I want a "sort of new" laptop.

J Sigmo

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Feel free to smack me if this is too far out of line for this forum, but:

I sometimes need a laptop. To surf, shop, do minor CAD, and especially to interface with PLCs, instruments, VFDs, etc., to make adjustments or update their programs and such in the field. This is Not for running BI. :)

My old Win 7 beast is heavy and has begun complaining that its "Windows is not genuine" even though it most surely is! And it won't update anymore. And the link to "fix" the not genuine Windows gives a 404 error on MS's site. That's a real kick in the balls!

That might all be fixable, but it's such an old beast that I just don't care to put much effort into it, and Win 7 will really lose support soon, anyhow.

I've gotten fantastic advice about refurbished Win 10 PCs on here, and have bought 6 of them in the last year or so, and love them all!

Now I wonder what you all ( @fenderman I'm looking at you, of course) might recommend for a cheap but decent refurb Win 10 laptop to take the place of my ancient, heavy, cranky old one.

I'd even consider a new one if it's solid and cheap. It doesn't need to be a real powerhouse, or have spectacular graphics. Just a step up, and with a future.

As always, I appreciate the time and effort this advice takes.
 

Frankenscript

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Based on what you listed as your needs, I would recommend getting an eBay-sourced used Microsoft Surface Pro 4, with the keyboard, choosing one that is i5-6300U/8GB RAM, 256GB SSD. I bought one a few months ago in nearly mint condition for ~$350 shipped. Specifically I bought it to read the newspaper online (big screen compared to most tablets), but it is actually a very capable business laptop (at work, many have this same model) and it will do all the things you described. Don't get the cheaper model with crappy processor.

The stock on eBay and prices varies frequently. Some days (like today) getting one at ~$350 is hard. Other days you can get a good one for $325. Just be sure you get one with the keyboard included to avoid the cost of that separate.

It's a nice model, works fab as a tablet, and with the keyboard it's a solid laptop.
 

fenderman

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@J Sigmo I generally go with the dell business outlet - though they stopped providing 3 year warranties standard on the cheaper systems, they still offer 1 year next business day onsite.
Another option is this. https://www.costco.com/HP-14"-Laptop---Intel-Core-i3---1080p.product.100461207.html
They run fast and at this price its practically disposable. 90 day returns on laptops via costco and a two year mail in warranty. It comes with windows s mode but you can change it to standard home with a few click in the windows store. We have one in the house, sent one to relatives overseas, and a friend purchased two of these and all run great. Backlit keyboard and ethernet port (which most thin laptops are missing) is a nice touch. Built in webcam is crap and 4gb of ram is cutting it close but not an issue. I am not certain if the memory is upgradable, im sure there are reviews that discuss it. This is my favorite low cost laptop. Remember the i3- 8th gen is equivalent to the i5 7th. Its on sale for 329+15 shipping. I believe I have seen these in store as well. There is a similar model with much weaker specs which should be avoided.

Also note you can still upgrade to 10 for free so you might want to use that old one as a backup and perform a clean 10 install.
 
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Frankenscript

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My wife has essentially the one @fenderman listed except with 10Pro, a spinning hard drive instead; she uses it essentially as a client to remote into a business workspace. Solid machine. Not sure I like the $329 price for only 4 GB /128GB / S mode, and certainly not for original $400 for that combo.

However, after my first reply, I wondered why the Surfaces were so high priced. Apparently back to school timing is lifting used machine prices. So it may be a month or more before good deals are common in the used space, and there are lots of new machine deals out there.

Sent from my ONEPLUS A6013 using Tapatalk
 

fenderman

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My wife has essentially the one @fenderman listed except with 10Pro, a spinning hard drive instead; she uses it essentially as a client to remote into a business workspace. Solid machine. Not sure I like the $329 price for only 4 GB /128GB / S mode, and certainly not for original $400 for that combo.

However, after my first reply, I wondered why the Surfaces were so high priced. Apparently back to school timing is lifting used machine prices. So it may get be a month or more before good deals are common in the used space, and there are lots of new machine deals out there.

