How do I buy a computer?
Hey Dave! There are all these great deals on computers this Christmas season. How do I know which computer I should buy?
This is a contributed article, written by technology consultant Adam Kraft.
As a technology professional and overall geek, I get this question, or a variation of it, rather often. Sometimes people ask What computer should I buy? or Who makes the best computers? or Is this computer any good?
All of these are fair questions, especially for people who don't really live in the must-have-all-the-newest-technology world that I inhabit, but these are really the wrong questions to ask. The real questions to consider when you're about to buy a computer are "How much?", "For what?" and "Where?"
Let me explain...
First off: How much?
This first question is really important no matter what you are going to buy, but is especially important for technology. How much are you willing to spend for this new computer? This is a much better starting point for most people because now you can set out to get the most computer for your dollar. Too many people go into their purchase with the idea that their budget "depends what I get for the money."
If you leave this open ended, you open yourself to upselling once you get in the store; sales people who know enough about computers (or may just know which ones have the biggest margins and commissions for them) pushing you into a more expensive computer than you need. If you go into the transaction with the attitude of "This is how much I am going to spend, now make the most of it" you will end up with a better purchase.
Next, For what?
What are you going to use this computer for? This is a very important question that dictates how powerful your computer needs to be and in what areas. For instance, if you are going to play new, top of the line 3D graphics video games, you are going to have to put a significant portion of your budget into an advanced video card. If you are not, but might want to watch DVDs or make your own movies from your digital camcorder using a movie making program, you would want to spend more on your processor and RAM. It is all a balancing act.
Here's a list of common activities that people use their computers for. If you don't know what one of these things is, you probably won't be doing it:
So, where are you going to be using your new computer? It used to be that the cost of a laptop so far outweighed the price of a comparable desktop that it made little sense for the average person to own a laptop. Those days are now gone and the difference between the two is usually less than a couple hundred dollars, sometimes much less. With this change, more and more people are getting laptops/notebooks than ever before. However, there is still a tradeoff. If you absolutely need to be able to take your computer with you wherever you go, then a laptop is your only option. However, if you just think it would be "neat" to be able to lie in bed and check your email, it may not be the best solution.
You will still pay a price premium for the smaller size and you also get a smaller keyboard, no mouse (unless you hook one up separately) and a smaller screen. These can be important factors. I typically recommend that if you are going to get a laptop, even if you intend to buy it online (which I generally recommend that you at least price compare online), that you go to a computer store and play with different sizes and shapes of laptops to find one that you like the "feel" of. This is really important if you are going to be using it everywhere you go.
What about the rest?
Most of the rest of people's questions are not nearly as important as these first three. Who makes the best computers? That depends who you ask. Careful who's recommendation you take too. Most "computer savvy" people are just as prone to bias as the rest of us and they may be telling you don't buy THAT brand because of how that company was 10 years ago. You can look at consumer satisfaction reports on different brands, or, if you go to many popular computer sites (newegg.com is one) they will often have the ability to read reviews from people who already own that exact same computer. In the end though, most brands and manufacturers are generally okay, even most of the ones you haven't heard of.
Don't be afraid to learn a little about your purchase. It will take you just a little extra time to do some basic research and in the end could save you some major headaches.
Have fun! Happy Shopping!
This article was written by Adam Kraft, a technology professional in Denver, CO who runs My Wedding In Colorado.com and Five Years from Today.com.
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