Buying a Computer that’s Right for You

KeyboardsThis post was originally published in the November 2008 issue of Women Business Owners of Montgomery County Networker.

Buying a new computer can be overwhelming when there are so many choices and decisions to make. Although everyone’s needs are unique, some general guidelines for buying a new computer can come in handy.

Mac® vs. Windows®

Your goal should be getting the best computer to fit your needs so keep an open mind. The operating system you use now shouldn’t necessarily determine the computer you’ll use in the future. Even if you have used Windows for the last 10 years, don’t discount a Mac. Macs are very easy to use and generally have far less problems than their Windows counterparts. If all the software you need comes  in a Mac version, you should consider buying a Mac (see “To Buy a Mac or not to Buy a Mac?“). Your initial cost might be more than the Windows computer, but the value of your time saved on troubleshooting and the frustrations you’ll avoid can’t be underestimated.

Desktop vs. Laptop

Deciding to purchase a desktop or a laptop depends on your budget as well as your computing needs. Desktops will give you more power for your dollar, but you can’t toss them in your bag and go. If you’re going to edit videos, game, or use power hungry software then you’ll probably want a desktop. However, if mobility is very important and you’re mostly writing, emailing, and surfing the Internet, a laptop will serve you well. If you need the power of a desktop and the mobility of a laptop, a power laptop with a large external monitor offers a good, but more expensive solution.

Processor & Memory

To determine what you’ll need in terms of processor speed and memory, start by checking the system requirements of the software you plan to use. Today’s software takes significant resources to work well so you’ll want double however much memory your software requires. Whether you choose a Mac or Windows computer, you should plan for a 2.0 GHz processor (multicore processors will give you more power) and at least 2GB of memory. If you are using Windows and regularly have many programs open at once, you might need more memory and a faster processor.

Hard Drive

The size of your hard drive should be based on what you intend to save on your computer. Movies, audio, and photos take lots of space, so a larger hard drive of 250-500GB is a good choice. If you mainly store word processing documents and email, then 120-350GB should be enough. Choose a larger drive in the available range of sizes if possible, especially for laptops or if you plan on using your computer for more than 3 years.

Backup System

If you can’t be without whatever is on your computer (financial information, client documents, photos, etc.) you’ll want to backup your computer. Backups are insurance against file corruption, hard drive failure, or computer destruction (like your office flooding). New Mac and Windows computers come with back-up software so it’s easy to backup your computer. All you need is an external hard drive large enough to store at least twice the data you want to back up. Say you have 150GB of files to back up; you will need an external hard drive of at least 300GB.

Extended Warranty

Most manufacturers offer extended warranties to protect you against the cost of repairs and replacement parts if something goes wrong. Consider it, because you can count on something going wrong—even with a Mac. Depending on the warranty, if your computer hard drive fails the manufacturer will often send a technician to replace the hard drive. You pay nothing outside the warranty cost. For the home or home office user, a 3-year protection package is often a good choice.

Buying a new computer is a big decision, but it becomes much less stressful when you:

  • Identify the software you need now and what you expect to need in the near future;
  • Determine how much power your software will require;
  • Have a plan to research any question you have and keep track of your results; and
  • Remember that the top of the line is out of date as soon as you buy it, so don’t waste your money.