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Your Guide to Buying a New Computer

Updated on July 21, 2015
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When it comes to trying to buy a computer there really is just one big problem: there is too much choice. With dozens of brands and thousands of models to chose from, it's difficult to even know where to start. For anyone who isn't particularly tech savvy, wading through the lists of complicated computer specifications that you don't quite understand can just add another level of difficulty to an already confusing decision. This article just offers a simplified explanation of all the different factors that go into this decision, and also lays out all the different options. It should help give you a general idea of what you're looking for in a computer and how to get a computer that suits all your needs.

What is your Budget?

This is probably going to be one of the most important factors when it comes to picking a computer. The price of a computer can range anywhere from $150 - $10,000 and possibly higher, so the importance of knowing what you're looking to pay cannot be overestimated. Considering this and having an upper limit in your head is going to make the entire process a lot simpler.

What are you going to be using your computer for?

This is possibly going to have the most effect on a lot of the smaller details when it comes choosing a computer. Is your computer just going to be for everyday tasks? Are you a gamer, who needs your computer to be able to handle running games? Are you going to be doing a lot of photo and video editing? These are all things you're going to need to ask yourself and consider. As you continue on in this article you'll see how this factor plays into a lot of the decisions you're going to be making about computers, and understand why it's so important to have at least a vague idea of what you're going to be using it for.

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Buying a Laptop vs. a Desktop

Okay, so now we finally get to dealing with actual decisions that need to be made in regards to choosing a computer. The first big decision you're going to need to make is: do you want a laptop or a desktop computer? Each of these has it's pros and cons, however how you use your computer is going to factor hugely into this decision. If you need a computer which is compact, and can be carried around with you then a laptop is probably the way to go. If you don't need to be able to carry your computer with you, and are happy to have your computer fixed in one place then a desktop may be an option. Desktops can often be more powerful, and better for things like gaming that require a faster computer with more space and better specs. However laptops, especially the higher end ones, can often be bought with specs that rival a lot of desktops, and although they may be a lot more expensive than a desktop with the same specs, they are a lot more versatile and useful for people who are going to be using their computers for multiple things.

Another thing to keep in mind is that laptops can also be used in similar ways to a desktop. If what you like about a desktop is the fact that it runs on a monitor and uses a separate mouse and keyboard, then it's important to realize that a laptop can be hooked up to a monitor, a mouse, and a keyboard and used in exactly the same way as a desktop in that regard. However this will add the extra cost of buying a monitor to the original price of the laptop, which can be several hundred dollars extra. Depending on your personal needs from a computer this may be worth the extra price if you want the functionality of a desktop, while also being able to carry your computer with you away from your desk.

Laptop
Desktop
Price varies based on model and spcifications
Price varies based on model and spcifications
Portable, can easily be carried around
Not portable, can't be carried around easily and used elsewhere
Less powerful for the same price
More powerful, better specs for the same price

Do You Want a Laptop or a Notebook?

A quick thing that needs to be kept in mind is that there are subcategories within the laptop family which can have a huge effect on what you get when buying a computer. Depending on what you need from a laptop, you may consider buying a notebook, which is a computer which can be carried with you with all the ease of a laptop, but is often much cheaper due to being less powerful. The most important different between a notebook and a laptop is the size, as notebooks have often sacrificed some functionality in order to achieve very small, lightweight products. If you're going to be carrying around your computer with you this may be a major factor when considering what to buy.

Laptop Screen Size

The screen size of a laptop is quite important to consider when buying a laptop, but is often overlooked. The size of your laptop screen will be measured diagonally across the screen. Most laptop screens will range from 11inches to 17inches. Considering how big you want your laptop to be is going to be an important part of deciding which laptop to buy.

Smaller laptops tend to be much lighter, and therefore a lot easier to carry around. If you don't feel you need a large screen, and want your laptop to be easily portable, then a smaller screen is probably the way to go. However for those people who are gaming, or editing photos or videos, or just want a larger screen, there are also plenty of options available to them. Gaming laptops often tend to have larger screens. It's important to keep in mind that larger laptops can often be more expensive than their smaller counterparts. Carefully considering exactly how big of a screen you need, and furthermore how much you want you computer to weigh for when you carry it around, is incredibly important when looking to buy a new computer.

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Apple vs. PC

Now I cautiously enter one of the most debated topics within this field, and that's the Apple vs. PC debate. Despite what many people may say, there is no one overarching 'right' answer to this seemingly simple question. Every situation is different and depending on what you're looking to get out of a computer, one or the other is going to be right for you.

Something important to note is price. Apple computers do tend to be a bit more expensive in general, starting at $800 for a Macbook Air, and increasing in price to around $10,000, whether you buy a Apple laptop is going to depend largely on whether you can afford it. If you're looking for a cheap computer, anything under $800, then Apple is probably not for you. However if you have a bigger budget then it's definitely an option that can be considered.

