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Buying a Computer? Details to Consider

By Chris Bibey

tips for buying a computer

Are you in the process of buying a computer? There are so many options that your head may be spinning by now. While you may be confused, there are a few things you can do to make this process more enjoyable. To start, you need to make a list of what you need and don’t need.

Here are five details to consider when shopping for a computer:

1. Desktop or laptop? Yes, this is a basic question, but if you don’t know what you are looking for you will spin your tires for days on end. At some point you need to make a decision on which one of these options is best for you. The following should give you a quick idea of the benefits of each.

Desktop Benefits

  • Capable of doing more in terms of multimedia production – perfect for gamers, graphic designers, and music and video producers.
  • Lower price than similarly equipped laptops
  • Easy to customize
  • More difficult to steal

Laptop Benefits

  • Mobility
  • Much lighter for puposes of traveling and working or studying in different places
  • Can still get a high level of features thanks to advanced technology
  • Self-powered

2. What are you using the computer for? This goes along with whether or not you should buy a desktop or laptop. Most people who are buying a computer for daily browsing and email are relying on laptops. The main reason for this is simple: a laptop can be taken anywhere without losing connectivity (for the most part).

What about for business? This makes your decision a bit more complicated. Small business owners, especially those who need to take their life on the road, may want to opt for a laptop. For example, I work full-time as a freelance writer and internet marketing consultant. I was recently in the market for a computer, and decided to buy a laptop for several reasons. First off, I am always on the go. With a laptop my work can follow along with me. Additionally, since I don’t need any advanced features or high processing speeds, a basic laptop is more than adequate.

Of course, there are businesses that are best run through the power of a desktop computer. Although you lose the mobility, you are going to save money on the purchase price. And if you are buying more than one computer, this is a very big deal.

If you are in need of a high powered multimedia system, a desktop unit is definitely the answer. Many high-end units have components that make it easy to function as a television, DVD player, DVR and much more.

Also, don’t forget this: with a desktop you can choose your display. Do you want a 27 inch monitor to make editing easier? What about for video gaming? If so, a desktop is your only choice, unless you buy a docking station for your laptop and hook up a monitor to the docking station.

3. Do I need to buy extras such as a mouse, keyboard, and printer? Once again, this depends on what you have and what you need. If you buy a laptop, for instance, your keyboard and mouse are built-in. Along the same lines, some desktops will come with these extras. Also, you may have accessories from past computers that you can add to your new unit. There is no point in purchasing a new mouse, for instance, when the one that you have is in good condition – you might as well save yourself some money.

Although laptops are more difficult to customize, especially if you are interested in portability, it is not impossible. For instance, with enough USB ports (most laptops have at least two or three) you can connect an external mouse, keyboard, and monitor.

4. Repairs. You may not want to think about it, but there is a chance that your computer may break at some point in the future. With this in mind, you have to think about repair options when making a purchase. The last thing you want to do is get stuck buying a new computer every couple of years. This is a waste of money.

Generally speaking, laptops are much more difficult to repair. If you don’t know exactly what you are doing, you will be stuck sending your computer back to the manufacturer. While you still need some knowledge to repair a desktop, it is much easier than you may think.

Also, think about this situation: if an internal component of your laptop breaks, such as the monitor, it is rendered useless. With a desktop, you can swap out your monitor and be back in business within a matter of minutes.

Computers are meant to last a long time, but you never know when something bad is going to happen.

5. Warranty. Every computer will come with some type of basic warranty. How long you receive this protection, as well as the type, depends on the manufacturer. You will have the ability to purchase an “extended” warranty direct from the manufacturer or through the store. This is one of those things that is split down the middle among consumers. Some people always buy an extended warranty; others avoid this at all costs. The choice here is yours. How hard are you on a computer? Will you be traveling with it a lot? Are you tech savvy enough to perform regular maintenance on the computer? If not, you may want to invest in the extended warranty.

I recently purchased a laptop from Wal-Mart that came with a one year manufacturer’s warranty. Additionally, the store also allows for returns and exchanges within 15 days. Although I opted against it, Wal-Mart also offered a two year protection plan for $99.88. If this is something that interests you, make sure you know exactly what it covers. To get a better idea of what some retailers offer in terms of extended protection plans, visit this Wal-Mart page.

In closing, I want to add a couple of points. Although I am a huge fan of laptops, there are definite pros and cons of both setups. My advice is this: purchase the type of computer that is best for what you are trying to accomplish. With the tips and information included in this article, you should have a better idea of what would suit you best.

