If you are “in computers” according to your family and friends, you are typically expected to provide lifetime, free tech support for all computer related issues for everyone you know. Since you are “in computers”, you must automatically know everything there is to know about computers, whether it is hardware or software related. Trying to explain to them that you are a database administrator, not a desktop support technician usually does not make much difference in their minds… Anyone who is in an I.T. related field is likely to be pretty familiar with this scenario. Even though it might sound like I am complaining, I actually like helping people figure out their computer related problems. I actually feel bad when I discover someone using an ancient, painfully slow machine on a daily basis, so I feel somewhat obligated to improve the situation.
So, as I was minding my own business last week, I got a call from my Mom, because her main desktop computer was refusing to boot. After some initial troubleshooting, I discovered that she was still using a Gateway machine running Windows Vista that I had bought for her about five years ago. This machine had a relatively humble 65nm Core2 Duo processor, 4GB of RAM and a 7200rpm hard drive, which was good enough back in 2007. Rather than messing around too much with that old machine, I figured it would be much better to get her a brand new laptop, which she quickly agreed with. I did a little shopping over the weekend, and decided to get a Toshiba Satellite C655-S5503 from Best Buy. This machine has pretty decent specifications for $399.99, primarily a 32nm Intel Core i3-2350M Sandy Bridge processor. Most of the other machines in that price range have a much slower Pentium B960 processor or a low-end AMD processor. On the downside, it only has 4GB of RAM, a 5400rpm hard drive, only two USB 2.0 ports, and a screen resolution of 1366 x 768 on a pretty mediocre TN display. It also came loaded with a ton of “crap-ware”, that really slows it down.
Well, if you are a hardware geek like me, that is easy enough to fix! I went to Micro Center and bought two 4GB sticks of DDR3 RAM for $45.00. Next, I yanked out the 5400rpm Toshiba hard drive, and replaced it with a 128GB Crucial C300 SATA III SSD that I happened to have on hand. Next, I installed a fresh copy of x64 Windows 7, and installed a few necessary drivers from Toshiba’s web site. Then I installed Windows 7 Service Pack 1, and all of the updates that Windows Update and Microsoft Update wanted. I also installed Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0, which is free, and works quite well. Finally, I installed Office 2010, and got it fully patched.
After this work, this humble Toshiba is actually quite fast now. Having a decent SSD, 8GB of RAM, and a clean install of Windows 7 makes a huge difference in boot time, shutdown time, and application startup time. The 2.3GHz Sandy Bridge Core i3-2350M is a very nice little processor that will be more than capable of handling anything my Mom is likely to throw at it. The Geekbench score of this system is 5004, which is about the same as the quad-socket Dell PowerEdge 6800 database server that cost about $30K in 2007 (and used to run most of NewsGator.com). If I was a little more crazy, I could have upgraded this little machine to 16GB of RAM, and I could have put in a much faster Intel 520 SSD. But honestly, I did not think my Mom needed 16GB of RAM for web surfing…
Figure 1: Stock Windows Experience Index numbers for Toshiba Satellite C655-S5503
Figure 2: Modified Windows Experience Index numbers for Toshiba Satellite C655-S5503
Figure 3: CPU-Z for Intel Core i3-2350M
Figure 4: Geekbench 2.2.7 results for modified Toshiba Satellite C655-S5503