Buying a Computer

Category: Hardware

I teach senior citizens in a community based computer lab. They often ask what to look for when buying a computer, what software they need for email, basic Internet usage, word processing, etc. Many are on a limited budget. What would you suggest they need as a minimum?

Buying a New Computer

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This article was posted by on 15 Jun 2006

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Most recent comments on "Buying a Computer"

Posted by:

16 Jun 2006

What about choosing between intel and celeron as the processor. I noticed that celeron processor are cheaper. Any advantages or otherwise?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I assume you meant Intel Pentium vs Intel Celeron... No practical difference, unless you're a power user. Celeron has less on-board cache, so is a little slower but a little cheaper. AMD also makes processors which are highly regarded. Shop for speed, not brand, when looking for a CPU.

Posted by:

16 Jun 2006

I've been a Macintosh user since 1986. Please take this piece of advice from somebody with extensive experience using both platforms: Macintosh computers are superior to Windows computers in every aspect.

You state that "Windows-based computers ... are cheaper." I think it's unrealistic to say that you can buy anything decent in the $400 range unless all you want to have is the computing equivalent of a Yugo. For $599 you can buy a Mac Mini (but without a monitor), which provides you with a very powerful computing platform.

With a Unix-based operating system that's far ahead of the curve, very intuitive interface, slick appearance, rock solid stability, and customization options, it is my humble opinion that only the uninformed computer buyer would purchase a Windows computer.

Posted by:

Bob Rankin
16 Jun 2006

And you're quite welcome to your opinion! I won't host a Windows vs. Mac holy war here, but I beg to differ on a few points:

1) You can get a *HOT* windows-based PC with no monitor for under $500. A little looking around and I found 3GHz systems with 512MB RAM. There's nothing "Mini" about that.

2) My Windows XP system runs for months at a time. It only reboots when the power goes out.

3) Apple has less than 10% market share, and in the US, there's a much higher concentration of Mac users on the West coast. If you don't live there, finding local help or a service tech can be tough.

I've used Windows, Mac, Linux, AIX, OS/2 and other systems. They *ALL* offer easy point and click computing, and the users interfaces have much in common.

Macs may be cooler looking and more stable, but personally I think a Windows PC is the best choice for *most* new users.

Posted by:

John Howard Oxley
16 Jun 2006

You make a point I have underlined to everyone I ever advised on a computer purchase [though years ago, when the price-per-inch for monitors was much more wallet-busting than it is now, I can see that the advice was harder to take] -- get the biggest monitor you can ever afford. The reason being that the monitor is something you look at every day, you never can have enough screen space, and monitors last a long time -- I have had more than one monitor go through three successive system boxes underneath it -- and you can even switch from a Wintel box to a Mac if you like, and keep your monitor!

Posted by:

John Cletheroe
16 Jun 2006

The first question any computer purchaser should always ask themselves is "What do you plan to do with it?". Newbies would need to have various usage categories suggested and maybe demonstrated to them of course.

The choice of video board is critical if there is any possibility of wanting to run 3D simulations or 3D games. Never under purchase if at all possible!

Posted by:

29 Jun 2006

I've had this computer for 5 years, excepting the hard drive, and it's plenty fast for even the newest apps (not the original CPU either, but it doesn't matter because it was still available in 2001). A lot of times what matters is what components are used; not so much the age. I've seen a lot of those "bargain" computers not withstand the test of time because of poorly designed hardware that doesn't take full advantage of technologies, or uses "new" old stock components that the manufacturer is trying to use up.

So, one way to avoid this is to do some research before buying something. Do some Google searches to find out what people are saying about it. Buy the biggest hard drive you can possibly afford. Read the above comments about monitors and video cards and you should be all set.

Posted by:

Robert T Deloyd
29 Jun 2006

I just read that LAPTOPS are outselling traditional desktop PCs for the first time. I have two laptops and the last one I got was a dang good one and it does every thing I need it to do. I am not a gamer but surf the web and design a few websites and blog. With a laptop you get everything in one little slim box, one of mine is a Toshiba Satellite M35XS114 I bought new a year ago and with all the discounts and rebates it came in around $600. It has a 1.3 Celeron M processor and doesn't consume much power. I added 512 meg to the 256 it came with for around $60 cause it was cheaper that way.

Maybe you could do a Laptop Buyers Guide some day!

Thanks for your article and not getting suck into a Windows vs. Mac holy war, after all they are just machines not Gods to worship! PS I loaded and dual boot Suse 10.0 and it found the modem!

Posted by:

29 Jun 2006

Great answer and suggestions! Newbies are so fortunate, today. They get "more bang, for their buck" than those of us, who purchased our first computer back in the 90's.

In September 1997, I spent over $2100 for a Cyrix 166MHz CPU, 16MB SIMMS, 1.3GB hard drive, ViewSonic 15" monitor and an Epson Printer. The computer system was $1200, the monitor was $500 and the printer was $400. I had a friend with computer knowledge helping me and I bought through a catalog, so there were shipping and handling charges.

