How to Buy a Computer


Stressed out about buying a computer? Well, fear not! With a little thought and planning, you can easily find one that meets your needs. It’s mainly a matter of figuring out the general type of computer you need, knowing about its inner workings, determining your required features, and making your ideal computer fit your financial situation.

Part 1
Choosing the Type of Computer

Choosing the Type of Computer on How to Buy a Computer

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To help you decide, you should write a list of the tasks you plan to perform. Surfing the web, word processing, and spreadsheets (basic usage) will require a less complex computer than digital audio or video production will. If you plan to multitask, make a note of that, as well. Desktop computers are available in these forms: Full-size computers are inexpensive, easy to repair and upgrade, and come with the widest options of features. Their main disadvantage is the large amount of space they take up. All-in-one computers combine the central processing unit (CPU) and the monitor, taking up the least amount of space. On the other hand, they’re very expensive and difficult to repair and upgrade. Gaming computers are large, very expensive, and designed with the serious gamer in mind. They have a large amount of memory, high-quality sound and graphics cards, and fast processors.[1]

Choosing the Type of Computer on How to Buy a Computer

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Chromebooks are inexpensive, small and, lightweight. If you work primarily with word processing or spreadsheet software, this is a good choice. Its main disadvantages are limited storage space and limited memory. If you choose this option, you’ll need regular access to the online cloud storage.[2]

Choosing the Type of Computer on How to Buy a Computer

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They have fast processors and lots of storage space. Smaller models are lightweight but still have most of the perks. However, larger options have displays that are easier on your eyes. They also give you a wider range of features.[3]

Choosing the Type of Computer on How to Buy a Computer

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Tablets are very lightweight and can be used almost like laptops. Their batteries can hold a charge for anywhere from four to 13 hours. On the other hand, if you use a computer for productivity tasks, you’ll have to buy keyboard.[4]

Choosing the Type of Computer on How to Buy a Computer

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If a computer looks appealing to you based on its stats and your personal needs, get the public's opinion. Ask friends, family members, and trusted staff at electronics stores. Read reviews of the computer and do your research. After all, you don’t want to end up with a dud that just looked cool. Our Expert Agrees: Before youmake a purchase, go online to thewebsite of any seller that offersthat computer. Then, do a littleresearch to see how other peoplelike that model.Our Expert Agrees: Before you make apurchase, go online to the website ofany seller that offers that computer.Then, do a little research to see howother people like that model.Our Expert Agrees: Before you make apurchase, go online to the website of anyseller that offers that computer. Then, do alittle research to see how other people likethat model.Our Expert Agrees: Before you make a purchase, go online to the websiteof any seller that offers that computer. Then, do a little research tosee how other people like that model.Our Expert Agrees: Before you make a purchase, go online to the website of anyseller that offers that computer. Then, do a little research to see how otherpeople like that model.

Part 2
Choosing the Right Inner Workings

Choosing the Right Inner Workings on How to Buy a Computer

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The core storage drive of a computer may come in the form of an traditional hard disk with moving parts or a stationary solid-state drive. Solid-state drives (SSDs) are faster and use less power than hard disks. They’re also less prone to freezing when running multiple programs at once. Bottom line: if you’re a multi-tasker, go for the SSD.[5] If you can’t decide between a hard disk and a solid-state drive, you could choose a hybrid drive which combines the two. With a hybrid you get the speed of an SSD for a lower cost. On the other hand, its hard-disk parts are fragile and can be damaged if you drop your computer.[6] Optical drives, which play CDs and DVDs, are becoming less common on laptops. If you can’t find a computer with a built-in drive, buy an external drive that you can attach with a USB cable.[7]Think about how you'll use yourcomputer to determine what youneed. If you're mostly doingday-to-day stuff, you'lltypically be fine with a computerthat has about 8GB of RAM and anHDD or SSD hard drive that'sabout 500GB. If you work withvideo or music, you'll probablyneed about 16 gigs of RAM andpreferably an SSD drive.Think about how you'll use yourcomputer to determine what you need.If you're mostly doing day-to-daystuff, you'll typically be fine with acomputer that has about 8GB of RAM andan HDD or SSD hard drive that's about500GB. If you work with video ormusic, you'll probably need about 16gigs of RAM and preferably an SSDdrive.Think about how you'll use your computer todetermine what you need. If you're mostlydoing day-to-day stuff, you'll typically befine with a computer that has about 8GB ofRAM and an HDD or SSD hard drive that'sabout 500GB. If you work with video ormusic, you'll probably need about 16 gigs ofRAM and preferably an SSD drive.Think about how you'll use your computer to determine what you need. Ifyou're mostly doing day-to-day stuff, you'll typically be fine with acomputer that has about 8GB of RAM and an HDD or SSD hard drive that'sabout 500GB. If you work with video or music, you'll probably need about16 gigs of RAM and preferably an SSD drive.Think about how you'll use your computer to determine what you need. If you'remostly doing day-to-day stuff, you'll typically be fine with a computer thathas about 8GB of RAM and an HDD or SSD hard drive that's about 500GB. If youwork with video or music, you'll probably need about 16 gigs of RAM andpreferably an SSD drive.

