Choosing a Computer

This is a very interesting and complex topic that has been addressed thousands and thousands of times by many people.  Those people have been both right and wrong and most often somewhere in the middle.  There are a few considerations that need to be made when purchasing a new computer, so let’s dive in.  Keep in mind that there really is no particular order to these, but the order I will lead you in will make it the least overwhelming.

Where will I use the computer?

If you have never taken a computer off of its desk or thought about it, odds are a desktop is for you.  As I write this now, I am sitting on a patio behind my house something that could not be done effectively with a desktop computer.  Also, if you frequently travel and work outside the home take that into account when choosing a computer.  If you fall into a specific niche category regarding inside and out usage we will hit that down further.

summary:  if you use the computer exclusively at a desk and are happy with that, buy a desktop; if not buy a notebook.

What do I need to do?

Modern computers have come a long way, and that is probably the most misunderstood thing about them.  When you go to a chain computer retailer they will often attempt to sell you the biggest, baddest, and fastest machine possible.  That is quite fine if you have a large checkbook, however, for the rest of us, compromises must be made.  Some basics to understand:

Light Usage:  This is the type of person who will write the occasional text document, email, and general web browsing.  Organizing pictures and video files, and watching movies and TV online.  In all honesty, 90% of users meet this criteria.  Just keep this in mind when shopping.

Medium Usage:  This is the trickiest usage level to placate.  This is using enough raw power to realize that your computer might not do what you need.  It is further complicated by a general straddling of price points.  Often this will involve playing back HD video, or massive quantities of multi-tasking.

Heavy Usage:  This is for gamers, photoshop experts, video producers etc, etc.  If you are in this category you probably don’t need/want help choosing.

How big/small of a screen do I want/need?

Screen sizes these days span from 8.9″ to 50+”.  So which one do you need?  The answer varies based on your answers to the above two questions.  If you plan to take the computer on travels and use it for nothing else, a cheap and tiny 10″ netbook is probably fine.  If you want to watch movies in dazzling HD in your living room you are probably better off with a giant TV and a decent desktop machine attached.  Also, keep in mind the vision of those who will be using the computer.  If you are buying a computer for the entire family to use, it can be frustrating to those without perfect vision to need to squint at a tiny screen.

How much do I have to spend?

Let’s face it, money plays a big part in these decisions.  If it didn’t you could just go buy one of each, and give away the ones you don’t use.

Super Limited Budget:  If you are working on a super limited budget it might be worth your time and effort to look into re-utilizing an older computer you already have by cleaning it up.  Another often inexpensive option is to talk to friends/relatives about purchasing their computers from them when they are ready to upgrade.  This gets you a decent machine for less money, and they get cash toward a newer machine.  This approach also lessens the “what’s wrong with it?” factor.

Average Budget:  This is the biggest market currently, and luckily for you the companies want to sell you a machine.

Willing to spend a little:  This is the most future proof to cost effective range and options are still plentiful.  These are normally upgraded machines from the category above.

Hog wild:  If you are in this category decide whether you want a mac or a PC and go to the store, buy the best one they have that meets your needs.


If you need a tiny machine that can go anywhere inexpensively buy a netbook.  For 300 bucks you get a competent computer that can hold up to light usage.  Downside is small screen and cramped keyboards, as well as no optical drive (NO DVD SLOT).

If you need an average sized laptop with average performance I would look at Toshiba, Apple, ASUS, HP and Dell.  These are just starting places though.

If you need an average sized laptop with high performance I would look at Apple, ASUS, and Sony.

If you need a low performance desktop I would look into the above average laptop with an external screen and keyboard/mouse.  This gives portability with low cost.

If you want a media center computer look for mac Minis and for Desktop machines that come without any extra peripherals.

Things that you should take into account are also what other devices you have regular access to.  If you have a powerful desktop and a smartphone you probably dont need a mid-sized laptop.  If your work supplies you with a competent computer, but you are not allowed to use it for personal use, then a netbook might be a great travel add-on.

If you have peripherals that you really like, or need to continue using, ensure that they will work with what you are buying and in a way that is feasible for you (POS systems, accessibility devices, mice, joysticks, printers/scanners etc)

As always if you want additional advice hit me up on the contact page, or in the comments below.

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