Our Updated Guide to Buying a New Computer… on a budget

By | September 22, 2020
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Our Updated Guide to Buying a New Computer… on a budget

Dell LaptopOne of the most frequent questions we are asked is: “What should I look for in a new computer?” And we know all too well that if you don’t have a lot of money to spend, computer shopping can be a daunting task… almost as bad as buying a car from a surly smiling salesman chomping on a cigar.

Buying a new computer can quickly turn into a deep money pit if you go to a computer store and run into a 20-something salesperson who is hyper-selling and bombarding you with technical terms you don’t understand (and he or she probably doesn’t either). And telling you that you won’t be happy with the computer model “A” for $499… but for an extra $150, the computer model “B” is what you need. 

We prepared this guide for those of you thinking about buying a new Windows 10 computer. Computer prices are still down a bit right now – so it’s a good time to buy.  But you have to know in advance what you’re looking for – and what you need – if you want to avoid being “upsold” by a yammering pseudo-techie salesperson.

This guide is for average computer users – those of you who use your computer mainly for browsing the Web, email, having fun with graphics using PaintShop Pro or similar, using Facebook, Zoom or Skype, chatting, emailing, browsing the web, etc. If you’re into high-end gaming or high-resolution 3D rendering or if you work with exceptionally large databases or CAD drawing, your needs will certainly be different.

Here’s our updated computer shopping guide

1.) Consider a laptop Instead of a desktop or an all-in-one computer

At one time laptops were expensive and underpowered, but not anymore. Laptops have the same features and as much or more power as desktops and all-in-ones, with one big advantage: You’re not tethered to one spot in your home.  And right now, you can still get great deals on reliable laptops. You can generally get a laptop for less than an equivalent desktop or all-in-one.

2.) RAM RAM RAM (aka Memory)

In real estate, it’s location, location, location. And with computers, it’s RAM, RAM, RAM!

Generally speaking, and forgoing the geek-speak, the more memory your computer has, the faster it will run. OK, we’re generalizing. But the more RAM your computer has, 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 or 4 GB of RAM, but unless you’re planning on doing very little or no multitasking at all, you’re not going to be happy with 2GB of RAM – and most of you won’t be happy with 4 GB of RAM. We suggest that you look for a computer with 8 GB of RAM or more. 

3.) Three computers under $525 

Here are 3 laptops, all with 8GB of RAM, 15″ (or larger) displays, fast processors, and 256 GB solid-state hard drives with price tags from $419 to $525. 

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15″ Laptop, AMD Ryzen 5 3500U Quad-Core Processor, 8GB Memory, 256GB Solid State Drive, Windows 10, Abyss Blue$419 Quad-core processor, 256 GB SSD, 8GB RAM. $419.

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15″ Laptop, Intel Core i5-1035G1 Quad-Core Processor, 8GB Memory, 256GB Solid State Drive, Windows 10. $499,

Acer Aspire 5 Slim Laptop, 15.6″ Full HD IPS Display, AMD Ryzen 5 3500U, Vega 8 Graphics, 8GB DDR4, 256GB SSD, Backlit Keyboard, Windows 10 Home, A515-43-R5RE, Silver. $525.

Just a few years ago, these laptops would have been in the $650-$800 price range. 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. 

4.) Hard drive: SSD or HDD?

Solid-state drives (SSDs) are getting cheaper. It’s getting harder to find new computers with older HDD drives. SSDs last longer and are much faster than HHDs. Because SSDs have no moving parts, they should last longer than HDDs. All the laptops listed above have solid-state hard drives.

5.) Processor

Your processor is the brain and 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 lower-priced 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 you are a benchmarking freak- but you’re not, are you? Intel or AMD?

If you’re a typical PC user, the processor brand won’t matter to you. Any computer you buy running Windows 10 will have a processor that is adequate to run Windows 10. You’re going to want at least a dual-core processor that runs at 1.6 GHz or faster. But when it comes down to buying a PC by brand or type of processor or the amount of RAM it has – you should choose the one with the most RAM.

6.) Screen size (display size)

Size matters? Yes, it does – kind of. We have laptops with 17″ screens; we have laptops with 15.6″ screens. We use both and both are great for all the things we do. The laptops with smaller screens are easier to tote around, they’re smaller and lighter. 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 use your computer. You probably won’t want anything smaller than a 15″ display. 

