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Ed VanHoose
Ed VanHoose is the Digital Communications Administrator/IT Manager for the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

Ask Ed

Myra asks, “My grandson wants a computer for his birthday. We are going to help his mother purchase one, but none of us are sure what kind of computer to get him. How do we know what to buy?”

Myra, I can certainly understand your confusion. There are so many options out there these days! I can give you some basic tips that should help you make an informed decision.

First, find out what kinds of things your grandson wants to do with the computer. Will it mainly be for homework? Is he planning to play games with it? Does it need to be portable?

If he needs something he can carry with him, then you’ll want a laptop rather than a desktop.

Mac or PC? When deciding between the two, it’s now mostly a matter of preference in the operating system. If your grandson prefers Mac OS, then by all means purchase the Mac. If he is more familiar with Windows, just stay with what he knows.

The big question is, “How much power does the computer need?” If your grandson is considering using the computer for games, then you’ll need to make sure there is enough Random Access Memory (RAM), a powerful processor, a hard drive with a fast access speed and a video card
with dedicated memory.

Here are some good stats to start with for a computer used for games and/or other higher-end functions:

  • 4GB of RAM or higher
  • At least an i5 processor – preferably i7 if budget allows.
  • At least a 7200-RPM hard drive – preferably Solid State, but keep in mind that those are fairly new and still rather expensive.
  • A separate video card with at least 512MB of dedicated memory – preferably 1GB.

There are many other variables out there, but this list should at least get you started. If you’re interested in finding out more, send me an e-mail.

Blake asks, “On our farm we have a system that requires a 9-pin serial port. Because most new laptops have eliminated this port, I am having trouble finding a laptop with the port still included.”

You’re absolutely right, Blake! These ports are slowly but surely being discontinued. And, in most cases that’s appropriate. However, there are still many legacy systems in place that rely upon them. In that case, replacing the entire legacy system may prove too costly.

While I don’t like to recommend specific manufacturers, I’m going to list a few Dells with the port already installed. Keep in mind that I am by no means suggesting that any of these laptops is better than any other on the market. Rather, they are on the list solely because they meet the criteria of having a serial port.

1. If you don’t mind a refurbished laptop then the Dell Latitude D630 has a serial port on it. You can get one from for around $300 (

2. Dell also has a model in their E-series of laptops that still has a serial port on it. Here’s a link: If the link doesn’t work, just search for Latitude E5510 laptop.

3. If you need something that can travel around with you without fear of it getting broken then there are several manufacturers of rugged notebooks you can contact. A “ruggedized” notebook is one that can survive in environments where others laptops can’t, for instance in higher temperatures or even being dropped. Those may prove best for a farm setting. Here’s a link to one manufacturer of rugged laptops that still includes serial ports:

Keep in mind that there are many other options out there, but I hope this list provides you at least a good place to start.

Everybody has technical issues. Some are interesting. Some aren’t. If you have an interesting technical problem that you want answered in a future edition of Powered Up, please drop me an e-mail. (I might even answer some of the uninteresting ones too.)

Ed VanHoose is the Digital Communications Administrator/IT Manager for the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives in Springfield. He is a specialist in the IT field with over 12 years of experience working in leadership roles for technology based projects in Illinois and Missouri.





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