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How to deal with a slow (or basic) computer

Toshiba laptop

Being that I'm using my backup laptop while waiting for my replacement refurb Dell Latitude, I figured I might as well go all nerdy and tell you how to best get along with a slow or basic laptop. Yes, I will be including links to some genuinely good free software choices.

You would be amazed at how cheap laptops are now. A reason why they're so cheap is because there's such a huge push for mobile/tablet computing. That's fine because you can get a lot of laptop for under $350. You'll see some choices on that link that are under $150 new, so if you were shopping around for a replacement or just a backup laptop, now is the time to get one while they're still around.

What determines the right laptop?

It's not RAM, hard drive or solid state drive space, because that stuff can be swapped out and replaced easily.

Three things determine a right from a wrong laptop:

Where ports are concerned, you just have to make sure it has what you need. Basically speaking, if it has 1 memory card slot, 3 USB ports and 1 HDMI port, that's what to look for.

Native screen resolution is where a lot of people get the wrong idea. On a laptop, lower resolution is better because laptops aren't phones. The two best screen resolutions for a laptop are 1280x800 and 1366x768. Either of these resolutions work very nicely on anything from an 11.6" screen all the way up to 15.6".

Now we come to the most important thing. The keyboard layout; this is one of the biggest reasons I buy Dell Latitude laptops.

Most Dell Latitude models feature "the most normal" keyboard layout.

Take this Latitude keyboard for example:

Dell Latitude keyboard
(replacement Dell Latitude keyboards are easy to find, by the way)

This is, by far, the best laptop keyboard layout that exists. Why? Proper Enter key, proper backslash key, two Alt keys, proper Ctrl/Fn/Win/Alt on the bottom left, proper arrows and PgUp/PgDown on the right, proper Tab key, proper Caps Lock key with its own backlight.

Why is this the best layout? Because it's the one that most closely follows the design of the best PC keyboard of all time, the IBM Model M. The sizing of the keys very closely follows the M and it's truly a joy to use.

The one thing that will make a laptop suck more than anything else is a weird keyboard layout. The Acer laptop I'm using to type this right now has one of those weird layouts, and it can be absolutely infuriating to use at times.

What software to use and why

Web Browser: Google Chrome

On faster laptops, I use Firefox. But on slower laptops, such as my little Acer, I use Chrome because it is the fastest runner. In fact, it runs circles around Firefox easily.

Image Viewing/Editing: Irfanview

Fantastic free image viewer/editor. Very lightweight program. Kind of an ugly program, but it works so, so nicely and it is so fast.

Documents and Spreadsheets: Google Docs or or OpenOffice

Yeah, I know LibreOffice exists, but that office suite runs like crap on slower computers. OpenOffice does launch faster even though it's not as polished as LibreOffice is.

Google Docs and are free web-based doc and spreadsheet programs. I'd only use those as a last resort because the full editor from OpenOffice is much, much better.

Email: Web-based, Sylpheed or Mozilla Thunderbird

If you're using Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail or Gmail and have only used it in the browser, just go right on using that in the Chrome browser.

Sylpheed is a ridiculously lightweight email program. It's a plain-text-only client, although it can parse HTML and handle attachments easily. This client is not user-friendly as it is made for power users. But once you work your way around it, wow does it work nicely. The only reason I'm not using this because of specific add-ons I use in Mozilla Thunderbird.

Speaking of Thunderbird, that's what I use, but not the latest version simply because I have my older TB configured the way I like. But this isn't to say the latest TB is bad, because it is the best free full-featured email client that exists. The add-ons are what make TB awesome, no question about it.

Honorable mention: If you want to go all nerdy-extreme, you use Mutt under Linux. That's a terminal-based mail client (looks like this,) and is still actively being developed today. Not for the meek nor the weak. But I believe it is the most lightweight mail client that exists...? You really can't get any more lightweight than a terminal-based mail client.

Advanced text editing: Notepad++

The best text editor for Windows, period. Blows away Windows Notepad. I do use this to edit code for this site, among other things.

Archiving, ZIPping and so on: 7-Zip

Opens 7z, ZIP and RAR files, among others. Creates 7z and ZIP files easily. Extremely lightweight and still actively being developed.

Watching and listening to MP3, MP4, AVI and so on: VLC or MPC-HC

Either one of these can play back just about any audio or video format that's ever existed. Pick the one you like the best. Both are free.

Recording audio: Audacity

Multitrack audio recorder/editor. Free. Ugly program, but who cares? Works very nicely.

Video editing: Windows Movie Maker or YouTube Editor

There is no Windows Movie Maker for Windows 10, which sucks. If you have Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 or 8.1, you can use Movie Maker. But not Win10.

Your only option in Win10 is to use a web-based video editor, which is where the YouTube Editor comes in:

YouTube Editor

This is a basic editor, but hey, it's better than nothing if you're looking for a free video editing option in Windows 10.

Turn off the automatic updates?

On faster PCs and laptops, having Windows automatic updates on is fine, but on a slower laptop it can really screw up your day.

Any update on a slower machine takes time and feels like it takes forever to complete.

I'll put it this way: Personally, I think the only must-have-auto-updates-enabled thing you should have on a slower computer is the web browser, since that is, above everything else, the thing that could lead to bad stuff getting on your computer.

Fortunately, Google Chrome has auto-updates enabled by default, and it does have "the most civilized" way of updating itself, meaning it won't ruin your day when it happens. Additionally, and it will happen quickly even on a slower computer.

As for Windows updates, the standard advice is to set it to periodically check for updates but not automatically install, because that can result in a "reboot that happens for no reason" scenario. Better to let you decide that on your own.

Now you have a better idea of why I buy refurb laptops

Computers are computers. Whatever. I stopped using PCs years ago, went all-in with laptops and it works for me.

The trick to buying cheap/basic/whatever laptops and making them work well is just using the right software. Heck, even with expensive computers, it's the software that will make or break it.

Fast, lightweight programs are the best kind and it's what I use the most. Crappy apps make any computer suck. Good apps on the other hand that are programmed correctly and speedy make all the difference.

Note: Beg-a-thon is still going on. Did you find this article to have good info you can use? Send a few bucks my way as a thank you. I'd appreciate it!

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