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Buying a Computer
The “but which one” question is very difficult. Many people will ask anyone with any sort of computer experience what to buy. The problem: no research has been done on the buyer's part. Treat the purchase of a computer like you would a car. It is a major purchase. But beware, just as in a car search, when shopping for a computer, you will find both helpful and concerned salesmen and shady and uninformed salesmen. You should be prepared with knowledge to buy a computer that is usable now and for the future.
Buying a Computer: Basic Questions - Part 1
Start with the basic question.
1. Do I buy a laptop (mobile) or a desktop (stationary) computer?
Laptops can be moved to any location and are great for the traveler that needs to work on it. Also if it has a wireless card attached it can connect wirelessly at places like a coffee shop or a library. With a laptop you are buying convenience and you will get less power than a desktop for the same money.
Desktops are cheaper and you get more for the money. They are also more expandable and generally have larger screens than a laptop. However you are pretty much stuck with a desk or some other devoted area.
2. What type of system should I buy? Macintosh or Windows (also called PC)
PCs are inexpensive and have more software available. Most of the world uses PC’s but they are not as easy to use and have more problems with spyware and viruses.
Macs are very reliable, easier to use and rarely have problems with spyware and viruses. Macs are more expensive and programs can be limited.
3. What is this computer for?
Basic use, meaning checking your email, searching the internet, writing documents, keeping track of finances, playing some games, basic editing of your photos, listening to music.
Moderate use, meaning the above plus more intensive photo editing, playing online video games like Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, creating hefty Web pages or some video editing.
Intensive use, meaning the above plus anything graphic intensive like advanced film editing or something processor intensive like analyzing all the data the SETI program receives.
Narrowing your Search - Part 2
At this point, you should have narrowed down your search. Now lets look at the detail.
1. All computers come with ways of either installing or removing information, for purposes of storage or mobility. These are called drives. There are many choices of drives so read carefully and choose just the ones you will use. It is not always true that more is better.
Floppy or 3 ½ Drive: This was the main way of storing or inputting data for years. This is now old and not that useful. If you need it for a specific use, you will have to pay extra for the floppy drive.
CD-R and DVD-R Drives: The drives below fall under two types, combination and no combination drives. Read carefully.
CD Drives can only read (play or view) information on a CD.
CD-R Drives can both read and record (burn) information. They can store up to 700MB or 80 minutes of audio.
DVD Drives can only read information on CD and DVD
DVD-R Drives usually can read and write information on CD and DVD. They can store up to 4700MB or 4.7GB
There are two types of ports (plug-in areas) that are common to almost every computer made today.
USB 2 is the standard. This port is used for everything from a flash Drive (removable storage like a floppy disk) to a lighted fake aquarium. Any accessories that you buy will most likely be USB 2, for example a digital camera.
FireWire is another port that is not as universal (usually Mac only) but faster than USB 2.
2. One of the more confusing aspects of buying a computer is the vocabulary. Memory can mean two separate things.
Storage memory, or hard drive space, usually measured in gigabytes. Simply put, this is how much your computer can hold. The current range is between 40 GB’s to 160 GB’s. The more you are going to store, the more space you will need.
RAM is the amount of memory the computer can use to power its applications, kind of like gas for cars. The more gas means the more cars you can run at one time. The minimum ram on a new computer should be 256 megabytes.
A quick reference for how much memory is taken up by certain things.
|Memory ||Becomes ||Item ||Memory used |
|1000 Bytes||1KB||Email message||15-45KB|
|1000 Kilobytes||1MB||Basic letter||600-900KB|
|1000 Megabytes||1BG||Quality digital photo||1.3MB-14MB|
|1000 Gigabytes||1TB||Small movie||100MB-4GB|
|1000 Terabytes||1PB||All the books in the Library of Congress||20TB|
|1000 Petabytes||1EB||What Google has indexed on the Internet||1.8-5PB|
|1000 Exabytes||1ZB||All of the printed material on the planet||5EB|
So, you want to buy a computer . . . checklist.
• Do I buy a laptop (mobile) or a desktop (stationary) computer?
( ) Laptops
( ) Desktops
• What type of system should I buy? Macintosh or Windows (also called PC)
( ) PCs (Windows)
( ) Macintosh
• What is this computer for? (Check the ones that apply)
( ) Basic use, meaning checking your email, searching the internet, writing documents, keeping track of finances, playing some games, basic editing of your photos, listening to music.
( ) Moderate use, meaning doing the above plus more intensive photo editing,playing online video games like Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, creating hefty Web pages or some video editing.
( ) Intensive use, meaning the above plus anything graphic intensive like advanced film editing or processor intensive like crunching all of the data a major company would get.
( ) Floppy or 3 ½ Drive
( ) CD Drive
( ) CD-R
( ) DVD Drive
( ) DVD-R Drive
( ) USB
( ) FireWire
( ) Hard Drive between 40 GBs to 160 GBs
( ) RAM should be 256 megabytes and up
The Buying Process
Just knowing and understanding what the important parts of a computer are is not enough. A good consumer is an informed consumer. I suggest going to some retail stores and actually get your hands on what we are talking about. Bring a Notebook and jot things the salesperson is speaking about. Tell them what you are going to use the computer and see what they recommend and why. Also reading everything you can get your hands on is a good idea. Buy a couple of magazines to see what they are praising and rejecting out there. Talk to friends or co-workers and ask what they bought and are they happy with choice they made? All of this is a lot of work, but you will feel more comfortable with your decision when you are done.
Where to buy or How to buy?
Now that you have decided what to buy, it is time to decide where to buy it. Do you buy it at a place that you have bought other electronics like Best Buy or a department store? Should you buy online where you might get a better price, but you cannot lay your hands on the machine? The two ways of buying a computer are below along with the reason for and against.
Online Store vs. Retail Store
|Type of store||PRO||CON|
|Retail store|| |
|Online store|| |
Where to buy the computer:
The list is in order of best to worst according to Consumer Reports (December 2005). If any store or site received a “worst” mark in any category, it is not listed here.
|Retail stores||Online stores||Manufacturers|
| || |
What to buy
Highest recommended computers According to Consumer Reports (December 2005).
|Type||Price||Windows Models||Price||Macintosh Models|
|Desktop||$550||Emachines T6410||$1,500||Apple iMac G5|
|$610||Compaq SR1010Z||$800||Apple eMac Combo Drive|
|$870||Dell Dimension 3000||$780||Apple Mac Mini|
|$1,640||Hp Pavilion a1050y|
|$1,150||Compaq Presario SR1010Z|
|Laptop||$750||Dell Inspiron 2200||$2,000||Apple ibook 14”|
|$1,105||IBM ThinkPad r51-2883||$1,200||Apple Powerbook 15”|
|$700||Toshiba Satellite M30 X-S181ST|
|$1,655||Dell Inspiron 700m|
|$1,450||IBM ThinkPad G41-2886|
Find out what computer is right for you (quiz)