Buying a computer is more complicated than it needs to be. If you are a gamer or a computer enthusiast, this post is not for you. Stop now and move along to your next article. I wrote this article to help those who think buying a computer is challenging because of all the choices, options, and hardware to consider. One reason I believe Apple has done so well over recent years is by bringing a simplicity to the buying process that just isn’t there for traditional Windows-based PCs. Most people I know buy and use these traditional Windows-based PCs, and I hope this article can help take a little stress out of deciding which computer to buy.
Like most people in the high-tech world, I often get asked by family members about which computer they should get. I used to hate this, because it invariably meant that whatever they bought would be considered endorsed by me and tech supported by me. Now I take it all in stride, because I realize for those people who don’t understand the technology it can be a really concerning decision. Choose right and you can live hassle-free with a machine you love, or choose poorly and you will end up with random periods of high-blood pressure while you deal with the inevitable problems that come your way.
I ran across a really interesting article by Mark Knapp on Cheatsheet. The article is titled “9 Key Things to Know Before You Buy a New Computer.” Mark’s article is really good, but while I was reading it I realized it is still way too complicated for the folks who ask me for help. So if you are about to buy a computer either online or at a store and feel a little overwhelmed, here is my simplified approach of how I recommend choosing one:
Step 1) Choose Your Platform – Apple or Microsoft – an important decision to get right. Making the change from one to the other is a big investment in time and it may not be worth it. If you are an Apple household, stay the course. If not, I recommend sticking with a traditional Microsoft Windows-based computer. Windows 10 is strong, the computers are generally more affordable, and the only problem I have found with these is that the Microsoft updates are annoying which isn’t that big of a deal most of the time.
Step 2) Desktop or Notebook? You have to choose, and if you don’t know I recommend getting a notebook because the portability of them is great even if all you do is move it from room to room in your house.
Step 3) Don’t stress on which CPU to get. Just make sure you get a computer with an AMD A8, A10, or FX processor or an Intel Core i3 or i5 chip. If you have more cash in your pocket than you need, also consider the Intel Core i7 chip too. I have a soft spot for AMD products, so I tend to point people that way if there is no preference because AMD’s price-performance has been so strong in these level of processors over the last year. That being said, any of these chips will serve you well, and ensure your computer has enough horsepower to last several years.
Step 4) Memory and Hard-drive. I advise my family to go big on these items. More memory can really help your performance, and hard-disk space is just so cheap I don’t see why anyone would skimp on it. I tend to be a big downloader so I always err on the side of too much disk space. If you have heard of SSDs (solid-state drives) you may wonder if you should get one. I recommend not getting one unless you really take the time in investigate these and find the right one for you.
Step 5) You probably don’t need discrete graphics, but you will want to get it anyway. I don’t need it either, but I always buy a computer with a discrete graphics chip in it because I cannot let my dream of becoming a professional video gamer die. It could still happen – that is all I am saying. A more real reason to get discrete graphics is because it really can help your overall system performance and usually doesn’t add much cost for an entry to mid-level chip from AMD/ATI or nVidia.
Step 6) Don’t skimp. My rule to my family members is that if you spend $299 or less on a computer, then you may not call me for tech support. I think a realistic price for a good windows based PC is around $550-$700. For that amount of money you can find a good machine that should have enough hardware in it to keep your computer useful and relevant for several years. You can go cheaper, but I strongly advise against it.
Step 7) Take the time to read the reviews. Somebody else has already bought the computer you are considering, either fell in love or hate with it, and posted their opinions online.. Go online, do research, and find out what they are saying. This can help you get a good feel for what you are about buy.
Even if you mess up steps 1-5, you will still most likely be ok if you get #6 and #7 correct and should end up with a computer that will serve you well. Either way, don’t stress over it and try to find something that you will enjoy using.
Editor’s note: Starting today, we will be publishing thoughts and opinions from respected industry executives. Our first guest is Robert ‘Bob’ Grim, one of founding fathers of Killer networking technology. The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author alone. We may or may not agree with the said article.