One of the important things to remember when you're looking to chose between Apple and PC is that there is significantly less choice when it comes to Apple Computers. With thousands of different PC models to chose from, this doesn't compare to the sparse options available amongst Apple computers. Furthermore, it's important to remember that Apple computers are running a completely different operating system to PC's which run on Windows. If you're familiar with Windows, and don't want to try and learn a whole new operating system then you may want to cross Apple off the list of computers you're considering.

This isn't to say Apple doesn't have plenty of advantages over PC's as well. Apple is often the preferred laptop of people who do a lot of graphic design, or work with video or photo editing on a regular basis, as their media editing software is very impressive. Apple also has a line of desktops, if you're looking to buy a desktop computer. They're very powerful and offer an attractive alternative to a desktop running Windows. Furthermore, if you use a lot of other apple products, like an iPhone, an iWatch, or a iPad, then an Apple computer is definitely worth considering. The level of compatibility and integration between all these products and an apple computer is considerable, and definitely will make life much easier if having all your gadgets work together is important to you.

At the end of the day this decision is very much based on personal preference, but it's definitely worth considering each option to be sure that you know which kind of computer would be best for you.

Apple
PC
Price Range: $800 - $10,000
Price Range: $150 - $10,000+
Running Apple operating system OS X
Running windows operating system (but can easily be changed to other operating systems like linux)
More compatibility with other apple products
More compatibility with non-Apple tablets and phones
Very impressive media editing software selection
More powerful specification options for things like gaming
Fewer computer models, and customizable options to chose from
Huge selection of computers, and customising options to chose from

Hard Drive Space

Okay, so now we're getting down to the tech talk, and looking at what kind of specifications you're going to need on your computer. One of the easiest ones to understand is hard drive space. This is simply the amount of space on your computer you have to store information. Like many other specifications when it comes to computers, storage space will vary depending on what kind of computer you're looking at. This can range from just a couple gigabytes on a notebook like a Chromebook, to more than a terabyte (1000GB) on more powerful computers.

Once again, think about what you're going to be using your computer for. If you're going to be gaming on your computer, or working with photos or videos, then getting a computer with a lot of storage space is probably a good idea. If you're going to just be doing simple, everyday things then you may be able to get away with using less space. Either way, buying an external hard drive can supply you with as much space as you need, and if you get a computer with less space than you wanted, getting one would be a good way to fix that problem.

RAM and CPU

Don't worry if you've never heard of these terms, or aren't quite sure what they are, they will be explained as simply as possible so you can determine exactly what you need on your computer.

CPU, short for Central Processing Unit, and is the most important part of your computer, and therefore the most important specification to get right when buying a computer. CPU, often just called your processor, is the brains of the computer, and will control how quickly your computer can execute tasks. Simply put, computers with faster processors will be able to preform tasks faster, and will therefore run faster overall. This means processors which clock higher speeds are definitely preferable. When looking for a computer, it's often a good idea to settle on your price range and then look at computers with higher processor speeds within that group as the top choices.

RAM, short for Random Access Memory, is similar to hard drive space in that it's a kind of memory on your computer that is used to access and edit information stored on your computer. The difference between RAM and hard drive storage space is that RAM is used for quicker access of information, and therefore the things that you're currently working on, or have running on your computer when using it, will be accessed using RAM. This means that the amount of RAM you need on your computer is going to vary, much like most other specifications, depending on what you're going to be doing with it. Simpler, smaller tasks will use less RAM, and therefore if you're not going to be doing any gaming or running very intensive programs on your computer you won't need a lot of RAM and could easily settle for anywhere between 2GB and 8GB of RAM, and have your computer work perfectly. However if you are going to be running more intensive programs you may need more RAM, probably at least 8GB, or possibly closer to 16GB. Some computers do have a possible 32GB RAM available, however there will very rarely, if ever, be a time when 16GB of RAM isn't enough for any task run on a computer, even if you're a gamer. However this is an option if required or desired.

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Graphics Card

This section will only really be important if you're looking to buy a computer and use it for gaming, or media editing. A graphics card renders the picture you see on your computer screen. Graphics cards have their own RAM, which is very important as it will determine what resolution you can play games at. If you're looking for a laptop and you think you need it to be able to handle games and media editing, then looking for one with a good graphics card, which has more graphics RAM, will be a good idea.

Store Bought or Custom Made

Once you've decided what kind of computer, and what kind of specifications you're looking for, the last thing you need to decide is how you're going to be buying your computer. You can either buy a standard model computer, either online or in shop. These kinds of computers will often have some kind of customisation you can do, often letting you chose from a few options in terms of hard drive space, or screen size. However the second option will be to have you computer custom built for you. There are many brands which do this, and gaming laptops and desktops in specific can often be custom built. This can be a more expensive way to get a computer, however it is also the way to go if you're looking for a computer with maxed out specifications. It's good to keep in mind that these options tend to only be available for PCs, and are not available for Apple products, which have a few, very limited customisable options available.

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