Computer Purchase Guide

As school time approaches, many families, businesses, or even just the average Joe or Jane will probably look at the computers out on the market to see what great deals they can get. Traditionally, back to school time is one of a few heavily marketed times for computers where discounts can occur. I won’t say you’ll always get the best computer price around back to school time as there are almost always sales going on, and you just have to be patient, focused and research.

This article will cover some tips and tricks that might benefit you in your next computer purchase, no matter when in the year you are looking to buy.

The Best Price Differs for Everyone

laptopA common misconception that I have often dealt with is the one where people think either that a set dollar figure or the most expensive model available are the best options for them. Sure, if you can afford to waste money on the top dollar computer systems, then by all means, go ahead, but if you want to save money, you’ll want to drive these price points from your mind.

The best way to decide the best pricing for your machine is to figure out your needs. Do you need a system that can play all of the games released today, and a year from now, or do you need to be able to write documents, e-mails, and occasionally browse sites like YouTube?

These are vastly differing systems, with costs at opposite ends of the scale. Many people will buy much more computer than they need, in hopes that it will last them longer, but this isn’t always the case.

If you are looking at purchasing a laptop, like most people this year, then not only do you have to contend with the fact that the battery will start to degrade in performance after a year or two, but also that the durability of a machine effects how long it will last. Most laptops these days will probably last around three to four years. More if they are never moved off the desk, and less if they are thrown in with text books and given little respect or consideration.

Desktops also suffer from wear and tear, and replacing parts can become an expensive hobby if you aren’t careful.

Special Tip

If you want your computer to last a long time, make sure to keep it cool, clear of dust and build up, and protected from any sort of physical contact while active. This is especially true for laptops.

Budget For Your Computer

785979_red_buttons_2Once you’ve come up with your features list, it is time to take a look at a budget. Often, this is the hardest part. Most people take their feature list, and purchase a computer that fits the bill, not realizing that with a bit of patience, research and comparison shopping, the same model could have been purchased at a price that didn’t require financing or the use of a credit card.

Also, sometimes, the features you’ve listed in your current computer build, may not fit your budget, and you’ll want to learn what parts could be upgraded later, and take a computer with slightly less processing power, hard drive storage space, or video card power than you had originally intended. There is nothing wrong with this approach as long as you make sure to research the connections between the parts to make sure you’ll be able to upgrade later.

Special Tip

Computer prices continue to drop, and so you’ll get more for your dollar, but some of the best deals can be had by purchasing parts from a computer parts company, and having them assemble the computer. You’ll also be able to get a machine customized for your own needs, rather than a grey box that was mass manufactured.

Futureproofing

Some of you might be laughing at this point, especially if you’ve purchased a computer, brought it home, set it up, and went online, only to find out that next week, a new model would be coming out with new types of components that won’t work with the ones you just bought.

This does happen, and technology does change, but usually there is months, if not years of warning regarding major shifts in how the various components connect or talk to each other.

The safest route is usually to buy a higher end processor and motherboard because these are components that when a newer model comes out, you may not be able to upgrade.

Things like hard drives, video cards, optical drives (DVD, Blu-ray), monitors and RAM (memory) change at a much slower pace, giving you plenty of time to upgrade before you are no longer able to connect them to your computer.

You’ll also find that things like speaker connections, keyboard and mouse connections rarely change.

Special Tip

Some higher end motherboards will support the next generation of technology before it becomes a widely adopted standard, in hopes of making sure you have extra longevity with your purchase.

Early Adopters and Late Adopters

You’ll probably never want to be an early adopter if you are trying to find the best price point for your computer. Early adopters pay a huge price premium on new technology, and the amount of time that it is “new” is shrinking. The performance versus cost value just isn’t there. You are better off buying the model that is one or two below the top of the line.

On the flip side, you don’t want to get a piece of technology before it is basically considered obsolete. Usually, you won’t get high discounts on the price, and will get sub-standard performance. This is especially true with video cards, as older high end units can sometimes be much more expensive and have less performance than newer lower end units.

Special Tip

Often, with things like video cards, and processors, certain editions will be able to run faster than their advertised, or stock set speeds. While the advantages of running these items faster than their advertised speed is limited, it can sometimes give you the performance you wanted without the additional cost.

The Problem with Going Cheap

inside-pcAnother mistake often made when it comes to purchasing a computer is to go for the least expensive model. Gravitating for the strange brand that no one has ever heard of might save your wallet up front, but what kind of warranty, servicing, and components are being used in that computer?

The last thing you want is to spend $600 on a computer that will only last you a year, compared to someone spending $1200 on a computer that will last three years. That’s not to say you can’t find a great computer for $500, but look at not only the brand name on the box, but what brands are used within. Are they using generic, no-name RAM? Does the monitor have some Chinese characters on it, and seem a bit dark or fuzzy? Sub-standard equipment is not smart purchasing.

