How to Buy a Computer

Get some pointers from Doc on how to shop for a new computer.
Published: Nov 14, 2005
Author: Michael E, Callahan
Related OS: Windows
How To...

Buy A Computer

by Michael E. Callahan aka Dr. File Finder �

This question submitted by Libby Lang, Don Jamison, Patty McNaulty, Ron Eberhardt and numerous others

If there's one question I get asked a lot it's "What kind of computer should I buy?" And by this, they generally don't mean a brand of computer, but what kind of stuff should they have in a computer. The most common things I get asked about include:

  • Type of processor
  • Speed of processor
  • Amount of RAM
  • Size of Hard Disk
  • Brand?
  • Support?

The first thing you have to realize is that a new user and I would approach buying a computer from opposite ends of the spectrum. Take support. I would consider it a waste of time to buy support. Odds are I would never use it and the minor things that come up I can take care of myself. A new user, however, might be well-served by spending a little extra on support. So, I'll answer these most frequently asked questions and I hope it will help you in your next computer purchase.

Type Of Processor

We're talking Intel or AMD. I've had computers with both. Both run fine and have stood up to all the punishment I give them. A number of studies I've read online indicate that the AMD's are faster with certain things. I think one thing you have to consider is price. The new 64-bit processors are expensive! And just what are you going to run with them? Essentially there's no software that can take advantage of a 64-bit processor, so um why have one? Except to be "the first kid on your block" to own one. Save your money for more important things. I've had great performance from both Intel and AMD so my advice is to read things and go with the one you think you might like best.

Speed of Processor

This is another area where people can be a little bit ridiculous. If all you are doing is writing letters and playing board games online, you don't really need the worlds fastest processor. Yes, you can get 3.2GhZ processors with "Dual Core", but will it make you type any faster? Nope. And from everything I've read, the current "dual core" is not really a benefit, so again, why have it? I make my living on computers and yes, I have a 3.2GHz Pentium IV with Hyper-Threading, but I did not get the "dual core" on purpose. And I often I have 6 or 8 programs open at once, doing multiple things. If you use your computer for only basic things like word processing and going online, you don't need a super-fast processor, but you may want one. Remember, that with technology the longer it's been out, the cheaper it gets. So, 2.4GHz is a nice number. It's fast. If you don't think so, try to find someone who has a computer running at 540MHz.

Amount of RAM

If money is an issue, this, in my opinion, is where you should spend it. Based on my own experience it's better to have more RAM and a slower processor, than to have the opposite situation. I just got a new computer two days ago and it has 2 gigabytes of RAM. All my others have at least 1 gigabyte. I get my laptops with as much RAM as they'll hold. Programs run on and in memory which is what RAM is. You can have a 3.2GHz processor, but if you have 256MB of RAM, you aren't going to be running anything very fast. Think of it like having an engine with 800 horsepower, but only having 81 octane gas to burn. So, in my opinion it would be hard to have too much RAM. RAM is the fuel your programs run on.

Size of Hard Disk

This is an area that's going to vary from person to person. I'd say the "average" size hard disk today is about 80 gigabytes. And some computer manufacturers are offering disks up to 500 gigabytes. My new computer came with a 160 gigabyte hard drive and that will be more than I'll ever use. Keep in mind, however, that I know what I do with my computer. It contains lots of documents, lots of programs I use, lots of programs I evaluate, some pictures and some music. If you are really into graphics and have a huge music collection, you might want a bigger hard drive. Some game players need more disk space because the games take up a lot of room. So, before you get a 500 gigabyte drive, think about how you use your computer. And remember, if money is an issue, you can always buy more disk space later.

Brand and Support

There are a number of brands that most everyone is aware of which I'll mention in no particular order: Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, Compaq, Toshiba. Many of my computers I have custom built for me by Greg Evans Computer Solutions here in Colorado. At the same time I've also had computers from Dell, Gateway, Compaq, and I currently have two Toshiba laptops. Companies like these, who offer good support, are often your best bet. Yes, you can get these computers at electronics stores, but you generally can't get the same level of service that you get when you buy direct from the manufacturer.

So, support is something you need to consider if you're a newer user and may need help. Or, perhaps you know someone who can help you. My wife, for example, calls me the "live-in tech support." So, if you have a friend, spouse, or family member who is up on computers you might be able to get by without the extra support. It's still my suggestion that you look for what you need from the more reputable dealers I've mentioned.

Summing It Up

When you're in the market for a computer you have to honestly evaluate the difference between what you want and what you need. Buy a computer that fits what you're going to use it for and don't buy more than you need. Evaluate the size hard disk you need, and never skimp on RAM. Remember that overall the amount of RAM you have is more important than processor speed. Also, buy from a reputable company and consider your needs as far as support. I hope these tips will help make your next computer purchase a bit easier.

I'd like to thank Libby Lang, Don Jamison, Patty McNaulty, Ron Eberhardt and numerous others for asking this question.

If you have a question on how to do something on the computer you can submit it via email by clicking HERE You will not receive a reply, but all topics will be considered.

About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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