My friend also, taught me how to repair and upgrade, he was my mentor, then I learned more and would repair or tweak his computer. Plus, I learned how to repair, tweak, build and fix, after the age of 54. Not bad, for an old broad, is it?

Just look at the prices, you are suggesting. Today's computers are at least a thousand times more powerful, even the cheap ones! The prices you suggested are great for senior citizens. Many are on "fixed or limited" incomes, like I am today, and must save to purchase their first computer. Once again, great article and suggestions.

Posted by:

Edward A. Skoog
29 Jun 2006

Bob, good article for newbies. Wish you would have mentioned that DIY PC's are almost always much better than store bought. The components have longer warranties, more expansion space, are upgradeable, and full feature software that's fits the builder. Finally, all those expert friends shut up when you tell them you built your PC from scratch! The downside is they call you with all there problems after the 1 year store bought PC warranty expires.

Posted by:

30 Jun 2006

Bob, in the beginning of the comments you touched on the subject of different processors. Please note that AMD uses a little different technology that doesn't require extremely high processor frequency to preform at the same level as their counterpart, Intel. I have been highly satisfied with AMD processors and will continue to use them in all of my builds unless requested by a customer to do otherwise.

Note how AMD does label their processors (ex: 2800+, 4200+), this is a good indicator (not the best though) when weighing AMD vs. Intel to see what AMD CPU would be comparable to Intel. 3000+ = 3.0ghz, Athlon vs. Pent. 4, Sempron vs. Celeron. Just my 2 cents. Thanks.

Posted by:

Arnold Burkert
30 Jun 2006

Bob, I wish you had mentioned the issues of heat and noise. Today's powerful computers produce more heat and that has to be exhausted somehow. I have a computer that came with a fan so loud that it sounded like a hair dryer was running inside. After complaining, the maker substituted a somewhat quieter fan. I have since upgraded the heat sink and fan and it is worlds quieter. Generally quieter computers are not an accident. They are built by design and sometimes it is worth weighing the cost benefits of less noise. Thanks for the great information.

Posted by:

03 Jul 2006

A well balanced piece of advice aimed at a specific user. What i would say is that based on my "older" father's experience, he very quickly discovered the wonders of computers that lies beyond the daily menial task of writing me emails and trying to find his way around the internet. The thing is if you use the internet you see that there is a massive and exciting world of multimedia, and I humbly suggest, based on one click comparisons, that if you go for a Mac as opposed to a PC, you get the complete set of iLife software included which cuts out a huge learning and research curve for organising and playing with photos, movies, music blah blah blah.

I would also say that looking at my brother's Windows/PC experience, he has bought two cheaper PCs for every Mac I have owned. He is a bit of a geek, so sure he gets good use out of them, he has them dancing almost, and he does get good deals, but he has spent more on his computers than I have.

Posted by:

09 Jul 2006

Can you tell the differents between a Dell solo processor and a Duo processor, Not sure what would be the best for me.

EDITOR'S NOTE: How fast can you type? If you're not using game or graphics editing software that demands lots of horsepower, then don't pay extra for a hot PC.

Posted by:

Tom Bullock
31 Dec 2006

I would like to second the request for a good laptop review, or laptop PC comparison (maybe a link to someone who has done this already?!!). I use only laptops at work and have for the last 4 years. They are great. At home I use a PC and find it has obsolesced quickly, so am considering a replacement and possibly a laptop instead of a PC. Your suggestions and evaluation of this idea will be most appreciated. Thanks.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Using a laptop instead of a desktop is great for people who are very mobile. But laptops tend to have a much higher price/performance ratio. You can buy a lot more horsepower for your dollar with a desktop. And I've never found a laptop keyboard that I found comfortable for typing. I like my Sony VAIO but only use it when travelling.

Posted by:

Sheafe Ewing
11 Aug 2007

Along with Microsoft Office and Open Office for PC, and iWork for Mac, you should have mentioned the Mac-

equivalent to OpenOffice....... which is NeoOffice,

free to download.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Good catch. See also

Posted by:

tj king
11 Dec 2007

i love my computer. it is so fast. i love the people at dell, thank you for the great machine.but the computer is fugly.

Posted by:

31 May 2008

(If you want an easy way to get the great prices and services on computers, go to Only works if your inside the US though.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Why... do they offer lower prices if you start a chat session?

Posted by:

02 Dec 2008

what brand or kind of printer can i use on a sony laptop computer?

EDITOR'S NOTE: It doesn't matter what type or brand or printer. They all plug in to your computer the same way.

Posted by:

04 Aug 2010

Hello sir! I am going for BCA course. I wanna buy a computer. I have watched the dell inspiron 580s S241232IN8. Please tell me about it and suggest the processor, ram,etc.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Buying a Computer (Posted: 15 Jun 2006)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved