How to Decide What Kind of Computer to Buy

by Contributing Writer

In modern times the question is always which rather than if in terms of personal computer ownership. Both manufacturers and sellers bank on this reality, and your life is inundated with opportunities to pick up last year’s models through your credit card provider, used equipment from all over the place, and of course new products from the Big Three (Lenovo, Dell and HP) as well as hundreds of smaller resellers and clone shops. Trying to decide on the right computer for you is a grueling task and now rivals a funeral as the third largest expense in your life behind your home and your car. You will probably live with whatever you decide for several years, so making the right decision is critical for a number of reasons. Read on to learn how to decide what kind of computer to buy.

First, take an inventory of how you use or will use a computer. If you are upgrading or replacing the one you have now, this will of course be much easier because hopefully you are clear about where this system fails to meet your requirements or if there are any premium functions you never used. If this is a first-time computer purchase or a transition that is too significant to compare to past usage, then think about and list your requirements carefully.

Determine the software applications that you will be using. There is no point in purchasing hardware if you don’t have a clear understanding of the software you need. Also, consider the peripherals and applications you own that you want to continue using with a new computer so you can confirm whether they will work with the operating system on the new computer.

Create a detailed budget for the new computer. Know what you are willing to spend and think through the total cost of ownership over the life cycle of the system as well as the entry cost at the time of purchase. You may not be able to effectively complete this step until you have done more research and shopped, so be prepared to constantly adjust and revise this budget. It will be especially beneficial for certain high-level decisions such as whether you pick up a used gaming system for under $1000 rather than invest three or four times that much to get what you need in a new model.

Assess your technical capability and experience realistically. If you are not an experienced user and don’t have a firm understanding of what you need and want, maybe you should enroll in a basic computer seminar or course before making your decision.

Consider whether you need an extended warranty and how difficult it will be to get support or assistance for both small and major issues (every new computer will come with some kind of warranty). Obviously you will be on your own with a used system unless you are able to transfer warranty and support services.

Discuss benefits and concerns with people you know. There is probably someone in your circle who has purchased one or more computers from a source you would consider. But don’t make up your mind because one person you trust hasn’t had a problem with a vendor. You can also look for online discussion groups where you can easily solicit and receive good information on a variety of related topics.

Start shopping now. First go online. Check out the Dell, Lenovo and HP websites as well as Apple. Be very careful to avoid making a decision based on early results from this perspective. The people who develop content for these websites are savvy marketers who are exploiting your weaknesses. Perhaps the most important factor to avoid is the seeming value of a low-priced system when in fact the components used in the configuration are the lowest quality the company offers. These companies are constantly promoting low price to hook you into a sales dialog, but in the end the price you settle on will invariably be much greater.

Avoid opportunities to buy now and pay later. Many computer sales companies will offer you no interest for one year, then higher interest on the balance after one year than is practical. If you can’t afford the computer you buy today, then don’t buy it. It will be severely out of date by the time you pay for it and will probably need some kind of repair that will cost as much as the whole system.

Shop online for used equipment using your local classifieds, Craigslist and possibly eBay (and any others you can locate). You may be very surprised at how much new and used equipment is available in these forums.

Visit some local stores and speak with the salespeople there. Not all salespeople are created equally, so you need to spend a significant amount of time talking with different people. Sometimes a personal contact can refer you to someone who really knows what he is talking about. If you don’t know anyone like this, look for referrals. You can even call a local college or university and ask the IT department if there is a local vendor they use to acquire servers or workstations.

Be sensitive to user requirements and overall customer satisfaction concerns. A new system from a local vendor who configures the system according to your personal requirements using top quality components may be a far better value than a seemingly comparable Dell or other online sales offer that is priced at half the amount at the local vendor. Shipping your system back to the factory for service is time-consuming and inconvenient. Adding on all the software and extended warranty costs for a discounted system may run up the price to much higher than what you initially expect to spend.