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Need laptop for mom - general thoughts welcomed - i.e. Would a chromecast work? 4 gigs of RAM enough?

1,174 85 November 29, 2017 at 08:35 AM
My mom has an ancient Dell that she's using, and needs something better. Here are the "must have's" and "have not's"

- 14" display preferred, can't be any larger, but it can be slightly less
- Is only going to use for web browsing, watching DVD's, saving pictures from her scanner, and occasionally printing something from her printer
- 85% of her time is spent on Ancestry.com's website
- She's used to the Chrome browser, and doesn't want to change (her learning curve is very high for any computer-related issue)
- It is not uncommon for her to have 7 to 10 tabs open at once within Chrome (or more). (This isn't always intentional, but happens quite often.)
- She mainly uses it with a wired connection, but needs wireless as she takes it with her when she travels

I've read through every deal listed since before Black Friday. I keep seeing things that seem good, then decide against them. So many lower end laptops have 4 gigs of RAM. This seems too low, especially since Chrome, with several tabs open, seems to use a lot of resources. But am I wrong? Would a 4 gig system be just fine?

Would love for it to have a SSD (a small one is fine, as she only stores a couple gigs of photos). But this isn't a "must have".

A DVD drive would be great, since she likes watching movies on it. But I can always get an external DVD -- I think she would be okay using that (maybe).

I feel like I should be able to get her something great for her needs for less than $500. (I really feel like I should be able to get it cheaper than that.) But the main thing is that it does all she wants, nice and fast, and something she is comfortable using.

Would a Chromebook work for her? Is the operating system so different from Windows that it will be alien to her? Do they have enough power/memory for her?

There's just so many different options, with different processors (with different generations), etc., that it feels a bit overwhelming.

I feel like I'm trying to get way more of a machine than she needs. But don't want to end up with a useless doorstop.

Any thoughts, comments, suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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Hey! I just solved a similar problem last summer for my mother in law (well, hopefully soon, but I haven't asked yet)...

Anyway, I got her a Dell Inspiron 300 14". There are two models, one runs off a microsd, the other off a conventional hard drive. It has 2GB of RAM that isn't soldered to the board, so you can easily swap out for the maximum 8GB.

As for space, I bought a 128GB MicroSD from Best Buy for $29.99 (current sale if you can still get them). Another thing I did was buy an 8TB Western Digital easyshare storage external hard drive and plug it into her router for her very own "cloud". It is just network attached storage, but it gives you an actual website (IP address) to plug in from anywhere on the internet and you can access your files. It's the perfect solution for space in an internet-centric world.

Anyway, the laptop runs about $150 and has a mobile processor with onboard chipset graphics, but they can easily pump out 1080p and even stream 4k off youtube (though the screen is only 720p). You'd have to plug it into a separate monitor or get a 4k chromecast to plug into your tv in order to see the benefits of 4k.

That said, the entire laptop cost me about $180 after taxes and she couldn't be happier. I bought it off the dell refurbished site because they have no visual difference from a brand new one, may have had something faulty fixed that would still be an issue in a new one, and most importantly was about $175 off the MSRP.

Back to your questions: 4 GB is plenty for an average at home user, even with Chrome tabs open. The thing I like about the laptop I mentioned is that the model I bought has only flash storage, so there isn't anything mechanical to spin up and bog the system down when memory becomes tapped. Plus, running actual storage space off of an SD card is just about as fast as the internal hard drive when you are talking about file storage and retrieval.

DVD drives are going by the wayside, but luckily most laptops nowadays come with a healthy dose of USB 3.0/3.1 ports and external DVD drives are cheap. In fact, you may even want to consider an external Bluray drive for likely the same price.

If you don't mind spending twice the price, you can upgrade to the inspiron 5000 series which starts throwing in core i3 intel chips and physical hard drives, but its a bit bulkier and for the money, feels like more or a risk for negligible gains in performance (for the tasks you've mentioned).

Technically, yes, a Chromebook would work, but don't do that to her. Get her a laptop with real media storage so she can use it when she doesn't have an internet connection. Also, if you get the laptop that's literally half the price, its VERY easily replaceable.
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#3
Quote from BostonBatman
:
Hey! I just solved a similar problem last summer for my mother in law (well, hopefully soon, but I haven't asked yet)...

Anyway, I got her a Dell Inspiron 300 14". There are two models, one runs off a microsd, the other off a conventional hard drive. It has 2GB of RAM that isn't soldered to the board, so you can easily swap out for the maximum 8GB.
Many thanks for this reply. Just getting some reassurances about a few things really helps. (Like 4GB of RAM, or even less, being enough.) And I agree about the Chromebook option...it doesn't seem to make sense to get her something so different when there are low-priced laptops available that will do what she needs.
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#4
Exactly. Especially with the concept of these incredibly powered intel chips versus the actual *work* being done on the machine. Effectively, it's almost like everything can be done from a cell phone for most users, but people still want the separate screen and keyboard haha.
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