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How Do I Choose A PC?

Norman from MN asks:

What desktop is the “best buy” now for just home use and selling things on eBay?

Hi, Norman.

Let me approach this question as I would have when I worked in PC sales, by qualifying you as a buyer.

The first question that I would ask is “Are you sure that you want a desktop, or would a laptop suit your needs better?”

In general, laptops cost more for the same amount of processing power, and are, as a rule, less upgradeable, but have the advantage of portability.  For myself, I only use a laptop, but have a keyboard, mouse and monitor that I connect to when I’m home for the convenience of desktop computing.  So is this portability important to you?

When comparing the two, be sure that you’re also comparing apples to apples.  What I mean by that is to make sure that you’re comparing machines that have a similar amount of RAM, similar processors and similar storage capability.  More on these terms later.  For instance, when I just searched for a desktop and laptop on a website I found two that were similar, although not identical with the desktop running $700 and the laptop running $800.

PROCESSOR: the processor is the “brain” of the machine.  The top sellers in processors right now is the “Core I” series of processors, the Core I3, the Core I5 and the Core I7.  The Core I3 is excellent for everyday computing, with the Core I5 and the Core I7 being more powerful for things like processing HD video and audio and graphics-intensive applications such as gaming.  As I say, though, for basic computing applications, you really won’t notice a difference between the three.  The laptop that I priced above has the core I7 processor, while the desktop has a Core I3.  Here is the logo that you should look for to see the processor on the machine:

STORAGE/HARD DRIVE: The size of the hard drive in your machine determines how many programs, photos, music, video, etc. you can have on your machine.  When you approach the capacity of your hard drive, you will notice the machine slowing considerably.  For instance on my computer I have more than 20,000 songs, almost 16,000 photos, 450 videos and all of the programs that I need at the moment and am using about 50% of my machine’s 500 gigabyte hard drive.  Whether you get a laptop or desktop, however, it is also important to get something such as an external hard drive to routinely back your system up to.  A good 1 terabyte hard drive (1,000 gigabyte) hard drive will cost you less than a hundred dollars.

RAM: A computer’s RAM is it’s temporary memory.  This is the amount of information that you can have open on your desktop at one time.  Typically any computer that you buy today will have enough RAM to handle any everyday computing functions.  The laptop that I referenced above has 8 GB of RAM, while the desktop has 6.

Another important consideration is to make sure that a salesman doesn’t sell you more computer than you need.  For instance, if you’re not creating HD videos or playing World Of Warcraft, there’s no reason to have an I7 processor with 12GB of RAM and a high-end video card.  If you think that there’s a chance that you’ll be doing this stuff before you buy a new computer, then it may be worth it to you get the higher-end machine.  Either one of the machines that I referenced above will be more than adequate for everyday computing needs, so if you go into the computer store armed with the above information, you should be fine.

It is also typically preferable, from a price standpoint, to buy your computer directly from the manufacturer rather than through a second party.  For instance, if you’re looking for a Dell computer, you might do better to buy directly from dell.com rather than bestbuy.com, simply for the fact that there is less retail markup on the manufacturer’s site then there is on the retailer’s website.

Hope that this helps.

~Randal Schaffer