Computer Buying Guide

Desktop and Laptop Buying Guide

November 8, 2012
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Point System
I will rank the value or quality of each item with a point from 0(worst) to 10(best).

Tip #1 - Spend around $600 on a new Computer

Paying around $600 for a new computer without the monitor has proved true for the past 3 years until today's date. I know what you are saying, "There are so many good sales with PCs for $300 to $400." But if you buy one of these cheap PCs you will regret it in about 1 year. It will start to seem very slow. These cheap computers have slow CPUs and a small amount of RAM. The speed may seem adequate at first, but software is constantly being updated. For example, new virus threats are being made every day. So every few days Windows is updated with security patches and every few days Antivirus is updated. So after a while the computer becomes slower and slower. Buy a computer system that is about $600 and then it will be fast enough to last you for 4 or 5 years instead of just 1 to 2 years. If the computer comes with a monitor then it will probably cost you about $700 or so for a good computer.

If you are buying a computer for gaming (newest games at the fastest speed and best video graphics) expect to pay at least $1000 to $1500.

Computer Brand

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I won't say too much about what brand to buy because every brand is disappointing in different aspects. Every company seems to have too many different models with the intention, it seems, to confuse the buyer. No company builds a computer that is made to last. I will recommend that you not buy an eMachine or a Compaq computer because these two companies along with Packard Bell helped ruin the quality of all PCs by building the lowest quality computers. HP is just a little better in quality. I will recommend that you also not buy HP because of the fact that they sell too many cheap computers in the stores. HP is probably one of the first brands you will see in Staples or Best Buy. But I am a computer technician and at the time of this writing I see more HP computers with hardware problems than any other brand. Of course, this could be because so many people end up buying an HP at the store because the price is low. However, out of all the brands I work on most of the time HP's are the slowest also. As for other computer makers like Dell, Gateway, Sony, and Toshiba, they seem to all be near the same level with just average quality in every area.

Here is a table of how I rank each brand. I put most brands at the same level:
Computer Brands
BrandRankRecommendation
Dell7Ok to buy
Lenovo7Ok to buy
Sony7Ok to buy
Toshiba7Ok to buy
Asus6Ok to buy
Acer5Ok to buy
Gateway5Ok to buy
HP4Do not buy
Compaq2Do not buy
eMachine2Do not buy

Here is a desktop computer that should be great for home use:


Here is a laptop computer that should be great for home use:

CPU (Processor) Type

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Personally I recommend Intel CPUs over AMD. At the time of this writing Intel CPUs are quicker. And for most business/home users Intel based computers seem to run the best. A few gaming PCs run ok with AMD processors. Here is the reason why you should buy a $600 computer: They will usually come with an Intel Core i5 processor. If you buy one of the $400 models it will come with an Intel Core i3 processor or slower. In a few months, after installing some software the Core i3 processor will seem very slow. If you are getting a gaming PC then you will want an Intel Core i7 processor.

Go to http://www.cpubenchmark.net/high_end_cpus.html . There is a list of high end CPUs there and their PassMark Benchmark values. Do a seach for the CPU in the computer you are planning to buy, something like "i5-2320". Then look at the PassMark value. At the time of this writing you won't want anything below 5000 for a Desktop computer and anything below 3500 for a Laptop computer. For a Gaming PC you won't want any CPU with a Passmark value below 8000, like the Intel Core i7-3770.

Here is a table of how I rank CPU types:
CPUs (Processors)
CPURankRecommendation
Intel Core i78Good to buy for Gaming PC
Intel Core i57Good to buy for Home PC
AMD Phenom6Maybe Ok to buy
AMD Athlon5Maybe Ok to buy
Intel Celeron2Do not buy
AMD Duron2Do not buy
AMD Sempron2Do not buy

Here is a desktop computer that should be good for Gaming


Here is a laptop computer that should be good for Gaming

CPU Speed

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Every CPU is measured in Ghz (Gigahertz) for speed. However, it is getting harder and harder to tell how fast a CPU really is by the Ghz, because CPUs are made differently than they used to be. So be sure and check the PassMark benchmark of a CPU at http://www.cpubenchmark.net/high_end_cpus.html before purchasing.

CPU speed table:
CPU Speeds
SpeedRankRecommendation
3 Ghz +8Ok to buy for a Desktop
2.5 Ghz +7Ok to buy for a Laptop

RAM

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The amount of RAM or Memory in a computer is very important for speed. The more RAM the better. Don't get anything lower than 6GB of RAM for a new home computer.

