Computer Buyer's Guide

Worksheets for Project 2 on page 109:

Needs Assessment Worksheet 
Accessories Worksheet
Comparison Worksheet
*These worksheets can be printed out, filled in, and submitted to your instructor. 

Overview Computer technology changes with great frequency. Sorting through the myriad of computer choices and the accompanying jargon can confuse the most savvy of shoppers. Finding accurate, unbiased advice can be difficult at best. Check out our top ten tips for purchasing a new computer, below. You’ll also be able to browse Web sites that provide computer buyer’s guides of their own. You can also find links to computer buyer’s worksheets that will help you to decide which components to include with your PC. These worksheets allow you to compare prices with other makes and models. Finally, there are links to shopping sites specializing in computer systems and components.  

  • Consider the tasks for which you’ll use the computer. Begin by making a list of activities you expect to do using your computer system. For example, do you want to use your PC for gaming, word processing, Internet access, graphics, music, or something entirely different? Will you use your computer system for a combination of tasks, or will it be dedicated to one particular task, such as small business accounting? Do you want to use your computer for applications, such as home security monitoring, that might require specialized hardware or software? Does anyone who will use the computer have special needs that might require adaptive equipment, such as a voice synthesizer or one-handed keyboard? If you are planning to use specialized peripheral devices or software, check their system requirements to make sure you purchase a computer that supports them.
  • Determine your budget. Ask yourself how much money can you afford to spend on your new computer. Set a price range and shop for the best computer in that range. As a general rule or thumb, a computer priced higher than U.S.$2,000 is the computer equivalent of a luxury automobile. A computer in this price range contains, a fast processor, generous amount of RAM, and copious amount of disk space. These computers contain state-of-the-art components and should not have to be replaced as quickly as less expensive computers.

    Computers that retail for between U.S.$1,000 and $2,000 might be considered the four-door sedans of the computer marketplace because a majority of buyers select computers in this price range. These popular computers lack the flashy specifications of their state-of-the-art cousins, but provide ample computing power to run current versions of the operating system and popular application software.

    n the computer industry, the equivalent of a compact car is a sub-$1,000 computer. The technology in these computers is usually a few years old and you can expect reduced processor speed, memory capacity, and drive capacity. Nevertheless, these budget computers feature many of the same components that owners coveted in their state-of-the-art computers a few years back. You might, however, have to replace a budget computer sooner than a more expensive computer.
  • Select your computer platform. Before you start shopping, you should determine whether you want a Mac or a PC. To make this decision consider the platform used by the majority of your friends and coworkers. If PCs are the standard platform at work, you should probably purchase a PC for yourself. PCs are the choice of most businesses, except those focused on artistic endeavors, such as advertising agencies. Many elementary schools have standardized on the Mac platform, so if you are a teacher or have children who use Macs at school, that should be your platform of choice.
  • Choose a desktop, notebook, or tablet configuration. If you want portability, or if you don’t have much desk space, consider a notebook or tablet computer. Otherwise, a desktop computer might fulfill your needs. The features of today’s notebook computers essentially match those of desktop models, but at a somewhat higher price. If you are on a tight budget and don’t require portability, then go for a desktop model. Another reason for selecting a desktop model is the amount of expandability it can provide. If you plan to install lots of peripherals, and you want an ergonomically designed keyboard, and you prefer a large screen display device, you might not be happy with a notebook computer.
  • Select processor type and speed. Even after you’ve identified a brand and model, you might have a choice of processors. Processor speed directly effects computer performance. A fast processor is essential for some applications such as desktop publishing, video editing, and serious computer gaming. Fast processors are expensive, however, and unnecessary for most routine computing tasks.
  • Select an operating system.  Macintosh computers are shipped with the current version of Mac OS, so Mac buyers don’t have much of a decision to make when it comes to the operating system. PCs can be shipped with Windows or Linux, but that choice is typically easy to make. Linux would be the operating system of choice if you are planning to operate a network or Web server. For the typical personal computer system, Linux limits your choice of software applications and might not provide device drivers for some of the peripheral devices you want to install. PC buyers typically choose the Windows operating system because of its flexibility and because it is the PC standard.
  • When you purchase a PC, you might have a choice of Windows versions. Microsoft typically offers Windows in a Home version and a Professional version. The professional version provides some enhanced security and networking options not available on the Home version. Unless you are planning to operate a small business network, the Home version should be sufficient for your needs. Don’t be intimidated, however, if the PC you purchase comes with the Professional version of Windows—it operates in basically the same way and has essentially the same graphical user interface as the Home version.

Regardless of the operating system you select, make sure it is the most recent version. Older operating systems might not support the newest software applications or some new peripheral devices.

