Do you really need a computer at all?
Decide on the software first
How upgradeable does your computer need to be?
How to work out what hardware
Do you need to pay more for a name brand computer?
“Because my neighbor has one” is a good reason but not very helpful for the purpose of this exercise. How powerful a computer you need is determined by what tasks you intend to use it for and this will influence the price you’ll be expecting to pay.
A good place to begin is by making some lists. You need to have a clear picture of what you want to do with you. Jot down a list of the main things that your computer has to do, a “must-do” list. Now jot down a list of things that you would like it to do, and “if possible” list. Then make what may be called the “in my dreams” list. Not sure what you can do with a computer? Here are some ideas:
Word Processing: Typing letters, documents, essays, homework
Desk Top publishing (designing advertisements, brochures, leaflets etc)
Web Site Designing (working on pages like this)
Graphic designing (Architectural drawings, designing circuit boards)
Database (lists of your video collection, business contacts)
Spreadsheets (graphs and charts)
Accounts and banking
Sending and receiving faxes
Answerphone service (complete with several mailboxes)
Browsing the internet
Working with images, pictures
Educational: Using encyclopedias, other educational software
Games: If possible make a note of what type of games (some have vastly different requirements to others)
Playing DVD movies
Doing your own video editing
Connecting a musical instrument & making/editing music
Writing your own CDs
Storage: Scanning in documents for storage
Networking: connecting more than one computer together
Once you’ve got your lists ready, then comes the difficult task of deciding what hardware you need for the job: all the gigabytes and megahertz stuff. There’s no getting away from it. To get the best deal you will have to learn a bit about what’s on a computer. Assuming you know what the basics are let’s proceed.
Do you really need a computer?
Are you going to be using your computer solely for a task like a word processing or games? Then maybe what you want is not really a computer.
Consider a simple word processor. It’s very similar to a computer, will still give you a dictionary, spell checker and thesaurus, but it won’t give you much more. On some WPs you’ll still be able to save your work on a floppy disk and/or print it out. It’ll be a lot cheaper, probably quicker than a low-end computer, and doesn’t crash as often. Since this page is about deciding on a computer we’ll assume you want to do more than just writing the odd letter.
Games: Is your computer only for games? It’s not a good idea. Computers weren’t designed to play games and the PC is not the ideal platform for games. Sega and Nintendo have consoles that will cost you a lot less and give you a lot more punch for your money. There are some games that are only available for use on computers. But you will have to buy a pretty powerful computer to cope with some of the modern games written for the PC platform. If games are just one of the uses you are going to put your PC to then read on. Those of you thinking of buying a PC solely for playing games: take my advice and buy a games console instead.
Before you decide on the hardware you need
Decide on your software first and the level of software support you need. This is very important. Most computer dealers talk too much about the hardware and how fast and powerful it is. Avoid being sucked into deciding on hardware till you’ve made your software decisions. The hardware you need is dependent on what type of software you want to run on it and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There’s no point in using a top of the range computer with the fastest DVD drive and mega fantastic 3D graphics card just to do some basic accounting. Don’t use the old sledgehammer for cracking open your nuts (to misquote Dan Quayle).
How upgradeable does your computer need to be?
Too often customers get distracted with this question. Our instinctive reply to it is this: don’t bother about upgrading. Yes, we’re serious. Plan to use your computer for a few years and then sell it dirt cheap to buy a newer model. That’s the most cost-effective long term solution. It hurts, but it’s true. Read on.
If you have to pay any extra for ‘upgradeability’ it’s probably not worth it. Things change so fast in this industry that when, at some point in the future, you want to upgrade a computer bought today you’ll probably be told: “We can change the motherboard but with the new motherboard you need to also change the RAM. By the way, your existing graphics card doesn’t fit into your new motherboard so we’ll have to change that as well”. See what we’re getting at? Another example: People who bought the early Intel Celeron computers thought they’d be able to upgrade the processor easily later. But then Intel changed the ground rules. The new Celerons processors don’t work on the older Celeron motherboards. Sorry guys. Tough luck.
When the time comes to upgrade, the chances are that you’ll find it is far more cost-effective to sell your computer in a boot sale and buy a new one in its place. Trust me on this.
But does upgradeability makes a difference to your price? The more “upgradeable” a computer the more it costs, generally speaking. Plan ahead realistically. Get reconciled to the fact that no computer can be upgraded to infinity. Every machine has a limited life. Make an estimate of how many years of use you want out of this computer before your requirements will change and you’ll need to upgrade.
If you still want to build some “future-proofing” into your computer plan what type of upgrades you could possibly need for the life of the machine. If you need to have the option of upgrading to a top of the range graphics card later then you won’t want to be stuck with a “built-in” graphics card that can’t be changed. However, if you don’t need the facility of upgrading the graphics then you can save a lot by buying a computer with a “built-in” card. The same goes for most of the other parts. Make a list of the upgrades options that you simply MUST have. How many spare bays, ISA slots and PCI slots? Do you need USB or firewire ports? Make sure you specify those requirements to every dealer you speak to. And even then don’t count too much on the upgradeability of your computer.