 500-1000GB external drives, configure your system for automatic daily backups, keep one off-site and swap them each week or month. Should be no more than $250-500.

    Consider also the consequences of component failure. AppleCare is decent, but you’ll still have to rely on backups and your older laptop for a week while your system is being fixed. The iMac isn’t really user-serviceable. Price out a mac mini with an external display and see how it compares.

    Finally, I have a friend who works at Apple. Shoot me an email if you want to go that route, I will get the details and see if he will do the discount for friend-of-a-friend.

  94. J.D. says:

    Trent, in our conversations the other day, I forgot to mention: refurbished Mac is an excellent choice, as others have mentioned. Actually, refurbished Dell is good, too, if you decide to go that route. From my experience, refurbished computers actually last longer than non-refurbs. I only have two data points, but that’s enough to persuade me…

  95. Steve says:

    Scrolled through several comments (maybe I missed something) and didn’t see the question proposed of how this system is to be paid for? Just from general savings?

    Qutting a job and spending $4k (or even over $1k) for a new computer all within the same month seems to go against some of what you have written about. I hope you address this in terms of how you think such a purchase will increase income in relation to the site. Good thought processes on deciding how and what to purchase, but I’d like some more written about the justification of the purchase itself.

  96. Bill says:

    I had the same dilemma over the past few months, but for different reasons. With a six-month all-expense paid trip to Iraq this summer, I needed a way to continue my school work, keeping in touch with the family, etc. So I knew I was going to a laptop. But which one?

    With my photography providing a small but steady income stream, I really wanted the Apple. But we’re in the process of paying down bills and I really couldn’t justify the spec’d Macbook Pro that I looked at.

    Dell/Gateway/Lenovo, etc. all have very cheap base models, but once they’re spec’d for what I’d still need, the prices pushed right up into the Apple range. So at that point I would go with the Apple.

    So I picked a middle-of-the-road Toshiba w/ 17″ screen, 300GB HDD and 3GB of RAM for 40% of the Apple’s price. It’ll work just fine for the next few years.

  97. Derek says:

    A friend of mine once told me that “if you work hard, you deserve the right equipment.”

    Shortly after, I invested in a 30″ apple cinema display, a mac pro, and a herman miller aeron chair.

    It set me back a decent amount of money, but you have to look at it from this point of view.

    Even though the chair cost 1,000, it has a very long warranty (12 years). The chair is built to last and I haven’t had back pain since.

    The 30″ monitor set me back around 1600 when I bought it, but let me tell you, I never have to lean over to read my screen (no neck pain), I can keep 3-4 Firefox windows open at once (great for writing articles), and I’m overall, much more productive.

    The computer was an extravagant buy simply because I wanted to make the switch from PC to Mac, but I have no regrets.

    Sorry for the long winded comment.

  98. Tyler says:

    Wow I have a lot to say but I’ll try to be brief. I have a huge appetite for computer hardware (not gadgets, real hardware), and as a user of Mac, Windows, and Linux, here’s my 2c:

    If you go Mac, get a refurb. I just got a refurb iPod Nano and it’s literally just like buying retail, warranty and all, only cheaper. My experience is that their refurb page updates on Tuesday mornings with new offerings. Apple retail stores do not have refurb items.
    Regardless of which platform you choose, don’t buy top of the line unless it’s only marginally more than one-gen back. Get the last gen.
    Although some will encourage you to try linux, I’d try it thoroughly before committing. Some enjoy it, some feel it just gets in the way. I’m still iffy.
    Big and multiple screens are a God send (but I wouldn’t go past 24″). RAM is also a God send. Don’t skimp on either, but be sure to shop around for the best deal. Do NOT pay for Apple to install more than base components. Huge rip off.
    If you build your own PC, I recommend newegg.com. And a 10k rpm Raptor drive. ;-) Seriously.
    Make backups. Automated. Every day. Seriously.
    I hate laptops and have never understood why anyone would buy them unless at gun point. Working outside on a park? Sounds great, except there’s about 3 billion distractions and you can’t see your screen. Coffee shops? blech. Work on the couch in front of the TV? Sure, if you want to watch TV instead of work. Sloooowww hard drives, no upgradability, they break easily…bleh, hate ’em! My advice is biased towards desktops and a dedicated work space.

