December 29, 2007

Buying a Computer

Believe it or not, buying a computer is a lot like buying a car. There are dozens of different models, a nearly limitless supply of options you can add on, extended warranty's you can buy, and sleazy sales people who want you spend as much as possible and that will happily offer you a line of credit to do it.

And just like buying a car, a lot of research should be done before making your purchase. Today, computers range in price from around $300 to several thousand dollars, and with so many options it is easy to become overwhelmed and just get what ever a sales person tells you to. This can end either making you spend way more money than you originally planned or you could end up with a computer that doesn't fit your needs. To prevent this from happening, there some things you should do before you even go to an electronics store.

  • Asses you needs. The first thing you want to do, even before you go to a computer store, is assess and prioritize your needs. This is key in figuring out what computer will be right for you.

    • What software do you want to use? Software like Microsoft Word uses less system resources than photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop. So think about what you plan on using your computer for. Once you know what type of software you want to use, go to the manufacturer of that softwares website and look at the recommended system specifications for the software. It will tell you how much hard drive space, how much RAM, and what processor works best with the software. This will give you a good idea of how powerful the computer you are buying needs to be. This is a rough number, and it is always better to have more of a resource than not enough so use those specifications a s a minimum requirement, otherwise you will be disappointed in how your computer is preforming.

    • How much Storage space do you need? Computer storage is cheap, and most computers today are sold with way more storage than the average user will ever need, but it is still something you need to think about. Are you going to want to store movies? music? Digital photos? If you are just using your computer for basic text files (like in Microsoft word or excel) then you don't need much storage space, but if you start copying your CDs and DVDs to your computer, you will start running out of space pretty quickly and you will need a bigger hard drive.

  • Determine Your Budget: You need to be honest with yourself. Computers cost money, and like most things, the cheapest will never be the best. That is not to say, the cheapest wont fit your needs, but you can't walk into a retailer with 400 dollars and expect to walk out with a computer that is going to play the newest games and put together professional quality video. So determine how much you are willing to pend before you leave the house. Be reasonable and honest. If you can only afford 500 dollars but want a machine that you can do video editing on then just save up for a bit longer. that way you walk out with something you are happy with and you don't feel like you are just settling.

    • It is worth noting, that one really great part about computers is that there are several things you can upgrade at a later time. For instance, if you need a computer for school now, but think you want to do photo editing later, you can buy one suitable for you now, then upgrade the RAM or add a larger hard drive at a later date. So if this is one of your challenges, then check to see how many empty slots are available for RAM and other expansion cards, and how many open bays are available for hard drives.

  • Aesthetics: For many people, the aesthetics of the computer play a big part either becasue of limited space in their home or office, or becasue they don't want something that doesn't fit in being an eye sore.

    • Computers come in different shapes, sizes and colors. You can get All-in-one type computers like the iMac when the monitor and CPU are in a single fairly small unit (HP, Dell, and Sony all make all in one units as well). You can get a full size tower (typically used when you need several hard drives, or larger expansion cards) and mini tower (the most common). Vendors are now making Slimline form factors which are really small towers, but have almost no ability to be upgraded.

  • Laptop v. Desktop: Today's laptops are just as powerful as the desktops (although they are more expensive for the same power) so all you really need to consider is if you want to take your computer with you. If you want to take your computer to school, to work, to a coffee shop, then get a laptop. If you want something for home use, get a desktop. The only real advantage desktops have is the ability to upgrade and add components like the video card. (RAM and hard drive can be upgraded in a laptop without much trouble).

    • If you want a computer to take places, but also want a larger screen and regular keyboard, you can purchase a docking station for your laptop. What a docking station does is gives you a place to plug in a larger monitor, regular keyboard and mouse, printers, speakers and other peripherals that you don't need to take with you, then you just connect the docking station to your laptop when you get home and it connects everything else automatically.

  • Apple v. PC: This is the holy war of the computer world, and there is no real answer to which is better. Each has their place in the world, and both are quality products. Ill give you some details of each. This is the last thing you need to decide. Both can fill just about all needs, so in the end, it is a preference. Also, I am excluding any open source options becasue for the average user, they are not viable (due to lack of support and problems finding it)

    • Apple:
      • Cheaper Software (comes with free software for basic word processing, image editing, etc)
      • Fewer options, but all of them are good products and will work well for the average user.
      • Typically, the units are much more aesthetically pleasing
      • Equivalent pricing. Yes, the bottom of the line iMac is over 1000 dollars, BUT to get an EQUALLY powerful PC would cost about the same (after you buy the web cam, the software etc) so price comparison needs to be looked at from a total package point of view, not just the computer cost.
      • Fewer Virus (there are viruses for the Mac OS as well as the software that runs on it, but there are far fewer then on a PC)
      • Great technical support.
      • Software to suit just about any need
      • You can run windows on a Mac now (just in case you want a Mac most of the time but have a few windows only pieces of software)
    • PC:
      • If you are on a tight budget, you can get a cheap PC for around 300 dollars
      • TONS of different software titles available
      • TONS of hardware upgrades/options available
      • Because there are so many choices of hardware/software you can run into compatibility issues.
      • Support is mediocre
      • You can build your own and make it look exactly how you want
      • Software is expensive. from the operating system to the basic word processing and spreadsheet software.

  • Wait for the Deal: After you figure out everything above go to the stores and find the computer you want, then wait for a good deal. Computers, like cars, are always on sale...seriously, any day, any time, you can find someplace having a sale. It is only a matter of time until the one you want is on sale. And in all honestly, chances are, in 6 months the model you want will drop significantly in price becasue it will be marked as "discontinued" buy it then. You don't need the newest, you really don't. Computers aren't "out of date" or "obsolete" until they no longer fit your needs. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

If you follow the above tips, you will end up with a good computer, that fits your needs, and not end up destroying your wallet in the process.

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