My production machine is a few years old, but it’s still pretty much a monster. The CPU is an Extreme Edition Core i7, and I have 24GB of mostly useless RAM as well as a 1.5TB hard disk and two optical drives.

I’m seriously thinking of deep-sixing it.

The fact of the matter is that 95 percent of the work I do is word processing, using Excel, or billing, and the remainder are things like 3D printing and video editing. Truth be told, I’m moving the video editing over to an iPad using iMovie. And the 3D printing software I use relies more on system RAM than it does processor power. I also use a PC for testing and reviewing software. But I have other PCs that I built for that purpose.

Perhaps the main motivation for making a move is I simply want to move from a 32-bit operating system to a 64-bit one. I’ve had 24GB of fast RAM in my PC since I built it, and all this time it just never dawned on me that 32-bit Windows only uses 4GB of RAM no matter how much is installed. And, except for the 3D print program asking me to add memory, it’s never been a problem. There is a method to access more than the 4GB RAM limit on 32-bit versions of Windows by using a patch of PAE (physical address extension). But some of the applications I want to run, such as the new version of Techsmith’s Camtasia 9, only run in a 64-bit version of the operating system.

So the question is: If I’m going to migrate my applications and file from 32-bit Windows 7 Professional to 64-bit Windows 10 Enterprise, what should my target system look like?

Before someone wiser than myself points out that you can’t migrate from a 32-bit OS to a 64-bit one without winding up with a clean install on the target, empty of applications, I’ll point out that it seems to be possible with an application from Zinstall called Zinstall Migration Kit Pro. I’ve used Zinstall’s transfer software to go from an old 32-bit machine to a new one without losing any significant applications, though I did have to reregister MS Office. And I’ve also used the vendor’s Rescue Kit to recover files and applications from a hard disk salvaged from a PC that died. So when the vendor tells me that their Migration Kit will let me move applications and files from a 32-bit environment to a 64-bit one, I’m inclined to believe them. And the $169 price is very reasonable if it works as claimed.

I already have several tablets and an inexpensive 15-inch HP laptop. And I’m testing two new 15-inch laptops from Acer and Lenovo. Both have Celerons and 4GB of RAM and 500GB hard drives, and both seem to offer decent performance for the types of applications I run.

Sales figures over the past several years indicate that many users are moving from desktops to laptops, and tablets. To a large degree, this makes sense given that today’s laptops are just as powerful and have just as much memory (RAM & hard disk) as many desktops. I’ve given a laptop as my main machine a lot of thought, and while it’s an attractive option, I’m just not willing to give up my 27-inch monitor and full-size keyboard. I’m a lousy typist to start out, and an even poorer one on a laptop keyboard. And it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to attach the large keyboard and monitor to a laptop, though I know that this is a valid approach for some users.

Not a tower and not a laptop
My production PC has, at least from the days when I switched from an Apple //e and then an IBM PC compatible, been a mid or full-size tower. I’ve been building my own systems for decades, and I’ve generally stuffed pretty powerful graphics cards, generous amounts of RAM, and multiple drives, both optical and rotating, into my cases.

But the high-end graphics cards these days are more for avid game players or users who work with CAD. And I have neither the reflexes for today’s games nor the desire to do heavy CAD work. In short, I’m a pretty average office-type user, and the embedded graphics in many of the current chip sets are powerful enough for my needs.

I’m pretty sure my next system is going to be a small form-factor model. I have two NUC (new units of computing) systems sitting around, one from Intel and the other from Gigabyte. I’ve written about these in the past, and they are both about four inches square and less than three inches high with plenty of USB ports so I can add a portable USB drive when needed. Each has enough RAM for my needs — one has 8GB the other 16GB. The limiting factor with these is the hard drives already installed. One has a 240GB SSD, the other a 1TB hard drive. That’s a deal breaker for me, since my current production machine has a 1.5TB drive.

So, like Goldilocks, the production machine is too big, and the NUCs too small. Just right, I think, is a mini-ITX server here in my office that was built to do software testing. The mini-ITX form-factor motherboard measures 6.7 inches square and this one has a 2GHz Celeron CPU, 8GB of RAM, which is twice the usable amount I have now, and a 2TB laptop form-factor hard drive. The case it’s housed in is nondescript and measures only 9 x 9 x 2.5 inches, so it doesn’t take up much desk space and somewhere in the morass of my office is a stand that allows the case to sit vertically. When your desk is as messy as mine is, that’s actually an important feature. And the mini-ITX system has six USB ports, so adding peripherals like a USB optical drive or a USB hard drive, is easy. I already have 64-bit Windows 10 Enterprise installed on it, so it hits that box on the checklist as well. It’s not my Core i7 Extreme Edition, but it really doesn’t have to be.

All that’s left is for me to try the migration. I’m hoping to get to it in a week or two, and I’ll report back to let you how it goes. It’s not going to be a tragedy if it doesn’t work; my production machine is just big, not dead. But while I think that desktops are far from being obsolete, I have come to feel that when it comes to them, smaller is better. And with office space demanding an ever increasing premium, I’m sure that’s true of many of you as well.

Ted Needleman

Ted Needleman

Ted Needleman has been covering technology for more than 30 years, writing frequently on software, hardware, and related subjects. He was previously editor-in-chief of Accounting Technology.