    I was a sole mac user for ~12 years and am now a hybrid, but even I have never spent $4k on a machine. $3k is my top, and my last machine was only $1k. I regretted spending the $3k, and yes that was on a sweeeet Mac tower. I used it to program, video-edit, and play WoW with.

    I’m a gamer and computer programmer.


  99. Anthony says:

    The Apple vs. Dell is not a brand decision. They are two different tools. There is software from the Apple that you cannot get for the Dell and vice-versa. Don’t forget that this will be a tool that your income will depend on. A plumber doesn’t go to the pawn shop to buy a tool set and a professional writer shouldn’t do the same.

    If you’re going to go the Apple route then look at their Refurbished Section. Is the last box on the left on their online store. Right now you can get the 20″ iMac for $999. $200 off the list price.

    Another thing is do not buy RAM for a computer manufacturer. They make their money on markup on components like RAM and hard drives. Instead go to newegg.com and purchase 4GB of RAM for $80.

    The monitor debate is personal choice. IMHO, multiple monitors are terrible compared to one large monitor. There is nothing worse then that break in the middle of the screen. I perfer my 20″ windscreen LCD monitor at home over the 2 20″ standard LC Dmonitors at work.

    One last thing (I promise). Don’t forget to look into how to maximize your business purchases for tax purposes. My in-laws own multiple business and they are always take advantage of tax opportunities when buying equipment for their work.

  100. Aaron Kulbe says:


    I’d go the Mac route. Yep. More expensive up front, by a little bit. But I’ll echo the sentiments of the other Mac users here. It just works.

    You want to be productive. You want to buy quality. You want the whole package. You already know… you get what you pay for.

    I’ll be so bold as to say you’re going to get more bang for your buck, spending more up front for the iMac 24″.

    Besides… if you need Windows-based stuff, you can always put VMWare Fusion on there, and run Windows in a virtual machine.

    You’re into education… sign up for a college class, and use the educational discount Apple offers. http://www.apple.com/education and go the Apple Store for Education, tell them where your school is, and you can see the discounted prices.



  101. Wonko Beeblebrox says:

    My rule of thumb has always been to get what you want if it costs over $500; and go get the compromise one if it costs less than $500.

    Of course, the $500+ purchases are rare, and I absolutely never carry any debt whatsoever….

    (BTW- I am a software engineer, running on a mac, and I keep computers, on average, about 7 years).

  102. lorax says:

    I find the two monitor solution distracting. Try a 24″ Dell from Costco instead.

    A MacBook seems like what you’d want to write and do light A/V editing. The Dell notebooks are OK, but they run Vista.

    Whatever you do, don’t forget to put together a backup solution!

  103. Julie says:

    Go with the Mac. My husband, who just left Apple to start his own consulting business for people with Macs only, has made me a huge fan of Apple products over the last 10 years. You will not regret it at all – the new time machine backup program is great. You can run Windows on a Mac. We podcast, make movies, do our blogs and make photo albums and even books with our Mac. It is a great business and personal computer. Go with the Mac.

  104. A Plumber knows what he wants. There is no need for him to justify why he bought exactly those tools. He can still go to the pawn shop to find refurbished tools.

  105. NP says:

    We purchased an imac around Christmas time. It is not the top of the line, and we purchased Word, Excel and Powerpoint for the Mac at the same time. I can use the same documents on my jump drive to take to work where the PC rules. They threw in a HP printer all-in-one for 100 dollars that we got back in a rebate. We gave the Apple store 1600 dollars and got back the 100 so it cost 1500. We don’t regret the purchase as it is miles better than the generic PC we have had for about 4 years. It’s teetering on its last legs. My monitor is larger than I absolutely need for word processing and net surfing. The system has capabilities I haven’t had time or the mindset to tap into. I believe there is some camera capabilities and editing available that I just haven’t had time or need to get into–yet. My kids who are rather young are intrigued by multimedia and my DH is too. Hopefully this summer we will have time for exploiting all the imac has to offer.

  106. I’m with Geekman and Tuck — can’t believe you need to spend 4 grand to get a very fine system for a writer, and when it comes to service, Apple can’t be beat. But then…we have an Apple store right down the road, which you probably don’t have out in the country.

