Choosing a computer is a very personal choice for people. There are many factors that go into deciding which computer is right for you. I want to share my computer experience, and then I want to hear from you to learn what type of computer you use and why.
I suppose the ultimate in minimalist computing would be to not own a computer at all. Maybe make do with the free use computers at the library. Or, maybe you’ve reduced your computer needs down to a smart phone that you can carry with you all the time. Maybe you sneak in your computer time at work.
I think most of us prefer to have our own computer device and most of us prefer this device to have a large enough screen to view easily.
Our Computer Situation before Selling our House
In our house, I had a tower computer and two monitors. We had dedicated space for it in the form of a desk in an office. I really liked having two monitors. Ever since we started installing dual monitors at work, I knew I had to have it at home. It’s especially useful when referencing one document or web page, while working on something else. Anytime you have to view multiple items, it’s nice to have the screen real estate to view everything at once. Two monitors or one really big monitor is nice to have if you have the space available.
The downside to a standard desktop or tower computer is that it is tied to a single location. Often times I wanted to work somewhere (anywhere) other than my office. I might like to sit in the living room with the family or out by the pool. I couldn’t as long as I was tied to the desk with an immobile computer.
We also had a couple of laptops in the family. I had an old one I purchased from work at a discount, and my wife, Dream, had a newer-than-mine laptop that was given to us by a family member. My daughter had her own desktop computer for a short time until it died. It was also an old one purchased from work at a deep discount. After it died, my laptop also served double duty as my daughter’s laptop. (I’m still amazed at how quickly kids pick up computer knowledge.)
Before I move on to our recent computer changes, I want to say that our old computers worked well enough. They certainly served the purpose for a good seven or eight years. Hard drives tend to die after a few years of constant use, and we had replaced the drives in some of our computers. That kept them going for a bit longer. Every couple of years I would wipe the drives and reinstall Windows to keep everything running good. Replacing failed parts and occasionally reinstalling windows can keep an old computer going for quite a while. I probably could have added more memory to our computers and kept them going even longer. That said; we were ready for an upgrade. It was more of a want than a need, but it was a want we were ready to move forward with.
Deciding What Computers Would Work Best in an Apartment
When planning to move into an apartment I knew some of our computing would need to change. We would no longer have space dedicated for a desktop computer. We could fit a desk somewhere in a bedroom or living room, but I never liked the way that looked. Plus, desks tend to get cluttered, and I don’t need another source of clutter in any of our rooms.
We knew we’d have to switch to laptops due to limited space and the desire to remain uncluttered. Plus I wanted greater mobility than a desktop allowed. Our aging laptops were getting slower and slower, and even with a recent reinstall of Windows, they just couldn’t keep up with the current generation of Internet, photo, and video. My laptop was 8 or 9 years old, and Dream’s was 5 or 6 years old. We decided it was time to upgrade some of computer infrastructure after moving into our apartment.
I’ve always been a Windows based PC user. Mainly because I do IT for a living and was always able to get good deals on old computers from work. After changing jobs, the new company doesn’t have a computer purchase program for employees, so I was forced to evaluate my options.
Evaluating my Laptop Options
I’ve always heard good things about Macs and I’ve always had an inkling to try one for myself. I decided to take some of our home sale profits and upgrade my laptop to a new (actually a refurbished model) MacBook Pro. I went with the Pro instead of the Air due to the hard disk size. I wanted space to store our family photos and videos. Also, the CD/DVD drive is nice to have even if it’s rarely used. I plan to load some digital copy movies through the DVD drive at some point. I went with the 13 inch model because I wanted it to be more portable, and it was a bit cheaper.
Overall I’m pleased with my MacBook. I like the size, the screen is bright and crisp, the case is solid and not all bendy like the competitors plastic cased laptops, the battery life is really good, and the track pad is amazing (so amazing that I didn’t even need to buy a mouse.) It did take a few months to really get comfortable with the Mac OS after being a Windows user my entire life. And I still struggle with things from time to time, like not having a right mouse button, navigating folders in Finder, and finding/installing Mac versions of everything.
I hadn’t initially planned on going with a MacBook. Initially I was going to buy a Netbook computer, which is essentially an ultra-light laptop with slightly underpowered hardware. This choice was due to the low cost. A really good Netbook can run less than $300. But when I started looking, I found that I could buy a full size laptop for not much more, like $350 to $400.
Ultimately I decided that I could afford a good computer, and that buying something higher quality would last longer and suit all my wants better. (note I said wants… a computer might be needed, but anything above the basic $400 is pretty much a want.)
