Computer Buying Guide Part I

Steve —  2.11.2011 — 1 Comment

“What kind of computer should I get?” I get this question all the time and always answer the same way: “Well….what will you be doing with it?” Followed up quickly with, “What’s your budget?” Armed with those two pieces of information, I can typically find the right machine.

There’s just one problem: Not one person has been able to answer those two questions with enough clarity for me to make a recommendation. It usually takes a much longer process. So, I thought I’d pull back the curtains a bit and get you a little further down the road once the decision for a new machine has been made. The amount of information has forced me to split this article up into multiple parts. This is part one and covers why to buy a new machine and whether to focus on a desktop or laptop.

Let me also say one thing here. This article is focused on helping to make the very best purchase based on need. If you don’t much care or are made of money, just go get something that fancies you. If you’re on a budget and dropping $1,500 – $2,00 on a computer is a big deal, then the work described in these articles should prove valuable.

NOTE: If you see a term here that you don’t understand or just want to brush up for the SAT, visit the Computer Glossary I put together that defines the basic computer components. I included a handy UPGRADE SCORE for each component that is used in designing your next computer.

WHY BUY?

First things first – what is behind the decision to get a new computer?

Typically, people are upgrading from a 5-7 year old computer that is too painful to use. It’s slow, ugly, has served it’s purpose well, but it’s time to get current.

If your needs are minimal, a rebuild of that old computer may be sufficient for your needs. You should be able to expect a faster, more reliable experience – much like what you experienced when you first got it. Most people discount this option because they can’t imagine their dinosaur being able to act like a spring chicken again, but it is possible and costs much less than a new machine. Additionally, you can add more RAM and a faster hard drive and you are back in business.

If that isn’t you, it’s probably safe to assume that you genuinely need a more powerful system. The rule of thumb in this scenario is to plan for the future.

LAPTOP OR DESKTOP?

LAPTOPS
Everyone wants a laptop – their sexy and portable and the possibilities are limitless, but there’s a price for all that beauty…literally a price. You can expect to pay 1.5X – 2X more for a comparably equipped laptop when you compare apples to apples (not Macs…we’ll get to that).

Additionally, the number of upgrades you can do to a laptop to extend it’s useful existence is quite limited – in fact, memory is just about all you can change on a laptop if you want to respect the manufacturer’s specifications. Maybe a bigger hard drive of the same speed, but again, typically not much that would affect performance.

Only the very high-end laptops by the likes of Alienware allow you to swap out components and for the money ($2,500 – $3,500),  one would hope so.

So, the rule of thumb is to buy as much laptop as you can afford and spend your money on processor, video card and screen because your computing needs will probably be dramatically different three years from now than they are today. More power means more life and a delay from having to go through this process all over again.

DESKTOPS
When looking at performance, desktops win every time. The options are greater and the number of configurations are literally limitless. From triple video cards to 32GB of RAM to dual CPUs (not dual core) to 3+ hard drives…you name it, you can probably get it. If your needs are in the gaming, video creation/editing or 3-D worlds, a desktop is the only option. This limitless configuration also ensures that you can upgrade your components down the road to more powerful ones that ultimately lead to longer life.

Furthermore, desktops are much less expensive and that’s due in part to the generic needs to build one – there’s just less to engineer when you don’t have to cram it all into a 6″x10″x2″ box. The number of suppliers for components is also much higher.

Obviously, the portability factor is kinda low (my desktop weighs in at about 40lbs and sits on wheels) and a big metal box isn’t very sexy. So, the rule of thumb here is to get into the current family of technology with just enough power to do what you need in the next year. You’ll be able to upgrade based on need down the road.

Once you’ve made the decision to buy a new computer, the decision between a laptop and a desktop comes down to the need to be mobile because all other factors make it an easy choice – the desktop wins every time. Don’t underestimate the power of this decision – it sets into motion the rest of the process, which is explained in the next post. Stay tuned…

One response to Computer Buying Guide Part I

  1. I have never heard/seen you use the word "sexy".

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