How to Buy a New Computer in 2010

What Should I Buy – Desktop, Laptop, Netbook

With the relentless advancement of Moore’s Law pushing performance up and prices down on processors and memory, computer systems are poised for explosive growth with the prices getting down to the point that there is little excuse to not buy a computer now. A full featured home or business desktop system can be had for under $400 with a good laptop being available for less than $1,000. So the question is how do you choose?

Choosing the type of system really comes down to what level of price and convenience you need. Desktop systems are less expensive so you can get more bang for your buck. Laptop systems have gotten to the point that they are good desktop replacements and can be found in screen sizes up to 20 inches. For the ultimate convenience there are the netbooks. The concept of a netbook is a travel companion that lets you browse the web, take notes, maybe shoot video, with long battery life and the ultimate in convenience.

What Are The Choices To Buying A Computer?

The primary choices you have to make are Operating System, CPU, Memory, Network, Hard Drive, and Monitor. The choices below are from the perspective of a desktop system but generally hold true for a laptop or netbook as well. I will highlight it where required for the different platforms.

Buying A Computer – Operating System

Today the primary decision is between getting a Windows system or something by Apple. Staying away from the religious fervor of the discussion, both are pretty easy to use, both will get you on the internet, and both are available pretty much everywhere. Windows systems are far more popular to buy since they can be found in a wide range of stores and also cost less. Absent a good friend who is an Apple user or a specific need like you are a professional graphic designer, get yourself a Windows system.

Right now for Windows systems buying a new computer you are going to be faced with getting the last version of Windows XP which was a fine operating system but at the end of its life cycle, getting a Windows Vista system, or moving to Windows 7. I’ve supported all of them and would generally suggest that you skip Vista and XP and just move to Windows 7. Microsoft has done a good job with Windows 7 and there will be little if any development or fixes on the older systems. Windows 7 is the future for the application developers.

Buying A Computer – Processors

There was a time when the processor speed of your CPU was important, perhaps the most important buying factor of the purchase. That is no longer the case. With entry level machines starting above 2.0 Ghz and multi-processor multi-core systems readily available to everyone from major vendors, processors are not the most important factor but you should consider one thing when you buy your computer when selecting a processor.

How long will it be before you buy another processor? If it is more than 3 years then get the best processor you can afford. It should not be more than $200 for the upgrade to the best one available through a major vendor like HP or Dell for a desktop system. If you are like me and upgrade more frequently, I upgrade every 2 years, then the processor is less important. Upgrade it or not.

Buying a Computer – Memory

The dirty little secret of both Windows Vista and Windows 7 is that they will use more memory if it is available and your system performance will improve significantly because of it. With memory prices as low as they are today I would strongly recommend that you get the most memory that you can afford to put in the machine. It will have the strongest impact on system performance of all your choices. Don’t get hung up on the different types of memory available unless you are a computer hobbyist who wants the latest and greatest. Its not particular important for anyone other than a hobbyist or specialist.

Buying A Computer – Networking

With the advent of wireless networking several years ago, computer use started to explode. No longer did you have to pull cumbersome cables to and fro through your home or office. Setup a wireless access point connected to the internet, configure your networking on your computer and BAMM you are done. Anyone buying a desktop system today is likely to have an on-board networking connection for a LAN that you can plug your network cable into. Usually you can get an upgrade from the manufacturer to the latest wireless standard, 802.11n, for about $50. I’d recommend you take the upgrade if you have a desktop system. It is super convenient to have it available. If you are on a laptop or netbook then it is critically important that you take it and well worth the money.

Buying A Computer – Hard Drive

With the release of 1TB drives for dirt cheap prices you would think that hard drive choices are a thing of the past. Not so fast. If you plan on burning DVDs and storing music on your computer make sure you get atleast 300GB or more of hard drive storage which is about the minimum a vendor is going to offer you anyway. More is better depending on your needs.

Buying A Computer – Monitor

People work better with bigger monitors and they enjoy them more as well. Wide screen monitors are available up to 30 inches or more. From a price perspective they can be found up to about 24 inches for a reasonable price. Consider that upgrade. It is almost always bought separately from the computer and will cost you $200 or so for the nice ones. If you want to splurge on one thing for your computer consider upgrading to dual monitors. It is a very nice thing to have.

Buying A Computer – In Closing

I didn’t discuss anything about keyboard, mice, tablets, speakers, and other accessories. Get what you like. I like wireless mice and keyboards, but am not militant about it. Its just convenient. It’s an incidental cost to the full system anyway if you are not a hobbyist or specialist. Get what you like.