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Buying a Personal Computer

Updated September 01, 2003
Level: Beginner

Items Covered in this document

What to look for
Hard Drive
Video Card
Removable Media
Power Protection
Printer/Scanner Bundles
Vendors to Trust... and Avoid

What to look for:
When Buying a new computer is one of the most confusing tasks ever presented to those of us who do not attend Star trek conventions. How can a person without vast technological knowledge reasonably buy a PC without getting ripped off? Why do the salespeople at most computer stores know nothing about the products they sell? How many "extras" do you really need?

Don't get duped by the salesperson. In this article, you'll learn:

    What are some features of a new PC.
    What features are important, based on your profile.
    What you may need and not need for your new computer.

There is a host of terms that computer salespeople and computer ads will throw at you. We will try to guide you, and tell you what's hot and what's not.

The processor is the brain of the computer. Processors are designated by a name and a speed rating. Intel is a very good brand. The Intel corporation makes the most famous line of processors, called the Pentium.

If you are on a moderate budget, a fast Intell Pentium is your best bet. Pentium CPU's will make a fantastic componant for your computer, at a very reasonable price.

RAM is the memory that the computer uses internally to run the programs. The more RAM you have, the better your computer will operate. This is an area to splurge in! A high-end machine will typically come with 4 GIG of RAM or more. I recon you can never have too much Ram.

Hard Drive:
The hard drive stores the information and programs in your computer. Hard drives are measured in gigabytes (GB), and the bigger the better. Your new machine should come with nothing less than a 1 TB. Hard drive space is getting cheaper and cheaper, so we recommend 1 TB for the average to advanced user. A standard speed for hard drives is around the 7200rpm (or 10,000rpm in a SCSI drive). Mind you, I recon SCSI hard drives are over rated in this day and age, I think most of the IDE hard drives are great value for money, and speed is only a little higher for such an obscene amount of money difference. Stick with an IDE hard drive.

Video Card:
Video cards offer tons of features. You can purchase video cards that let you edit your home videos, or display your computer screen on your TV. There are video cards that let you view DVD movies on your computer screen (if you have a DVD-ROM drive). There are 3D video cards that let you step right into the latest games. If your a gamer or video editing buff, jump at the chance to get the latest greatest card. However! Be ready for a BIG price.

The most overlooked part of a computer purchase, and yet one of the most important in terms of how enjoyable your computing experience is. Try not to buy any monitor that is less than 21" diagonally. If you have extra money in your budget, this is a crucial area to splurge in.

Not much to say here because DVD is the way to go. Plus, make sure you get a recordable DVD drive. DVD-R drives allow you to record information to a DVD. Better are the DVD-RW drives, which allow you to record information on a DVD over and over. DVD-RWs are the perfect backup solution for large backups and copying -- This is highly recommended! DVD Blueray are even better :)

CD-Rom or CD-RW:
I wouldn't bother about getting either! Only go for a CD-Rom or CD-RW if your trying to save yourself about 20 bucks or less... (and if you are quibbling about $20 you don't need to purchace a computer anyway). Anyway! here is a little info about the CD-Rom. and CD-RW. There is a lot of misinformation about CD-ROM drives. Their speed is rated in how fast they spin the CD. However, once you pass a certain threshold, the increase in spin time really doesn't add much to overall performance. The lowest speed you should get is 36x. However, our recommendation is not to pay extra for anything over the 50x (plus) speed threshold.

This is a tricky one but ABIT and GIGaByte is known for their stable and very feature oriented based motherboards. They have been in the top position competing with Asus for a long time now. I have always been a big fan of ABIT and GIGaByte products as they have continually made solid and reliable boards. They have now expanded into the multimedia and graphics field where they have also showning great promise with those products. Try to get the latest board.

If you are an audiophile or a rabid game player, you should purchase a PC with the latest Sound cards. Otherwise, any (on board) 16-bit sound card will serve your needs just fine.

Again, this is up to your preference for good sound. More expensive speakers will fill your room with gorgeous sound. Smaller speakers may have tinny sounds. We recommend the whole Cambridge line of speakers -- great sound at great prices, and even the very small speakers are excellent.

Removable Media:
If you are planning to store a lot of data on diskette for transport, or if you plan on doing regular backups, you should purchase a better removable storage solution. Like a USB drive. If you are not getting a recordable DVD drive, get a high-capacity removable drive for backup purposes. I would recomend going for the USB Drive, handy to take with you in your pocket.

Not much choice here -- they're all good. If you are concerned about getting Repetitive Stress Syndrome, get an ergonomic keyboard. If you don't plan on typing for hours on end every day, don't bother. If you like the idea of having a wireless keyboard and, wireless this, wireless that, and wireless the other, plan on taking out mortgage for batteries.

Go to a computer store and try them all out. See which you are most comfortable with. My recomendation is, make sure you get a lazer mouse. These are very precise and makes browsing and working with images in fine detail very easy.

USB ports are a way to plug external devices into your machine. It allows you to plug a scanner, printer and other devices into your machine and have them automatically be detected and start working without much input on your part. Do not buy a system that doesn't include USB ports.

The case is "the box" containing the innards of your computer: hard drive, motherboard, RAM, etc. This choice is also a matter of preference. Do you want a desktop computer? A tower case that can sit on the floor under your desk? Take into account the space you have available around your desk before you make this decision.

Power Protection:
You need protection from power surges -- it's foolish not to spend a few bucks more to protect your investment. A good power strip is essential for everyone. If you need total reliability, even in the face of a storm, consider a Uninterruptible Power Source (UPS) in case of a power outage or power surge (prices have come down alot over the last few years and are now very reasanable, even for the bigger UPS's). For the vast majority of computer buyers, a power strip will do just fine.

If you are buying your first computer, pay special attention to the software you get in the package. You will save a bundle if you can get the manufacturer/retailer to include the software in the deal. Always get the latest Operating System, and If you can, have them include an office productivity suite, either Microsoft Office, Sun Office or PerfectOffice blah, blah, blah...

Printer/Scanner Bundles:
If you are not a "power user" who doesn't need topnotch print outs or images, you can save a lot of money by having the retailer bundle a printer or scanner with your system.

Get a warranty! No excuses! 1 to 3 years minimum!

Vendors to Trust... and Avoid

There are a lot of computer hardware vendors out there, and they ALL want your business. While we obviously can't know the skinny on every single one out there, we can tell you the good (and bad) things we have heard.

Dell and Gateway are consistently top performers. The reason is that they make high quality PCs. Dell is excellent at making the higher-end computers, while Gateway has built a strong business around first-time home buyers. Their prices are about the same. Any way you slice it, you will not get a bad deal from these two computer titans.

Never buy a Packfard Belly or a Complact! (I have to discrribe them like that or I will get in to trouble). We at Rookies have had problems with both these vendors. In fact, Heaps of IT professionals stay well away from these two brands. Complact may have once been a great computer vendor, but most of their corporate office is now concentrating on selling servers, leaving home buyers out of luck. As for Packfard Belly, these machines are just flat out terrible.

Bad Retail Shops:
I wouldent recomen you buy from "Hardly Normal" They have to take the biscuit for the worst "after sales service" I have ever encountered! They have to be the most expencive on computer systems and parts, and there "after sales service" is totaly non existent (I should know, I purchesed from them once before, NEVER again).

---- Rookie

Ps, Sorry about having to use names like "Hardly Normal, Packfard Belly!!! Complact!!!!" I had to use some sort of name for them, didn't I? ;o)


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