Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, August 21, 2017

Is there a new computer in your future? Laptop or desktop?

Computers have become ubiquitous. Demographically, genealogists generally fall into the "senior" category. On May 17, 2017, the Pew Research Center published a study entitled,"Tech adoption climbs among older adults." Of course, as time passes, those who are defined as "seniors" continues to change. What were then known as "personal computers" were introduced back in the 1970s. Therefore some of us who are considered to be "seniors" adopted computers going on 50 years ago. However, the Pew Research Center study cited above clearly shows a correlation between computer usage and age. Another recent Pew Research Center report indicates that 77% of all Americans now own a smartphone while smartphone usage among those 65 years of age and older is only 42%.

Although I am not aware of a study supporting my own observations, I see that older adults (seniors) are much less inclined to update their technological equipment. It is not unusual for me to sit down with an older friend or acquaintance to help them with genealogical research and find that I am confronting a computer that is almost 10 years old and an operating system that has never been updated. The resistance to updating technology definitely increases with age.

In many cases, people have the attitude of using the "appliance" until it breaks. Depending on the amount of usage, some computers could conceivably continue to operate indefinitely. My experience, the mechanical parts of the computer fail much more quickly than the electronics. But I seldom keep a computer long enough for it to fail. I am always pushing the speed of the computer. When I buy a new computer that seems fast at first but over time my perception is that the computer slows down considerably. Eventually, I get so frustrated I buy a new computer. Most recently, that cycle runs between 3 to 5 years.

Most people that I find that have very old computer equipment are usually completely satisfied. This is really a dilemma for the entire technological community that relies on people upgrading their equipment regularly. Car manufacturers have addressed this issue by producing new models every year and heavily advertising the features of the new models. Unfortunately, the features of new computers are rather esoteric and harder to understand. Computer manufacturers are not very good at explaining why you need to buy a new computer.

As we approach the end of the year 2017, computer technology is poised to take another major technological advancement. Intel Corporation is announcing major chip upgrades with vast increases in speed.  If you sit in front of the computer all day like I do this announcement means that I will be considering upgrading my equipment again. If you are the average genealogist, you're probably not even aware of the processing chip in your present computer.

If you do find yourself looking at your old dusty computer and deciding to purchase a new one, you may come to the question of whether or not to replace your desktop computer with a laptop. I am seeing up-to-date laptop computers with adequate memory for genealogical purposes selling for around $400 brand-new. I have also seen complete desktop computer systems including a monitor for as low as around $600. For me, the deciding factor as to whether or not to have a desktop computer is the size of the screen. Technically, I could buy a laptop computer and plug it into a large monitor but to buy a comparable laptop and a large monitor and a separate keyboard and a separate trackpad or mouse has never made a lot of sense to me. I choose to have a separate laptop and a desktop computer.

But for most genealogical purposes, if you can manage with a smaller screen, a laptop makes more sense than a desktop computer. One problem I do see with laptop computers is the fact that most of the users do not backup their entire hard drive. With a desktop computer, I can leave the computer plugged into several external hard drives and set up a constant backup program. With a laptop, it is likely that I will back up the internal hard drive less frequently if ever.

We fully realize that there is not a whole lot I can say that will change the buying habits of older genealogists. When it comes right down to it, they are not likely to read my blogs or attend any classes or watch any online videos. But for those who do, I suggest a review of your computer equipment might be appropriate.


  1. James what do you think about the Chromebook? It seems that it would work very well if a person was using just FS?

    1. They are like a tablet with a keyboard. They only work when they are online. If you are just using, then they would probably work fine.

  2. All ways injoy your insights. Back in the early 90's I was at intel when we did a technology use study. Management was baffled why Personal Computer use was so high in Utah seniors until they learned about Mormons and Family History (remember the PAF days:). The message they got was applications sell computers. It started what I called "create a need and fill it."