Buy a Personal
Computer With Confidence
This article will walk you through the choices
you need to make and provide guidance for what to choose.
In order to select properly, you need to decide
what type of user you are and what special needs you may have.
Additionally, you need to determine how much you want to spend and
whether you would consider buying a used or refurbished computer.
As a general rule, my opinion is that one should
get the most computer that they can afford without getting the actual
top of the line.
Computer technology changes rapidly and today’s
super fast and capable computer rapidly becomes outdated. Unless you
are interested in swapping your computer frequently, by getting a very
capable current computer you should not need to upgrade for at least a
The very top of the line computer commands a
premium in price that is generally not worth it and one level below has
at least 95% of the capability of the top.
If your budget doesn’t allow for this solution,
you need to be aware of the tradeoffs in various choices that you will
have to make.
Computer type selection
You should first decide if you want a laptop or
desktop computer. I’ve discussed the issues at length in my article
or Laptop? The main question is if you have the need to be
mobile even though your computer will cost more and possibly have less
Depending on one’s finances, you may opt for a
used computer or for a blowout special. Great savings can be achieved
by taking this route.
However, used computers present support challenges
and the risk of early breakdown. Low priced bargain computers may be
limited in ultimate capability and need to be carefully evaluated.
Heavy duty 3D gaming is a whole new world and
generally pushes current computer technology to the limits with top of
the line powerful and expensive units and is out of the scope of this
If money is not a pressing issue, single core
computers should not be purchased. Dual core processors are more
powerful and for most users any dual core processor based computer
should suffice for standard activities such as word processing, email,
browsing the web, watching DVD’s, doing one’s finances and the vast
majority of other tasks.
If you need to do heavy database querying,
complicated mathematical computations and number crunching or heavy
encryption, you should get one of the higher end processors.
2. Operating system
Assuming a Windows PC, the choices are between XP
and Vista. Even though Vista Service Pack 1 (a set of fixes to the
known problems of the operating system) has been released, there still
appears to be some issues with Vista.
If you are very familiar with XP and don’t want to
struggle with learning a new operating system or you have a program
that is not supported on Vista yet, XP can do everything you need and
you can request it worry free if your vendor allows for this option.
If you select Vista, at a minimum you should not
get Vista Home Basic but rather select Vista Home Premium. For maximum
OS power, Vista Ultimate should be chosen. The detailed options for
Vista are outlined in my article Which
A 17 inch monitor is probably the smallest that
you should settle for. You can select larger ones if you so desire.
Some monitors come with built in speakers if that suits your needs. If
you want your computer to double as an entertainment center, you should
consider purchasing a high definition or plasma monitor. Dell has an
excellent summary of their choices at the Dell Monitor Link
The most crucial factor in terms of computer
performance is the amount of memory. When you buy computer memory, a
minimum of a gigabyte of high speed memory should be selected to
support today’s demanding operating systems and programs. Two gigabytes
would be even better.
If one is engaged in heavy duty graphics such as
CAD (Computer Aided Design) or 3D gaming, or if one is doing heavy
database access or number crunching, even more memory should be added.
5. Hard Drive Size
Major manufacturers are offering drives with 250
Gigabytes of storage on their lowest end computers. This should be more
than enough for most users.
6. CD and DVD burner
Drives that read and write to CDs and DVDs are
cheap and you should specify read and write for both. Don’t accept CD
read/write and DVD read only and miss out on the ability to write DVDs.
The price difference is so small that it doesn't pay to save this way.
Blue Ray and HD DVD disks can hold up to 50
gigabytes but the drives needed to use them are much more expensive
than standard DVD drives. Standard DVD drives will run around $50 while
Blue Ray will cost around $600.
7. Video card
The type of card that you get depends on the type
of activities that you are planning. The list below indicates the type
of display usage and the appropriate video card for that type of
1. Basic usage – word processing, internet
browsing, email and DVD movies
The basic level card will suffice for this. It
should have at least 128MB. Two representative cards are the Nvidia
7300GT and ATI 1300XT.
2. Vista Aero User or light gaming, rich media,
and general entertainment
This capability requires mid level graphics power
and a card with at least 256 MB of its own internal memory should be
purchased. A sample card would be ATI HD2600XT.
3. Edit and view photographs in brilliant color
A mid level card should be used for this. One
example is the NVidia 8600GT, All cards from this level and up should
have at least 256 MB.
4. Playback HD (high definition) quality content
The card should have HDMI
(high definition output) to attach to external displays and HD TVs. Two
possibilities are Nvidia 8600gt or ATI HD2600XT. They have DVI output
which can be converted to HDMI. The DVI output is the connector on the
left of the image.
They would need a DVI to HDMI cable to connect the
video card DVI to the display HDMI. This connection wouldn't carry the
sound. The sound would have to be connected to the speakers directly.
The Palit Radeon HD 2600 ProSonic outputs HDMI
directly including the high quality sound. You could connect this card
to your HD display using a HDMI to HDMI cable.
5. 3D accelerated games in high definition player,
CAD (Computer Aided Design), video editing or high level graphic design
3D gaming makes the greatest demands on the
computer’s video systems and the sky is the limit here. In general, the
highest level card that your system will accept will provide the most
The detailed options for each of these levels of
activity are described in my article Video
The standard sound card offered by most
manufacturers is fine for standard use. If you have special
requirements, the major dealers describe the advantages of the various
9. Keyboard and mouse
Connected or wireless versions are offered. Be
sure to get an optical mouse. They are much more reliable than a
10. Media reader
These are usually listed as 15 in 1 or 13 in 1
card or media reader. This device allows you to directly get data off
of a number of devices such as digital cameras, personal digital
assistants (PDAs) and others by directly reading the mini card that
stores their information.
If you want to send or receive faxes or connect to
the internet via a phone line where high speed internet may not be
available, you will need a modem.
12. Wireless network
If you plan to connect to a wireless network, you
will need a wireless network card in your computer. Standard network
cards are built in and most modern laptops also have a wireless card
Best of luck with your purchase.
from Buy a Personal Computer to Ask the Computer Doc home.