Thursday, September 14, 2017

2017 DESKTOP COMPUTER BUYER'S GUIDE


Your desktop computer has served well for years, but it's time for an upgrade. Many of the points in my 2017 LaptopBuyer's Guide apply equally to desktops; where to buy, minimum specifications, what not to include.

Desktops are usually less expensive than laptops, run faster and cooler and last longer. Many of us like the comfort of the keyboard and big screen. Desktops are usually connected to the Internet via Ethernet cable rather than wireless (WIFI), which makes the connection faster, more secure and more stable. Yep, I’m sticking with my desktop.

If your desktop is still using Windows Vista, 7 or even 8/8.1, it’s a good time to think about a replacement. Many computers can be upgraded to Windows 10, but you’ll have to buy the upgrade (around $120) and unless you’re adventuresome will want to have the backup and installation done for you. That total brings you a long way towards a new computer, besides having all-new, non-heat-affected components which run much faster than the current ones would also have a new warranty. And, you’d be using Windows 10, which by most standards is where you should be now.

COMMON QUESTIONS

What is the best desktop for you? The one that does more than meet your needs of today without going overboard. If your brand-new computer is slow today, think about what it will be like in a year or two.

What about an All-In-One? Usually underpowered for the gimmicky convenience. Poor airflow, shorter life. Your call.

Do I need a new monitor? Probably not. Most monitors are compatible with all modern towers/desktops, or can use an adapter.

What about my printer? Will it work with a new Windows 10 computer? It depends on the model, and it’s a quick search to check with the manufacturer. Many printers simply need the Windows 10 drivers installed. Do NOT use the software disc that came with your 7-year-old printer; it wasn’t built for Windows 10 and the right software is available and free.

So, where can I buy a good used or refurbished desktop? You can't. I have many examples of failed refurbished computers; if you're tempted, let's talk. 

TODAY'S PRICES

You may think there would be great bargains right now due to “Back-to-school” pricing. Well, not so much. Retailers and manufacturers know if you need a computer for school you’ll buy what you can find, at the price they ask. Prices will likely drop in the weeks to come, and there will be short deals around. 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Let's get to the minimum specifications for a desktop you'd like to use more than a year or two. Many people are only 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:

THE SPECIFICATIONS

RAM: 8 GB. 12 or 16 is better, 4 is barely useable. 
PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5 or i7; i3 if you're really on a budget. No Celeron processors, and I'm not a fan of AMD.
HARD DRIVE: 500GB or 1TB. Or, if you love fast performance go for the Solid State Drive (SSD). Everything will run like the wind, but the drives are expensive and the storage space is small.
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?
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: Best for all users. Expect 4 to 6 years' use. 8GB RAM, Intel Core i5 processor and 1TB hard drive ranges from around $500 to $600. Expect a 1-year, mail-in warranty. 

BETTER: Faster performance, longer life. 12 or 16GB RAM, Intel Core i7 processor, 1TB hard drive - $600 - $800. 

BUDGET: Slower performance, shorter life. Try not to spend your money on anything less than this: 4GB or 6GB RAM, Intel Core i3, 500 GB hard drive - $400 - $450. 


WHEN TO BUY

The best time of the year for buying a computer is close. Around Thanksgiving you’ll find the best deals of the year, though quantities are usually limited, the deals usually aren't really deals and the crowds are a challenge. Of course, the best time to buy a computer is when you need one, but if you've held out this long it's time to get serious and pick one. 

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 desktop 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 FOR-PAY 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            cathy@cathycom.com            315-573-4905



Wednesday, September 13, 2017

TIME TO UPDATE YOUR COMPUTER

The monthly Windows Updates were released yesterday (September 12), along with several others you'll want to install.

Windows 10 and 8.1/8.0 should download and install operating system updates without any prompting from you; just check to see if a restart is waiting for you. Windows 7 users can click the Start button, then go to Windows Update to choose Important and Optional updates. Follow the prompts.
New updates this week include Adobe Flash, Adobe AIR, Mozilla Firefox, iTunes and CCleaner. If you have the Ninite Updater, run it this week.

