Computer Buying Tips — Selecting the New Computer
This is "new computer season" for a number of people. Some families will buy their first computer as a big Christmas present. Other times, the computer is a replacement for an aging machine.
Christmas might just be the excuse to get the new computer. No matter why you get one, the computer needs some security help before it connects to the Internet.
How Much Computing Power Do I Need?
Consider a "middle-of-the-road" model, not just the cheapest and not the "bleeding edge of technology," either. You should buy a good machine, whether you want to buy your new computer at a local computer shop or purchase it by phone or the Internet from Dell.
If your goal is computer gaming, especially flight-simulation and "first person shooters," you will need a fast machine.
Get Enough Memory — But Don't Overspend!
Check whether you can expand the memory in the new computer. Memory is usually one of the highest priced manufacturer upgrades for computers — while you can usually find much better deals elsewhere. Memory upgrades are easy to do, too.
I recommend Crucial.com for memory for desktops and notebooks. They have an excellent Wizard to help you figure out which memory you need. I saved well over $100 by buying my Dell Inspiron notebook with minimum memory and then buying 1GB of RAM from Crucial last year.
Based on December 04, 2005, prices on the Dell Inspiron 9300 and corresponding memory at Crucial, you can have 2GB in your computer for $198.16, less than half the price increase at Dell. This is after picking the minimum memory configuration on the Dell purchase, so you still get the two 256MB modules that you should be able to sell on eBay!
Notebook vs. Desktop
A notebook computer makes an interesting alternative for a main computer — that's what my primary computer is! But, notebooks are notorious for not being upgradeable. Sure you can add Crucial memory or replace the hard drive — but that is all. For the corresponding amount of power, a desktop computer may be roughly 60% of the price of the corresponding laptop, although we can find very cheap notebook computers in today's world. The new netbook computers are also a viable choice, at least if all you want to do is surf the web and read & write email.
Look for expandability in a desktop computer. A sleek, slim model may look nice, but if you can not add another hard drive, it may not be your best choice.
You can buy or build an external hard drive for extra disk space. However, that is not the best way to use them. See my article on external hard drives for related comments.
Graphics Cards and other High-Performance Needs
If you're buying the computer for a family, you may be able to get by with a standard big-name manufacturer's PC. But, if you are buying a custom computer for a game-playing teenager, you have to shop in a different marketplace.
Some manufacturers have their super desktops for gamers, but you won't find these at your corner discount store or "big box" computer store.
You should also talk to your local computer store -- the mom-and-pop PC store -- not the guys (or girls) in the national brand store. The local shop can build one to your specifications. They may even have a provision for discounted parts and/or labor for future upgrades to the PC you buy from them.
So, if you're buying a PC for gaming, you need to research the available products.