laptop – to replace or upgrade?

My friend Ed is looking for a solution for a laptop for doing mobile audio and video recording work.

My thinking if his current laptop appears slow, this is more likely to be software problems that the actual hardware struggling. I think Ed’s Acer laptop is of good spec and not that old and with a software overhaul and maybe a few small hardware upgrades it could be given a new lease of life.

If a new laptop which of course only come with Vista these days was bought, Vista’s overheads are much more demanding than XP so you may not really gain anything when using a faster computer.

I would first of all back up all work and reinstall the operating system and drivers and I am sure it will run hugely better.

For best performance and security, once Windows XP has been reinstalled, I would put on Service Pack 3 (very recent released improvement to XP – does also fine tune settings to boost performance) and Free AVG 8 antivirus before putting a live internet connection on to keep security safe.

I would check out installing newer drivers, finding newer drivers for the graphics card (most likely to be an ATI or Nvidia card) would improve graphics performance, as well as the wireless card as old drivers used to have compatibility issues with certain routers. If the wireless card is say, an Intel or a Broadcom type its worth checking the makers websites as there maybe some newer and better drivers than on Acer’s web site.

For doing video work, 1gb maybe 2gb would be strongly recommended. Fitting is usually as easy as removing a trapdoor on the bottom of the machine and snapping in a new stick of memory.

40Gb hard disks are too small these days, 80 or 160 is normally considered the minimum, if you want to run 2 or more operating systems this would definitely be a must, as would if you were utilising now popular virtualisation applications like Microsoft’s Virtual PC, VMware or (my preference) Virtual Box (free and supports Linux) which lets run another operating system embedded inside the regular operating system on your computer. (a hard disk that us at least 5400rpm would also be an improvement)

Software application I would avoid that eat into the performance of your machine, are things like Google/Yahoo toolbar (all these sort of toolbars are unwanted things that come bundled with other apps in my opinion), and Real player (never seems to work properly at steaming audio/video)

I would also recommend to Ed, once the system had been set up to the desired way, before any data has been committed to it, that the whole hard disk is imaged and copied onto DVDR so a quick and easy restore can be done.

You may find you need a Fireware (also known at 1394) port on your laptop to do video work, if the laptop doesnt have this port, you could always use a PCMCIA card for this, ok these cards stick out rather awkwardly but the chances are you only need to use this card in a studio environment are not going to need to use this card when you are out and about.

Lastly I did some service on a similar Acer laptop for a contact of mine, I quite like the fact the main CPU fan is quite easy to get to from an easy to remove trapdoor from the bottom, I had to replace a noisy fan and there was a huge amount of dirt inside one of the ventilation ducts inside. Heat is a common cause of non accidental breakdowns with laptops so being able to service this part yourself is definitely a plus on this model computer.

One item off your list, Camera – I know very little about photography but I am using a Kodak Easyshare 4mb model which I bought two years ago, it uses normal SD cards and is easy to use, I tend to just use the normal method of copying files of a card reader rather than Kodaks special software though. Mine was only £65 and I have seen them for less now. Kodak made a name for themselves making cameras affordable to the market by making the easy cheap and simple, and its good they have kept up this tradition, if you a non-professional like me looking for something that does very good results for just casual work, I would definitely recommend Kodak.

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