Click Here August 2004: Buying a Computer Part 2
By Lee C. Sonko, Computer Consultant
First, a little announcement: If you have e-mail, you should get on the PVPOA Announcements e-mail mailing list. Just go to the PVPOA.com web site (username: pvpoa, password: pvpoa) and you’ll see a link to sign up. We won’t give your e-mail address to any of those awful, terrible nasty people that send junk ‘spam’ email. I hate those guys too!
Last month, I wrote the first of a two part series on buying a new computer. I talked about which operating system to get, CPU speed, and how much memory to get. This month, I’ll round things out by telling you about different computer manufacturers, hard drive sizes, graphics cards, monitors, and about buying used.
You can buy your computer from many places; there are several mail-order only companies, then there’s Staples, Circuit City, and even some fine independent stores in Hackettstown. It’s getting hard to buy a “bad” computer from a reputable dealer any more, but you can spend money on things you don’t need, or forget to get what you do. Plan it out. Don’t buy what you guess you might need. Instead, find out what software you need (which will be a substantial financial investment as well!) and buy a computer that has parts that work well with the software. My favorite dealer is Dell, but some people don’t like their mail-order-only nature. And to be honest, it is sometimes difficult to understand the accents of many of their customer service reps. It’s hard to find a retail dealer that can sell as good a product at their price though. From my experience, Apple Computer’s customer service is terrific.
Buying a high-end computer will probably give it enough “horsepower” to keep up with contemporary uses for about five years. An inexpensive computer might be good for four years, but then again, maybe ten if you don’t need it to do anything fancy.
How much hard drive do you need? To answer that, I need to know what you’re going to do with the computer. If you’re surfing the web and reading email, You can get by on three gigabytes (the smallest hard drive they sell today is twenty gigabytes!). If you will be editing videos or any of a myriad of other things, you might need one hundred gig or more. So I can’t tell you how much to get. The cost of a gigabyte of hard drive space has cut in half every eighteen months for the last ten years or so. So if you can wait a year to buy that larger hard drive, you’ll save some money.
The “Bus speed” of a computer is often touted around. But I think you should just about ignore this statistic. From any reputable dealer, the bus speed will be appropriate for the computer and it won’t make all that much difference anyway. I could explain exactly what bus speed means, but it wouldn’t really help you.
Graphics cards are a huge issue for some folks and a non-issue for others. If you are planning on playing one of those hot new 3-D games, then you’ll want to pay attention to this. If you don’t care much about games, then just use the standard video card that the computer comes with. Every month or two there is a new “best” card so I’d be hard pressed to suggest exactly which one to buy. $100 will get a pretty good card, and the view on your screen with a $400 card will knock your socks off and wash them for you!
You can save some money if you buy a used computer. But buying used can easily be more hassle than it’s worth. An inexpensive new computer with a warrantee and all-new software costs about $400 while a used machine might cost $200. Unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, that $200 might be money thrown out the windows. If you’re not sure, you should probably leave buying used to someone else.
The monitor, keyboard and mouse are, in many ways, the most important parts of your computer. Those are the things you actually see and touch every day! It’s hard to find a bad keyboard. I’ve used a lot of awful mice in my day; spend the extra $30 on the “good” mouse. You’ll be rewarded every single day.
The monitor is the second most expensive part of the computer but it’s often virtually ignored until the last minute. If you’re going to use this computer often, get the best monitor you can afford. There are two types of monitors, LCD and CRT. The LCD flat panel screens are great. They’re easier on the eyes, fit in smaller spaces and they’re stylish to boot. They’re also three times the price of a comparable old fashioned CRT monitor. To choose, you should go to a computer store and stare at them for a while. I bought a 19” LCD from Neovo for $600 a few months ago. That’s a lot of money but I spend a lot of productive time in front of it. It makes me happy. And that’s what’s most important about all of this computer stuff. It should make you happy. If it doesn’t, send it back!