Buying a New Computer: A Guide for the Average User
One of the most frequent questions we are asked is: “What should I look for in a new computer?”
With the Christmas shopping season upon us (already?), we’re republishing our computer buying guide. This guide is for average computer users – for those folks who use your computer mainly for browsing the Web, email, having fun with graphics using PaintShop Pro or similar, using Facebook and/or Skype, chatting, etc. If you’re into high-end gaming or high res 3D rendering, or work with very large databases or CAD drawing, your needs will be certainly be different.
- CONSIDER A LAPTOP RATHER THAN AN ALL-IN-ONE OR DESKTOP PC
At one time Laptops were expensive and under-powered, but not anymore. Laptops have the same features and power as desktops and all-in-ones, with one big advantage: You’re not tethered to one spot in your home. Plus laptops are priced right. You can can get a laptop for about the same price as an equivalent desktop.
- RAM RAM RAM
One of the most important things to consider is RAM – your computer memory. The more memory the faster your computer will run. OK, we’re generalizing. But generally the more RAM you have the more you can do with your computer – and the more responsive your PC will be.You’ll see a lot of low-end computers with 2 GB of RAM, but unless you’re not planning on doing much with it, as far as multi-tasking, you’re probably not going to be happy with it. Don’t buy any computer with less than 4 GB of RAM. And if your budget allows, look for 6 GB or 8 GB.For example: Here’s a Dell laptop with an Intel processor, a 15.69″ Touchscreen display, 6 GB of RAM, and Intel i3 processor and a 1 terabyte hard drive for $350. Just a few years ago, this laptop would have been in the $500 to $600 price range. Keep in mind that this was written on April 8, 2017, so that link may not work if you’re reading this weeks, or months, or years from now. But we’ll bet you can find something similar for about the same price, no matter when you’re reading this.If you have to cut corners to meet your budget, cut corners on hard drive size or processor type, not RAM. The amount of RAM your new computer has is your most important consideration.
- HARD DRIVE
It would be hard to find a laptop or desktop with less than a 500 GB hard drive these days. 500 GB or 1 TB HDD are standard these days. If price is a consideration, computers with 500 GB hard drives are going to be cheaper than those with 1 TB hard drives, and 500 GB is still a substantial amount of storage. So grab a PC with a 1 TB hard drive, unless it strains your budget. Most of you will find a 500 GB HDD is adequate.A word about SSDs (Solid State Hard Drives): They’re nice. They’re fast. And they cost more than a standard HDD. If you find a computer with a SSD in the same price-range as a computer with a standard hard drive, you’ll probably find the SSD is much smaller than the standard hard drive. To get the same space on an SSD as an HDD you’re going to have to part with more money. If you’re on a budget, you’re probably going to be looking at PCs with standard hard drives. And that’s OK. Most of us will be happy with HDDs – that’s what most of us are using right now.
Your processor is the heart of your PC. But if you’re an average computer user, and just using your computer to do the things we mentioned at the beginning of this article, then the kind of processor or the speed of your processor, will not be a major consideration for you.Most low-end computers are going to have AMD processors and there’s nothing wrong with that. If that new computer you’re looking at doesn’t say “Intel inside”, don’t worry about it. Most of us would never know the difference between an AMD and an Intel processor unless we are benchmarking freaks- but we’re not, right? Intel or AMD? If you’re the typical PC user, it won’t matter to you.Any computer you buy running Windows 10 will have a processor that is adequate for your needs. When it comes down to choosing a PC by brand or type of processor or the amount of RAM it has – we recommend you opt for the one with the most RAM.
- SCREEN SIZE
Size matters? Yes it does – kind of. We have a laptops with 17″ screens We have laptops with 15.6″ screens. Both are great for all the things we do. The laptops with smaller screens are easier to tote around. So, if you’re going to be traveling or moving around with your laptop, you might want to opt for the smaller screen. Screen size, though, is a personal choice. Choose the screen size that you like best and that suits the way you’re going to use your computer.If you’re going for an all-in-one or desktop PC, the same applies. Get the screen size that works best for you. Generally, the smaller the screen size the less expensive the computer.Touchscreens: Touchscreens are nice. I’m using a 17″ touchscreen laptop right now. Well, actually I have one right now. I’m using a mouse. I’m old school. I keep forgetting I have a touchscreen. It’s great when I remember I have one. Computers with touchscreens are generally more expensive than computers without touchscreens, although the price difference is getting smaller and smaller. Someday, we imagine, all PC will have touchscreens.
- BRAND OF COMPUTER
The brand name of the computer you buy is not one of the most important considerations. Most brands you recognize should be fine. Some people hate certain brands because they have had trouble with that particular brand in the past. However, all brands have good and bad reviews. HP, Dell, Acer, ASUS, Toshiba, Sony and Lenovo all have their fans and detractors. We’re not going to recommend one brand over another. All brands can are good and all brands are bad. It depends on who you ask. If you have used a brand in the past that you’ve been happy with, then buy that brand again – but only if the price fits your budget. But don’t be “brand-blind”. Don’t be afraid to try one of the other major brands.
If you’re on a budget, you’ll have to make choices. Your going to have to choose between screen sizes and types, hard drive sizes and types, processor brands, speeds, and types, computer brands, and RAM. In our opinion, RAM is the most important of these. If you buy a computer with inadequate RAM, your computer will be slow and multi-tasking difficult, and none of the other things will matter much. Get a computer with as much RAM as you can afford.Most of us who have been using Windows for years remember the days of 540 MB (MB not GB) hard drives and RAM that was measured in MB not GB. PCs typical in the year that the much exalted Windows XP was released had 2 GB hard drives and 1 GB of RAM. Low-end PCs in those days cost $700 to $800. We’ve come a long way since then.Shop around. You’ll find great deals if you spend some time and look around. We found that aforementioned Dell computer yesterday for $350. It has a decent processor, a large hard drive, and 6 GB of RAM; most of you would find it to be quite adequate for your needs.If you take your time and shop carefully, you will find a PC that does everything you need it to do that fits your budget.