On the left, the laptop I currently own. (Almost six years old, huge and so very heavy, windows vista, but it does everything I want it to do—web, photoshop, office, and has optical drive).

On the right, the laptop I am thinking of getting. (ASUS, 11.6” inch screen, 3 pounds, touchscreen, windows 8, $250, no optical drive, no Office, but I can get that installed from work for free).

I have a very limited idea of processor speeds and RAM and such. Like would the potential new one be faster? Good gravy, if you have thoughts, please share them with me?

Hiya, Shiny!  You asked for input and I don’t mind, though I’m a bit late! 

Basically:  The new computer would definitely be better.  This is partly because technology advances in the last several years mean faster computers.  It would also be because Vista is a piece of crap.

The price of the new computer is really great.  ASUS was able to afford such an inexpensive machine because it uses a budget-model CPU and motherboard.  But if you are the sort of person who would rather just replace your computer every few years rather than open it up and upgrade it to extend its life, $250 is a real bargain.  I would expect that with the new computer, you will start feeling the performance hit and be wanting to replace it in about 3 years.

One concern I have is: which version of Photoshop do you use?  The newer versions are, I find, resource hogs (especially the damn Creative Cloud ones).  You may have trouble running them on the newer computer, which is an excellent bargain but definitely a low-end model.  Then again, if your copy is already running fine on the older computer, you should only notice an improvement.

If you are interested in a more in-depth explanation of the various components:

The CPU:  The old CPU is good for its age, and the Celeron in the new one is a modern budget CPU (this is a lot of the reason this computer is so inexpensive).  However, given the 6 year age gap, the two are fairly comparable, and the Celeron has a better cache (L3, while the old dual-core is L2) which will make it a bit faster.

So even though the old CPU has a higher GHtz processing speed (2.00 GHtz) than the new one (1.86 GHtz), newer components have been designed to get rid of bottlenecks that meant older computers couldn’t cut loose with their full capability.  Also, Vista was not designed to be able to make use of more than one core in a CPU, so even a newer OS on that same old machine would increase the performance significantly. 

RAM: RAM is important because this is the computer’s short-term storage area for data it’s actively working with, so being able to store and retrieve large chunks of data more quickly makes your computer go faster.  The new computer has not only more RAM, but also a newer type of RAM, which also has better performance.  More, better RAM also makes the computer more stable when it’s running large applications (you know how Excel can crash if a computer has too much stuff going on?).  

4 gigs of RAM is not a lot these days, but it’s not too small to deal with, either.  More RAM than this would certainly improve the performance of a program like Photoshop, but you can deal with it.  My previous laptop had 4 gigs of RAM and it handled Adobe CS3 just fine.

Network card: Depending on the quality of your internet connection, you may also find that your internet gets significantly faster with the new computer.  In the past three years, computer network cards have begun to use a newer wi-fi protocol that gives better performance (802.11n, while your old computer probably uses 802.11g, which was the best available at the time that computer was made.)

OS: The other reason the newer computer will be faster is because Vista is a clunky horror show of an OS.  Windows 7 is more stable, secure and less aggravating, and Windows 8 was actively streamlined to be faster and more efficient.

Even if you simply bought yourself a copy of Windows 8 and installed it on your old machine, you would still see a significant performance jump, because Windows 8 makes much better use of computer resources than Vista. (Although with a 6 year old computer, you might run into hardware incompatibilities.)

The danger is that some people hate the Windows 8 interface.  I advise asking a friend with a Win 8 computer to let you mess around to get a feel for it, or visiting a real-world store and playing with a few of the model computers.  Of course, at this point Microsoft doesn’t give you a lot of options.  You have to spend extra money to downgrade to a copy of Windows 7 if you decide you hate Windows 8.

However, there’s a key to a great Windows 8 experience—these keyboard shortcuts:

  • Windows key – toggles between the desktop and the start/mobile apps screen.
  • Windows + D – goes straight to desktop screen from anywhere.
  • Windows + X – calls up the admin menu (Control Panel, Task Manager, etc.)

For the first few days, I loathed Windows 8, but once I learned those shortcuts I decided it was the best operating system I’ve ever used.

Computer screen: Since you are used to a 14” screen, you might find that the 11” screen on the new model feels cramped—especially for art.  My first laptop was an 11” and while the size was perfectly functional, sometimes I did feel the lack of screen space.  Also, some people hate the way Win 8 behaves on a touch screen.  But that’s fine, since you can turn off the touch screen.

On the other hand, doing art on a touch screen ROCKS!  Look into a stylus and a screen protector, and you may be able to draw directly on it like a table PC!  SWEET.

Finally: the lack of an optical drive on newer computers may or may not drive you batty.  They don’t get used much anymore, but once in a blue moon, you’d be prepared to sacrifice a chicken if only it meant you could have one.  Of course you can always still plug in an external optical drive and use that.  And flash drives are now much easier to deal with.  But it seemed fair to mention.

I hope all that helps! 

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