Need advice on what computers to buy


We are in the unenviable predicament of having two households now. In addition to our long-time home in Berkeley, CA, we now have remodeled the family home in Petaluma, CA, with an eye to eventually living there full-time as my 84-year-old MIL's needs dictate. So far, she is doing very well indeed, and we hope, of course, she will continue to be healthy and independent for some time. Until she needs us there full-time, we will be going back and forth quite a bit, splitting our time evenly between the two residences in chunks of several days to two weeks at a time.

The Petaluma residence is 7 miles out of town and we only recently have DSL available to us. We use XP desktops on our (fairly extensive) computer network in Berkeley, powerful enough to run Photoshop and AutoCAD. We will need to buy computers of similar capability for Petaluma.

Also, we travel quite a bit offroad and need a computer for navigation, email, and Office applications (bookkeeping on the road, etc); for navigation purposes,  it would need to be able to function as a tablet.

We need some means of transferring documents/files/data from Berkeley to Petaluma and vice versa as needed. My boyfriend does not like using the cloud.

We thought about some version of the new Windows Surface and maybe a docking station for a larger monitor and keyboard. We are not exactly looking forward to buying all new software, as most of what we need will no longer run on XP. Adobe applications (if I understand correctly) are not resident on the computer and need internet connections to run. Windows seems to be moving in that direction, as well. The Surface notebook doesn't have many USB ports, etc., but I guess a docking station would take care of that? We will need a fairly extensive network in Petaluma.

Maybe external hard drives that we can take back and forth would work? We don't know how sturdy and reliable those are if you are contstantly moving them around.

Any suggestions would be very welcome. We're really quite confused!

Elizabeth Bakerexe asstAsked:
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JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
I do not know what to recommend to you.

Nothing you buy today is going to run XP. In fact, in less than a year, you will not be able to buy Windows 7. Surface tablets run Window 8.1 and Windows 10.

Yes, you need new software on Windows 10 compared to what you are using.

I suggest a small laptop as they are "all in one" without need for a docking station if you do not need one.

I use a ThinkPad X230 laptop with Windows 10 Pro 64-bit. I synchronize about 100 GB of data back to my desktop computer daily or more frequently and keep the same applications and data on both.

XP is dead (truly dead) and you might wish to reconsider staying with it. Yes, XP runs and works, but it is now hopelessly insecure and will never be fixed.
"we only recently have DSL available to us"

Transfer of large data through the many safe methods will be slow.
Small data such as photos, etc can be easily moved using Skype.

"Maybe external hard drives that we can take back and forth would work? We don't know how sturdy and reliable those are if you are contstantly moving them around."
If you need to transfer / move large amounts of data, then 2.5 inch SSD external hard drives may be the best way, or large capacity flash memory (SD cards USB sticks) these are all very robust and virtually indestructible.
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
It is true that transferring large amounts of data can be slow, but if the changes are incremental, then speed should not be an excessive issue. I back up several company ledgers and spreadsheets in a matter of minutes.

I do agree that a small USB hard drive is a good idea as well. I have a One TB USB hard drive and use it for very large files.

Both methods work on my ThinkPad X230.
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Elizabeth Bakerexe asstAuthor Commented:
So, do we buy the Windows Surface Pro for both locations with a docking station, monitor, and keyboard, and a large external hard drive to take back and forth? And how do we manage the software without adequate DSL access? There are frequent power outages, and if our software is on the cloud and not on the computers, we would not be able to work. Are there current versions of Adobe and MS products that are resident on the computer and don't need the internet?
One approach is to buy refurbished computers with similar specs to the computers you currently have, with XP Pro installed. Using this approach will forestall your having to deal with new OS, new apps, etc. If you examine your software licenses, you may find that some of them are liberal enough that you can install the software in both locations, so long as you don't use both installations simultaneously. For the ones whose licensing does not permit this, it's also possible to find old versions (or legal license keys) for sale, even if the vendor no longer makes these available. If you depend on vendors for support, however, this is likely to be a dead end.

Even if you have spotty internet, you can use one of the many syncing services -- my first preference is Dropbox -- to keep copies of your work up-to-date in both locations. Obviously, if you suffer long enough outages, you may have to do the sync yourselves, via sneakernet. Since you're just using them for transfer, you can choose whether to use USB sticks or external USB drives - the integrity of the transfer device is not quite as important as if it contained your only copy of your work.