  • Consider your storage needs. A hard disk serves as the main storage device for your computer. Most of today’s computers offer at least 50 GB of hard disk space. That amount should be sufficient for most personal computer owners. Music, video, and graphics files are large, so if you plan to store many of these files, you might want to upgrade to a larger hard disk.

    Most computers include a floppy disk drive and it adds very little to the sticker price. You might consider eliminating the floppy disk drive in a notebook computer with limited system unit space. That space might be better filled with a writable CD or DVD drive.

    Your computer should include at least one rewritable CD or DVD drive for making backups and installing software from distribution disks. Many computer buyers want two CD or DVD drives, with at least one of them providing rewritable capabilities. With two of these drives, it is possible to copy CDs.
  • Consider RAM and video memory capacity. Today’s computers include between 128 MB and 2 GB of RAM. Higher RAM capacity is better for memory-intensive applications such as video and music editing. Additional RAM raises the price of a computer. If you are on a tight budget, remember that you can add RAM later if your applications demand it.

    If the computer you’re purchasing has a graphics card, it contains some amount of video memory. You’ll want the maximum amount of video memory if you intend to use your computer for 3-D action games, video editing, or desktop publishing. On some computers, the graphics card circuitry is built into the motherboard and a section of RAM is dedicated to graphics handling tasks. This technology, usually referred to as “shared memory,” does not match the performance of a dedicated graphics card and video memory.

  • Evaluate the computer’s upgradeability. Some computers are easier than others to expand and upgrade. As a rule of thumb, desktop models are easier to upgrade than notebooks, which often contain specialized components designed to fit in the small system unit. If you want expandability, look for open drive bays that can hold additional hard disk, CD, and DVD drives. Ask about the number of expansion slots provided for network, video, and audio expansion cards. Also, look at the position and number of ports for connecting peripheral devices. Multiple USB ports are handy—especially if they are easily accessible.
  • Select Software. Most computers are shipped with the operating system preinstalled. Remember that Windows includes several utilities and applications, such as rudimentary graphics, compression, backup, defragmentation, Web browsing, and e-mail software. Many computer vendors also install a “bundle” of application software packages. A typical software bundle includes word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and antivirus software. This software is handy for just about everyone, and computer buyers can typically save money by purchasing this bundle along with a new PC. Additional software bundles offered as incentives might appear to be attractively priced, but if you don’t see a need for the software, then perhaps you should put the money into some more useful component for your computer system.
  • Select peripheral devices and accessories. Always find out what is included in the price of a computer system, and think carefully whether each device will be useful for your computing projects. Many companies advertise low-cost computer systems that don’t include monitors. After factoring in the price of a monitor, these systems might not be such a good deal. In contrast, some vendors offer special hardware bundles that include a monitor, printer, PDA, and digital camera! When purchasing a notebook computer, you should consider buying an extra battery, carrying case, A/C adapter for using an electrical wall outlet, and D/C adapter for in-car use. Because many of these accessories are designed specifically for a particular notebook model, they might not be available in a year or two.
  • Evaluate manufacturer and vendor support and warranty. When you encounter hardware and software problems, you want them fixed as quickly as possible. Technical support and repair service is usually available from the company that manufactured the equipment or published the software. Support and service might also be available from the merchant or vendor. Before you make a final decision on computer equipment or software, ask the following questions: Does your new equipment or software come with technical support? How long does the support last? How can you contact technical support? Is it free? Is the support staff knowledgeable? What is the duration of the equipment warranty? Does it cover the cost of parts and labor?  Where do repairs take place and is there a shipping cost? How long do repairs typically take?

Shopping for computer equipment and software can be a challenge, but if you take a careful, organized approach, you can usually buy with confidence. Remember to use all available resources, such as vendor Web sites, magazine reviews, and recommendations from friends and experts.

Computer Buyer’s Worksheets Many computer retailers’ Web sites have worksheets that potential customers can use to specify their preferences in a PC. Users can then compare the results provided with other models and brands to find the best computer for the best price. Visit any of the sites listed below to access their worksheets. Each site uses different worksheets with questions ranging from specific needs, to opinion- based desires. 

Other Computer Buyer’s Guides Below are some of the best computer buyer’s guides to be found on the Internet. These sites provide tips, links, and current articles about new PCs in addition to buyer’s guides. With the rapidly changing  computer market, some of the information on these sites might seem out-of-date. However; much of the advice they offer is valuable regardless of the specific computer models listed. 

Additional Links Once you have decided exactly what kind of system you want to purchase, visit the sites listed below to compare prices. If you find the model you want at a fair price, many of these sites will be more than happy to take your order as well.