How to buy a computer

There have been a couple of questions from readers in the past few weeks about buying computers, and I thought it might be useful to try and provide some sort of advice in this column.

It is not surprising to find people are nervous about doing the wrong thing when asked to choose between products containing so many components of differing sizes, speeds, and model numbers.

Potential buyers are often concerned that the computer they choose may not be up to the task that it is being bought for. The other common fear is that, knowing nothing about the speeds and capacities of the various components, they might be paying for technology or capacity they don’t need.

The good news is that the entry-level PC these days is more than good enough for most computing tasks. These include office work, fiddling with digital photography, doing e-mail, surfing the web, and playing less involved games.

The entry-level PC will be quite fine these for those pursuits although I would recommend paying for extra memory, so that the machine has at least 2Gb of RAM. These machines will most likely not have separate network and video cards, but have them built-into their motherboards, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Choosing a computer does get a bit more complex when you are buying them to engage in activities, such as video editing, high-end gaming, and advanced image manipulation, which need more computer resources to be really viable.

The advice I gave to a reader who wanted to buy a gaming computer for his son was to take a look at a couple of the games his son was going to play. Programs, including games and video editing packages, will always have a listing of the minimum requirements they need to run and, very often, a suggested configuration as well.

It seems that most of the monitors available today are LCD screens and I don’t know all that much about them. It seems to be that screens with higher contrast ratios and lower response times are better.

I’d say the thing to do is to take a careful look at difference between the cheaper and more expensive models, and don’t get seduced into buying an inferior screen, simply because it’s larger.

Choosing a laptop, or notebook, sounds quite hard too, but it’s also a matter of buying a machine to suit what you’re going to do with it. At the most basic, you have the so-called Netbooks, which would be fine for web surfing, a bit of wordprocessing, or sending e-mail.

These normally have smaller screens but make up for that with a greater battery life and enhanced portability. You have to decide if you can live with the smaller screen and keyboard.

As with their desktop cousins, the entry-level notebooks will be fine for just about any task and you really only need something better if you’ve got a special requirement. I would want at least 2Gb of RAM and a wireless networking facility built-into any machine I bought.

As far as operating systems go, I personally would not choose to buy any machine with Microsoft Vista on it at this stage. Windows 7 is due out very soon and I would insist on a free upgrade to that, or I wouldn’t buy. I’d also definitely consider using a Linux variant, like Ubuntu, if I could get Linux versions of all the software I intended to use.

The only really hard thing about buying a computer, to my mind, is choosing who to buy it from. The ideal is to buy from someone you trust to provide unbiased advice and the technical support you’ll need, and that’s really a matter of individual choice.

One hint I’ll give is that the glib-sounding person you found in the newspaper, with only a mobile number listed, is probably not the right one to choose. Of course, if you have a favourite guru, the choice will be easy for you.

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