    If secretly what you want is a system for gaming, then you want a PC. But if you’re going to use it for writing — really — then a Mac will do the job with a lot less aggravation. It IS different from a PC and you have to learn how to use it effectively, but once you do…jeez. WHAT a difference!

  107. Peter says:

    As a long time Mac user, this is what I would recommend if someone asked me. First, a decent Mac will cost you much less than $4k including software. For almost everyone (except motion graphics editors) get 2 GB of RAM (price it both from Apple and other vendors — see barefeats.com for RAM vendors). Of those I work with, very few actually use more than 2 GB RAM even when they have it installed. If you do find you need more, you can always upgrade. Get an external FireWire or USB 2.0 hard drive for Time Machine (automatic backups). I can’t stand the Mighty Mouse, so every system I use has a Logitech mouse whose buttons I program with USB Overdrive. The only two commercial programs I would purchase myself are iWork ’08 (or Microsoft Office 2008 if you’re a hardcore Office user) and portions of the Adobe Creative Suite. There are freeware alternatives such as NeoOffice and Gimp — definitely check them out before laying out the money for the commercial options. There are some nice shareware applications (check out macupdate.com and versiontracker.com for an unending list of Mac software) that you may also find useful. If you want to run Windows or Linux pick up a copy of VMWare (and as an exception to the above recommendation get more than 2 GB of RAM). Feel free to contact me if you have questions or want a recommendation for something! Keep up the good work!

    – Peter

  108. Ryan says:

    At first, I didn’t understand why the computer would cost $4,000 but I re-read the post and realized that 4000 includes EVERYTHING?

    That seems a tiny bit expensive, but wait, Final Cut costs $1,299.00 or would you be getting the much cheaper express version? Hmmm…if you’re really that serious about the video and podcast stuff, then the 4000 seems a bit easier to swallow.

    Whatever you you do, don’t under any circumstances buy more memory directly from Apple. It’s definitely over priced.

  109. Amelia says:

    My husband has a Mac laptop and we have a PC desktop as well. He teaches video production in a Mac Lab. Used to teach video production in a non Mac Lab. We all hate our PC and fight over the Mac. He’d never go back to a PC video lab. Our daughter is planning to use her graduation money for a Mac. They are just less trouble, all the way around. At our house, we’d all agree with the people who say it’s a quality of life issue. They are just plain less trouble!

  110. k12linux says:

    Will a $4000 iMac be sure to take care of all your needs for 6-9 years? Or would it make more sense to spend $1600 on a high-end system/monitor/kb now, and in 2-3 years $1200 on what is modern at that time and in 2-3 years another $1200?

    Technology/performance doubles every 18-24 months and prices continue to go down. Either option would be $4000 but you could have earned a little interest and the system you get for $1200 4-6 years from now would seriously blow away what you would have paid $4000 for today.

    Personally I’m not willing to invest $4k into a computer with the price/performance curve as steep as it is unless I KNOW I will get a return on my investment. The last thing I’d want is to be “stuck” with a 6 year old PC knowing that being a little more frugal I could have something pretty modern.

    Also, maxing out CPU/RAM only makes sense if you are planning to do some *real* video editing. If you are only going for podcast quality video it’s serious overkill. (And spending $1300.00 on Final Cut is just foolish.) At least unless you think your video podcast is going to bring in an extra $1k-$2k/year that your writing wouldn’t.

    Now, if you plan to put out a series in HD with stunning video and special effects, by all means pump some real $$ into both RAM and CPU… plus massive disk storage.

    Personally, based on the needs you mentioned, I would push most of my investment in a quality display (or 2 with a dual-port video card… dual 17″ widescreen is almost identical in total square inches to a single 24″ widescreen.) Go somewhere that you can compare models and only buy after you have seen them displaying the same thing you will use at the same resolution and font sizes.

    The other item worth spending some extra on would probably be a quality ergonomic keyboard. carpel-tunnel isn’t your friend. And both monitors and keyboard can migrate from PC to PC as you upgrade.

