27 July, 2011

Buying a new computer? My computer recommendation

A friend recently asked for a recommendation on buying a new computer. Admittedly I'm not near up on hardware as I once was. With that in mind, I knew my recommendation would be better than what he could do on his own.

Here's what he asked:
I need to get something sound & reasonable to replace it. Our needs have changed since last purchase and we are looking for something with lot's of room for photos & music along with some games my wife likes, (mostly puzzles & sim games, not huge graphics with blood & guts) , just basics.

And my reply:
I usually buy low-end PCs, and they've worked fine for 3 to 5 years.
First some guidelines:
  1. Always understand what you want to accomplish first (which you've explained).
  2. Buy something that you can get help when needed, which typically means avoid Apple despite the buzz.
  3. Buy feature and function over brand. For example, I've bought many eMachines over the years, and they've done fine.
  4. If you have extra budget then spend it on a bigger monitor/screen first, followed by more memory (RAM).
  5. If you end up buying a laptop, be sure you're comfortable with the keyboard.
  6. Warranties are not really worth it for low-end ($500 or less), while seriously consider it if you're buying a laptop.
Here's what I'd shop for:
  1. 19" to 24" inch computer screen (they should all be wide-screen these days). It should be digital input (square connector pins or HDMI). Digital input is likely your only choice, but just to be sure.
    I've been happy with my ViewSonic and Samsung, but that doesn't mean others don't work as well.
  2. Intel i5 (or i7) processor.
  3. 4GB of RAM memory (ideally expandable to 16GB, but even 8GB would be ok)
  4. Video output has become difficult to recommend. Likely and Intel 2000, 3000, or Sandy-bridge (part of the processor) are sufficient.
    Most important is the output works with the input of your computer screen.
  5. 750GM (or greater) hard drive
  6. DVD±RW/CD-RW drive
  7. Built-in 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN
  8. Built-in high-speed wireless LAN (802.11b/g/n) -- required for a laptop; optional for desktop,depending on where it will be located compared to modem
  9. Ideally 4 or more USB ports, with 2 on front, but not a deal breaker.
  10. Windows Home Premium would be fine, so don't pay extra for Pro or Ultimate
Other recommendations:
  1. Be sure to add anti-virus, immediately -- do not go anywhere on the Internet without it.
    Many folks will try to sell you something, but free solutions such as Avast, AVG, or Kaspersky work just as well (I've used Avast http://www.avast.com/ for years). It would be safe to go directly to Avast's website, but don't go to others without your anti-virus.
  2. Invest in a backup solution for your picture and music.
    Either an extra external hard drive or an Internet service such as Carbonite (http://www.carbonite.com). Your ISP (Comcast, Qwest, etc.) may offer a service too. Be sure to invest the time to have it auto-backup daily or weekly -- you can leave your computer on overnight and have it run when you're not using it.
  3. Make sure Windows is set to auto-update.
  4. Highly recommend using Firefox (http://www.mozilla.com) or Chrome (http://www.google.com/chrome) as your main browser -- not Internet Explorer -- as they typically have much better security.
Your feedback and input is welcome.