File and Photo Storage
Our desktop computer had been our main point of storage for all our documents, files, and family photos and videos. Now that the desktop was out of the picture, we needed another solution. I wanted to upgrade our capability in the area of storage. I wanted to have a central repository for our files and photos, accessible by any of our computers. I also wanted to keep a duplicate copy of everything on at least one other device for backup purposes.
I decided on upgrading our wireless router to one that had a USB port. I then attached a 500 GB USB hard drive to the router. I went with a Netgear router and a Western Digital drive based on past good experiences with these brands. The setup of the network share (making the hard drive available to be seen and used by other computers) was simple. The instructions that came with the router were pretty good, and I had it setup in a matter of minutes.
I plugged in our desktop computer one last time to transfer all our files to our new network attached USB drive.
I mentioned earlier that I wanted to have a duplicate of this data on my laptop. To accomplish this, I purchased a copy of Goodsync. I setup the software to sync all our documents, photos, and videos with my MacBook. Now anytime I add files to either the network attached drive or to my MacBook, the files will synchronize so that I have the same files in both locations.
There is one small issue with my current setup. When either the laptop or the USB drive goes into sleep mode, the laptop loses the connection to the USB drive. To fix, I go into Finder and click on the network share to wake up the USB drive. After doing this Goodsync can start syncing again.
Dream had been using an IBM ThinkPad laptop, and it worked ok. It was getting older and slower, the battery was completely shot and would no longer hold a charge, and it was really heavy as far as laptops go. We didn’t really need to upgrade her computer yet, but we decided to start looking at options. We were leaning towards a MacBook Air, due to the light weight and good battery life. The new iPad 3 was also coming out about this time, so we took a look at her typically computer usage to see if that might be an option.
She typically uses her laptop from the couch; kicked back and comfortable. Her typically usage is social media, email, photo viewing and touchup, and Internet browsing and reading. Given that, the iPad seemed like a viable option, as it does all these things well. The only concern we had was the lack of a real keyboard making it hard to type quickly. She worked in data entry during her college days, so she can type really fast on a standard keyboard, and the touch screen keyboard might become an annoyance.
We ended up going with an iPad 3 with the 4G access on Verizon. There is a small amount of irony here in that neither of us has a smart phone, yet we now have a cellular connected tablet. Having that cellular connection has been a nice addition. She is now able to bring her “computer” with her wherever she goes. I’m not saying this is a need, but it’s a nice want.
Initially she only liked it a little, with the on screen keyboard being her biggest complaint. Now that she’s had it for a couple months, I doubt she’d give it up for a traditional laptop. Her typical uses make it almost the perfect device for her.
There are some downsides to the iPad that I want to share (in case you are considering one and need an objective opinion.) Printing is really lacking. There are some printing apps that may or may not work with your printer, but it doesn’t have any sort of native ability to print. We have a network attached laser printer, and can’t get it to work at all with that. The only option we haven’t tried is to share the printer on the MacBook and use that as a go-between. This isn’t ideal, as it would mean the MacBook would have to be on and out of sleep mode any time we wanted to print from the iPad. It’s also not easy to connect to our network attached USB Drive. There are some apps that might work, but we haven’t tried them yet. For heavy web searching, typing, and photo editing, we still prefer the MacBook (or any laptop really.)
Those downsides are minor compared to the upsides, especially in Dream’s case of being a fairly casual computer user.
We have our computer setup mostly complete now. We still have our two laptops sitting mostly unused. My daughter still uses hers occasionally, and I still use it once in a while until I get all the apps I need loaded on the MacBook. My wife’s old ThinkPad is completely unused and we’ll either sell it on Craigslist or give it to a family member. I’ve removed the hard drive from our old desktop, and it will soon be trashed (or recycled if I can find a place to take it.)
We did spend a bit of money to have these things, but part of being a minimalist (for us) is to buy fewer items overall, yet choose higher quality items when we do buy. Spending a big chunk of money on these wasn’t easy for us, especially since my past computers were in the range of free to under $100 through gifts or work purchases. We spent a good couple of months contemplating these decisions before making the decision to buy.
We are very pleased with our MacBook, iPad, and our network storage setup. It’s actually a joy when we make use of our computer devices now, and that wasn’t the case with our outdated machines.
Now I’d like to hear from other minimalist, aspiring minimalist, and anyone else. My analytics tell me that some you are reading from iPads and smartphones. What else are you using?
What does your computing setup look like?