Sent from my ONEPLUS A6013 using Tapatalk
Its is a two second upgrade from S mode to home, and its free. Memory is something that does not affect performance unless you run out of it, if you are not using all 4gb then there is no benefit to 8. 128 is small but for most doesnt fill up unless you store lots of video. The issue with used laptops/tablets with old processors is that it indicates they have likely been used for a good period of time and unlike desktops that just sit there, they get banged around and the battery deteriorates and you have no warranty. There is no other laptop with these features at this price point that I am aware of.
 

Frankenscript

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As usual, fenderman makes an excellent case based on the facts

Sent from my ONEPLUS A6013 using Tapatalk
 

looney2ns

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@J Sigmo I generally go with the dell business outlet - though they stopped providing 3 year warranties standard on the cheaper systems, they still offer 1 year next business day onsite.
Another option is this. https://www.costco.com/HP-14"-Laptop---Intel-Core-i3---1080p.product.100461207.html
They run fast and at this price its practically disposable. 90 day returns on laptops via costco and a two year mail in warranty. It comes with windows s mode but you can change it to standard home with a few click in the windows store. We have one in the house, sent one to relatives overseas, and a friend purchased two of these and all run great. Backlit keyboard and ethernet port (which most thin laptops are missing) is a nice touch. Built in webcam is crap and 4gb of ram is cutting it close but not an issue. I am not certain if the memory is upgradable, im sure there are reviews that discuss it. This is my favorite low cost laptop. Remember the i3- 8th gen is equivalent to the i5 7th. Its on sale for 329+15 shipping. I believe I have seen these in store as well. There is a similar model with much weaker specs which should be avoided.

Also note you can still upgrade to 10 for free so you might want to use that old one as a backup and perform a clean 10 install.
A reviewer on Costcos site says the memory and the SSD can be upgraded.
 

J Sigmo

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You guys are awesome! Lots to consider. I would be tempted to have a larger drive, but if it and the RAM can be upgraded, I can try it out just as it is and add to it later if necessary.

I like the idea of a backlit keyboard because I'm often in a dimly lit area, and can't see the keys well on my existing laptop, which is annoying.

We don't have a Costco locally, but I don't see that they say "members only" on that listing, so I can probably order one regardless.

We do have Sam's Club here, and they sell a lot of HP systems, so I might also need to see if they offer anything similar. Sam's has a $100 off deal going right now on a lot of their laptops, so perhaps they will have something acceptable as well.

The idea of just wiping and upgrading my old laptop to Win 10 is also great. I might have to do both. I'm pretty sure the old laptop is whining about its windows 7 pro not being genuine because I cloned it's old spinning drive to a 500GB SSD. Now that I think about it, that's probably how the old Win 7 checks to see if its activated or not. But the links to fix this on MS's site are all dead, which is aggravating. Then again, they want us to all just go to 10, so maybe that's just as well.

My worry with laptops is always getting the drivers for the obscure keyboard, touchpad, wifi, display, etc. to load and work when doing a clean install. I wonder if 10 would be smart enough to reach back and find drivers for the "peripherals" in such an old laptop.

For under $350 shipped, the new one sounds pretty attractive! :)
 

Frankenscript

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Win10 would probably fare Ok on your old laptop. I've deployed it on some 5-10 year old systems with pretty good success. Some details may not work but it should be fundamentally functional.

Change of hard drive should not upset Windows Genuine OS checking. Change of motherboard, processor upgrade, that sort of thing will set it off.

Also consider using old laptop in Linux such as Mint. Older hardware really flies on that distro.

Sam's club deal is probably good. Let us know what you find.

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J Sigmo

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Hey, everyone. I really appreciate your help with this! I haven't done much studying about laptops for a long time, so it's really helpful.

That Acer unit looks nice, but it is a lot more expensive.