RAM Table:
RAM
AmountRankRecommendation
8GB RAM8Good to buy
6GB RAM6Ok to buy
4GB RAM4Do not buy

Video Card (Graphics Card)

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Laptops are not made for games. If you plan on doing alot of gaming you should get a desktop. Even the very best laptops will not be able to play all of the newest games. However, if you want to be able to play any good games or do better video editing then you should get a good video card. Currently, good 3D graphics cards are made by ATI and NVIDIA. You should get a graphics card with at least 2GB of RAM for gaming.

If you are a serious gamer then you will have to upgrade the video card as new games come out. Go to http://www.videocardbenchmark.net/high_end_gpus.html it will have a list of high end video cards and their PassMark Benchmark value. Serious gamers probably don't want anything lower than a PassMark of 2000 at the time of this writing.

Video Card Table:
Video Card
TypeRankRecommendation
ATI Radeon w/ 2GB RAM8Good for playing some games
NVIDIA GeForce w/ 2GB RAM7Good for playing some games
Built-in Graphics Card5Not good for fast games

Hard Drive

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Programs are getting bigger and bigger. You may also want to store pictures, music and videos on your computer. For this reason big hard drives are important. You will want to spend as much as you can afford on the size of a hard drive. I recommend not getting anything smaller then 500GB.

Hard Drive Chart:
Hard Drive
SizeRankRecommendation
1TB (1000GB)8Ok to buy
500GB7Ok to buy
250GB5Too small

Backup

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Computers are easily damaged. Laptops are especially easy to damage and are sometimes stolen. A hard drive can crash at any time for no reason and you may not be able to recover any important information. Also a virus could wipe out information on your hard drive. Therefore, it is recommended that you always backup important data often and regularly.

There are different ways to backup your data. Don't try to backup the whole hard drive. It is usually too time-consuming and does not work sometimes. Just backup your important documents. (I.E. Word Documents, photo's, finances). You can use a DVD-R, a CD-R, an external hard drive or a USB Flash drive. You may want to use different methods and store the backups in different locations in case of theft or fire.

Software

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Windows Operating System (OS) CD

Microsoft has a record of making in between Operating Systems that are no good. You can see the examples in the chart below. This chart may help in a decision of buying a used computer also. It may be better to buy a used computer with Windows XP on it instead of Windows Vista. Right now Microsoft is making all PC manufacturers sell computers with Windows 8. However, Windows 8 is an in between operating system with a new Start Menu that is just an unneccessary memory resident process that is difficult for some people to get used to. Any computer technician or long time computer user knows that extra memory resident processes just make computers run slower. So if at all possibly look for a computer with Windows 7 which was a better OS than Windows 8. Microsoft will probably come out with a better OS in another year if they follow the same pattern.

Operating System Table:
Windows OS
DescriptionRankRecommendation
Windows 85Try not to buy
Windows 78Ok to buy
Windows Vista5Do not buy
Windows XP8OK to buy
Windows ME3Do not buy
Windows 986Ok to buy

Antivirus Software

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Viruses are VERY easy to get. The Internet and email are full of viruses. Therefore you really need some Antivirus software on your computer. Either purchase the Antivirus system along with your computer or buy it and install it before ever going on the Internet. Be sure that the virus definitions are up to date (less than 2 weeks old) before using the Internet.

Antivirus considerations: I do not recommend an antivirus package that includes a firewall and/or an anti-spyware program. Most antivirus software makers are not very good at making firewall or anti-spyware programs and these additional programs usually unnecessarily slow down the performance of your computer without any benefit. Windows already includes a firewall that is generally less confusing then other software firewalls.

Antivirus Table:
Antivirus Software
DescriptionRankRecommendation
Antivirus9Good to buy
Antivirus Security Suite with Firewall and/or Anti-spyware4May unnecessarily slow down the performance of your computer without any added benefit.

Copyright © Jeff Baker 2012

Note: No warranty is expressed or implied or given as to the advice in this article.

Email Jeff Baker at jeffsbaker@sbcglobal.net

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User Comments

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1. Posted By: Towan Franklin - - May 21, 2016, 7:38 pm
Duuuuuude.. Awesome info. Thanks. How do you feel anout the hp all-in-one computer?