Computerized Investing > November 21, 2015

PC Buyer’s Guide 2015

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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA


November is upon us, and soon consumers will be inundated with holiday deals on the latest technological marvels. It also means that it is time once again for the Computerized Investing annual PC Buyer’s Guide.

If you believe what has been said in the popular press over the last several years, there apparently isn’t a reason to buy a personal computer (PC). I have lost count of how many times the obituary of the PC has been written. The latest to eulogize the PC is Apple’s CEO Tim Cook. In an interview with the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, Cook questioned why anyone would want to buy a PC anymore. He commented: “I think if you’re looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one?” The irony, however, is that Apple still sells desktop and laptop systems. Of course, these comments came shortly before Apple started selling its newest iPad—the beefier iPad Pro—which Apple hopes will appeal to enterprise buyers and will reverse the drop in iPad sales in recent years. Current trends appear to bode well for the iPad Pro: A J. Gold Associates survey found that businesses with more than 50% of workers using tablets will grow by as much as 155% over the next three years. Whether or not consumers will be willing to accept the larger size and price tag of the iPad Pro remains to be seen.

In response to Cook’s remarks, Lenovo’s president for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) Eric Cador told CNBC “First of all, (the PC market) is not dead. I mean 260 million units shipped per year, you cannot say it’s dead.”

That’s not to say that computer manufacturers aren’t feeling the heat from alternatives such as tablets and smartphones. Analyst firm Gartner announced that PC shipments totaled 73.7 million units in the third quarter of 2015, which is a 7.7% decline from a year ago. For 2015, most forecasts point to a double-digit percentage decline in PC sales. That is why, perhaps, the better statement would be that the PC of five or 10 years ago no longer exists. What we have seen in recent years is the evolution of the PC—offering more tablet-like features such as touch-screen displays (even on desktop systems) and more lightweight portable PCs such as notebooks and ultrabooks. Most of this evolution has come on the Windows-based system side of things, however. You still cannot find a touchscreen Mac, and the likelihood of such a device coming to market seems slim. Instead, you will have to use an iPad for a “touch” experience.

As PCs become less “PC-like,” this shift is undoubtedly is creating some confusion for those looking to buy a new system. The range of options and configurations is as diverse as it has even been. While having choices is a very good thing, in my opinion, lacking knowledge in what those choices are could cause you to end up with a piece of technology that does not meet your specific needs. That is the primary reason why Computerized Investing has published this annual PC Buyer’s Guide for well over 20 years—to update our readers on some of the key trends in the computing industry as well as to help you make an informed computer purchase decision.

As you read this guide and see my system recommendations, please keep in mind that I am writing this specifically for the individual investor who is looking to perform computerized investment analysis, research or tracking. These tasks may include portfolio management and tracking, stock and mutual fund screening, technical analysis and charting or trading system development and backtesting. Depending on the level and complexity of the analysis, these tasks may require specific software that will only run on certain hardware and operating systems. However, the systems I recommend here will also handle the typical day-to-day tasks of the more typical computer user such as email, Web browsing, streaming audio and video, word processing and spreadsheet work.

I also would like to point out that these opinions are my own, but they are based on nearly 20 years of experience with investment software and websites as well as computer hardware, along with keeping up with the trends in the software and computer industries. The systems I highlight here should allow you to run today’s crop of investment-related software titles, and contain technology that will make them viable for the next few years, if not longer. Since everyone’s needs are different, finding the right tool for the job is a personalized experience.  Computing is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. As a result, some of you may find the systems I recommend to have “too much under the hood” while others of you may need a system that offers more power.

This guide will walk you through the primary considerations you should make when buying a computer for computerized investment analysis. Armed with this knowledge, you will then be able to make a more informed decision for yourself—for today, tomorrow and for years to come.

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PC Buyer’s Guide 2015

Ed from Delaware posted about 1 year ago:

"Do you go with a Windows or a Mac system?" completely ignores Linux. Yes, there is some software that only run on windows or macs, but there is a lot of very good and free software the runs on Linux. You don't need to be knowledgeable about technology to use Linux, although that will help with any PC. If you are, the tools on Linux are often better and more flexible, so you can do what you want, rather than what someone else thinks you want.

By the way, Max OS is a port and update of BSD, which was an earlier redo of Unix than Linux. If you know Mac OS, then you also know a fair amount of Linux in general. I do use W8 for TurboTax and a few other things because I have to, but Linux for everything else.

Wayne Thorp from IL posted about 1 year ago:

Dear Ed,

This article is written from the standpoint of someone wanting to perform computerized investment analysis. The fact is there are very few quality software titles available for Linux.

Wayne A. Thorp

Marek Fridrich from CA posted about 1 year ago:

Unfortunately, you have not elaborated on what I expect to be a major drawback of Windows 10: I expect that Windows 10 will institute, and eventually enforce, a subscription model for all your Windows application such as Office, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc. This means that you won't be able to buy these applications outright and use them "forever". Instead, you'll have to pay a yearly rental fee; my expectation is that this move will quadruple the cost for the average user like myself.

I have not installed Windows 10 and don't plan to. However, I have tried to purchase an upgrade for my Office suite, and I wasn't able to: the only options available on the uSoft site were lease packages, typically for a year. I now know why uSoft is embracing the "cloud"!

Wayne Thorp from IL posted about 1 year ago:

You are correct that Office is turning into a subscription model. That is not tied to Windows 10, however. That is a change to the Microsoft business model for its Office suite.

