I'm on a mission to rebuild the home computing nervous cell: my workstation that also served for years as the media home server for most of our family music, films and photos.
I will detail the personal needs later but the first question that fast arises is :
Windows, Linux, Mac OSX?
Since I am not 'Apple'ized yet (for reasons I'll detail in another post), MacOSX is out. Even to run it in a virtual machine, as I tried already, you need another OS (Operating System) on top and a very powerful PC configuration.
Which OS for the workstation to choose?
I could have chosen an open source (free) Linux desktop distribution like famous Ubuntu but, to this day, in the Operating Systems choices, Windows still appears to be the most :
- Distributed : so it is easy to find some unused legal key somewhere in your friends/familly. Each key allows legal multiple installations and the original installation DVDs ISOs (images, copies) are free to legally download from Microsoft itself here.
- Versatile : the most compatible with all sorts of hardware and softwares you throw at it later.
- Powerful : no doubt, Windows Seven Pro 64 bits rocked my previous XP 32 bits Home edition on the same hardware.
I cannot believe I am writing a post on Why Windows? It hurts indeed. but reason is reason.
XP, Seven, 8?
XP 32 bits Home edition (the cheapest XP) worked great to me to this day. But definitely Windows Seven is better on several technical aspects, years advanced. And XP support will end soon, in 2014. It means no more patches and bug fixes to strike back at the infinite security holes and threats coming up every week. And no more support on new hardware drivers, etc... XP death is planned now.
Now which version of Windows to choose?
Windows 8? I hate it already (so far) for being this monstruous unthinkable hybrid made at the same time for tactile tablets as much as for traditional non tactile workstation and screens. What nonsense to my mind so far. out Windows 8.
By elimination, rests Windows Seven.
Home or Professional edition?
Windows 7 Home edition is fine for most. Now if you want to share and serve files from that workstation to other computers/devices in the house and keep some levels of control on who has access to what and privacy, you need Windows 7 Professional edition otherwise it becomes a nightmare in Home edition. At least it did to me on XP.
So Windows Seven it will be! But which?
By privacy, I just mean that you don't need your kids or nannies with any laptop, tablet or phone to access your financial quicken files or work documents that you, on your side, could need to get access to anywhere in the house from your laptop in your living room or bed for example. And with use, come tons of situations where you can want to control the rights of access to whom for specific folders and files. So the Pro edition is the one. Plus it adds lots of other usefull features.
There might be other ways to control and manage the level of access and security to your shared files and folders on your Windows Network but I have searched extensively for free or commercial solutions and have seriously found none that would not require highly technical learning curves none of us has any time to spare when you can just get it fast and working in the Pro edition.
32 bits or 64 bits?
Fast easy reply in a single sentence: GO 64 bits unless your CPU+harware is not compatible* or only have 2x1GB RAM and cannot go higher. *Microsoft offers a freeware to determine if your hardware is 64 bits compatible. Now some details and nuances...
So Windows Seven Pro it will be! But which (again!?!)
The first main easy answer to the 32 bits or 64 bits question is RAM (Random Access Memory, the fastest memory used for computing by your computer, the one that disappears when you turn the power switch off, unlike hard drives that keep datas in)
32 bits Win7 can NOT see nor use more than 3.6 GB of RAM even if you have 2x2 GB or 2x4 or 2x8 or 2x16GB plugged in your motherboard. 32 bits editions will only see 3.6 GB. Punkt!
64 bits Win7 will use ALL the RAM you throw at it, up to 32 GB today (2x2x8GB). Cool! But why would I need it? This 32 bits vs. 64 bits debate leads to another main eternal computer users' question:
Do I need more RAM? Why would I need more than 3.6 GB of RAM => 64 bits edition?Reply in a simple sentence: In Windows Seven, you would ONLY benefit from more than 4 GB of RAM (=need 64 bits Win7) in tasks similar to intensive gaming/video/photo/sound/3D editing/mixing/rendering and to a lesser degree encoding. And we are not talking about the tries of casual beginners here but of the daily work of heavy users, mostly professionals.
For most daily office/leisure uses like internet (mail, websurfing, blogging), Office, etc... home file serving and even simple photo corrections and casual video editing or DVD/BluRay ripping and encoding, 4 GB RAM (DDR2 or DDR3) is quite enough and you do NOT absolutely need more.
In fact, several tests have proved that in these very usual uses that concerns a majority of computer users, in Windows Seven, one can only observe a drastic increase (x2) of performance and tasks speed from 2 GB RAM to 4 GB RAM, but not much from 4GB to 8GB and nothing above. More than 4GB RAM in Win7 will only let you perform faster (from only 25% to 100%, depending of other factors) the intensive tasks mentioned above and open web browser tabs by multiple of dozens without ever closing any. Not everyone needs that.
So the 32 bits edition should be enough for most, even me who do some intensive multimedia work once in a while, but not all day long.
But yet I opted for the 64 bits edition of Windows 7 with 2x2GB DDR2 RAM and I never regret it. Why?
- If your computer configuration is recent (since 2009), DDR3 RAM is very cheap: 35€ for 2x4GB, 70€ for 2x8GB as of today (Jan 2013). So it makes sense to buy 8GB RAM minimum and you would thus need 64 bits edition to use your 8+GB RAM.
- If your computer configuration is as old as my 2007/10 Intel Quad Core Q6600 on a GA-P35-DS4 Motherboard with 2x2GB DDR2 RAM (+2x1GB spare DDR2 bars I could use as well)?
This DDR2 is about twice more expensive than today DDR3 and I don't plan on changing the whole combination of CPU+Motherboard+RAM with another 500€ bill so fast. And we saw there would be NO gain to spend another 40€ to double DDR2 RAM to 8GB.
Should I switch to 2x4GB DDR3 for 35€? NO.
First, DDR3 bars are not compatible with DDR2 slots. And tests proved that DDR3 higher clock frequency brings NO seriously visible gain in reality to DDR2.
So changing DDR2 RAM to DDR3 RAM is a dead end idea.
I kept my 2x2GB DDR2 RAM and installed Win 7 64 bits for better handling my RAM and overall Operating stability and speed when 64 bits softwares exist. Note that all legacy 32 bits software run smoothly on Win 7 64 bits because 64 bits computing is just 2x32 bits computing in parallel. And the milliseconds delays noticed in some benchmarks between 32bits apps running under 64 bits vs. 32 bits Windows Seven are ridiculous amounts in real life, so they run about the same speed unless you are Steve Austin with bionic powers able to get mad at loosing milliseconds or even seconds on tasks you do once a month if not a year.
GO Windows Seven Pro 64 bits on SSD if you can. You really won't regret it.