How to Buy a Computer

Buying a computer is a daunting task for many people. The array of available hardware options, along with frequent improvements in the technology, leaves many bewildered. Nonetheless, with a little thought and planning, it is possible to buy a desktop or laptop computer that meets your needs. Here are the things to consider when buying a computer.


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    Determine how you will use the computer. The purpose you plan to use the computer for should determine whether you want a desktop or laptop computer, as well as the hardware inside it that will be necessary to enable it to meet your needs effectively.
    • If you plan to use the computer for playing video games, you'll want the fastest processor and the largest amount of random access memory (RAM) you can get, as well as a large, fast hard drive and a top-of-the-line graphics card. Some gamers choose to have 2 or even 4 graphics cards, but this requires additional wattage to power the computer and takes away expansion slots that could be used for something else.
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    • If you plan to use the computer to edit digital photographs and videos, you'll want a large-capacity hard drive to store all your digital images. You'll want a fast processor, a large display and a good graphics card as well, but you don't need as good a graphics card as a video gamer does. If you do more watching and displaying images than editing them, you can settle for lower-end components. If you would like to view your images on your TV, you'll need to be sure that your PC's audio and video connectors match those of your TV.
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    • If you plan to use the computer to run a home-based business, you'll need enough power to run the software that helps you perform your daily tasks. You'll need a faster processor only if you run a large number of different software applications, and a quality graphics card only if you run a graphic design business. You'll want a larger display if you work with graphics or spend a lot of hours in front of the screen.
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    • If you plan to use the computer as an all-around machine, you'll want at least as much processing power and memory as a computer used to run a home business and more, depending on how often you'll process family photographs, download MP3 files or play games.
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    • If you take your work with you regularly, you'll want a laptop computer; if you normally work in the same location, a desktop will be suitable. If you travel a lot, you should consider a netbook; this is a small, lightweight laptop, but its smaller screen and slower processor typically make it suited mostly for word processing, data entry and e-mail.
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    Set a budget. Unlike other products, electronics tend to become both cheaper and more capable over time, although you will always pay more for faster processors, more memory and more features. It is usually possible to get a decent desktop computer system for under $1,000, and sometimes for as little as $500, unless you need the additional features of a more expensive system. Laptop computers tend to cost more than desktop computers with equivalent features, but most decent laptops can be had for less than $1,000.
    • Generally, Apple computers tend to be more expensive than computers that run either Windows or Linux; however, they are popular with users who do a lot of graphics work.
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    Consider computer features according to how you will use the computer and your budget. The more limited your budget, the more trade-offs you'll have to make in terms of computer features. Here are some important features to consider when shopping:
    • Computer memory is relatively cheap compared to other features. The more RAM memory your computer has, the more applications it can run simultaneously and the better it performs overall. The more sophisticated your computer's operating system, the more memory you'll need. It is easier to add more memory to a desktop than to a laptop, but it is often better in the long run to buy the additional memory when buying the computer instead of adding it later.
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    • The processor determines how fast the computer runs its applications. Most processors now feature multiple processing cores (dual-core, quad-core, 6-core), with single-core processors found mostly in netbooks. The more processing cores, the faster the processor works.
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    • As with television sets, desktop computer monitors and laptop screens are measured diagonally. The larger the monitor or screen, the more information you can view and the higher the resolution you can view it in. Monitors and laptop screens are increasingly going to the wide-screen views commonly found in high-definition TVs. Additionally, many laptop screens feature glossy coatings that may make it hard to read them outdoors or under strong indoor light without adjusting the screen brightness.
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    • The larger your computer's hard drive, the more information you can store on it. As with RAM, hard drive memory is relatively cheap. If you do a lot of work that accesses the hard drive frequently, such as video editing or gaming, you'll want a faster (7,200 rpm or greater) hard drive; otherwise, a speed of 5,400 rpm will be sufficient. Some lightweight laptops and some gaming-oriented desktops feature solid-state hard drives, which have no moving parts, but these cost a good deal more than a traditional hard drive.
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    • Dedicated graphics and sound cards generally provide better video and audio capabilities for desktop computers than the corresponding integrated computer chips, but at an added cost. Most feature their own memory chips, with more memory meaning greater performances.
    • Most computers have at least 2 USB ports, and some have 3 or 4. Other connectors include HDMI or DVI connectors for connecting to a TV set, VGA for connecting to a monitor and Firewire for connecting to a video camera.
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    • Size and weight are important considerations for laptops. Larger laptops have larger, easier-to-read screens, but weigh more than smaller laptops and also drain the batteries faster. However, the lighter weight of a smaller laptop may also be offset by the weight of its AC adapter and other support equipment.
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    Buy above your minimum needs if you can afford it. This will let you use your computer for a longer period of time before replacing it with a newer machine.
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    If a computer looks appealing to you based on its stats and your personal needs, get the public's opinion. Read reviews of the computer and do your research. The computer you thought was perfect could turn out to be an absolute dud.


  • Other than the software that supports the purpose for which you bought the computer (e.g., video games, video editing software), the main software applications you need for your computer are the operating system, a suite of office applications (word processing, spreadsheet) and antivirus software. Don't buy more software than you need, but do look for bundle deals on important applications.
  • If you need a computer now, buy it now instead of waiting for something faster, better and cheaper. There will always be a computer down the road that's faster, better and cheaper.
  • Most computer warranties are for 1 year, parts and labor. If you've bought an expensive system or aren't comfortable dealing with computer problems, you may want to consider an extended warranty. You'll also need to be aware of how the computer is serviced when under warranty, whether you need to save your original boxes for shipping and who covers the shipping costs.
  • If you plan on upgrading your computer's hardware after buying it, be sure to get one that will be easy to upgrade, ie. computer can be easily opened, or spots for extra RAM.

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Categories: Selecting and Buying a Computer