And I just spent some time (maybe not enough) looking at various laptops on the Sam's Club site because we've got one locally, and they had a sale on a lot of their laptops, but ending tonight. And while I was tempted by some of them, they all seemed to have odd aspect ratios and strange resolution displays. Not that this is a huge deal, but I do like the "regular" 1080P display on the one recommended by @fenderman at Costco. And while some of the ones I was perusing at Sam's had more RAM and larger drives, there was one that really caught my eye by having an SSD rather than a spinning HDD, 8G of RAM and a 256G SSD, and was an 8th gen i5. Its RAM was not upgradable, and it was $150 more, and had one of those odd display resolutions, though.

So I just ordered one of the Costco ones. I like the idea of the normal 1080P display. And if the SSD or RAM are too small, it sounds like they may be upgrade-able. The backlit keyboard is on more of the HPs, but that's also a feature I know I'll appreciate when squatting down in a dark corner to update or adjust a VFD or PLC. Being small and light and running for quite a while on its battery will also be handy when juggling things at a remote location. I do also like having an Ethernet port, and that DOES seem to be missing on most of the thin laptops.

Because there are no Costco stores in Wyoming (and the nearest one is in Billings, MT, about 200 miles away), I am not a member. So they nicked me an extra $20 for being a heretic. But it still seems like about the best deal I saw in my brief search.

So thanks to everyone


As for updating my old laptop, it is suspicious that the warning that my Win7 is not "genuine" only happened after I swapped out the HDD for the SSD. Win 7 may well use the S/N of the HDD as its reference for determining this.

I probably should have done something to de-activate Windows on the old drive before firing up the new one, but I didn't think of it at the time. I may poke around with it a bit and see if there's a way to activate it again, perhaps I'll call MS.

Doing a clean install with Win 10 may be the most attractive way to deal with the old beast, however! And as @Frankenscript said, putting Linux on it might be a good use for the thing. But I have a lot of PLCs, VFDs, PID controllers, flow meters, and other gadgets that need to be "talked to" by their proprietary Windows programs, so I really need a Windows laptop, too.
 

tigerwillow1

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In reading about the costco HP laptop it sounds like there's an empty 2.5 inch drive bay where one could add a secondary ssd. The catch is that a cable and mounting bracket are needed, and are not available from hp. I found a few cables on ebay and they are over $30, increasing the laptop cost by 10% for a lousy cable! Might make more sense to replace the internal m.2 ssd with a bigger one, assuming it's swappable.
 

looney2ns

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Hey, everyone. I really appreciate your help with this! I haven't done much studying about laptops for a long time, so it's really helpful.

That Acer unit looks nice, but it is a lot more expensive.

And I just spent some time (maybe not enough) looking at various laptops on the Sam's Club site because we've got one locally, and they had a sale on a lot of their laptops, but ending tonight. And while I was tempted by some of them, they all seemed to have odd aspect ratios and strange resolution displays. Not that this is a huge deal, but I do like the "regular" 1080P display on the one recommended by @fenderman at Costco. And while some of the ones I was perusing at Sam's had more RAM and larger drives, there was one that really caught my eye by having an SSD rather than a spinning HDD, 8G of RAM and a 256G SSD, and was an 8th gen i5. Its RAM was not upgradable, and it was $150 more, and had one of those odd display resolutions, though.

So I just ordered one of the Costco ones. I like the idea of the normal 1080P display. And if the SSD or RAM are too small, it sounds like they may be upgrade-able. The backlit keyboard is on more of the HPs, but that's also a feature I know I'll appreciate when squatting down in a dark corner to update or adjust a VFD or PLC. Being small and light and running for quite a while on its battery will also be handy when juggling things at a remote location. I do also like having an Ethernet port, and that DOES seem to be missing on most of the thin laptops.

Because there are no Costco stores in Wyoming (and the nearest one is in Billings, MT, about 200 miles away), I am not a member. So they nicked me an extra $20 for being a heretic. But it still seems like about the best deal I saw in my brief search.