If you’re going for an all-in-one or desktop PC, the same applies. Get the screen size that works best for you.  Most often the smaller the screen size the less expensive the computer. Touchscreens: Touchscreens are nice. I have a 4-year-old 17″ ASUS touchscreen, but right I’m using a 15.6″ 7-year-old Dell laptop right now with no touchscreen.  Computers with touchscreens are more expensive than computers without touchscreens. If you want a touchscreen it will cost you a bit more.

7.) Computer brands

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, and Lenovo all have their fans and detractors. We’re not going to recommend one brand over another. All brands can be good, and all brands can be 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. Try to be “brand-blind”.  Don’t be afraid to try any of the other major brands.

8.) Windows 10 Home or Professional?

Very few home users are going to need the additional features of Windows 10 Professional. Besides the fact that computers that come with Windows 10 Professional cost, on average, at least $100 more. Do you want a computer that runs fast, or do you want a computer that has BitLocker and GPE (Group Policy Editor) and other features you’ll probably never use?

9. ) 32-bit or 64-bit?

All new Windows 10 PCs – laptops, desktops, and all-in-ones are 64-bit computers. 64-Bit PCs can use virtually unlimited RAM, whereas 32-bit computers are limited to 4 GB of RAM.

10.) A lot of choices

If you’re on a budget, you’ll have to make choices.  That’s OK – there are a lot of computers to choose from.  You’re going to have to choose between screen sizes and touchscreens or now. You’re going to have to choose between SSD (Solid State Drives) or HDD (regular hard drives). You’re going to have to choose between the faster SSD drives with (generally) less space or HDD, which are slower but have (usually) more space.

You’ll have choices to make: Intel or AMD processors, processor, speeds, computer brands, and memory or RAM. In our opinion, RAM is the most important consideration.  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. And the only way you can make a computer that has inadequate RAM faster is by adding more RAM. 

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. A typical PC in the year that the much-exalted Windows XP was released had 2 GB hard drives and 1 GB or less of RAM. Cheap, low-end PCs in those days cost $700 or more. And laptops cost well over $1000.

We’ve come a long way since then. Shop around. You’ll find great deals if you spend some time and look around. Most of you would find any of the computers we listed above to be quite adequate for your needs. If you take your time and shop carefully, you can find a PC that does everything you need it to do at a price that fits your budget.

And finally, you should know…

we do not make a commission on any of the computers mentioned in this article. We simply listed computers we would consider buying if we were on a budget and wanted a computer that we know would perform well.

And this is why we’re broke 😉 And we’re always on a budget, right EB?


5 thoughts on “Our Updated Guide to Buying a New Computer… on a budget

  1. Jill

    SUPER GREAT ARTICLE and perfect timing for me.
    My Hard Drive is about to crash. 🙁

    Thanks for all you do.

  2. Patty M-Bray

    There is a computer advertised in AARP for Seniors. Are you familiar with this? Could I still do my banking on this computer? I can’t remember, but I prefer a laptop.
    Since I have had two CVAs and numerous other problems…
    I have no idea how I would be able to keep up using my computer without Darcy and TC to help me. Thank you so very, very much.


    1. infoave Post author

      The kind of computer you use does not matter. It’s how you use. If you use strong passwords, double opt in when possible, and don’t click links in emails from banks or other financial institutions and use common sense like never giving out your social security number or home or cell phone number ore home address to questionable sites you’ll be substantially safe. Don’t believe people like Nonton/Lifelock who promise to automatically protect you from everything. This kind of advertising is not only dishonest it gives their users a very false sense of security. So, if AARP is telling you the computers they’re selling are more safe and secure than computers sold elsewhere, they’re not being honest. I’m not saying they are – I have not seen their ads.

  3. Jane

    I read the daily newsletter about buying a new laptop and wondered what your opinion is about “new” vs. “rebuilt”. Should a steer towards new and stay away from rebuilt?

    I had to a laptop & went to my desktop because the laptop was really S-L-O-W, but I really don’t care to be tethered to a desktop. I also don’t want to put any more money into an 11-year old laptop.

    What do you suggest?

    1. infoave Post author

      The type of computer it is – laptop or desktop does not determine how fast it is. Generally, the more RAM the computer has the faster it will be. RAM determines how much multi-tasking you can, not the processor or type of computer it is. This is a vast generalization though… how well the computer is maintained, how much junk is on it, how many apps are running at start-up, etc.

      If a refurbished laptop has the same warranty as a new laptop and the price is substantially lower, then it should be fine. But many refurbs come with skimpy warranties (1 to 6 months) and that’s not good. Look for at least a one-year warranty on a refurb.

      And get a computer with at least 8GB of RAM – 4GB or less does not cut it anymore.


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