Scott's Column
Laptop/Tablet Update, Video Card Upgrade

June 2, 2012
By Scott Lewis

Scott does a quick look at his laptop and tablet choices as he approaches making a decision. He also looks at upgrading his main computer... which will mostly be a video card upgrade to push pixels to his new 30" Dell monitor.

Current Topics:

Laptop, Tablet Update

Regular readers know that I have been looking for a laptop, one that fits into the Ultrabook category. I am also a fan of the iPad. I was thinking about combining these two and getting an IdeaPad Yoga from Lenovo, when it came out.

But best laid plans and all... I no longer need a laptop for working on the road. Which should automatically mean I don't need a laptop at all. But having a portable computer does have its appeal. Not being tied to my desk to do web surfing and email is a strong benefit. Granted... that is exactly what a tablet is for. Light web surfing, casual gaming, email, etc.

So I am in the process of re-evaluating my needs. I definitely want a tablet, and almost without a doubt that table would be an iPad. But there are some things I would still use a laptop for that are not ideally suited to a tablet.

Email, thought very possible on a tablet... is not my preferred way of doing email. I very much prefer thick client email. I have an email account with my ISP, and I use Microsoft's Windows Live Mail application to download email to my computer. I have saved folders with literally thousands of emails. I do have a Gmail account... and that would very much be used on an iPad. But would I use a tablet to do email from my main email account? I don't think so.

Then there is Photoshop. I could install my copy of Photoshop on a laptop and do my thick client email as well. Also, I would be able to do better research for my web site from a laptop. So there is a need to also run Expression Web on a laptop as well. This cannot be done on a tablet.

So I am still torn by the idea of getting both... a laptop and an iPad. But the big change here is that I do not need the laptop for work. So I do not need to run SQL Server or Visual Studio on it. This means I could easily get a Mac... and the king of all Ultrabooks is the MacBook Air.

So... I will get an iPad. It is just a matter of time. I am in the process of getting a car for my son... and that will tie up almost all of my cash. But I have some income coming... and it is definitely slated for the iPad. Of course... the one thing I really want to go with my iPad... is a table and chair set for my balcony. Since the "half" wall of the balcony is so high... I need the table and chair set to be bar stool height. This will allow me to surf the web from my balcony while enjoying the view and a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning.

But can I justify getting a laptop. As it is... if I had to buy a Windows laptop I would be torn between the HP Folio 13 and the Toshiba Z835. The Toshiba has a cheap feeling about it... but it so light that is shames the MacBook Air. The HP is 3.2 pounds, and a bit more than I would like. But Walmart has a version of this for only $900.

Then there is the MacBook Air. I would not spend $1,300 for a new one. But they have refurbished units for $1,099 on Apple's web site. I can install my Photoshop on the MacBook Air. I would also consider moving all my email over to a laptop (with backups to my server of course).

I will keep you posted on this.


Video Card Upgrade

Last month I told you about my Dell Ultrasharp U3011 monitor. It is 30 inches with a resolution of 2560 x 1600. This is far beyond regular HD (1920 x 1080). As it turns out... I had what I thought was a really good gaming video card. That is until I tried pushing 4,096,000 pixel at a time with it.

My previous monitor was 1680 x 1050... which only has 1,764,000 pixels. My new monitor is pushing 2.3 time as many pixels. Games are hurting. Time to think about an upgrade.

I previously wrote that when you upgrade a machine (here & here) you should replace the CPU, motherboard & memory together. And if the machine is going to be used for serious games than the video card as well.

I remember when I built my current computer... for gaming... I saved on the CPU by getting a Core i5 instead of a Core i7. I used the money saved to buy a better video card. In fact... at that time I spent 50% more on the video card than I did on the CPU.

My first thought was to pick up a faster CPU for little money. Maybe I could find a Core i7 processor that had come down in price to be even less than the $199 I paid for my Core i5.

I was very wrong. When I researched what would fit in my motherboard I found out that the fastest CPU for it was a 3.06 GHz Core i7. My Core i5 is running at 2.66 GHz. How much performance would I get from an extra 0.4 GHz? More importantly... how much would that 0.4 GHz cost me.

It turns out that the version of CPU I need is almost out of existence. I don't believe they make it... and certainly they are hard to find. In fact... the 3.06 GHz version for my motherboard is not available. The best I could find was a Core i7-870 running at 2.93 GHz for $295... from a no name merchant. Oops!

This basically proves my upgrade theory. CPUs and motherboards change together... and at a pace that makes it nearly impossible to build a future proof computer. My computer is not even two years old and for all intents and purposes I can't do a serious upgrade without completely gutting it.

I did a little more research and found I really scored in the CPU department. The CPU I have is a Core i5-750. It turns out this chip was a smoking bang for the buck processor. In this article they said, "The Core i5-750 is a fantastic CPU. It has superb power efficiency, is fast when compared to virtually anything from the Core 2 Quad line-up."

So... let's skip looking for Core i7 chips that fit into my "old" LGA 1156 socket. I can still add memory... which will help a little... and I can look into upgrading my video card. Then if I am daring I can try to overclock the Core i5.

BTW... the main difference between the Core i5 and the Core i7 (at least the LGA 1156 versions) is hyperthreading. The i7 has it and the i5 doesn't. When software can take advantage of multiple cores the i7 looks like 8 cores, while the i5 looks like the 4 cores it is.

In doing my research in video cards I discovered that to get good gaming performance without turning down a lot of detail... I was going to have to spend at least $330. To be sure I don't have to turn down detail in hard core games I will probably need to go as high as $430. There are video cards that cost even more than that... with the top of the line video cards costing over $500, but there is no way I will spend that much.

My heart tells me to go for an ATI Radeon HD 7950, which sells for approximately $430. But my brain tells me to get either a Radeon HD 7870 for about $360 or a nVidia GeForce GTX 570 for around $300-$310.

Memory is cheap at the moment. I can add 8 GB to my computer for $50... bringing me to a total of 12 GB. Not that anything I have except Photoshop can use that much memory. Adding 4 GB or 8 GB is a difference of less than $25, so why be a cheapskate in that department.

I will be ordering the memory during the month of June. I will be waiting for the income that will buy my iPad to decide between upgrading the video card in my desktop... or getting a MacBook Air.

Again... I'll keep you posted.



I am spending most of my free time looking for a car for my son. At this point... I have no ideas for this column next month. We'll just have to wait and see.