Upgrading hardware that’s hard to get rid of

This has been a busy month for me on the hardware side. I finally pulled the trigger on getting rid of my mid-tower Core i7 Extreme production machine.

I’ve come close to making a switch several times this year, but what was state-of-the-art five years ago is, sadly, not much faster or more powerful than a middling machine you could buy at Walmart or Best Buy for six or seven hundred dollars.

The last straw for me was hooking up a second monitor. I’ve been doing a lot of work lately that requires me to go back-and-forth between two documents or a document and a spreadsheet. Having one on the main monitor before and the other on a second display on my desk to the right of the main monitor is proving to be a real productivity boost. I have to admit I’ve been behind the curve on this as a great number of people have been doing this for years.

But having multiple documents open on my desktop, especially when one is a Word document and the other a set of Excel spreadsheets, has been slowing my PC to a crawl. There’s 24GB of RAM in the system, but the 32-bit version of Windows I’ve been using only allows 4GB of it to be usable.

I’ve been a big fan of Intel’s NUC (Next Unit of Computing) PCs since they first became available several years ago. These are tiny PCs about four inches square and between an inch and half and two and a half inches high. I broke down, bought a Core i5 model that’s two processor generations behind the currently shipping seventh gen, and loaded it with 16GB of Kingston RAM and a Western Digital 512GB M.2 SATA drive. There’s still room in the tiny box for a second 2.5 inch hard drive, and I suppose I’ll add one eventually. With a 64-bit version of Windows 10 installed, LibreOffice is free for the downloading, though they ask for a small donation, and it’s really very compatible in operation and file format with Microsoft Office.

I migrated the data and applications on the former production machine using Zinstall’s terrific Migration Kit software. A few hours later, I was up and running on the new system. Only Microsoft Office failed to reactivate, which finally pushed me to adopt the excellent LibreOffice for all the PCs and laptops in the house.

So far, the “slower” Core i5 NUC is running much better than the older PC, and I love being able to move between monitors. Hooking up the second display couldn’t have been easier. The NUC has an HDMI port for the main display, and a mini Displayport output for a second display. I picked up a cable with a mini DisplayPort plug on one end, and an HDMI plug on the other, and the second display came right up. I should have bitten the bullet last year when I was fooling around with small format PCs.

I’m expecting another NUC to be delivered today or tomorrow, and will replace yet another large PC in the house. Not only do they take up way less room, but they are also much more power efficient, so it’s a win-win.


Even more printers

If that wasn’t enough to play with, I had two new printers show up to test. They are somewhat different each other, but both are worth considering for your office if you’re in the market for another all-in-one.

The first is an HP OfficeJet Pro 7720. HP calls it an all-in-one, but since it also has fax capabilities, I’d classify it as an MFP. It has high-yield ink cartridges available with 3,000 page black and 1,600 page color ink tanks, and a 250 sheet input tray.

The thing that makes it attractive to me is that it’s a wide-format printer. It will print on paper up to 11 x 17 inches. That’s an 8.5 x 11 inch 4-page booklet if you print on both sides and fold it in half. But I’ve been using it to print large spreadsheets, and I think that’s where its real value lies, especially in an accounting practice. It’s widely available for under $200, so if you do any amount of spreadsheet printing where you have to tape multiple pages together, it’s probably a good investment.

The second MFP that showed up this month was an Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4740. It’s a 4-function machine with Fax, Copy, Scan and Print capabilities, and fairly compact. It’s also pretty fast, with rates of 24 pages per minute with Epson’s PrecisionCore print heads for sharp output. What I really like is that the WF-4740 has two 250-sheet paper drawers as standard equipment. I simply use them to load up on more paper, but if you switch between media types such as regular paper and letterhead or photo/presentation paper, it’s easy to specify which drawer and paper type to use in the print driver.

I admit I’m a fan of Epson printers. I have three of their office printers on my network and two “prosumer” (for those who both consume and produce media) photo printers. But one of the printers is a few years old, and while it still works okay, the ink tanks are rather small as is its paper capacity. So I think the WorkForce Pro WF-4740 might make a good replacement for it. The high-capacity ink cartridges provide about 2,600 black pages and 1,900 color pages, which is a lot more pages than the ones in the printer I’m replacing. I’m not saying I’ll eventually replace one of the Epson printers with a model from another vendor (maybe the HP wide-format model above), but at $200, the WF-4740 seems like a good value to me, especially if it holds up as well as the other Epson printers on my network.

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Ted Needleman