I own a computer consulting business. I have been working with computers for the last 16 years. The most common question that I get from many of my home user customers is “What computer should I buy?” There are so many different configurations and choices when you go to purchase a computer that it makes it difficult unless you know what the computer parts are, even then you still have many different choices. Most people just want to purchase computer quickly and would rather that someone just help them pick the one that would best suit their needs without trying to learn about all of the details. I can certainly understand that. For example, I personally don’t want to know the details about how my plumbing works. I would just like the plumber to fix the problem or do what is needed without hassling me with the details. But then you have that issue with being able to trust what someone is recommending you purchase. Is it really a good deal and is the sales person really recommending the best computer for your needs. Most of the sales people I have to believe are doing their very best to help you make the correct choice but it is better that you understand some of the basic details/components about the computer that you are getting ready to purchase to make the sales persons job easier and to better understand what the options are for you when you are shopping around.
So let’s get right to it:
1. The Processor or CPU (Central Processing Unit) – This is the driving force or you could say heart in your computer. It also acts as a traffic cop to the data being processed. So the faster it is the faster data can be processed. I always recommend that you everyone purchase one or two steps up from the least available if I am custom building a computer on the Dell Site or HP’s site. If you will go to one of these sites and click on one of the computers to custom build it you will see the options that I talking about.
2. RAM or Memory – Some people get this confused with Hard Drive space. Hard Drive space is a totally separate thing and you should have much more of it. Think of RAM or Memory as your desktop or temporary storage. The bigger your desktop the more room that you will have to layout papers to view without getting up from your chair so the more RAM or Memory that you have the better but it gets expensive if you go over the mid point offered. For example at this time the mid point for most PC’s would be around 2GB of RAM or Memory. I would suggest a minimum of at least 1GB for most applications but if you are doing something like graphic/image editing applications or playing games you could need more. You should check the application that you think would be most demanding or graphical to determine what the minimum amount of RAM or Memory is recommended and I would then get more than the recommended amount for improved performance.
3. Hard Drive – This is the device that actually stores your data when you save it. Think of it as your filing cabinet or permanent storage (at least until you delete it) . You will need to determine what you will be using your computer for. For example if you will be using your computer mainly to surf the internet and save Microsoft Word Documents you probably will not need over the standard drive size (for example at the time of this writing – 80GB or 160GB is standard depending on the type/model of computer you purchase) but if you want to purchase music, save photos, or will be doing a lot of image editing on your computer you may want to invest in a bigger hard drive (for example – 250GB) or you can always get an external drive to store your work on.
4. CD/CD-RW/DVD/DVD-R/DVD-RW – What more choices?? These are CD drive choices of today and of course there is Blue-Ray which I would only recommend if you are really into burning CD’s and chances are if you are reading this you will not need that technology but you can always Google “Blue-Ray” to find out more about it if you think that you would be interested. I would recommend that you purchase the best that you can afford regarding CD drives. Below is a quick run down of what each will allow you to do:
CD – Read-only CD’s – installs most programs with the exception of programs that come on DVD discs.
DVD – Read-only CD’s and DVD’s – this would at least allow you to read/install programs from DVD disc and play DVD movies.
CD-R – Allows you to install programs from CD’s, create CD’s for music/data – you can only write to CD-R CD’s which means that you can only write to the CD once.
CD-RW – Allows you to install programs from CD’s, create CD’s for music/data/rewrite to CD-RW disc but you can only write once to CD-R disc still.
DVD-R – Allows you to install programs from CD/DVD disc, create CD-R/DVD-R CD/DVD’s for music/data/videos. You can only write once to the disc.
DVD-RW – Allows you to install programs from CD/DVD disc, create CD-R/DVD-R/CD-RW/DVD-RW CD/DVD’s for music/data/videos. You can rewrite to CD-RW or DVD-RW discs.
5. Do I need a floppy disk? Most people wouldn’t really need this option any more since most programs come on CD’s or DVD’s these days.
6. Video Card – This is the device that you will connect your monitor to. Most of the time you can just take the standard video card but if you intend on modified photos or playing games you may want to invest in a better video card – keep in mind that video cards also have memory so the more memory the better here also.
7. Operating Systems – Honestly at the time of this writing I prefer Windows XP Pro SP2 since there are still some issues with Windows Vista even with SP1 at this time. For example there are some issues with software and printers. If you purchase a computer from the link that I give you below you can choose to purchase most of the computers with Windows XP Pro SP2 still. Most of the computers in the store’s today will have the Windows Vista Home operating system on them. It will work and if you are just going to use the latest programs, devices and search the internet this may be the operating system that will work for you.
8. Last but not least would be that you will for sure need some type of antivirus. I would highly recommend purchasing Symantec Internet Security and understand that you must pay for the subscription each year or pay for a 24/36 month subscription in order to keep getting updates. I have so many times worked on peoples computers where their antivirus had ran out and they had gotten viruses. They didn’t even know that it had ran out because they forgot that they must update it or it seemed unimportant then I get a call because their computer is infested with pop-ups, etc.
Here are some links that are helpful if you would like to view my recommendations:
I would highly recommend a Dell OptiPlex for PC’s or Latitude for a laptop. You can go through the Dell Hot Offers to get the best deals. The reason that I would suggest these models is that these models have a standard 3 year warranty and these are the models that are standard for business. What is the advantage? Well, the parts that would be in these model of computers would have been through the testing process and should be more reliable. For example the Inspiron, XPS, and Vistro may have later technology but that is just it these computers are more stable for business use. I can’t say that you would have any problems with the Inspiron, XPS, Vistro, or any other brand of PC that you would buy but I am just saying that the Optiplex and Latitude seem to me to be a better computer. If you want some of the later technology (for example built-in SD, Micro SD card readers, capability to watch TV from your computer, etc.) I would recommend purchasing something like the XPS or Vistro.
One more very important thing is to get the media for the operating system with the computer that you purchase or make the restore disc as soon as you get the computer since it would be necessary if you have to restore your system to factory default later.
Here is an example of a standard PC that I would have setup for a customer (remember that this is as of 04/07/2008 – in other words the prices change regularly but this will give you an idea):
Optiplex 330 MiniTower
Starting Price $1282
Instant Savings $352
This would include the following:
Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E4500 (2.2GHz, 2M, 3322T – Processor
Geniune Windows XP Pro SP2 with media Operating System
2GB DDR2 Non-ECC SDRAM, 667MHZ (2 DIMM) RAM or Memory
160GB High Reliability SATA 3.0 GB/s and 8MN Databurst Cache – Hard Drive
16X DVD-ROM SATA, Cyberlink Power DVD DVD Drive
Dell 20 inch E207FP Widescreen Flat Panel, Analog
Internal Speaker At least get the internal speaker so that you can hear the computer if you receive a beep or error
Standard Mouse I would suggest that you purchase an optical mouse.
Microsoft Office Basic and Adobe Standard This was an additional $150 so if you don’t need it you can use OpenOffice.org to do the same thing and it is FREE
Norton Internet Security 36 month subscription If you want to use something free you can use AVG Free but I would recommend Norton over AVG personally
3 year warranty This is a standard warranty for this model computer
As I said this is as of 04/07/08 and the price I am certain will be different when you view this product and there may be even a different model number but the Optiplex and Latitude models should be available.
I hope that this does help someone out there and makes it clearer when you go to purchase a computer what you need to be looking for.