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Technology in Agriculture, Simplified

The Right Computer for Your Farm


See the 2016 post for the update to this information


As an AMS (Ag Management Solutions) Consultant and Ag Sales Professional for the local John Deere dealer I get a fair amount of questions about computers. I work a lot with John Deere’s Apex desktop software for customers and our family farm as well. One of the more frequent questions is get is “How can I make Apex run faster?”. My answer is all too often “upgrade your computer or by a new one ” (preferably the latter). I know some people don’t enjoy hearing that, but its what happens with technology. After all, 512MB of RAM doesn’t cut it anymore according to the system requirements for Apex. Computers get outdated  fast! Three to five years fast for most components. So here’s my take on what you should consider when buying a new computer for your operation.

  1. Desktop vs Laptop
    Consider where you’ll use your computer now and in the future. Will it just sit on a desk in one place or will you take it out on the farm or on vacation? The money you’ll spend for even a moderately high performance computer is about the same for a desktop or laptop these days. Don’t forget how you use your computer today might change in the future as well. Users can do an awful lot from a Smartphone or Tablet today too, but many farm relate software programs still need a computer. Don’t forget a Windows 7 tablet can be an options as well for a few specialty applications.
    My recommendation: Laptop
  2. PC vs Mac
    I tried a Macbook Pro laptop about four years ago. It was a very well made piece of equipment, but it just wasn’t right for me, not to mention they had some bad wifi problems at that particular point in time. I ended up with a Lenovo T61P laptop and really have no major complaints. Lenovo has taken very good care of me on warranty issues as well. I’m running Windows 7 now and really don’t see any major issues there either. One thing to keep in mind for farm use is the requirement for many farm related software programs require a PC with a Windows Operating System. Yes, you can dual boot or run a virtual machine copy of Windows on a Mac, but to me at least, a Mac isn’t worth the premium Apple charges for its hardware. It is worth mentioning the line is blurring between Mac and PC because many software programs are moving to the cloud (think software running inside your internet browser),  but that doesn’t necessarily mean your favorite software will make the move.
    My recommendation: PC
  3. Options
    There aren’t many companies that let you chose options anymore (Lenovo and Dell are about the only major ones left I know of), so it’s very important to get the right computer from that start. Just as with the Desktop vs Laptop and PC vs Mac debate consider what you’ll be using your computer for now and in the future.
    Recommended options:

    • Operating System: Windows 7 Professional (Professional includes Windows XP Mode for really old programs that might not work otherwise)
    • Processor: Intel Core i5 or Core i7
    • Display: 1600×900 or similar for a laptop (1920×1080 will make text really small), 14-17 inch LED non-glossy (or glossy if inside only) screen, Desktop / external monitor for a laptop: 22 inch, 1680×1050 IPS or e-IPS
    • Graphics: Preferably NOT integrated Intel graphics, recommend Nvidia dedicated graphics
    • Memory / RAM: 6 Gigabytes or more and faster speed the better within reasonable $$
    • Hard Drive: Prefer SSD (Solid State Disk) of 80GB + but they can be an expensive option, 250GB+ 7200 RPM disk acceptable as well
    • Optical Drive: DVD Burner, Blu-ray optional
    • Battery: Laptop only: The bigger the better if there’s an option, I do NOT recommend battery warranty
    • Bluetooth & Wifi: Yes, usually the base option is ok no need for an upgraded card
    • Extended Warranty and Accidental Damage: I usually like to do two to three years extended warranty and accidental damage if I’m purchasing a high-end machine. If you’re purchasing a low-end computer let it go, your machine will be outdated in a year or two. (Just don’t not purchase accidental protection and leave your Windows 7 tablet on the front dual of a tractor like I did)
    • Integrated 3G/ Mobile WAN: Don’t waste your money. Buy a MyFi hotspot or USB card instead that can be used with any computer
  4. Accessories

    • External Hard Drive: Prefer a portable one that doesn’t require a separate power adapter, USB 3 or Firewire 800 are nice options to have. 500GB+.  1TB+ if you have lots of pictures and video. Stick with a brand name such as Seagate or Western Digital
    • Flash Drive: For quick transfer of data between computers, planter / yield monitors.. recommend 4GB+, 16GB even better
    • Additional Monitor(s): The more the better if you’re doing any multitasking. 22 in + and 1680×1050 IPS or e-IPS
    • Laptop Dock: Easy way to charge your battery and hook up all your usb devices and external monitors. Not all laptops have a docking connector
    • Mouse: Get a good mouse to go with your laptop. I really like Logitech products, such as the Performance Mx Mouse

Reminder: These are just suggestions from what I have personally experienced. We’re all different in our computer competency and the application for which we’re using a computer. Support is important before and after the sale. If you’re unable to determine what computer is right for you find someone local that understands your needs and can help you acquire to best computer for the job. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer.

  • Interesting how we should update our systems to run Apex efficiently but Deere AMS or GreenStar still uses the antiquated compact flash cards where we have to buy a separate card reader and they don’t add IOS apple support for those users.

  • admin

    True they don’t support an Apple operating system, and never have. But in all fairness the Original GreenStar system has been out over 10 years now and the 2600 was released in 2005 I believe. That’s a lot longer life cycle that we have had for most general technology.

  • admin

    Forgot to mention I was referring to the compact flash parts about being out over 10 years

  • Great article Aaron.  I am looking to get a new laptop, and this gives me a good idea of things to look for.

    • admin

      Thanks for the comment Brian!

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  • SFarms

    Just got a new desktop for apex.  12meg Ram, 120G SSD, 3.4GHZ, 2TB backup HDD, nVidia display….and Apex still runs slow, lots of “NOT RESPONDING.”  Bad deal…..

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