Black, female and in charge of Baltimore

In the market for an upgrade

Q: Hi Eric; It's time for us to upgrade our home computer. I have a Dell desktop. I know I want a laptop, but do I want a PC or a Mac? How do I decide? Do you have any suggestions of where to start researching? Thank you, thank you, thank you!

—Johnnie, Chicago

A: If you're not into creating your own movies and music, an $800-$900 PC is your best bet. You'll get a fast computer with plenty of RAM for about half the price of a comparably equipped Mac. A PC will run all the software you already have.

But that Mac comes with great software for making music, editing videos, and otherwise lighting up your creativity, while you'll have to pay for and install similar software on a PC. Plus, the sleek look and sturdy build quality of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are stylishly reassuring. And Apple's Mac OS X is not a major target of virus creators, who usually go after Microsoft's Windows operating system. Macs can run Windows software, but you have to pay $199 to $399 to buy Windows and install it.

Best bang for the buck in my book is the Toshiba A600-series laptops. They're in the $700-to-$800 range and pack many desirable features: a 15.6-inch screen, an Intel i5 dual-core processor, a 500 gigabyte hard drive, come with all the features you'd want.

A few things to consider:

Processor: At the moment, Intel is better than AMD. Intel's i5 dual-core processor is a good compromise between the cheaper i3 and the faster, more expensive i7.

RAM: Get at least 8 gigabytes—more if you can afford it and if it's available. Here's why: Your Windows 7 or Mac OS X will have two varieties, the older 32-bit and the faster 64-bit variety. The speed of a 32-bit operating system maxes out at 4 gigabytes of RAM, but 64-bit operating systems get even zippier when you add more RAM (assuming your processor could keep up). When buying extra RAM, get multiples of 4 (in other words, forget about 6 gigabytes of RAM, for instance).

One more point: Your new PC will come with trial software and other programs dubbed crapware by people who want only the operating system and nothing else. Run PC Decrapifier ( to see a list of nonessential programs that you might want to remove. You can set a restore point, meaning if you remove something that turns out to be necessary, you can take your computer back to its state before you removed the program.

Do you have a tech question? Send a note to Eric Gwinn at Be sure to include your name, location and a way to reach you if we need more information—and your question, of course.

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