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Jim's When, What, Where to Buy a New Computer Guide

(Updated: Tuesday, October 9, 2012)

NewClick for most recent update

Comment, questions? Email me at janderson4 at gmail

On October 8, 2012, I gave a presentation on "When, What, Where to Buy a New Computer" to the Computer Club of the Sandhills, meeting at the Whispering Pines, NC town hall. Here are some notes and links used for that presentation.
    You know you need a new computer when...
  • You experience a hardware failure and get a repair estimate that is 50% of the cost of a new (similar) computer. Where do I get this? Unless you repair it yourself, the labor cost alone might be as much as $200 (Best Buy Geek Squad) to replace a power supply or hard disk) and add $100 or more for the parts and you could have almost bought a new computer
  • Your current computer runs so slowly that it causes you daily frustration and you have tried all of Jim's Top 10 Tips for Optimizing XP/Vista/Windows 7. What is the cost of daily frustration?
  • A program that is important to you needs to be upgraded and it will not run on your current hardware.
  • Your computer is older than 3 years and requires attention from a technician every few months.
    OS choices: Windows 8 coming in October - stay with Windows 7 or take the plunge?
  • See Jim's Windows 8 Preview
  • Tablets use either IOS (Apple IPad, IPod, IPhone), Android (many tablets and many phones), Windows 8 (MS's new Surface due out in a month or two), a few tablets before Xmas, and a few phones likewise).
  • Or switch to Apple/Mac? If you already use an IPad, a Mac Desktop or MacBook Air (notebook) is a natural (albeit expensive) choice.
    The Form Factor Question: Desktop, notebook, or tablet?
    Issues here include:
  • What will you use the computer for? Email, web browsing, games, spreadsheets, Quicken, Photoshop? Desktops can do everything well, but you will need a dedicated space and cannot be easily relocated.
  • Do you need portability? Then obviously either a notebook or tablet will do. If you need specific applications like MS Word or Excel and are not willing to settle for work-alikes then you are for the moment limited to notebooks, as the currently available tablet operating systems (IOS and Android) do not have genuine MS products available for them. But if you can adapt to doing things a little differently, then given the right app you may be surprised how well you can accomplish the same task. A notebook will probably be better, but a tablet can be used productively, especially if you add a bluetooth keyboard.
  • Will the application run well? Photoshop needs a powerful processor and large screen (perhaps a 17" notebook would do). Email and web browsing can be comfortably done on all form factors. Some games are actually more fun on tablets, e.g., Freecell, not to say all the other games that are best experienced when using touch screens because they were designed for them.
  • There are also notebooks (=laptops) called "netbooks" which are small (10" - 12") notebooks typically limited to only 1 gig of RAM and slower single coreprocessors. This category was somewhat popular a couple of years ago but have now are no longer price/performance competitive with ordinary notebooks.
  • Finally, there are "ultrabooks" which are simply light-weight notebooks, generally with metal rather than plastic housing, lacking HD or DVD drives, using SSDs (solid-state device) instead. The MacBook Air has popularized this type of notebook. They cost more than twice that of ordinary notebooks.
  • NewAndroid 4.0 Mni PC
    I brought a Android 4.0 Mni PC to the presentation. Since it was a last minute throw-in-the-bag show-and-tell I did not have time to document it in this web page. So here is the info if you are intereested:

    I had to buy my version from Hong Kong for $82 three months ago. Now you can get it at Amazon for $45 or less with free ship ping. You will need a HDMI cable for conecting to your TV and a wireless keyboard/mouse to control it.
    CPU, RAM, HD, etc.
    Assuming you want to buy a WinTel machine (Windows OS and Intel or AMD processor) here are the principal numbers to look for:
  • CPU: Absolute minimum - some dual-core processor - preferably Intel i3 or i5 or AMD quad-core. Windows 7 and 8 take great advantage of dual-core/quad-core processors.
  • RAM: 4 gig is now pretty standard minimum and plenty for email, web, etc., with 6 to 8 gig becoming more commonplace for photo and video editing.
  • HD: 320 gig fine for email, web, document prep use, 500 gig or more for video/entertainment.
  • DVD or BlueRay drive? If you buy or rent BlueRay movies and want to watch them on your desktop or notebook then you need a BlueRay player. This is not something I think any but traveling professionals might want to do.
  • Ports: Memory card reader (a must for downloading photos from cameras). HDMI if you want to play streaming moves from your computer to your TV (a better choice would be something like the Roku streaming media player that wirelessly connects to your router and uses a HDMI cable to your TV). Bluetooth is useful if you want to use Skype or listen to music without the hassle of wires.
  • Other features: Webcam/mic for Skype.
    Brands, reliabilty, warranties, support
  • PCWorld: Desktop PC Reliability and Satisfaction
  • Readers' Choice Awards 2012: Laptops and Desktops from PCMag.com
  • 2012 Computer Reliability Report: Lenovo Most Reliable, Acer Least Reliable, Apple Declined
  • My personal experience (WARNING! Your Mileage May Vary): I use four ordinary computers daily - two laptops, two desktops, (as well as two different tablets and the Kindle ereader). The desktops and laptops are either HP or Compaq (purchased from either Staples or Best Buy) because they were the cheapest for the performance at the time and their reliabilty has been outstanding. My HP/Compaq support experience is limited to use of their support web site, which is good (choosing from excellent, good, fair, poor), except in the case of the HP Touchpad Tablet (discussed here). In that case the hardware problem was diagnosed quickly and a paid return box arrived the next day. The tablet was returned repaired in a week. Quite acceptable in my opinion.
  • Always research a model via Google - check both user and editorial revews before purchase. A particular model may sound good, but the reviews note a significant defect, e.g., a poor track pad.
    Where to find bargains
    Buy local (Staples, Best Buy, Walmart) or online?
    Staples has only 14 day return policy, Walmart is 15 days, BestBuy is 15 days.
    Typical online return period is 30 days (e.g., Amazon, Newegg). You may have to pay return shipping.
    The following sites will help find the best deals, often even on in-store items.
    Some special in-store only deals may not be advertised online.
  • Techbargains.com: Best deals of the day by category
  • DealNews.com: Rates deal by "hotness" and price comparison info
  • SlickDeals.com: SlickDeals members comment on and give thumbs up or down on deals - sometimes good to know infomation
  • Logicbuy.com
    Also Black Friday/Cyber Monday are just around the corner. There should be some outstanding bargains available this year. Check these sites when we get to within one or two weeks of Black Friday.
  • SlickDeals BlackFriday/CyberMonday Guides: Guides and ad scans for finding the best deals.
  • BlackFriday.info: Excellent site for researching Black Friday deals - they say they are "the official site for all of the 2012 Black Friday ads as they are reported to us during this holiday shopping season. As we get closer to Black Friday 2012, we will be posting sale information along with Black Friday ad scans."
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