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.
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.
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 315-573-4905