Buying a new computer is simple, right? Sure – anyone can pay $700 and get a computer. But will you get the computer that best fits your needs, or the most for your money? Not necessarily. I’ve been purchasing computers for work and for friends and family (not to mention personal use) for quite some time, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I’ll keep this basic, so that the people that need help the most get it. I am assuming you are not a computer whiz; you use your computer to check your e-mail, facebook, play a flash game or two, store all your digital photos, etc.
Here’s my list of do’s and dont’s when looking to buy a new computer:
Do: Plan ahead.
Do: Have a budget.
Do: Know what it is you want to be able to do on your new computer.
Do NOT: Impulse buy. The more research you do, the more satisfied you’ll be in the end.
Do: Visit as many stores as you can to check out the computers in person, even if you plan on purchasing online. The touchpads vary greatly between computer makers – if you’re buying a laptop, make sure you like the one you’re getting. This also lets you see what is available in store (especially for stores like Costco with limited selection).
Stores I recommend:
- Costco: Your 1-year warranty is automatically doubled to 2 years, and they have an unmatched 90-day return policy on computers.
- Fry’s: They have an absolutely amazing selection. You will need to know what you’re looking for, but I’ll help you out with that.
- Dell.com: Dell computers are what I personally prefer; I’ve owned about 10 different ones, only had issues with one, and they took care of me at that time.
- Apple: For the big spenders, no one can deny Apple is a good product. It’s definitely not budget friendly, starting at $1000 for the cheapest laptop. Just a note: this article really doesn’t apply to you, as there aren’t near as many options on Apple computers.
Stores I do not recommend:
Best Buy: I’ve stood around in Best Buy before and listened to their sales people… and I’m not impressed. Also due to my family’s experience (spending $900 plus on a $600 computer due to extras they were sold); basically they’ll take advantage of you if they can and I don’t respect that.
Pound the pavement
Ok, now go visit as many stores as you need to, check out the computers, and note the ones you like that are in your price range (also note which store they’re at so you can find the one you want later). Then we’ll look at the specs, see what matters, and you can figure out which one is best for you.
Here’s what you need to write down about each computer:
- Hard drive size (should be listed as 160 GB, 250 GB, etc)
- RAM (should be listed as 2 GB, 4 GB, etc)
- Processor (this may appear confusing, just write down what you see – the EXACT model number. Intel Core 2 Duo P8800, Intel Core i3-330, AMD Phenom II N640 Dual-Core, etc). Don’t worry about the wording for now, just write it down so you can compare at home.
- Screen size (measured diagonally – 15″, 17″, etc)
- Video card (You may see integrated graphics, such as Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator X4500HD, or a video card such as ATI HD5770 Radeon or NVIDIA GTX460 GeForce)
- Optical Drive (DVD writer, BluRay writer, BluRay Reader, etc)
- Ports (How many USB ports is the most important, also note anything else you have need for)
The Hardware specs that matter!
If you think all Dual Core processors are the same, you’re sadly mistaken. There is a huge array of processors available, and it’s very hard to know which one is best. If you don’t even know what Dual Core is, don’t worry – I have a whole bag of goodies to help you make sense of it all.
Hard Drive (HD) size
Most new computers come with at least a 160 GB (gigabyte) hard drive. Generally speaking, that’s big enough to hold about 32,000 mp3 (music) files or pictures. For most people, this will be large enough. Hard drive space is typically not a huge premium, so feel free to get a bigger hard drive, but this should not be much of a factor when you purchase a computer. Note: if you’re even asking about a solid state drive, this article probably isn’t for you
2 GB (gigabytes) of RAM is pretty standard now. If you’re getting a new computer, I would recommend a minimum of 2 GB, and no more than 4 GB if it’s for basic everyday usage. It won’t hurt to have more, but you don’t need to splurge on it.
Processor (the brains)
Processors are all over the map. You have two main manufacturers – AMD and Intel. I prefer Intel, but to each his own; let the processor scores guide you more than personal bias.
This is going to be completely subjective. Just go with what suits you and your budget best.
Order of importance
Ok, so we have all of our specs written down. But which ones really matter? I’ll give you my list of importance for the basic computer user.
Ports - If the computer does everything including make you breakfast, but it only has 2 USB ports, chances are it’s not for you. Between printers, external hard drives, mice, keyboards, usb-powered speakers and everything else, USB ports are a must. Sure, you can buy a USB hub, but might as well get a computer that suits your needs.
Processor – This is the brains of your computer. You don’t want a stupid computer, do you? Ok, let’s make sure you get your money’s worth!
RAM – The short-term memory for your computer. You don’t need a ton of it, but you need enough to survive.
Hard drive size – Not super critical, but definitely needs to be considered.
Video card – Add-in video cards are great, but not necessary for most basic users.
Screen size – Completely subjective, just make sure you like what you get. Don’t want to settle for the wrong size just to save money.
Optical Drive – All new computers have a DVD drive, and most of them have a DVD writer (burner). If you need BluRay, obviously this is at the top of your list.
Picking your computer
So you have your list of processors written down, right? Good. Now head over to Passmark’s CPU comparison chart. Search one at a time for each processor, and write down the Passmark CPU Mark and the Rank. The higher the Passmark CPU Mark, the better. The lower the rank, the better. This should give you a good idea of how the processors stack up against each other. Here’s an example (first # is CPU Mark, second is rank):
|Processor||Passmark CPU Mark||Rank|
|Intel Core i3 560 @ 3.33GHz||2888||153|
|Intel Core2 Duo T5600 @ 1.83GHz||1002||497|
|AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core 4400+||1190||432|
Let’s assume all three of these processors are all in computers in my budget range, varying by $50 or so. For the price, the Core i3 560 is absolutely the best bang for your buck. If you like everything else, go with the i3 560.
All else being equal, I wouldn’t pay more than $10 to get the Athlon 64 X2 over the Core2 Due T5600 – they’re so close the difference is negligible. If any processor is way below the rest, cross that computer off your list. You don’t have to pick the very best, but at least shoot for middle of the pack. This is one of the most important things to consider. You can always add more RAM or hard drive space, quickly and easily (demo coming soon). Upgrading a processor is considerably more costly, and more limited.
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