Marek Fridrich from CA posted about 1 year ago:

I am not so sure. My concern is that W10 will refuse to run my "old" Office suite (2010) which I purchased some time ago. Of course, it will have a suitable excuse, but it will force me to start renting and paying yearly&dearly.

If you could categorically eliminate (or prove) my concern, it would be of great help. I would reconsider my upgrade (W7 -> W10). In either case, thanks for your help!

Wayne Thorp from IL posted about 1 year ago:

Okay, you are referring to a compatibility issue. According to Microsoft, these version of Office are officially supported by Windows 10:

- Office 2016 Preview
- Office 2013/Office 365
- Office 2010 (exception Office Starter 2010)
- Office 2007

Older versions of Office such as Office 2003 and Office XP are not certified compatible with Windows 10 but might work using compatibility mode.

Here is additional information from Microsoft:

Jeff from NY posted about 1 year ago:

I was worried because the instructions for Windows 10 say just what you said. It is not possible to upgrade unless Service Pack 1 is installed and all other upgrades are up to date. However, I could not install the service pack even after hours on the telephone with a Microsoft technician whose last advice was to install a version of Windows 7 that already has the service pack update (they gave me access for free). Because I am a consultant who uses many different applications, this would have meant at least a full week to install all of them under the new stystem. Instead, I cloned (copied) my drive and tried to install Windows 10 to that, even though it did not have the service pack. Although the installation was long and tedious (it requires that the PC owner/operator be available during most of the installation which can last several hours), I was able to successfully install it. BUT, some of my older applications had problems. I ended up going back to the original drive with Windows 7. But I am going to try again when I have a bit more time.

Wayne Thorp from IL posted about 1 year ago:

Thank you for sharing your experiences, @Jeff. I have not upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10. I was already using Windows 8.1 on all of my systems and the upgrade to Windows 10 was straightforward, relatively fast (less than an hour with a high-speed Internet connection) and didn't require the babysitting you described when moving from Windows 7 to Windows 10.

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

Larry Reddig from OH posted about 1 year ago:

Excellant article, covering much ground.

I learned some things.

Current computers and OS:
HP Pavilion with 1 TB HD and Windows 7 PRO... love it, but have been hacked twice. Serious files are on this machine, with backup drive.

Apple MiniMac with 1 TB HD and Yosemiti OS.
Bought the Apple for OnLine stuff and security. Not happy with the OS.

Looking to get another mini machine with Windows 7 PRO to
replace the Apple. Hard to find.

Have to manually switch all the cables between machines, as they share the same monitor, keyboard, printer, and mouse. A hassle.

This comprehensive article gives me info to narrow down my choices intelligently.

Wayne Thorp from IL posted about 1 year ago:

Thanks @Larry. I have been using Windows systems since the fall of 1993 and (knock wood) have never been hacked. These days I use Avast as my anti-virus and firewall software and it works like a dream. It is also not as heavy-handed as Norton and Kaspersky.

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

John Weber from NC posted about 1 year ago:

I just read your article and found it very helpful in making a new computer purchase. You gave me enough information to ask the right questions and make what I think is the best purchase for my needs. Keep up the good work.

Randall Huleva from CA posted about 1 year ago:

@Marek I apologize for being "late to the party" so to speak with regards to commenting on this article, however I was just able to get online this morning.

Anyway, I do see one of you concerns posted a few months ago re: subscription based software as "This means that you won't be able to buy these applications outright and use them "forever"."

In my experience, very few people buy a version of an application suite such as Microsoft Office and run it "forever". In fact, it is far more common to see people rushing to upgrade to the latest version immediately or shortly after it has been released.

Also, at some point it is no longer technically possible to run a software version if an operating system has been upgraded and it is no longer backward compatible.

For example, I remember the first version of Office that I ever bought was Microsoft Office 4.0 for Windows 3.1. Designed to run in a 16 bit environment from the days when we were running Windows 3.1 over MS-DOS 6, that version would not even be technically able to run on a modern PC running any operating system from Windows 95 onward.

There are some users who I recognize do in fact buy a version and will stick with it until they are forced to upgrade for whatever reason, however the vast majority are going to be running a relatively current version.

Since 2016 has only been out a short time and has primarily been embraced only by the Office 365 users, it remains to be seen how the market is going to respond to this marketing move by Microsoft. However most everyone else is running either on 2010 or 2013.

So the bottom line here is if you (or most users) are in fact going to upgrade to the current version or be no further back than the version just prior to the shipping version, then it really doesn't cost a lot more to be on a subscription platform.

As far as the notion of "owning the software" goes, if you read your license agreement you will notice that you DO NOT own the software - Microsoft does! You are simply purchasing a license to use the software as long as you remain in compliance with the license agreement - however if you violate that agreement, they will suspend your license. So really, is that all that much different that a subscription model?

Many think that if they quit paying their subscription they will no longer be able to access their documents. This is also not true. The user will no longer be able to create or edit documents, however they can still access, view and print any existing documents they have.

You may want to take a closer look at the two plans and see which is really better for you. If you are a person who is on the go a lot, the mobile benefits or Office 365 are phenomenal, although I will concede they are far more useful on a tablet or a laptop than a smartphone. The screen is just too small for spreadsheet or presentation creation on a smartphone...even if it's a 'phablet'.

Good luck.

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