Is the cell phone coverage near Petaluma adequate that you could have cellular data "personal hotspot" through your phone as a backup? And if it's the power that drops as opposed to the DSL, you can get UPS battery backup devices that can keep you going through short outages. If it's bad enough, you may have to invest in a generator, but if there comes a time when there's medical equipment that has to be kept running, the generator can give you some peace of mind.

Some people may be reluctant to trust their work to the cloud. It's possible to set up your own "OwnCloud" server at the location where you have the most stable Internet connection, so -- while your data may transfer over the internet via encrypted connections -- you don't have to give an outside party the key to your data.

Once you have set up data sharing for your devices, I think it makes more sense to get a tablet for the on-the-road, low intensity computing needs. A smartphone works well for navigation. With your situation, it doesn't sound like you can be a complete minimalist in terms of the number of devices, so having a few different devices for varying purposes is worth considering.

Whichever way you go, it is going to involve spending time and money -- I don't see any way around that. But there are lots of ways you could go.
Alan HendersonRetired marine engineerCommented:
If you're going to be working with large files in Photoshop and Autocad you may run into performance issues with a Surface Pro. I love the Surface range, but as far as I know, none of the range have a dedicated graphics card.

The SSD helps a lot in compensating for that, and if you're working with less demanding files you'll be fine. On the other hand, people pay for dedicated GPUs for a reason.

@ jmcg
"refurbished computers with similar specs to the computers you currently have, with XP Pro installed"
"my first preference is Dropbox"

From original question:
"My boyfriend does not like using the cloud."
"most of what we need will no longer run on XP"

Xp wont do, and dropbox is cloud storage.

@ baker_eliz
You will have to update to Windows 10 eventually?
(suggest all new desktops for both locations all new powerful laptops to carry back and forth between locations)

Windows 10 includes compatibility settings that can make old applications functional.
"How to Make Old Programs Work on Windows 10"

You could also run VM (virtual machine OS XP or OS 7 ) on the Windows 10

"How to add an XP Mode Virtual Machine to Windows 10 (or 8) using Hyper-V"

Do you want an cheap short term solution?
(suggest cheap refurbished Windows 7 desktops or laptops)

From your feedback it seems that SSD external drive(s) will suit your moving data issue, as I previously posted they are very strong and reliable ( no moving parts to fail from shock and wear as in a HDD )

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can you give an estimate on the size of data to transfer dayly - weekly -  monthly?
that would give us a good starting base
you can use something like teamviewer, for small sized data transfers  - even for free
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
I do not keep critical data in the cloud. I keep it on my Laptop and I make sure it is backed up on the other machine.

A Surface Pro will do for "away" but I would have a good desktop at one location with lots of storage.

I travel all over all the time. I keep my Laptop with me and it works really well.
Elizabeth Bakerexe asstAuthor Commented:
JMCG, there is no cell phone coverage in our little pocket of the universe.

We do know we will have to eventually (sooner rather than later) move away from XP. We've been dragging our feet because of the costs of new software for four computers.

Thank you, everyone, for your input and time. There seems to be no clear solution at the moment that doesn't involve throwing lots of money at the problem, which is exactly what we feared. We will be discussing this at great length in the coming days and weeks.
New computers with considerably more power than your original XP computers will cost less than they did, so maybe the situation is not as bad as you may be fearing.

On the software side, I can't be as reassuring. That's why I was reaching for ways for you to keep using what you currently use.

There seems to be an issue of interpretation about why your boyfriend does not like working in the cloud. I took it as a reluctance to depend on constant internet connection (in a situation where that internet connection is known not to be particularly constant). Yes, Dropbox is a cloud-based product, but it does not require constant connection. If there's also a concern about data privacy, I offered the OwnCloud alternative.

Whether the obsolescence is planned or unplanned, the juggernaut of so-called progress keeps grinding on and demands that you pay time or money or both to keep up.
Elizabeth Bakerexe asstAuthor Commented:
Thanks, jmcg. His objection is because of internet connection reliability and speed, true, but he does not like the idea of our data being out on the web in any form. I, and he, know that a lot of our personal information is accessible to anyone who really wants to find it, but we don't want to put things like bookkeeping information, private pictures, etc. out there. OwnCloud, though it may be a private "cloud", still goes over the internet.
OK, that's more like being allergic to Internet than disliking the cloud. Can't help much there.

The USB devices that you shuttle your data around on and your laptops, if they're ever left alone in your car, will also need to be encrypted, based on this concern.

It's possible your dwelling could be burglarized, too, so even the home devices will need to be pretty well secured.
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