Buying A New Computer Part One: The Basics • Spitzer Technology Consulting
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Buying A New Computer Part One: The Basics

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The idea of buying a new computer can be mystifying to some – how much ram do I need, what about a video card, hard drive space?  This post will help demystify this task by breaking down the process of buying a computer into easy, bite-sized chunks that should leave you confident in your ability to purchase a new computer that meets all your needs and doesn’t exceed your budget!

Most people who head out to buy a computer will just walk into Best Buy and grab the first device someone in a uniform points out to them. This isn’t necessarily a bad way to go about things, but aside from the fact you might end up with something that needs to be returned, it’s also not an efficient use of time nor money.

 

1) Separate Needs from Wants

When selecting a computer that you want to use for an extended period of time, do some research and decide on what features are absolutely necessary and what you can probably pass on for the sake of your budget.

What are you going to use your computer for primarily? Are you a designer that’s going to need powerful graphics hardware and software to compliment that? Are you a student who’s going to be doing mostly word processing and internet browsing? Are you buying for a child who wants to do light gaming – what about a machine for your own gaming? Think about why you want a new machine and then make sure you look for the components you need to do those things and pass on the extra bells and whistles. You wouldn’t buy a dog whistle if you didn’t have a dog and the need for a dog whistle – don’t buy a high-end graphics card if all you want to do is check Twitter.

Determining what’s necessary and what’s excess before you start searching for a computer will save you a headache in the long run.

 

1.5) Key Terms

Before we get ahead of ourselves: when shopping for a new device there are a couple specifications you should keep an eye out for, so we’ll go over some of those terms now.

 

RAM: Random Access Memory (RAM) is a form of temporary computer storage. Our recommendation is no less than 8 gigs for basic needs and 16 or more for enthusiasts.

OS: Windows 10 is the most common Operating System (OS) on the market right now. Windows 8 was its predecessor but the user interface for Win10 is likely more familiar to you if you’ve used Win7 or any of their older systems.

Graphics Card/ Video Card: These terms are used interchangeably and refer to the same piece of equipment.

 

2) Mobility

When deciding the uses for your computer make sure you determine whether or not mobility is a factor. Do you need a tablet, laptop, or desktop? If you’re taking it to and from work everyday desktop isn’t the best option – but can you get away with just using a tablet?

Laptops and Tablets come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and specifications – you need to determine, based on the processing power you now know you need, what type of device best suits your needs. Laptops used as “desktop replacements” have most (if not all) of the power of a high-end desktop, but are normally packed into a relatively large and heavy shell. This is something to consider – if you have to lug your device around to multiple locations several times per day do you need to sacrifice comfort and ease of transport for that processing power? Thin and portable laptops or even Chromebooks may have less processing power but be all you need.

The downside to purchasing electronics based on their mobility is that for higher-end devices the price is normally steeper than if you’d bought a desktop with the same specifications. So, do you really need it to be that portable?

 

3)  Price Point

After you’ve decided on what type of machine you’re after it’s always good to set a budget for yourself. This is very dependent on your personal situation so make sure you have a clear, definitive budget to work with. A new computer won’t do you any good if you overspent and can’t pay rent.

Our current recommendation is that you should be prepared to spend upwards of $750 if you’re planning on purchasing a new device. Historically, we’ve found that below that price point laptop quality drops significantly.

 

4)  Online or Brick-and-Mortar Retailer

Making a large purchase online doesn’t always feel comfortable. You can’t put your hands on it, or see it in front of you, or have the fallback of an easy return – and for some that can make the purchase hard to visualize and thus hard to commit to. For those that share this mindset, I suggest this: take a trip to your local Best Buy or another local retailer so you can have that hands-on experience.

If you have a specific computer you’ve been looking at online, try to find a retailer that has one available so you can go in and get an idea of what it feels like in order to cement your visualization. You think it has everything you need? Try it out! Demo-mode is fairly standard practice for retailers but using it for a couple minutes can let you nit-pick the little stuff. Does the keyboard have back-lighting; Is the track-pad hypersensitive; Do the keyboard clacks annoy you?

Alternatively, if you’re not entirely sure what you want, you can walk around said retailer and get a feel for the different device types, their sizes, and see their respective price points to further inform your decision. After you’ve had a chance to look around and pick something out, do some quick Google searches on your phone for that device – more often than not an online retailer will give you a better deal. Deep in the small print of many large brick-and-mortar retailer “price match guarantee” policies, there’s a hidden clause about only matching with other brick-and-mortar retailers.

Get the best device possible at the best price possible.

 

4)   AMD versus Intel

This is a question we get asked a lot – should I pay the premium for an Intel-based computer or will the sharply discounted AMD device suit my needs just fine? For the longest time we’ve always told people it was definitely worth the premium to buy an Intel product, but in 2017 AMD released the Ryzen family of CPUs which has greatly increased the quality of their machines. That being said, we still normally recommend Intel products for two reasons:

1 – We’re incredibly familiar with the Intel product line which allows us to make informed client-specific recommendations based on years of experience.

2 – As we have a long-standing history with Intel products, they have proven their reliability and thus we feel comfortable recommending their machines.

That all being said, AMD’s Ryzen-based computers are genuinely good computers. Both Intel and AMD have a relatively simple product layout, so when deciding which family to buy a CPU from, check the competition in the same target segment and see what the differences are.

 

AMD Family

Intel Family

Target Segment

Processor Branding

Target Segment

Processor Branding

Entry-level

Ryzen 3

Entry-level

i3

Mainstream

Ryzen 5

Mainstream

i5

Performance

Ryzen 7

Performance

i7

High-end (HEDT)

Ryzen Threadripper

High-end (HEDT)

i9

 

5) Video Card ( Discrete vs Integrated)

Onboard (Integrated) graphics cards are built into the motherboard or CPU whereas discrete graphics cards are separate cards dedicated solely to running graphics. Integrated graphics cards are less powerful but conserve energy by using a portion of the computer’s RAM; discrete graphics cards deliver a higher-quality visual plus extra processing power. That being said, for the average consumer an integrated graphics card is more than enough.

Discrete graphics cards can be significantly more powerful than integrated graphics – but this shows in the price point. If you’re building a dedicated gaming machine this might be one of those “must-have” items, but if you’re not really into gaming or heavy-duty 3D graphics processing you can safely save a little here and use that extra money somewhere else.

 

6) SSD V.S. HDD (Solid State vs Hard Disc Drive)

Even if you’re not extremely familiar with computers you’ve likely heard the term “hard-drive” before. What you might not know is this term is actually the shortened form of ‘hard-disk drive’ (HDD), and it has a competitor. The Solid-State Drive (SSD) was introduced in the 1990s and unlike HDDs, which use a mechanical read/write head to move around and access information, SSDs don’t have any moving parts. This difference makes SSDs much faster than HDDs – so if you’ll be doing a lot of multitasking or just can’t abide slow computers, this might be where that extra cash comes in handy.

Alternatively, the major advantage to HDDs is their ability to store large amounts of data for minimal cost. During recent years SSDs have become a lot more cost-effective, but they’re rarely sold with more than 1TB storage and those normally go for around $150. An HDD that stores the same amount of data goes for around $50. So depending on how much storage you need, you may be better off buying a higher-end HDD than an SSD.

If you want your computer to be fast but you need it to store a ton of data, you might have to make sacrifices one way or the other.

 

Hopefully, this has been helpful! Feel free to reach out to us here at SpitzerTech – we’re more than happy to answer any questions you may have. Keep a lookout for part two where we’ll make recommendations for pre-made devices based on common needs!

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