  111. Jacqui says:

    If you go with the Apple, and I think you should, buy a refurb. You can save a TON of money buying that way. I’m also a new freelance writer, and I was killing myself trying to work on my iBook (12 in screen, 500MHz G3, 512MB ram). I only needed the new MacBook as far as processing power is concerned, but the 17 in screen was too hard to pass up. I work out of hotel rooms almost full-time, so a desktop wasn’t an option for me. I bought the previous model for about 20% off. You can buy a 24 in iMac (black/silver) for $1500 in the refurb store right now, and as low as $1400 for the older white version. I’m not so sure about the video stuff, but you may even be able to get away with a refurb Mini and going bargain hunting for a used display on eBay.

  112. Citoahc says:

    If you go with the Dell make sure you get it from their Small Business site with the ProSupport option. It used to be called Gold support. In my experience there is nothing as useful as having the tech on site with a replacement part the day after something breaks. As I understand it that is even better than most of Apple’s support.

    Also if all you are doing is document, audio and low to mid quality video I’d recommend looking at the Optiplex line. The 755s are usually decent deals. I just speced one with Dual 20 inch monitors, 3 gigs of ram and a 4 year warranty for 1600.

  113. Kate says:

    This post has a potential impulse buy written all over it. I think that when one makes a big change in their lives there is a tendency to make a lot of other smaller changes that can have a big impact later on. I would utilize option 1 for several months and then re-evaluate the situation again.

  114. Bill says:

    Whatever you buy, remember to include purchase of backup / disaster recovery options. A USB hard drive that automatically backs up your hard drive is a minimum. You can consider Dell small business Optiplex’s with RAID 1 (duplicate hard drives that automatically mirror, so if one fails, you lose nothing). I have had several hard drive failures, and all the backup does is save my files; I have to reinstall windows and all software on a new drive. RAID 1 solves that problem, and it’s cheap. I paid ~$1100 for a Dell Optiplex with core 2, 169 GB RAID 1, and 4 GB RAM (no monitor, had one).

  115. Anitra says:

    Make sure you’re only buying what you need! My recommendation is to buy a new monitor, and add other pieces (software, microphone, camera, etc.) as needed. If you find you’re really getting into audio/video recording and your laptop isn’t powerful enough, THEN make the leap to a desktop system – you’ll really know what you need then.

    Personally, I’ve been using Macs for 15 years and I love them, but the prices are too high for me to justify buying a brand new one. But used and refurbished computers can be had for a discount – I’m still using a G4 tower that I bought used three years ago for less than $200 – it’s probably about seven years old now. The only other money I’ve spent on it was to max out the RAM and buy the latest version of OS X. Since Apple has moved to the Intel platform, I’ll have to upgrade in another year or two, but right now, I can still run new software.

  116. Tom Purl says:

    Trent, I’ve read most of these comments, and it also sounds like you’re making a pretty un-frugal decision to me. I just wanted to reinforce the following points:

    1. You can buy a *very* fast computer for less than a grand these days. I know you’re not purchasing a laptop, but you can even buy a new Toshiba laptop with a dual-core, 64 bit processor and a gig of ram for $500 from Circuity City.

    2. I swear by dual monitors – it’s not just for programmers. When I only have one monitor, I feel like I’m working with one hand tied behind my back. Also, this can be a very frugal solution because you can double your screen space by using an old monitor and a new, medium-sized monitor.

    3. I don’t really think you need a lot of horsepower to do what you want to do. I use my computer with a single-core 1.8 Ghz CPU and 512 MB of RAM in the following ways:

    * MythTV server

    * Video capturing editing (using Kino)

    * Word processing (using OpenOffice and Zoho.com)

    * Web browsing (with Firefox)

    * Video transcoding/conversion (using ffmpeg and mencoder)

    My machine does all of these things perfectly well, and I rarely (if ever) have performance issues.


    Tom Purl

  117. jaushwa says:

    if our looking for screen RE, this is what you do… get a decent desktop with a video card that has a DVI output. Buy an LCD (pick your size, I have a 32 in) and plug it into the back. Instant giant monitor/TV/HD cinema. Make sure the LCD you buy has the DVI in port and not just the HDMI in port. I know the HDMI is better to have but for this application you need a DVI.
    The LCD I have is a Hyandi and it works great.

