I’m always asked for information on how to buy a computer. I always say, “Well, it depends.”
Then I ask the following questions before I give out the advice. (Note: if there are terms used here that you don’t understand, click here to open my computer terminology page in a new window. Then you can refer to it if you need it.)
- Why do you want to buy a computer?
- For what purpose will you use the computer?
- Will it be used in a business or at home?
- What applications will be used on it?
These are the primary questions to be considered in my opinion. A computer that will used for email and surfing the internet at home has very different resource requirements than one that will be used to run a powerful drafting program like AutoCad.
In general, the more resource intensive the application that will be run, the more powerful the computer needs to be.
In addition, when you buy a computer, you may need to order specific hardware to accomplish specific tasks. For instance:
- Do you want to buy a computer that will allow you to watch and make movies?You’ll need to buy a DVD ROM Burner.
- Are you going to run any graphic intensive programs like a drafting (CAD) program?You’ll need to buy more video RAM, more RAM in general and a faster processor.
Other pertinent questions I ask include:
- Who is going to use the computer?Will it be you, or your 4 year old? Again, different users will require different hardware and/or software, which in turn means you’ll need to purchase the RAM or hard drive space that fits those needs.For example, if you’re buying the computer to play the most recent 3D computer games, then you’ll need some heavyweight hardware, as gaming computers use a lot more computer processor and graphics power.Note: Games for little kids can run from very simple to amazing resource hogs, so before you buy a computer, do your homework on the specific requirements for each game your little one will be using. On each software package, there should be a “requirements” note that will talk about the RAM and hard drive space needed.
- How long are you going to keep this new computer?If you plan on keeping your new computer for a while, consider purchasing the maximum amount of memory and hard drive space you can afford.You don’t need to buy the top of line processor, but you will need one from the higher end, at least. If you try to go cheap and buy the low end, you won’t be happy.I can tell you that 2 or 3 years down the road, when your work computer has been upgraded to the newest, fastest processor, your home computer will start to feel like it’s REALLY slow.
- Do you or will you have a wireless network in your house?If so, you’ll need to buy a regular or wireless network card to take advantage of the capabilities your network offers. (If you want to know more about wireless networks, see my page here.
- Do you want the new computer to be portable?If so, you’ll want to purchase a laptop computer.They are essential for portable computing.If you want to also use your new laptop like a desktop computer, buy a docking station and a monitor stand with it.A docking station is a piece of hardware that lets you attach a regular monitor, keyboard and mouse to it permanently. You then “dock” the laptop to the docking station when you want to use it as if it were a desktop computer. Here’s a picture of a docking station with a laptop docked into it. The monitor sits on the stand above the docked laptop.
One important note about buying a new laptop: If you are going to travel with your laptop computer, you should consider the weight.
Seven pounds doesn’t seem like much when you are walking from your bedroom to your living room. But it gets MUCH, much heavier walking through several airports.
Consider a 3-4 pound laptop weight if you plan to take your laptop with you when you fly.
Lighter machines have smaller screens, but the quality is still very good, and they are usually less expensive.
If you decide you want a heavier laptop, make sure you buy a laptop bag that has a pull handle and wheels. You’ll be so thankful for it later.
If you are looking for a specific brand, here’s more information on laptop reviews.
- How much do you want to spend when you buy a computer? In general, the more memory, hard drive space, and processing speed a computer has, the more expensive it will be. The trick is to buy the maximum memory, hard drive space and processor you can afford. Also, laptops are more expensive than desktop computers.You can buy a fairly decent desktop computer – with 2 Gigs of RAM, 80 Gig hard drive, and pretty fast processor, plus a monitor, a DVD burner and the standard peripherals – for about $1200. That same $1200 will buy you a less powerful laptop.For a faster laptop with more memory and drive space, you’re looking at about $1800.
Of course, you can buy a computer with a cheaper, slower Celeron chip for about $700. (NOTE: I did NOT tell you to buy a Celeron chip.)
- Do you have a printer or scanner, or do you need to buy those too? Sometimes you can get the printer and scanner bundled in with a new computer for cheaper than you can buy them separately. Shop around and make comparison charts when you buy a computer.
- What kind of internet service do you have? Is it broadband or dial-up? If you have broadband, you’ll need a network card. If you are still on dial-up, make sure you buy a modem.