Choosing the Right Inner Workings on How to Buy a Computer

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The larger your computer's hard drive, the more information you can store on it. Hard drives usually come in sizes of 500 gigabytes (GB) to 8 terabytes (TB).[8] Consider your intended tasks on the computer. Ask yourself if these needs could change over the next few years. For example, your immediate need might be enough space to hold word documents and spreadsheets. However, you could find music and video files that you’d like to store for later. Your friends could begin sending pictures of the kids’ latest milestones. These files will require more space than smaller files.

Choosing the Right Inner Workings on How to Buy a Computer

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The more random access memory (RAM) memory your computer has, the more applications it can run simultaneously and the better it performs overall. If you plan to stick with basic usage, go with a standard 4GB RAM. If you’re a serious gamer, on the other hand, go with 16GB or higher.[9] You can also buy additional RAM later if you need it. RAM tends to be rather inexpensive, regardless of the system you’re using.

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Look at the both the number of cores and the number of gigahertz (GHz). Cores determine how fast your computer runs. GHz measure the amount of power consumed. For example, a 1.5 GHz quad core processor runs faster than a 2.0 GHz single-core. Your requirements will likely fall into one of four categories. With each one, you have a range of processors to choose from:[10] Basic usage (web surfing, emailing documents, productivity tasks): Intel Celeron, Pentium, AMD A4, or AMD A6. Basic gaming (single-player applications): Intel Core i3, AMD A6, AMD A8. Watching videos and basic gaming: Intel Core i5, AMD A8, AMD A9, or AMD A10. Video editing and serious gaming (multi-player interactive games played online): Intel Core i7, AMD A10, or AMD A12.

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For most computers, you’ll have to decide between Windows and Mac. Windows systems are less expensive, more common, and can interface with the Xbox. However, they’re more vulnerable to malware like viruses and ransomware. Mac operating systems are less vulnerable to cyber attacks and usually update automatically with a high-speed Internet connection. Tech support at the Genius Bar in any Apple Store is free indefinitely. It’s free via phone only for the first 90 days.[11] Our Expert Agrees: When you'rechoosing a computer, it's best togo with the operating system thatyou're used to. That will helpyou narrow down whether to choosean Apple or a PC.Our Expert Agrees: When you'rechoosing a computer, it's best to gowith the operating system that you'reused to. That will help you narrowdown whether to choose an Apple or aPC.Our Expert Agrees: When you're choosing acomputer, it's best to go with the operatingsystem that you're used to. That will helpyou narrow down whether to choose an Appleor a PC.Our Expert Agrees: When you're choosing a computer, it's best to go withthe operating system that you're used to. That will help you narrow downwhether to choose an Apple or a PC.Our Expert Agrees: When you're choosing a computer, it's best to go with theoperating system that you're used to. That will help you narrow down whetherto choose an Apple or a PC.

Choosing the Right Inner Workings on How to Buy a Computer

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If you’re buying a laptop, remember that the more power your computer consumes, the shorter its battery will last. New Mac batteries can last for up to six hours if you’re only creating documents. Surfing the web and watching videos can reduce battery life to about two hours. Windows batteries have a shorter life before you need to charge them. Dimming your display will extend battery life by anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. Newer models of Macbooks, Ultrabooks, and tablets don’t have removable batteries.[12] On the other hand, you can remove the batteries in older Macs.[13] With care, these batteries can last for five years before you need a replacement.

Part 3
Picking the Features

Picking the Features on How to Buy a Computer

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If you’re not buying an all-in-one or portable computer, you’ll need a separate monitor. These days, monitors are powered by cathode ray tubes (CRTs), liquid crystal displays (LCDs), and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). CRT monitors are the old-school kind powered by the same technology as traditional television sets. They’re very inexpensive at first but are very expensive to repair. They’re also very bulky and have fallen out of favor with most users. LCD monitors don’t flicker as much as CRTs, which is a plus if you suffer from headaches. They’re also lightweight and take up less space than CRTs. On the other hand, they’re very expensive, and their resolution can also get distorted if you connect projector cables. LED monitors are the most eco-friendly option because they require the least amount of power. Like LCDs, they’re lightweight. However, their image resolution is better than LCDs. Their only disadvantage is their high price tag.[14]

Picking the Features on How to Buy a Computer

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Go with a larger display if you work with graphics or spend several hours in front of the screen. Choose a smaller size if you’re frequently away from the computer and work primarily with text. The larger the monitor or screen, the more information you can view and the higher the resolution you can view it in.[15] Newer laptop screens feature glossy coatings that may make it hard to read them outdoors or under strong indoor light without adjusting the screen brightness.