So thanks to everyone


As for updating my old laptop, it is suspicious that the warning that my Win7 is not "genuine" only happened after I swapped out the HDD for the SSD. Win 7 may well use the S/N of the HDD as its reference for determining this.

I probably should have done something to de-activate Windows on the old drive before firing up the new one, but I didn't think of it at the time. I may poke around with it a bit and see if there's a way to activate it again, perhaps I'll call MS.

Doing a clean install with Win 10 may be the most attractive way to deal with the old beast, however! And as @Frankenscript said, putting Linux on it might be a good use for the thing. But I have a lot of PLCs, VFDs, PID controllers, flow meters, and other gadgets that need to be "talked to" by their proprietary Windows programs, so I really need a Windows laptop, too.
Be sure to give us a review of the new machine.
 

ThomasPI

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Only thing I will add is buy with a credit card, your purchase may qualify for double warranty coverage. Our CC does, I don’t carry a balance and always pay it off to avoid interest charges.
 

tangent

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I sometimes need a laptop. To surf, shop, do minor CAD, and especially to interface with PLCs, instruments, VFDs, etc., to make adjustments or update their programs and such in the field. This is Not for running BI. :)

My old Win 7 beast is heavy and has begun complaining that its "Windows is not genuine" even though it most surely is! And it won't update anymore. And the link to "fix" the not genuine Windows gives a 404 error on MS's site. That's a real kick in the balls!

That might all be fixable, but it's such an old beast that I just don't care to put much effort into it, and Win 7 will really lose support soon, anyhow.
One other thing to consider / evaluate is whether all of the instruments and devices you need to use have support for windows 10 / whether they require costly updates to support windows 10.
 

J Sigmo

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First news:

My order with Costco was mysteriously cancelled. I did an online-chat just now with them to find out what the hangup was, and they just wanted to ask me a few verification questions. I think they were suspicious because I'm not a member, and there are no Costcos in Wyoming, or something. I re-ordered the unit, and supposedly it will be sent. I guess we'll see!

BUT: The good news is that when I went in to re-order the unit, the discount has increased from $70 to $100, so those computers are now on sale for $299.99.

After shipping and them charging me an extra $20 for being a non-member, and since they charge local sales tax, the total will be around $351. Seems like a good deal.


In reading about the costco HP laptop it sounds like there's an empty 2.5 inch drive bay where one could add a secondary ssd. The catch is that a cable and mounting bracket are needed, and are not available from hp. I found a few cables on ebay and they are over $30, increasing the laptop cost by 10% for a lousy cable! Might make more sense to replace the internal m.2 ssd with a bigger one, assuming it's swappable.
I'm surprised it has a 2.5" bay, being so thin. I'll see what it looks like when it arrives. Like you say, the M2 might be the thing to swap because bigger ones are not very expensive.

Be sure to give us a review of the new machine.
I'll do that! It seems like it should fit my needs even if it's not the most powerful machine. Normally, what I'll be doing with it doesn't require a lot of horsepower.

Only thing I will add is buy with a credit card, your purchase may qualify for double warranty coverage. Our CC does, I don’t carry a balance and always pay it off to avoid interest charges.
I did, but I'm not sure if that card offers the double warranty coverage. I will have to look into that. I use my CCs the same way. I'm sure it annoys the issuing bank to no end that they never get any interest off of me! It's good to make a purchase on them every once in a while, though, just to keep them from cancelling the card due to lack of use!

One other thing to consider / evaluate is whether all of the instruments and devices you need to use have support for windows 10 / whether they require costly updates to support windows 10.
I think all of the gadgets with which I will use this PC already have Win10 support. But I've seen exactly what you're talking about.

When I worked for a chain of environmental laboratories, we saw this on several occasions. In some cases, new versions of instrument software to allow us to use them with a new version of Windows cost upwards of $10,000. And what was particularly galling was that sometimes the "new improved" software was terrible and left out valuable features that were in the original instrument software. Presumably the smart folks who wrote the original software had long since retired or left the companies in question, and the new guys had no clue what the real end-users needed. This was a real pain in one particular case with an ICP (inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrophotometer "plasma spec"). The analysts who had this inflicted upon them complain about it to this day! The inter-element correction system was clumsy and awkward in the new software, and it cost hours of extra labor for every run.

