So you decided you want to buy a new computer, great! but you want to make sure you are making the right purchase so you don’t just waste your money on something that will stops meeting your demands within a year. Not all machines are created equal, and unless you’re pretty familiar with computer hardware, you might have a hard time determining just how unequal they are. Of course, not all computer users’ needs are equal, so you might not need certain things included in a computer, especially not if those features are pushing up the price.
Desktop or Laptop?
If you plan on having a steady workstation and don’t need to run around with your for-all-purposes device, consider getting a desktop and saving yourself some money, or spending what your budget allows and getting a computer with higher specs. Additionally, it’s easier to change out parts and upgrade components in a desktop, which will keep your machine from falling behind the constantly increasing demands of the digital world.
If you often need your computer on the go, the choice is simple: laptop. If your need for portability is only occasional and you don’t need much more than a browser or word processor, you may be able to find a cheap tablet or netbook to do the job, and could potentially afford it with the money you save by getting a desktop as your primary computer. Keep in mind that you’ll still have to buy a monitor if one doesn’t come as a bundle with the desktop.
The simplest way to explain the processor is that it’s the brain of the machine. If you want a fast computer that boots up programs in a flash, completes tasks as soon as you start them, and doesn’t keep you waiting, then you want the strongest processor available — and who doesn’t? You just have to know what you’re looking at when you see a processor’s details.
The short and simple of processors is in the number of cores and the speed (labeled in GHz or Gigahertz) of the processor. The speed of the chip will tell you how much data it can process in how much time, so the bigger the number, the better. The number of cores functions as a multiplier, as the processor is actually a stack of cores that each run at the listed speed (e.g. a single-core 2GHz processor is a lot slower than a four-core 2GHz processor).
Multiple cores can also help with multi-tasking, as each can be working on different tasks. If you don’t use a lot of programs at the same time, you may be content with just one or two cores and don’t need to fork out the extra cash to snag a few more. Make sure to ask how many cores are on the chip and what the clock speed is. Two computers might both say they have an Intel i5 chip, but the number of models that go into the group are many, and their speeds and core counts can be leagues apart. Tip: Checking the CPUBenchmark will help you determine which processor is rated higher.
Just as the number of processor cores in a computer affects its speed and ability to multitask, the amount of Random Access Memory, or RAM, in a computer can affect just how much multitasking it can handle and how fast it will be.
Nowadays most RAM is measured in gigabytes, and as is often the case, the more, the merrier. By having more RAM, your computer is able to keep more data close at hand, rather than having to go digging around through the slower hard drive for the information it needs. Of course, because RAM is smaller, there is only so much room for data. That’s why it’s useful to have more RAM if you want to keep multiple tasks going at the same time, and to be able to jump between them relatively quickly. If you’re also guilty of having too many web browser windows open at the same time, more RAM will make that a lot easier.
Every computer needs data storage, and though that is something RAM does, the majority of it will go onto your hard drive. There are typically a few different options you’ll need to consider in the search for a hard drive, but what it really comes down to is how you plan to use your computer.
If you plan to just have your computer and no peripherals, you may want to opt for the biggest hard drive you can (measured in gigabytes, or terabytes for extra large drives), since all of your files and programs will be stored on the computer. You may not plan to have many applications on your computer, and won’t store media on it, then you can opt for a smaller hard drive and save yourself some money. If you can handle a small hard drive but want to it be extra fast and you have the cash, consider going for a solid-state drive, or flash hard drive.
Check your peripherals
The peripherals on your computer are going to be pretty specific to your needs, so you’ll need to think about whether you’ll need them, and just how many of them you want. You may want ten USB ports but not have a care in the world about having a DVD drive. On the other hand, you may do everything online and just want as few holes in your machine as possible for soda to spill into and frazzle the circuitry.
If you plan to transfer a lot of data, make sure you have a fast USB port— or a fast wireless network. An alternative for some major externals (like CD drives and hard drives) is to get a computer with an eSATA port, which will let you plug in those peripherals on the fly with high data transfer rates. Also consider things such as HDMI, SD Card Slot, Wifi, Bluetooth, etc.
Cost and Warranty
One of the most important things to do when buying a new computer — as with any expensive purchase — is to be very patient. Technology evolves fast, and if you buy a new computer today, you might not have noticed a newer one was set for release tomorrow — and would have likely cost the same as the one you just bought, or made yours less expensive to buy. You could get into a logical loop that has you waiting indefinitely, but choosing the best time to pounce is key.
Check refresh cycles for products. If you know ‘Computer Maker A’ comes out with a new model around the same time every year, expect to get a discount on an old model just before a new one comes out, or wait until the new one is out so that you have the latest technology.