    I also agree with the ram issue. get at leat 2GB

  118. Michele says:

    Hi Trent,
    I’ve tried to review all of the comments to avoid being redundant, but redundancy is what my comment is about.
    One of your concerns is backup. To most of us that not only means storing files elsewhere to keep a safe copy but being able to work elsewhere.
    Say you buy the Mac and it becomes inoperable. Are you going to be able to work on the laptop? The answer seems simple, but it’s not. Once you get used to a new process that involves using software that was only on that Mac, and cannot be installed on the laptop, your productivity will be hindered.
    My vote is to get a 2nd PC if for no ther reason than the interoperability. I agree with the comments that say you’re overspending. There are plenty of people recording podcasts and publishing video without studio quality hardware. equipment.
    As far as the big or 2nd monitor debate, I have to vote with the 2nd monitor. Once you get used to it, NOT having a second monitor will become like trying to work without a mouse. It can be done but it slows you down.
    There’s my two cents. Best of luck with your decision.

  119. R. Grant says:

    My daughter works for Apple and you are right about the discount. They also get other special deals frequently. Recently a new Macbook came out and they offered all the older models to employees for a substantial discount. My brother-in-law and a coworker of mine both got one. When you are ready to buy you might check Mac rumors to see if there is anything new on the horizon that could save you some money. Employees also get a 25% discount on one system per year so if you know someone that isn’t going to use their discount for the year you can get a screaming deal. My daughter also echoes the sentiment that you should buy extra RAM after market. Apple RAM is over-priced. Applecare is a great service and only costs about 250.00. It is so much more than a warranty plan and if you are investing that much money, it seems a small price to protect it. It can be puchased anytime in the first year after you buy.

  120. K12Linux says:

    I second what Tom Purl says about monitors. I have had dual 17″ monitors on my work PC and wouldn’t dream of going back to one monitor. the price gets insane over 24″ and that has far less horizontal work area than two 17″.

    The ability to keep your main project in one screen and misc stuff in the other is a huge productivity boost for me.

    With current Easter sales you can get a surprisingly powerful PC, even with dual LCD monitors, for right around $1k prebuilt. I’m talking dual 2+Ghz CPU, 2+Gb RAM, 500GB HD, etc.

    Even from Dell (though you have to call to add the dual monitor option.)

  121. John says:


    You’ve done “your apprenticeship”, in faith (not magic) knowing you have the ability to make it happen, get the best system possible. No one was ever sorry that they had bought the best. Buy a cheap tool and you’ll cuss it out everytime you use it — buy a quality item, — you’ll love it and it will last for a long time.
    Computers are hard on the eyes, get a big clear screen. $4,000.00 in five years is, what?– $2.19 at day? — it’s your livelihood! One pack of cigarrets or a magazine is more than that, right?

    john b.

  122. lisa says:

    don’t forget to visit freecycle–it’s a yahoo group and there are dozens of offers and wants to exchange from–many folks find what they need/want and get rid of what they don’t need/want anymore. much cheaper than goodwill these days with it’s ever increasing prices!

  123. Nikki W says:

    I have to say – I don’t write a blog, but I do manage interactive features on a website, and spend well over 12 hours a day on my laptop, in various rooms and uses. I still use my three year old Dell, not that the brand has much to do w/ it. However, my desk setup has a docking station, I have an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse in place. When I want to telecommute from the recliner or another location, I pop the laptop out, and I have a lapdesk w/ mouse holder, and wireless mouse, etc for that room (and a spare power cord, so I can easily plug in and go to the lower floor). When I need the speakerphone or lots of room to spread out, I’m at the desk. I also have a refurbished HP all-in-one, running off an inexpensive wireless setup and our old (four year old and “outdated then”) desktop as a server, so I can print from anywhere in the house.

    My DH just bought (w/o consulting me – different topic) a high-end Sony Vaio at the end of the year for his business. NOT a frugal decision, and he will never need the speed or applications he got. He had used his old one for five years… and had the profit from his business to spend on it. Still, we could have gotten a refurbished (name a brand – but Lenovo or Dell were my top choices) or “Off-lease” one for him, and spent that money elsewhere in his business.

