Gone are the days of needing a mortgage to get one of these newfangled number-calculatin’ machines. There’s now a ready solution — from mini tablet to ultraportable laptops to traditional desktop PCs — for every type of user, at a wide range of prices, starting as low as $100. Before heading to the store (see tip 4), hit these 10 tips to get a line on the best option for your needs and price range.
Consider a tablet.
If you only want to rely on a PC for the basics — check email, surf the Web, poke around social media, look at photos, play music — you may be a good candidate for a tablet, or a low-price Chromebook, which runs Google’s Chrome OS. For those who have more demanding needs, like creating spreadsheets or using media editing programs, you’ll most likely want to opt for a more powerful and versatile traditional computer.
Pick your OS.
In the past, the Operating System, or OS, was king. Now that so much of the computing experience is handled online, it’s far less of a deciding factor unless you plan to use lots of OS-specific programs. If you have a lot of legacy applications you’ll want to transfer to your new machine, make sure first that they’ll be compatible if you decide to switch.
Assess your use.
The desktop market has essentially tanked, for good reason — today’s laptops and notebooks are powerful, fast, and affordable, and offer a more versatile option than a hulking PC that crowds your living room. But for some users, especially those who live in small spaces, a desktop may make sense as a dual home theater option, particularly all-in-one models with large, high-quality displays such as an Apple iMac.
Go to the store.
You should definitely spend time price-hunting online, but before you wipe out a credit card, you ought to go to a brick-and-mortar store to get a feel for a device. Is the keyboard comfortable to use? Do you like the resolution of the display? Is it too heavy, or have sharp edges? Does the case flex? Is it slow when you’re online? You won’t learn any of that until you actually try it.
Beware refurbished deals.
While refurbished gear often is perfectly fine, laptops, in particular, are a danger zone because they’re portable, and it’s impossible to know how often or badly they’ve been bumped, dropped, or crushed. Avoid them unless it comes right from the original manufacturer, and comes with a full, bulletproof warranty or is sufficiently low-priced as to be a worthy risk.
Don’t be seduced by power.
While in the past you had to judge a PC by its processor, within reason, the average computer today is perfectly fast. You shouldn’t feel tempted to pony up for the top-of-the-line model with the cutting-edge processor for fears of buying an obsolete model — you’ll be good for years to come. If you’ll be editing video or pro audio or are heavy into Photoshop, you might want to boost to an Intel i5 or i7. Otherwise, most any dual core processor should suffice.
Cram the RAM.
All things being equal, the biggest bang for your buck in maxing out your new PC’s performance will be loading up the RAM, which is short-term memory. You can save by buying RAM in kits online from sites like crucial.com and installing it yourself. Not tech-savvy? You can opt to upgrade when buying and install the maximum possible.
Check the ports.
Verify which ports your PC will have, and what your needs will be. If you use external hard drives, you might want at least a few USB ports, including a super-fast USB 3.0 port. If you use your PC for entertainment, look for an HDMI port that hooks up to a TV.
Back it up.
While picking your PC, be sure to pick up a backup hard drive at the same time — the average life span is just a handful of years or so, as with smoke detectors, replace them before it’s necessary. Yes, the cloud is a great resource for keeping things backed up, but you should always have a full backup of your most important files, photos, and music handy. Storage is cheap — lost memories are forever.
Confirm the warranty.
There’s a wide range between build quality and customer service from PC companies, some of which rank as low cable companies. Confirm both the term length and whether labor and materials are included, as well as free customer support. Most companies offer a year’s warranty at a minimum but have a range of customer support before they charge you money for help. Depending on how often you upgrade, an extended warranty can be a good investment, especially for laptops, because even a single repair often costs as much as the policy.