If anybody has purchased a computer recently feel free to share your experience. Did you buy a desktop or laptop? Why did you make this choice?

(photo credit: thosesunshinedays)

Chris Bibey
Chris Bibey is a freelance writer who over the years has honed his personal finance experience by writing more than 100 feature articles on the subject. In his spare time, Chris enjoys sports - West Virginia football in particular!

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  • Em D.

    I recently bought a new desktop to use as a media center in my living room. I looked forever but finally found something that fit what I needed. One of the problems I have is that I always want what’s new and top of the line. However, for a lot of basic uses you don’t need all those bells and whistles. It’s important to know what type of programs you’ll be running to give you an idea of what kind of system you actually need and help you say no to all that extra RAM/processing power etc that will bring up the price for little return for your needs.

  • http://www.greenandchic.com Carla | Green and Chic

    The last computer I brought was a laptop because the need to mobility. I love being able to take it anywhere in the house, or outside the home to work. I don’t think I would ever be able to go back to having a desktop exclusively.

    My only regret is this is a PC. I prefer a Mac, but PCs are easier on my pocketbook, but in the long-run, its definitely not worth it.

  • http://madsaver.com Mac

    Great article for those on the fence between a desktop & a laptop (via work). I didn’t have to choose, as I have one of each, plus a htpc to record shows as well.
    I’m kind of a techie, so I try to have the latest & greatest, so I always custom build a desktop and choose the components that are both near the top of the line and at the same time a good bang for my buck.

    The best thing about a custom built machine, is you know exactly what you’re putting into it and it is very upgradeable when better parts come along.

    However, if money were no object, I’d probably get myself a Mac and dual-boot the Apple OS w/ Windows 7.

    • Winston

      If I ever wanted a desktop, I would definitely build one myself. Although I am not a techie, I have read enough through various online tutorials on building a desktop that I think I can get the job done without screwing up big time on my first attempt. I have checked out various desktop selections, I can always pick out something that I don’t like or wish there are more upgrade options.

  • Gina

    Don’t forget that you can often bargain for a deal on your computer. Just because there is a listed price doesn’t mean that the salesperson won’t entertain another offer!

    • http://madsaver.com Mac

      That’s true, but retailers often have razor-thin margins on computers. They make most of their money on the poor souls who pay for the often-unused store warranty. I’d recommend that everyone stay clear of those. If something goes wrong, it’ll usually happen right away and the store or manufacturer will take care of it free of charge anyway.

      If there is a problem a few years down the road, just replace the broken part as it will only be a fraction of the original price by then. Or upgrade!

  • http://www.yourfinances101.com/blog David/Yourfinances101

    Also, you should educate yourself a little on what specs a computer has that you want.

    Then, hone in on close to the exact one that you want, then….

    Shop around. If you’re smart and savvy, you can find yourself a killer deal!

  • Karmella

    I’m in the process of buying a new computer for my mom and considering a home media computer for me (to replace cable, etc) – I’ve been thinking of both of these for awhile. My inclination is to purchase both through Amazon if the prices are at all similar to local stores – although if there a local, non-chain store I’d buy there if i could.

  • jay

    I’ve always built my own computers. The only warranty is on the individual parts like hdd, graphics card, monitor, power supply etc. Its more value for money in terms of budget and what you use the computer for. I think most people just play some light games, surf the internet, office/school work so you shouldn’t pay for something more than that. You can get something decent for around $600 – $800. Gamers and design stuff people have to fork out a lot more for powerful processor and graphics card

  • Winston

    I love how you mentioned “More to steal” as a comparative benefit of a desktop.

    Another thing that you also have to consider is brand quality. Some computers are built to be more durable than others. For instance, Dell is known for building top-quality computers however their aesthetic appeals are very poor.

  • Claudia

    One thing about warranty that is very important. Many credit cards extend your warranty. Call and find out hich of your credit cards extend your new computer purchase/warranty and only use that card to buy the computer. Some cards then require you to call after the purchase and ‘register’ the puchase with them!

  • http://www.dsiltd.co.uk/ Lakisha Rubert

    Before buying a computer, also take into consideration the capacity of the Random Access Memory or RAM; the higher the memory, the better. Computer speed varies significantly according to the amount of files and programs in your RAM and its capacity to hold this certain collection. When the RAM is already full, it borrows storage area from the hard drive, causing your computer to slow down.

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