Being an Information Technology (I.T.) Consultant – or a “Computer Guy” as I prefer to be called – can be a dangerous profession. Sometimes when people find out what I do for a living, I practically get tackled! “Hey, I’m about to buy a new computer…what should I get?” After being a computer guy for nearly twenty years, I’m a good person to ask. In this article, I will share with you the my advice on how to buy a new computer.
There is nothing more frustrating than spending your hard-earned money on a new computer and ending up being frustrated because you didn’t get what you wanted. By following a few simple guidelines, you can buy the perfect computer for your needs without spending an arm and a leg.
If you are considering buying a laptop, please read my article “Should I Buy a Desktop or Laptop computer?” (available at my website) to help you make up your mind. If you are certain that a desktop is the right choice for you, then here is my advice on how to pick the perfect new computer to suit your needs.
What Kind of Computer?
There are many brands of computers available. (I happen to be an unabashed fan of Dell Computers. I have recommended Dell desktop, laptop, and server computers to my friends, family, and clients for many years and continue to be impressed with their quality, value, and performance. Each Thursday I check out the latest Dell deals as they come out, and post the deal of the week on my website.) However, if you prefer another brand, just take the following guidelines into account and you’ll be fine.
I specifically do NOT recommend that you buy your new computer at a big retail outlet, discount club, or office supply store for the following reasons:
— Windows XP Professional is usually not available on retail store computers.
— The Office suite is often a “Trial”, requiring you to pay more money in 60 days to keep using it.
— Technical support is often expensive, outsourced overseas, and not great quality.
What Operating System?
I strongly recommend Windows XP Professional for your operating system. The professional version is a $100 upgrade from the Home Edition, and it is worth it. While the interface is nearly identical, there are some important features that XP Professional has that you want., such as:
— Advanced networking features which are required for any office environment where you will be attached to a server.
— Better networking and security features
— Fax capabilities
— Enhanced backup/system recovery options
— Remote Desktop, which allows you to take over your computer from anywhere in the world! (Forget paying $20/mo for GoToMyPC or LogMeIn…just buy WinXP Professional and the functionality is built in!)
What about WinXP Media Center edition and Windows VISTA? I’m not a fan of either. WinXP Media Center turns your computer into a jukebox, Tivo, and DVD player. If you are a college student with limited space in your dorm room, this might be ok. But my experience is, people invest in a WinXP Media Center computer, and after the newness wears off, they go back to using their TV to watch TV again. I don’t believe in clogging up your computer with software that you aren’t using on a regular basis.
Windows Vista is too new, and while it shows promise, I don’t recommend a new operating system until Service Pack One is released. As the old saying goes, “You can always tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs”. Let someone else debug Vista. My opinion on this will likely change later in 2007 or early 2008 when some of the issues have been worked out.
How Much RAM??
Get a minimum of One Gigabyte (1024 Megabytes) of RAM. The single most important thing you can do to speed up your computer is to make sure it has plenty of RAM. Invest in a GIG now and you’ll never regret it. Your computer may run fast when you first pull it out of the box, but once you start installing software, surfing the Internet, downloading music, or doing whatever it is you do…trust me, things are going to start to slow down.
512Megs is the bare minimum for a Windows XP computer with Service Pack 2 installed (my rule, not Microsoft’s). 768Megs is better, and a Gig is optimal. If you are into video editing, CAD/CAM, or Photoshop, you might want to invest in more than a Gigabyte. Another reason to buy more now is so you can upgrade to Vista later. If that is your plan, get two Gigabytes now.
What Kind of Processor??
The minimum processor and hard drive are probably adequate. For most people, the “slowest” processor offered is probably more than adequate. Faster processers are often available for $50-$500 more, but I think you’re wasting your money if you are like most users and just want to surf the web, read email, do some word processing etc. Spend that extra money on more RAM or an external hard disk for backups instead!
How Big of a Hard Disk??
Similarly, unless you really plan on downloading tons of music and movies or take LOTS of big digital photos, the “smallest” hard drive available is probably adequate. As an example, Windows XP and Microsoft Office combined take up less than 4 Gigs. Most of the hard drives I see have less than 20 Gigs used. Just go for the minimum drive (it’s probably 60-80 Gigs) and, if you run out of space you can always invest in second internal or external hard drive later.
An exception to this rule is that lately I have noticed Dell charging only $10 to upgrade from an 80Gig hard drive to a 160Gig hard drive. Obviously, it is worth a mere $10 to double your hard drive space.
By following just a few guidelines, you can save yourself a lot of money and buy the best computer that will serve you well for many years to come. Remember to seriously consider Windows XP Pro, get a GIG of RAM, and go with the minimum processor and smallest hard drive. For more advice, tips and tricks, visit my website.