But I digress! :) Pet peeves!
 

tangent

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The college I went to still uses some extremely expensive electron microscopes and other equipment that need Windows 3.1 or 95 to function.
 

J Sigmo

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The college I went to still uses some extremely expensive electron microscopes and other equipment that need Windows 3.1 or 95 to function.
I am guilty of creating some devices and software that cannot run with anything newer than Windows 98 because I do direct reads/writes to the I/O bus, and once you get to NT, direct access is not allowed. You have to work through the API, and I'm too lazy to rewrite it all. Further, you must have a motherboard with ISA bus slots for these gadgets as well. Aren't I a stinker! :) I wrote the programs for those gadgets in what amounts to a compiled QuickBasic (MS PDS, actually) under DOS, and we still run those DOS programs on the actual data gathering PCs (under Win98). But I've continuously updated the user interfaces, data management, and report generating stuff in Visual Basic 6 to run under any flavor of Windows. So I still keep a few XP machines around to use to update and compile the VB6 programs. Newer versions of VB look to me like a completely different language, and if I'm going to put the effort into learning a different language, it's going to be Python or something that I can compile to run under Linux as well as Windows. So yeah. I'm lazy! :)

We also ran into this with some instruments, mostly some radiochem gadgets that do counting of samples and operation of autosamplers that move the samples in and out of low-background lead "caves" for alpha, beta, and gamma counting. It's not worth replacing the entire units to get compatibility with newer OSs. But I have been able to create new interfaces for some of those systems that can connect via USB or even ethernet, and get away from the old original software that way. For something expensive, it's often worth the effort to reverse engineer the original hardware and design a replacement for the control parts of the gadgets and then be able to write new operating programs for them that will run under newer OSs. And older industrial/lab hardware is usually well documented and easy to figure out. Newer gadgets not so much. The manufacturers don't give you schematics anymore.

I learned most of what I needed to know to design a pulse height analyzer for gamma spectroscopy by reading the tech manuals that came with an old Tracor Northern spec. That thing had a micro PDP-11 built into it! Those manuals described everything from the nuclear physics of radioactive decay right through the detailed design of their peak-hold circuits, A/D converter (special type with almost perfect monotonicity), dead time compensation, pulse shaping, etc. And they had complete schematics and extensive descriptions of every bit of the electronics design. You do NOT see instrument manuals like that these days! Reading just those manuals was like attending graduate-level courses in nuclear physics, electronics design, etc. Fantastic! Ahh, the good old days. ;)
 

J Sigmo

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I got it!

The eagerly awaited little HP notebook PC from Best Buy arrived today.

It's really thin and light compared to the old beast I have been using. It should be a pleasure to pack around by comparison.

The display is great. Very sharp and crisp.

I took a chance, and a few days ago, I ordered a 1000 Gigabyte M2 SSD module from Amazon to try to put in this little PC because after looking at my existing laptop, I figured 250GB (oops, I mean 128GB) wasn't going to be enough. I also ordered a little USB case/interface so I could connect the M2 module via USB for cloning the existing drive to the new one.

Opening the PC up wasn't too difficult. You have to peel off two long rubber "feet" on the bottom to expose some hidden screws, take out all of the screws, and then pry the bottom away from the main body of the unit. I had some plastic pry-bars I'd gotten to replace batteries in cell phones and tablets. They worked just fine.

All of this is explained in the Maintenance and Service Guide, which you can download from HP's site.

With the bottom off, I could see that the M2 SSD I got should fit, being the same size as the one that came in the unit.

I also saw the place to fit a standard 2.5" drive. But indeed, it appears that you will need a special proprietary cable to plug onto the main board. It's not the usual SATA cable or power connections.

