Thursday, September 7, 2017


  • 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. 

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. 
  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. 


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. 

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              315-573-4905

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