So you’re in the market for a new computer, eh? If you’re like roughly 95% of the population, then you probably know far less about the process than you’re comfortable with — and that’s why I’m writing this guide… My goal is to help the “non-techie” crowd get themselves a good deal on their next computer.
Why listen to me?
As I mentioned in my free windows PC maintenance article a few months back, I’m an Information Technology Manager (a.k.a. “computer guy”) with 10 years experience. I both buy computers and consult with others on their computer purchases on a regular basis.
Since I am regularly asked what type of computer people should buy, I figured that writing up the basics in this article would be a great way to point others in the right direction… So here goes.
Note: This article is not meant as the be all, end all of computer selection guides. Rather, it’s intended to be a simple, basic guide to help people answer a few common questions and point them in the right direction.
Use saved money – or don’t buy
If you don’t have enough cash on hand to cover your purchase, do yourself a favor and just keep using the machine you’re currently using and keep on saving. I strongly advise against financing a new computer! I don’t care how bad you want it, and I don’t care if they’re offering 0% financing. If you don’t have the money saved, then don’t buy anything!
What will you use it for?
Are you a video editor? Buy a Mac. Do you travel a lot? Buy an ultra-light laptop. How you USE your computer should guide you in your purchase of a new device. Determine several main purposes for the machine, and make sure your purchase matches your purpose.
Are you shopping with your needs in mind, or has clever marketing and/or a desire for “coolness” tricked you into thinking you need something that you really don’t need? As you think of more features you’d like, refer back to your primary uses to determine whether or not you really need a specific feature.
Desktop or laptop?
With the exception of a few specific situations, I say get a laptop. Why? They’re mobile. Period. Besides, modern laptops are just as powerful as most desktops, and have plenty of computing power for 90% of computer users (myself included).
Unless you will be gaming and/or leaving your computer stationary at all times, then get a laptop. Trust me… You’ll be happy you did.
Should I get a Mac?
How will you use the machine? If you will be using the computer for a very specific, Mac-centric purpose, or if you want a VERY high quality machine (and don’t mind paying for it), then a Mac may be just what the doctor ordered. Buy a Mac if any of the following or true:
- You need a Mac for your line of work.
- You want a computer made up of very high quality hardware.
- You REALLY want a Mac and you’ve budgeted for it.
Other than the reasons listed above, there’s not much reason to buy a Mac over a PC.
Which brand name is best?
Honestly? Nowadays most of the major computer brands are comprised of similar quality hardware and workmanship for similar prices. Some technicians may disagree with me and choose to play brand favorites, but not me. I say go with Dell. Or HP. Or Toshiba. Or Apple. Or whatever floats your boat.
The bigger question is… Which model should you get? Each brand offers entry-level, mid-range, and high-end machines. Take into account your primary uses, along with your available budget, and get something that fits.
Will it still be a good two years from now?
Great question! The best way to protect against an obsolete system is to anticipate your needs while understanding a few basic hardware fundamentals. Beyond the obvious… Here are a few of the strategies I use to ensure I get my money’s worth out of a new computer system:
- Hard drive. Get a fast one — 7200 RPMs. This is perhaps the most important selection you can make. Hard drive speed is quite often the bottleneck for overall computer speed these days. As far as space goes, your needs will vary widely with your usage, but don’t skimp.
- Processor. For most users, a mid-level processor will be just fine. I would recommend avoiding low-end processors in hopes of saving a few bucks. Likewise, avoid the bleeding edge unless you’re a power user with a legitimate need.
- Memory. Go with at least 4GBs of RAM. If you run Linux (e.g., Ubuntu) you’ll be fine with much less, but if you run a modern version of Windows or Mac OSX, then 4GBs of RAM is well worth the investment.
- Screen and video card. Make sure your new computer can deliver the desired multimedia functions you have in mind. This goes back to the earlier question regarding your primary uses. Ultimately, you’ll probably want to land a computer with a widescreen display and high definition capabilities.
- Battery life. Again, this is specific to laptops, but do yourself a favor and ensure your battery life is at least in the 4+ hour range.
- Weight. My laptop has a 15.6″ screen, yet it weighs less than 5 pounds. Make sure you consider how much you computer should weigh relative to the likely uses, as well as the amount of time you’ll spend hauling it around.
- Backlit keyboard. Don’t laugh… I JUST bought a laptop, and this is the biggest miss I made. Don’t think you’ll need a backlit keyboard? Well… Just trust me and get one. You won’t regret it.
Be sure to allot equal time to planning what you need, deciding how much you can afford, and picking out what you want. And please don’t overlook your primary uses while in search of the latest bells and whistles.
Did I miss your question? Ask it in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.