Picking the Features on How to Buy a Computer

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If you’re buying a desktop computer, you’ll definitely need a mouse. Some mice are cordless, using a USB stick to connect to the computer. Others connect to the CPU or monitor with a cable. Mice are mainly available in optical form. An optical mouse replaces the old track ball with a red light on the bottom and is more likely to navigate smoothly over the years.[16]

Picking the Features on How to Buy a Computer

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Dedicated graphics and sound cards generally provide better video and audio capabilities for desktop computers. Most feature their own memory chips, with more memory meaning greater performances. If you choose high-quality graphics and sound cards, be prepared to pay extra.[17]

Picking the Features on How to Buy a Computer

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Ask yourself how many external objects (printer, scanner, external hard drive, etc.) you want to connect to your computer. Most computers have at least two USB ports, and some have three or four. Other connectors include: HDMI or DVI connectors for connecting to a TV set VGA for connecting to a monitor Firewire for connecting to a video camera. Ethernet port to connect your computer to a broadband modem (if you don’t have a WiFi router)[18]

Picking the Features on How to Buy a Computer

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These days, a mere typo in a URL could infect your computer with malware. Don’t put your files at risk. Invest in an external hard drive. Even the most serious scholars saving gigabytes of data should be fine with a 1-terabyte hard drive. Connect it to your computer through the USB cable or a Firewire. From there, you can start backing up all your files to your external hard drive. If the drive is brand new, you should receive visual prompts from your computer. For example, if you use a Mac, you will see a prompt asking if you would like to sync your drive to Time Machine. If you choose this option, your computer will automatically back up your files every time you connect the external hard drive.

Picking the Features on How to Buy a Computer

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Most new and refurbished computers come with a one-year warranty. Whether you buy an extended warranty is up to you. Get the warranty if you’re buying pre-owned or if you’re prone to spilling beverages on electronics. Avoid it if the computer is brand new or if the warranty is more than 20 percent of the price of the computer.[19]

Part 4
Assessing Your Finances

Assessing Your Finances on How to Buy a Computer

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Determine a limit for what you’re willing to spend. Don’t get tempted by software you don’t need. You can usually get a decent desktop computer system for under $1,000, unless you need the additional features of a more expensive system. Laptops tend to cost more than desktop computers with equivalent features, but you can buy most for less than $1,000. Generally, Apple computers tend to be more expensive than computers that run either Windows or Linux. However, they’re popular with users who do a lot of graphics work. They’re also less vulnerable to malware.To save money, think about whatadd-ons you really need. Forinstance, if a touchscreen isn'tthat important to you, you mightchoose a computer without one,since a touchscreen could make itmore expensive.To save money, think about whatadd-ons you really need. For instance,if a touchscreen isn't that importantto you, you might choose a computerwithout one, since a touchscreen couldmake it more expensive.To save money, think about what add-ons youreally need. For instance, if a touchscreenisn't that important to you, you mightchoose a computer without one, since atouchscreen could make it more expensive.To save money, think about what add-ons you really need. For instance,if a touchscreen isn't that important to you, you might choose acomputer without one, since a touchscreen could make it more expensive.To save money, think about what add-ons you really need. For instance, if atouchscreen isn't that important to you, you might choose a computer withoutone, since a touchscreen could make it more expensive.

Assessing Your Finances on How to Buy a Computer

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” Do some research on when computer manufacturers come out with new models. Usually, they’ll drop the price of the soon-to-be old model around that time. If you don’t worry about having the latest technology, you should consider this option. Different manufacturers have different schedules. Some introduce and phase out models throughout the year. However, most refresh cycles tend to fall during these times of the year: Back-to-school (June-September) The holiday shopping season (October-December) Spring (February-April)[20]

Assessing Your Finances on How to Buy a Computer

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Do this if money is especially tight. Refurbished computers cost considerably less (as much as 20 percent) than brand new computers and run just as well. In fact, many refurbished computers have never been used. Buy only from reputable sellers or manufacturers like Best Buy or the Apple Store. Make sure your refurb comes with at least a one-year warranty.[21]

Assessing Your Finances on How to Buy a Computer

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If you’re a student, educator, or member of the military, have your ID ready. You might be eligible for a five- to ten-percent discounts off the retail price of your computer. Your student, faculty, or military ID must be current.

Assessing Your Finances on How to Buy a Computer

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When you buy on installment, you pay a certain amount up front (about 10 percent) and continue to make monthly payments until your computer is paid off. Ask about interest rates and whether the store finances through a third party. Read the fine print before signing off on anything.