Special Tip

Search for the brands of the computer or its parts online, and see what people have to say. Take everything you read with a grain of salt, but make sure you purchase a recognized and fairly trusted brand. It also doesn’t hurt to check consumer reports and the better business bureau if you are uncertain.

Software

Don’t forget to look at software. While there are many free alternatives to popular applications on any operating system, you’ll want to check which operating system comes with your computer. Currently, it is pretty safe that either Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac OS will come with your purchase, but various Linux distributions have made waves in the world of retail as well.

Once your operating system is decided, you’ll also have to think about the daily tools you’ll be using and what will be needed or included. Most people incorrectly assume that they’ll get a word processing application, a virus scanner, and a variety of other pieces of software that may only be trial versions.

Special Tip

If you are looking for free alternatives to software, check out Downloads.com or search for “Free Software Alternatives” in your favourite search engine. Many people have written lists, and this can save you a great deal of money.

Be Nice to Your Senses

658402_monitorThe second last things that people think about, if they consider it at all is the items beyond the tower of the computer. Think about three of your five senses: touch, sight, and hearing.

You’ll want to make sure the keyboard and mouse are nice to use and have the keys and functions that suit you well. Some keyboards and mice will have extra buttons or features that could help streamline your day to day use.

Your speakers are also another key concern, especially if you plan to listen to music, watch movies or play video games. More and more the computer is becoming the center of home entertainment, and without a good set of speakers, you could be limiting the possible performance your modern computer has to offer.

Lastly, and most importantly, you’ll want to make sure you get a great monitor. Your display is the main way you can interact with your computer, and you’ll want to make sure that if you are going to be staring at it for a long period of time, that it looks clear, bright, and colour correct. Don’t skimp on your display. With LCD options decreasing quickly in price, purchasing larger amounts of screen real estate has never been more budget friendly and smart.

If you are planning on doing a lot of multi-tasking, or will need to copy and paste, organize, or deal with vast amounts of data, larger screens, or two more regular sized screens are the way to go. While you don’t necessarily need the huge screens used to watch television on, since your proximity to the display will be much closer than a television, it is still wise to balance size and quality when planning out your computer purchase.

Special Tip

Getting a bigger screen isn’t always better. Lower quality screens can’t replicate colours correctly, have ghosting issues with fast moving images, and can have a higher prevalence of stuck pixels (where one dot stays a specific colour). Usually, there is a sweet spot in size, where you can get a high quality display without breaking the bank.

Don’t Forget About Ergonomics

The last thing people forget about is ergonomics. This is a growing concern as we all spend more time at computers, and continually improve and lengthen our interactions with them. When I first had a computer, it was very limited in its functionality with regard to my day to day life.

Now, my computer is my telephone, mail service, radio, television, alarm, weather service, newspaper, encyclopedia, document processor, and much, much more.

With all these uses, I can sometimes be in front of my computer for ten hours or more, so it is important to get a great chair, ergonomic keyboard, high quality mouse, and a monitor stand to raise the middle of my monitor to the mid-line of my standard vision so I am not looking down, or up at my monitor, thus straining my neck.

There are many ergonomic tips on the Internet, and researching them, and building some of them into your purchase planning is more than just wise: it will better your long term health.

Special Tip

With extended computer use, you’ll want to make sure to take breaks, as you can cause eye strain, muscle cramps, and other issues that could lead to medical conditions down the road. There are many great applications you can install on your computer that will give you a quick reminder to take breaks.

Conclusion

In the end, you are going to want to plan carefully. Computers might be getting cheaper, but they still not the type of purchase that one should make on a whim. If you plan, organize, compare and make an informed choice, you’ll be much happier with the outcome.

Comments

  1. If I could only give one tip to my non-technie friends who are buying a computer, I always advice them to get as much RAM as they can afford. It’s relatively cheap compared to the other components but it offers huge value in speed and “snappiness” of the computer. Especially if you like having lots of browser windows and programs running while listening to music too. I’ll sacrifice cpu/processor power for more RAM!

    • For the most part today though, machines are being loaded up with RAM. It isn’t surprising these days to see computers with 4GB of RAM, and with DDR3 slowly making waves, especially with Intel’s new processors and Windows 7 64-bit actually being a great option, it won’t be long until 3GB is Standard, most people will have 6GB and gamers will be rocking out with 12GB of RAM.

  2. Oh I forgot to mention, once you’ve bought and turned on your computer, be sure to install these apps that protect your computer and ensures it stays fast.

    http://www.wisebread.com/make-your-computer-faster

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