2018 COMPUTER BUYER'S GUIDE
You've decided to replace your computer, or buy one for someone you love. Great! This is the best time of the year to make the purchase.
Whether you're looking for a desktop or laptop, the minimum and recommended specifications are the same. If you'd like in-depth information to help you decide on form factor (laptop or desktop), check out my wordy posts from last year. You'll find important factors that are still relevent today.
Perhaps the biggest question today is which is more important to you - speed or storage space? A computer with a solid-state drive (SSD) will be a great deal faster than the old-style mechanical drives, but will be more expensive and have a lot less storage space. RAM is not storage space; storage is where your data lives - photos, music, documents, etc.
Now that you know what type of computer you want, here's what to look for and where to find it.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Many people are interested in using email, going to Facebook, maybe doing some banking, bill-paying or shopping, and looking at some pictures. You may think that's not much, so you don't need anything more than a $300 computer, but here's why you do.
Before you get to log into Facebook or look at your email your computer is loading programs and checking for and installing updates. That takes a certain amount of horsepower, storage space and time. The cheaper the computer, the fewer horses, the hotter it runs, the smaller the storage space and the longer it takes to start up, load the background apps, then open a browser and go to the place you want.
What runs in the background? Security software, office suites, printer software just for starters. Maybe you like music running in the background, having your email and Facebook open while you check out Pinterest. To do these tasks without dragging your new computer will need at least:
RAM: 8 GB. 12 or 16 is better, 4 is unacceptable.
PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5 or i7; i3 has long ago jumped the shark. No Celeron processors, and I'm not a fan of AMD.
HARD DRIVE: If you're going with a less expensive, more storage space computer, 500GB or 1TB. If you're ready to step up to fast on/off, fast loading of programs, fast file transfers, faster all-around performance, go for the SSD. 128GB is too little space, in my opinion, unless you truly store nothing on the computer and use online storage for everything (Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, iCloud, etc.
WARRANTY: Typically 1 year. Some "great deals" come with only 90 days' warranty; you can buy more. Also, check to understand how the warranty works. Do they send a technician to you or do you have to mail the machine into a service facility, or take it back to the store for service? You can pay more to get better services.
BRAND: For reliability, quality and ease of service I like Dell, and have even relented on HP these days. I'm not going to mention here which manufacturers to avoid, but you can call me. If it's made by anyone but Dell or HP we should talk before you spend your money.
MID-RANGE: For most users. Expect 3 to 5 years' use. 8GB RAM, Intel Core i5-8th generation processor (yes, it matters; 7th generation and below are much slower) and 1TB hard drive ranges from about $500 to $600. Expect a 1-year, mail-in warranty. This will not be a speed demon; it will get you where you want to go.
BETTER: Faster performance, longer life. 12 or 16GB RAM, Intel Core i5-8th or i7 processor, 256 or 512 GB solid state hard drive - $650 - $800.
BUDGET: Slower performance, shorter life. Try not to spend your money on anything less than this: 8GB RAM, Intel Core i5, 500 GB hard drive - $400 - $450.
WHERE TO BUY
You can buy good computers online or from a local retailer like Best Buy, Staples or Walmart – and they sell increasingly online. While you're deciding what to buy, also think about the seller. Generally, if you buy directly from the manufacturer's web site you'll get to configure the computer the way you want instead of picking whatever the store thinks will sell. Sometimes you get a better deal (components plus price plus warranty) buying direct. Ask for discounts! At Dell, there’s likely an employee, AAA, AARP or other discount you can get in on. Sometimes you find a great buy at a big box store - but only if you know what your minimum requirements are and stick to them.
If you buy your new computer at a retail store you're likely to get a sales pitch for additional software, services and warranties. You don't need to buy any additional software (unless you insist on Microsoft Office or QuickBooks, etc.) and you don't need any additional security software. Windows 10 includes a decent security software solution and the for-pay suites are unnecessary. See my post on WHY YOU DON'T NEED TO BUY SECURITY SOFTWARE
DECISION MADE, NOW WHAT?
There’s a lot of stuff on your old computer. How does it get to your new one?
It depends. If you have anything you don’t want to lose on your old computer and aren’t sure how to move files let someone do it for you. Even if your old computer is dead it might be possible to get some data from it.
ASIDE: You *are* backing up anything you don’t want to lose, right? See my post on Why and how to back up your data here: BACK UP YOUR DATA
If you haven’t done any backups and still want your photos, documents and music, let’s talk.
SETTING UP YOUR NEW COMPUTER
There are a number of steps involved in properly preparing your computer, though you can certainly take it out of the box, plug it in and log into Facebook. It's a mistake, but you can do it. Or, you can pay the store retailer to do a minimal job or I'll do a thorough job for you - and transfer your data and install the computer and printer, if you like.
If you'd like to discuss what computer might work for you, let's talk. I can help you pick it out, get it for you, transfer the data from your old computer to the new one, install all the necessary updates and applications, create the recovery media, help get your email and other accounts working and even plug it all in for you. Or any part of it. We can even do most or all of it via remote.
This information is the product of my 30+ years' experience buying, selling and servicing computers. No one pays me to recommend their product - which means I'm free to tell you the truth, as gleaned from my service files.
Cathy Contant email@example.com 315-573-4905