Advice on Buying a Computer

I am often asked by friends and family for advice when they are ready to buy a new computer, so I thought I’d write up some of the points I hit and see what kind of things you might add to this.

  1. Mac or Windows? I advocate buying a machine with the operating system you are most comfortable with. If you have used Windows for years but are intrested in a Mac (or vice-versa), make sure you have realistic expectations about the learning curve. There are lots of subtle differences.
  2. Desktop or Laptop? I doubt I’ll even buy another desktop computer, I’m 100% switched over to laptops. It’s really important to me to be able to take my work with me and I like being able to work in the living room while I’m watching a game on the weekend. That said, you get a lot more computing power for your money buying a desktop machine. Also, you can usually keep your existing monitor if you want to.
  3. If you are buying a desktop, buy the biggest and best flat-panel monitor you can afford, even if it means spending less on the computer itself. No one ever complains about having too much screen real estate and the monitor will last you through several desktop computers and you use it all the time. Flat panel monitors are much easier on the eyes when you’re looking at it (no flicker), use less power and take up less space on your desk. They are worth it, period.
  4. Don’t buy extras like RAM or additional software as part of the computer bundle unless you: A) have shopped around and know the price is fair and/or B) aren’t comfortable installing the RAM/software yourself.
  5. Know the difference between different types of processors so you can accurately compare different models. If you don’t know the difference between G3 and G4 or Pentium, Celeron and Centrino, you can’t accurately evaluate which system is a better deal.
  6. If you’re fairly tech-savvy and comfortable reading and following directions, go with wireless networking. It’s pretty reasonably priced these days and no one ever complains about being able to move their computer wherever they want it.
  7. Be realistic about your needs. Do you need that 120GB drive instead of the 80GB drive if all you really use the machine for is e-mail and web surfing? Maybe one of the closeout machines is plenty of computer for what you need at half the price.
  8. Are you paying for extras you don’t need? If you’re buying a package deal, make sure you really want all the stuff you’re paying for (or have priced it out individually and know it’s cheaper to get the package).

What advice do you give when someone asks you about when buying a computer?