Author Avatar Tips on Buying A New Computer

by Webnme2 on Mar 19th 2010

  • General Information

    Before you do anything else, visit (if this page is not available – try the cached versions from Google and Windows Live) and read everything there. This site is for you and has a lot of useful information that will help you make a good decision. Read it! It will save you from a lot of headaches later.

    Once you have a new computer, please visit the US-CERT article, Before You Connect a New Computer to the Internet and then test your knowledge with our Internet User License – Beginner’s Permit.

    When you have settled on a particular model of computer, don’t jump up and go buy it right away.  First, spend some time with your favorite search engine and look for reviews, user comments, discussion forum entries, and complaint websites to see whether the model you have selected has been tagged by users as having serious defects or deficiencies that you might want to avoid.

  • Needs Assessment

    Use — Before you buy a computer, ask yourself a few questions.  Do I need a computer just for e-mail and web browsing?  Do I need a machine that can handle games?  Photography?  CAD/CAM drawings?  If your needs are simple – just e-mail and web browsing, then most likely any inexpensive computer will work for you. If your needs are more specific, you will want to make sure the computer you pick can do the work you need.  For example, if you are looking for a high end machine to do CAD/CAM drawings, you probably want a machine that uses NVidea Quadro video cards designed specifically for that purpose.  Getting a high-end gaming machine with SLI or Cross-Fire would not be the best choice for CAD/CAM and vice versa.

    Mobility — You should also ask yourself whether you need to take the computer with you to do what you want?  Is it important that you be able to take your computer from room-to-room at home or to your local coffee house?  If so, you definitely want to buy a notebook (laptop) type computer. 

    Laptop vs Desktop — You should also be asking whether you plan to run the computer constantly.  If you are going to have the computer running constantly, you really should invest in a desktop computer and sacrifice mobility.  Notebooks and laptops produce a lot of heat and will wear-out fairly fast if they are run constantly without a chance to cool down.  Some models will also experience component failures when subjected to 24/7 use over prolonged periods of operation; e.g. hard drive failures. 

    Desktop PC or Workstation — If you plan to use your computer primarily for business applications, you should give serious consideration to buying a workstation type computer.  They are designed for prolonged, continuous use and to handled business applications.  Home computers designed primarily for web browsing and e-mail may work, but will wear out faster or not perform as well.

    Memory — If you are going to be running Vista or Mac OS-X, you will get the best performance with a minimum of two (2) gigabytes of RAM.  Vista will run with less than 2 GB of RAM, but you will probably be disappointed in its performance.  Vista 32-bit operating systems can use up to four (4) GB or RAM.  Vista 64-bit operating systems can use more memory depending on what the motherboard and bios support.  You should increase memory if you are going to be doing more than basic email, word-processing and web surfing.

  • Do It Yourself, Custom or Off-the-Shelf?

    Should you build your own computer, buy one that can be customized by the vendor or just get an off-the-shelf computer at a local store?  The answer really depends on your skill levels and needs.  There is no right answer for everyone.  You should consider costs, your skills, and your needs in making this decision.  For example, if you have good hardware skills, have the time to make sure you get the right drivers for every component, can match components to bios/mother-board/OS requirements, and want to save money; then you can probably order all the components you need and build a superior computer for much less than it would cost to buy ready-made.  If you don’t have the skills or patience for this, but need to have a computer with specific capabilities; you may want to buy from a vendor that allows you to customize your requirements via an online form.  If you just need a basic machine for minimal needs, then maybe it is best just buy one off-the-shelf.
  • Hardware Compatibility

    Before you buy a computer check out the operating system vendor’s hardware compatibility list to make sure the computer will be able to run all of the devices you already own.  You may find that your printer, scanner, or another device is not supported and have to decide whether to buy a new one or change what you are buying. 

    Microsoft’s Hardware Compatibility Resource Center

    Linux hardware compatibility

    RedHat hardware compatibility

    Sun OS hardware compatibility

    OS X on x86 hardware

    You should also make sure that the hardware you plan to use (already own) or purchase to use with your computer has drivers that work with the operating system.  For example, if you are buying a new computer with Windows Vista in a 64-bit version, some older hardware may only have drivers that are compatible with 32-bit operating system.  Older hardware may not be supported by signed drivers that are necessary for Vista Service Pack 1.

  • Software Compatibility

    Before purchasing any software for your new computer, you’ll want to check to see whether the vendor has any hardware or software prerequisites.  For example, if you plan to install back-up software, you should look at the vendor website to see whether there are any compatibility requirements for types of backup devices (hard drives, external drives, CD/DVD drives) before finalizing your purchase of a new computer. 

    You also need to check to see whether any software you plan to use (already own) or purchase is compatible with your operating system.  Not every software application that worked on Windows XP will run on Windows Vista. 

  • A Word About Costs

    If you are operating on a limited budget, you should not purchase a computer that is at the edge of what you can afford.  There are going to be additional costs in setting up a new computer.  As yourself how many of these things you need to buy and how much they will cost you.  Add them up and deduct that amount from the money you have available for purchasing a computer to find out how much you can really afford to pay for the new computer you would like to have.

    1.  Costs of gadgets – thumb drives, external hard drives for backups,
    microphone, wireless keyboard/mouse, etc.

    2.  Costs of software – cost of buying new versions or upgrade versions of software like office suites, backup software, CD-burning software, and other things you plan to use.

    3.  Costs of security – cost for anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, firewall software, etc.

    4.  Other hardware costs – router/modem/wireless access point costs, printer, extra monitor(s), and cables

    5.  Monthly use fees – costs from your ISP for connectivity, any subscription services you plan to use, etc.

    6.  Warranty and/or on-site service support agreements – these are usually an option with most purchases

About Webnme2

The author's first experience with computers was with Fortran IV. Wow that's ancient. After graduate school, he taught history for a number of years at a community college before becoming an attorney. In 1997 he changed careers to become a web developer/designer with an interest in all things web related. He currently maintains several dozen websites. This is his personal blog. The opinions expressed are his own.

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