    Two other points:
    * consider “off lease” or a “lease return” as well as refurbished. Two years old – for most of these – plus a second monitor and adding in your extra memory – will get you 80% of what you need.
    * Don’t buy what you “think” you need until you need it. The same way some folks buy “the best car they can afford” because they fall into that marketing trap… some techies fall into the “latest and greatest” gadget or laptop. If it is a commodity tool – which the computer is – buy your minimum until your business has the profit to justify it.

    * Use that 80/20 rule mentioned above for now. Some simple interim steps will cover 80% of your needs, for 20% of the expense – so try it.
    If a second monitor, a desktop setup (like a docking station kind of arrangement), extra memory and a perhaps an erognomic consult in your home office to get you comfortable will cover 80% of your needs today (for less than $500), then do it. All of those things will either:
    * reward you now (the ergonomic) or
    * be resellable/or you can donate (tax writeoff) if you move up in 6-12 months.

    On other hand, you’d spend 8x as much for the possibility that you MIGHT use the functionality.

    Gentle thought – when I first started working from home part of the time, I was extremely focused on my surroundings and equipment because of the transition. Now, it is much easier to focus on my work and not the distractions of my surroundings…

  124. Char says:

    I saw this post as I read you now everyday and showed it to my son. He was going to email you but I thought I would follow up with a link in case you are not an email checker. He owns a business that builds computers and his overhead is well… nothing. He is a true computer geek and has been building and taking computers apart since he was 2. He can afford to make very little because of his age and his minor status meaning I still pay his rent. He is thrilled by what he makes off of building each computer as he makes around 10 bucks/hour at the computer shop where he works at fixing people’s computers. Anyway, just want you to know that he has built a lot of computers and has made a lot people happy with the price and he stands behind what he sells even at his young age. I encourage you to click through your “ideal” computer on his site and see how affordable it really is… http://pebipc.com/

  125. J.D. says:

    Another thing – the latest version of OS X uses “virtual desktops”, which grants you four working spaces on one monitor. It’s AWESOME.

  126. i’ve got a cheap 32 inch hd tv (only makes 1080i) on my desk, which got me the biggest monitor that i could possibly imagine using for around 500 bucks. it’s got a vga port on the back and the image is very clear.

  127. Marcus Murphy says:

    I just want to say in response to gotapex.com and techbargains.com posted earlier in comment #3 and #12 there is an even better site. http://www.searchalldeals.com

    It searches a number of different tech sites for coupons and rebates, including the two mentioned. Happy Bargain hunting =)

  128. Jason says:

    For $3,144 + tax and shipping, get the low end Macbook Pro 15″ w/ iwork and final cut express, the apple remote and applecare warranty, and the 1TB time capsule. Portable. Wireless. Desktop Replacement. Automatic wireless backup. Did I mention Automatic Wireless Backup? Save even more if you can do your work with the mid level macbook. Also check the apple refurb site, as mentioned above. Have fun picking your system!

  129. Tordr says:

    I recently bought a new computer to phase out my aging computer. I do not play the newest computer games so I am trying to get an excellent computer for the least amount of money and only focus on things that I care for.

    The computer was a sale from a local computer dealer. It had originally cost $800, but it was on sale for $600. It was partially an impulse buy, but I had been wondering for a month already about upgrading.

    So having upgraded the computer, I thought it was time to do the whole upgrade cycle. So I have upgraded my monitor from 19″ to 24″ wide screen for $600 (as much as my computer cost) and since I want to download stuff and the computer came with a ridiculously small hard drive (by current standards), I went for one non-fugal choice and picked up a 1Tb hard drive for about $350.

    Also note that I promptly after getting the computer pulled out my old hard drive with XP and installed it into the new computer, so I did not have to run Vista.

    The next points on my wish list is better noise shielding, more memory but they are currently not prioritized as I have already spent more than enough on the computer. A better graphic card is not prioritized.

  130. Jeremy says:

    I’m a little leary of those “studies” that say your productivity will go up by 20% with a larger monitor.

    Maybe for a job where they are feeding you data and functions to do all day, fine, less window switching will be faster.

    But for a creative writer who has to come up with original material? Is your bottle-neck really moving windows around the screen, or is the TRUE bottleneck coming up with new ideas?

    A large screen won’t help you come up with new ideas any faster. At best you might save 15 minutes per day, I would guess.

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