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How to Buy a New Computer in 2010
What Should I Buy – Desktop, Laptop, Netbook
With the relentless acceleration of Moore’s Law pushing performance up and prices down on processors and memory, computer systems are poised for explosive growth with prices dropping to the point that there is little excuse not to buy a computer now. A full featured home or business desktop system can be had for under $400 with a good laptop available for under $1,000. So the question is how do you choose?
Choosing the type of system really depends on what level of price and comfort you need. Desktop systems are less expensive, so you can get more bang for your buck. Laptop systems have reached the point where they are good desktop replacements and can be found in screen sizes up to 20 inches. For the ultimate convenience are the netbooks. The concept of a netbook is a travel companion that allows you to browse the web, take notes, maybe shoot videos, with a long battery life and the best comfort.
What Are The Choices For Buying A Computer?
The main choices you need to make are Operating System, CPU, Memory, Network, Hard Drive and Monitor. The options below are from the perspective of a desktop system but generally also apply to a laptop or netbook. I will highlight it where necessary for the different platforms.
Buying a Computer – Operating System
Today the main decision is between getting a Windows system or something from Apple. Staying away from the religious fervor of the discussion, both are fairly easy to use, both will get you started on the internet, and both are available almost everywhere. Windows systems are much more popular to buy because they can be found in a wide range of stores and also cost less. Missing a good friend who is an Apple user or a specific need like you are a professional graphic designer, get yourself a Windows system.
Right now for Windows systems buying a new computer, you will be faced with getting the latest version of Windows XP which was a good operating system but at the end of its life cycle, getting a Windows Vista system or moving to Windows 7. I have supported all of them and would generally suggest, that you should skip Vista and XP and just move to Windows 7. Microsoft has done a good job with Windows 7 and there will be little development or fixes on the older systems. Windows 7 is the future for application developers.
Buying a Computer – Processors
There was a time when the processing speed of your CPU was important, perhaps the most important buying factor of the purchase. That is no longer the case. With entry-level machines starting above 2.0 Ghz and multi-processor multi-core systems readily available to everyone from major vendors, processors are not the most important factor, but you should consider one thing when buying your computer when choosing a processor.
How long will it be before you buy another processor? If it’s more than 3 years, then get the best processor you can afford. It shouldn’t be more than $200 for the upgrade to the best available through a major vendor like HP or Dell for a desktop system. If you are like me and upgrade more often, I upgrade every 2 years then the processor is less important. Update it or not.
Buying a Computer – Memory
The dirty secret of both Windows Vista and Windows 7 is that they will use more memory if it is available and your system performance will improve significantly because of it. With memory prices as low as they are today, I would strongly recommend that you get the most memory you can afford to put into the machine. It will have the strongest impact on system performance of all your choices. Don’t be put off by the different types of memory available unless you’re a computer geek who wants the latest and greatest. It is not particularly important to anyone but a hobbyist or specialist.
Buying a Computer – Networks
With the advent of wireless networking several years ago, computer use began to explode. No longer did you have to pull cumbersome cables back and forth throughout your home or office. Set up a wireless access point connected to the internet, set up your network on your computer and BAMM you’re done. Anyone who buys a desktop system today will likely have an onboard network connection for a LAN that you can plug your network cable into. You can usually get a manufacturer’s upgrade to the latest wireless standard, 802.11n, for about $50. I would recommend you to take the update if you have a desktop system. It is very convenient to have it available. If you are on a laptop or netbook then it is very important that you get it and it is well worth the money.
Buying a Computer – Hard Drive
With the release of 1TB drives for dirt cheap prices you would think that hard drive options are a thing of the past. Not so fast. If you plan to burn DVDs and store music on your computer, make sure you get at least a 300GB or more hard drive, which is about the minimum a vendor will offer you anyway. More is better depending on your needs.
Buying a Computer – Monitor
People work better with bigger screens and they also enjoy them more. Widescreen displays are available up to 30 inches or more. From a price perspective they can be found up to about 24 inches for a reasonable price. Consider that an upgrade. It is almost always bought separately from the computer and will cost you $200 or more for the nice ones. If you want to spread out one thing for your computer, consider upgrading to dual monitors. It’s a very nice thing to have.
Buying a Computer – Closed
I have not discussed anything about keyboard, mice, tablets, speakers and other accessories. Get what you like. I like wireless mice and keyboards, but don’t fight about it. Its just convenient. Regardless it is an incidental cost to the full system if you are not a hobbyist or specialist. Get what you like.
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