How to Buy a Computer that help for your Needs

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.


Computer Maintenance Tips

General Computer Maintenance Tips:

  • Keep all of your working files in one folder. The My Documents folder is offered by Windows expressly for this purpose. The benefits of keeping all your files in one place are multiple. One, you know where all your files are, two, it’s easy to back them all up at once, and three, your machine will run faster.
  • Don’t put your personal files on the root of the C: drive. If you store a large number of files in the root folder, you could corrupt your disk file table which could lead to a “NTLDR is missing” error message when you boot the computer. Very bad. If you have personal files on the C: drive now, move them to the My Documents folder.
  • Uninstall programs that you are not using. But don’t just delete the program. Remove it correctly so you won’t cause Windows errors. Go to Start, Control Panel, Add or Remove Programs. Find the program you want to remove in the list, and click the Remove button.
  • If you download a zip file and expand it, delete the original zip file when you are done.
  • Store your hardware drivers and purchased software installer files off your hard drive. A flash drive works great for this purpose.
  • If you aren’t already using one, get a good surge protector and plug your computer and peripherals into it. If you live in an area with bad lightening storms, unplug you computer and peripherals during the storm.
  • Practice safe computing. Don’t accept software or downloads for which you didn’t ask. Delete any suspicious email without opening it. And even if the email came from your best friend, don’t open any email attachments with the following extensions: * .exe, .com, .vbs, .bat, .mdb, .reg, and .js

    Scheduled Computer Maintenance Tips:

    • Daily computer maintenance tips
    1. Update your anti-virus scan and anti-spyware definitions, if they aren’t being done automatically.
    2. Back up any critical files that you have changed today to your flash drive.
    • Weekly computer maintenance tips:Make sure your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs have been updated with the latest definitions, and run a full scan from both programs.
    • Reboot your computer. (If you shutdown your computer each night, disregard this tip). If you leave your computer on all the time, definitely do this. It will reset the RAM, and your computer will run much better and faster.

    Monthly computer maintenance tips:

    • Clean up your temp files, your temporary internet files, and other junk files about once a month. To do this easily, you can either download my favorite program for cleaning, CCleaner.
    • Ensure you have the latest Windows updates installed. Go to Internet Explorer, Tools, Windows Update. Click on the Custom button. (I always use the Custom button so I can check what’s going to be installed before it gets installed). Windows update may ask you to download and install the latest version of itself. Go ahead and do that, then click Close when it’s finished, and then Continue. It will then check again for real updates and offer those. Choose which updates you want to install. Uncheck the ones you don’t want to install.
    • Clean out your email, paying special attention to your Inbox and Sent box. The easiest way I’ve found is to sort your email box by size of the message, and delete the largest unneeded emails first.

    Quarterly computer maintenance tips:

    • Change your passwords. (Yes, I know this is a pain, I hear you groaning. But it’s really a good idea to do this).
    • If you have a mouse with a roller ball (non-optical) clean it out. Use a Q-tip and some isopropyl alcohol to clean the ball and the internal rollers. Remove any caked on grease, oil, and dust that may have accumulated.
    • Check to see if you need to defragmentyour computer’s hard drive. To do this in Windows XP, go to Start, All Programs, Accessories, Systems Tools, Disk Defragmenter. Run an analysis first by clicking the Analyze button. Go do something else while it runs. Windows will tell you if it needs to be defragmented. If it does, click on the Defragment button, and again go do something else while your computer runs this.For Windows Vista, this computer maintenance tip is a little different: Go to Start, All Programs, and click on Accessories. Find Systems Tools, Disk Defragmenter and click on it. Vista will ask you for permission to continue. Click Continue. Vista doesn’t give you the ability to choose to defragment, it just assumes you want to and presents a schedule to do so. You can stick with the suggested schedule, or modify it. If you want to kick off the defrag process immediately, click the Defragment Now button. It will then ask you which drive you want to defrag. Uncheck the drives you don’t want to defrag, and then click OK.
    • Check all your computer cables and make sure they are plugged in tight, and not being pinched or pulled in a way that is damaging them.
    • Check your C: drive (hard disk) for disk errors.NOTE: please make sure you have a current backup of your files before you run a check disk command. (Also, do this immediately if you see a message stating that your Windows “volume is dirty”).To run a check disk manually on your C: drive, do this:
      1. Click Start, select Run.
      2. In the box, type cmd and click Ok. In the black DOS window, type: chkdsk c: /f (The /f command automatically fixes any errors encountered.
      3. Go to Start, Shutdown, and restart the computer. When the computer restarts, it will run chkdsk automatically. The Check Disk process could take over an hour, so schedule this when you have something else non-computer related to do. On rebooting the PC, you will see a window that shows the progress of the disk check. When it’s finished,, it will boot back to the normal version of Windows.

    Disclaimer included below. Opening your computer case could void your warranty, and expose you to possible electric shock. Please be careful.

    6 month computer maintenance tips:

    • Go on dust patrol. FIRST, TURN OFF and UNPLUG your computer from the electrical socket.Blow out your keyboard with a compressed air can, and then turn it over and tap it with your hand a few times to shake out any other junk. Brush off the dust bunnies from your PC fan (and any other parts in the back of the PC). Also, open the computer case and GENTLY blow or vacuum out any dust in there, especially around the CPU chip (the big square chip on the mother board).MAKE SURE you touch something metal to ground yourself before you open the case and reach in there. Even the slightest static electricity zap can ruin a computer chip. This step is especially important if you live in a dusty place like Wyoming.

    Annual computer maintenance tips:

    • Check to see if you have the latest hardware drivers loaded for your printer, monitor and other peripherals.

    I hope these computer maintenance tips help your computer run better and faster.