I also wanted to see what it might take to expand the RAM, and there is an unused position for another RAM module. So to double the RAM from 4Gig to 8Gig, you'd only need to buy one matching 4Gig module.

I contemplated just putting the new drive in and then using the MS Media Creation Tool to do a clean install of Windows onto it. But I snapped the back back on, and fired the machine up just to see what it tried to do on its own, as provided.

It powered up, but came up with a CMOS error, which is not unexpected since I'd pulled the battery out when exploring things. You are instructed to pull the battery before swapping the SSD, and that makes sense!

Restarting again, it fired right up and I went through the initial setup of Win10. This one forced me to create a MS account to proceed. Previous Win10 systems have allowed me to proceed without setting up a MS account, so that was annoying. But whatever.

I was planning to use Macrium Reflect to clone the existing drive, but the new M2 SSD came with a little insert offering a free version of Acronis True Image for such cloning. They obviously know what most folks will be doing when they buy one of these modules. So I decided to give that a try.

I then switched the unit out of "S Mode" because I wasn't even sure I could install and run the Acronis cloning software in S mode, and I knew I'd want to be out of S mode anyhow. I then downloaded the Acronis program and installed it.

I put the new M2 into the little case and plugged that into a USB port. As is normal, the computer didn't actually assign that drive a letter and initialize it. That was expected. But I figured I wouldn't need it to be initialized if the Acronis software did what I hoped it would. And indeed, the program let me clone the existing boot drive to the new USB-connected module.

I then powered down, took the back off again, pulled the battery, swapped the modules, installed the battery again, put the back on, and showed the extreme hubris of putting the screws back in, too.

When I turned the machine over and fired it up, it took off just fine after (as before) first complaining that the CMOS setup was incorrect. Everything worked fine and the unit seems to be dandy. I did put the rubber feet back on, and hopefully they'll stay stuck. They supposedly give you new feet with new sticky-stuff when you get the official replacement internal parts because they figure you'll wreck the feet when you remove them. If you're careful, and don't set them glue-side-down on a bunch of dog hair, I don't see why they won't be almost as good as new. I guess I'll see, but they're stuck in place just fine as far as I can tell.

It's a neat little PC!

Thanks to everyone who offered advice, and to @fenderman for pointing out this exact model and supplier. I may add to the memory at some point, but it seems pretty zippy doing what I've done with it so far, so that may not be necessary.

I did get a complaint when I installed some development software for one of the PLC systems, saying that they don't officially support the "Home" version of Windows. But I doubt that there's anything I'll be doing with it that would require the extras that "Pro" gives you. I guess I'll find out!

Here are some photos showing the internals. Some of them I've left full-size so you can zoom in and see details better.


Full image of the inside viewing from the bottom.


Here's where you'd mount a 2.5" drive. Note the odd connector along the left (in the image) side of the machine where the proprietary cable must insert.


Here's a closer shot of the "HDD" connector. They must use a little ribbon cable to jam in that connector, and it must then fan out to the normal SATA and SATA Power connectors to fit a typical drive.


Here's the new M2 SSD in place.


Here's where the existing RAM module is, and above it, a place for a second module.


A close shot of the existing RAM module. I'll probably get an identical one to put in if I decide to go up to 8 Gig of RAM. If I wanted more, I suspect I'd need to buy a matched pair. But I don't even know if the system will support more RAM. It probably will, but I'd want to verify that before making a purchase.

I lucked out guessing that the unit would accept the M2 SSD that I bought, but it could have gone the other way, with the system only accepting one of the three smaller physical sized M2 modules. But I was anxious, and it all came the same day, so it worked out well.

Here's the M2 SSD I bought, that seems to be working just fine:

https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B0784SY515/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

And here's the little external drive case/interface thing I got, which also worked just fine:

https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B0788HBLDZ/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
 
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IAmATeaf

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I would get either an 8 or a 16gb module as that will give you more scope in the future should you decide you need more. They don’t need to be matched though if they are there will a slight unnoticeable performance increase which you only see when benchmark testing.
 
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