Computer Buying GuideMy Computer Buying
Guide is designed to answer questions like I receive every day
from employees of business clients who want a little free
advice from the company's high priced computer consultant when
they buy a computer online or offline.
What should I buy?
I presume you've read my general
computer buying guide advice on this.
Here are some more specifics on the "cheap" PC's that I
Open the hood on one of these cheapo's and chances are you
find one or more of the following (maybe all):
Chincy case, barely adequate power supply. I've seen
these units where you add a 2nd hard drive, maybe only
for a temporary purpose, and the machine won't power up
because there is now too much power draw.
It's a Celeron processor (a real Intel processor
with one hand tied behind its back). Or maybe an AMD
processor (AMD can be just fine, but if it's a
cheap AMD processor it is a huge indicator of
the poor quality in the rest of the computer).
Sloooow hard drive. (A fast one would have cost them
Not enough RAM. Usually RAM is cheapest to buy on
the initial purchase.
Integrated Video. (Fine in its place, usually
business, but not for gamers that's for sure. And now
with Vista, can be more of an issue.)
operating system like Windows ME, Windows XP Home,
Windows Media Center
Need I go on?
So let me say it again - DON'T BUY JUNK!
The REAL answer depends on what you are looking for.
I want top of the line!
I want a good quality machine that won't
break the bank
I want CHEAP!
I want to build my own
Top of the
Good for you, but I hope you understand that you will pay top
dollar for the privilege of buying bleeding edge
Dell is probably the choice if you want to buy online from a
reputable (although far from perfect) retailer, get a good
warranty, and choose your features. You can choose from the
form factor that fits your space and your taste, but make sure
to buy from the "right" of the screen. Dell usually lays out
the machines from left to right, left being "good", then
"better", then "best" - though not always.
Again, though, look for quality, not size. Hard drives, for
instance, might have a higher price for a larger one but
I would rather have the fastest one.
Make sure the PC is Microsoft Windows Vista Premium Ready,
not just Vista Capable. Read more on Vista
If you buy from a local store, that can be good if they have
a service department that will take care of you. But make sure
and get referrals, possibly ask a computer consultant in your
area who can be trusted to provide a quality machine and still
be around for warranty service.
If you don't use my computer buying guide, please use
someone reputable to get advice from. I shake my head every day
when I see what's out there - online and offline.
Here's a sampling of configuration options to choose:
- High quality, name brand motherboard (if not buying
Dell) - Asus (my favorite), Intel preferred.
- Intel Core 2 Duo (the higher number xxGhz, the more
- Windows XP Professional; Some are
now offering FREE VISTA Upgrades
- SATA II 3Gbps 7200rpm (10,000 better but more $$, make
sure it's a 3.0 not 1.5 SATA) hard disk, you choose the
- 1GB memory (minimum for Windows Vista)
- nVidia or ATI graphics (Spend more if you are a gamer -
with more onboard video ram, spend less if business
oriented). I kind of prefer the software features of nVidia
for customizing dual monitors, etc.
- DVD +/- RW (if you have the choice, buy a drive from
Plextor or another high end unit)
- 1.44 floppy, if you think you might use it - Dell
charges too much for it though
- Keyboard and mouse is absolutely a personal
- Monitor - Bigger is better as long as you buy the best
in class! Cheap is not good when it comes to flat panels.
If you really want to treat yourself, buy 2 monitors. Dual
monitor setup is fantastic!
- Warranty - accept nothing less than 3 years, the other
features are your preference
- RAID - This is a 2nd hard disk mirroring the first.
Great in case of drive failure. No good if primary drive
gradually degrades with only minor data corruption along
the way (2nd drive will just mirror those bad bytes). This
feature is ONLY recommended if a reliable software
monitoring mechanism will alert you to a problem. If you
have to reboot and watch the POST messages to know if the
drive is failing, I wouldn't pay for it.
Computer for reasonable price
- Same as above. "What?", you say? Same as above. Just
notch everything down to reasonable.
- Instead of getting that Core 2 Duo in 3.0Ghz, get a
- Buy 1GB RAM instead of 2GB.
- Windows XP Pro does not change here, or anywhere (until
Vista is out and stable)
- Hard drive is still a 7200rpm (not 10,000) 3.0 SATA
- nVidia or ATI graphics (required for Vista), but less
onboard video RAM (256 for instance)
- DVD +/- RW costs very little more than CDRW/DVD, as
long as you stay with the non-premium drives
- Buy a 17" flat panel (upgraded quality), instead of a
19" or above.
(make that inexpensive, I NEVER recommend junk)
Buy a used computer that was in either category above
a couple of years ago. In my humble opinion (IMHO),
Cheap + New = Junk
Probably beyond the scope of this computer buying guide to
go into greater detail, but you can use some of the guidelines
above for a start. Some other sites you might check out are
Especially for Building Gaming Computers. Gamers
usually have specific needs and wants, so building your own
desktop PC can have particular merit in addition to perhaps
saving some money.
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