7 Tips for Buying a New Computer

A complete article on buying a new computer would be a book! These are just a few of our opinions. 

This article was first published after Vista was released.  Updated entries (2/28/2010) are in blue font.

Windows 7 is the new PC Operating System from Microsoft.  Vista is over three years old and XP is nine this year!  Prices are lower and capacities are larger.

1. Buy a new computer before your old one dies.
I’m sure you make good backups (right?)… but, it is a lot easier to set up a new computer when the old one is still working. You don’t want to be buying a new computer under the pressure of having nothing. So, how do you know when is the right time? Four years is about the maximum expected life span of a laptop computer these days. If you’re having any kind of hardware-related problems, or even just very slow performance, and your computer is 3 years or older – it’s time to start looking.

It is not worth putting more money into a laptop computer that is more than 3 years old. A desktop computer is a bit of a different story. My desktop is still working fine even though it is 5 years old. But it can’t run the software that my newer dual-core Windows 7 laptop can run.

When you get a new computer – and your old one is still working – you can transfer all the files by connecting a cable between the two. With a program called PCMover from Laplink, you can even transfer programs and settings!

MAC or PC? Our expertise is with PCs- so that is what this article is about. We don’t know enough about Macintoshes to properly advise you. One thing we know that we find very interesting is that they are now based on the Intel processor, so they can – with special software – run PC programs as well. That means that you get 2 computers in one! If you’re thinking about doing that – you’re way ahead of us!

2. Get a laptop and a USB keyboard & mouse.
If you do any traveling with your computer, a laptop is the way to go. Then you can carry it to the Wi-Fi hotspot if needed. But I hate the laptop keyboards. For $20 – $50 you can buy a full size keyboard that plugs into the the USB port of your laptop. Now you have the best of both worlds. You should also buy a USB mouse.  Wireless keyboards and mice are fine, too.

3. Recommended minimum specs:
Processor: Intel Core-Duo or Centrino Duo. Jim says he would not buy a computer with an AMD processor or a Celeron.  New Quad-core processors are becoming available.
System Memory (RAM): Minimum 3GB, 4GB is best.  64bit OS will address even more RAM.
Hard Drive Size: 250GB hard-drive is standard now – and plenty for most people. If you have a video camcorder and want to edit video, you’ll need more.
Operating System: Windows 7 Home Premium. The ‘Starter’ version is too limited, the Professional version does not include the fun, creative stuff that travelers want, the Ultimate version is fine, but not necessary. Be wary of the 64 bit version – although it is the latest and greatest, check that your software will run on it.  Most new software releases will run on 64bit.

4. Connectors / Ports
Make sure the computer you buy has the connectors you need. If you have a camcorder, you will need a Firewire (1394) connector. You’ll want at least 3 USB 2.0 ports. A built in card reader for your camera is nice. If you a PC card type of adapter for your Wi-Fi or cellular wireless Internet, you may have trouble finding a laptop with the appropriate slot now. We recommend the USB type of adapters.  If you want to view or play on an external HD monitor, a HDMIconnector is needed.

5. Brand Names:
Jim loves his Sony VAIO. My Toshiba Satellite is great too.  Now, I have a new Sony. Most all name brands today are pretty good. We’ve seen a lot of problems with Acers and would stay away from them, as well as Compaqs. Your mileage may vary :-)   We know people who love their Acers … the problems we’ve seen primarily concern non-Intel processors.

6. Price Range:
It’s mind-boggling the computer you can get today for $600! Up until just a few years ago, you needed to spend $2,000 to get a good laptop. We still think $700- $1,000 is reasonable.  Sale prices can go pretty low. Be sure to check the processor – not just the brand name (see #3 above.)  I would be suspicious of anything under $550. Do not consider a used computer … see # 1 above!

7. Other equipment:
External Hard Drive: We highly recommend buying an external USB hard drive for backup purposes. You can now get 500GB for under $100, and 1TB for $150. We have a Western Digital ‘Passport’ and an Iomega.
Printers etc.: You should also be aware that your old printer or scanner may not work with Windows 7. Check the manufacturer’s website and see if they have drivers for Win7. Be prepared. You can get good printer/copier/scanners today for $50 – 150! Good names are Brother, Cannon, HP, Epson and Lexmark.

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