You'll need to get the latest version of CCleaner to install. Go here (https://www.piriform.com/ccleaner/download), then click the green Download button under the Free version. Just use the free version. Install as usual. Uncheck any boxes offering any toolbars or third-party software. Consider configuring CCleaner to not monitor your system - nobody needs more stuff running all the time. It slows your computer down and there's a fair potential data is being collected.

Adobe Flash - many web sites are still using Flash and you won't see everything unless Flash is installed, up-to-date and enabled on your computer. Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome take care of updating Flash for you, but if you have Mozilla Firefox on your computer you'll need to go to Adobe.com, then scroll to the bottom of the page and click on Adobe Flash, then follow the prompts to be sure you have the latest version.

Want that cool Ninite Updater, which does so much of the updating work for you without allowing 3rd-party software or asking questions you can't answer? Or just want everything checked and updated for you? Contact me and we'll get it done.

Cathy Contant       cathy@cathycom.com      315-573-4905

Thursday, September 7, 2017

2017 LAPTOP BUYER'S GUIDE

  • How To Pick Your Best Computer
  • What To Look For and What To Avoid
  • Why We Don't Buy $300 Laptops
  • Why We Don't Buy Refurbished Electronics

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. 

WHEN TO BUY
The best time of the year for buying a computer is upon us. From now through early January you'll find the largest variety, the most stock and the best prices on electronics, with Black Friday as the peak. The problem with counting on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) to find the best computer for you is that quantities are limited, the deals usually aren't really deals and the crowds are a challenge. Of course, the best time to buy a computer is when you need one, but if you've held out this long it's time to get serious and pick one. 

You can buy good computers online or from a local retailer like Best Buy, Staples or Walmart. 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. 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. And, if you don't get conned into additional services or products you don't need. You don't need any additional products or services - more on that later. 

Let's get to the minimum specifications for a laptop you'd like to use more than a year or two. Many people are only 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 $200-$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 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 laptop will need at least:

  • RAM: 8 GB. 12 or 16 is better, 4 is barely useable. 
  • PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5 or i7; i3 if you're really on a budget. No Celeron processors, and I'm not a fan of AMD.
  • HARD DRIVE: 500GB or 1TB. Or, if you love fast performance go for the Solid State Drive (SSD). Everything will run like the wind, but the drives are expensive and the storage space is small.
  • 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?
  • SIZE: Laptops come in 11, 13, 14, 15.6 and 17" sizes. 15.6" is standard; anything larger or smaller will come at a premium. 
  • 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. 
QUESTIONS
  1. "So, where can I buy a good used or refurbished laptop?" You can't. No one gives up a decent, working laptop so don't waste your time and money. I have many examples of failed refurbished computers; if you're tempted, let's talk. 
  2. "Craigslist? Ebay?" Nope. And nope. Just don't do it. 
  3. Someone wants to give you their old computer? Well... only if you can't get one any other way. They don't want it anymore for good reason. 
  4. "What about a 2-in-1?" Ah, those laptop/tablet all-in-one multitools. A great idea that hasn't yet found a way to work well, at least at the lower end. I've recycled several already. 
  5. "How about a touchscreen?" I used to say no, now I say yes. Wholeheartedly. 

If you buy your new laptop 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. 

What about 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 it, if you like. 

TODAY'S SPECS AND PRICES

MID-RANGE: Best for all users. Expect 3 to 5 years' use. 8GB RAM, Intel Core i5 processor and 1TB hard drive ranges from around $500 to $650. You can find some deals for $400 to $500. Expect a 1-year, mail-in warranty. 

BETTER: Faster performance, slimmer and lighter-weight case. 12 or 16GB RAM, Intel Core i7 processor, 1TB hard drive - $580 - $800 with options of SSD, touchscreen, 2-in-one and DVD drive. 

BUDGET: Try not to spend your money on anything less than this: 4GB or 6GB RAM, Intel Core i3, 500 GB hard drive - $349 - $500. 

SUMMARY
You get what you pay for. Laptops are incredibly convenient, far more versatile and longer-lived than a tablet or smartphone. We pay upwards of $700 for a phone that last two years; why wouldn't we pay a lot less to get a lot more?

If you'd like to discuss what laptop 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. But please - don't buy a $179 laptop!

Cathy Contant            cathy@cathycom.com            315-573-4905