How to Shop For Your First (Or Next) Computer

By David Pankhurst


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I don't own a car. Living downtown, it's easy to walk anywhere - it's good exercise, plus I have an answer about what I'm doing for the environment!

But not having a car has another advantage: I can't remember the last time I was in a car showroom, or needed to haggle over a vehicle. Still, I do remember the lure to buy more than I needed, or an unsuitable model.

Like cars, computer shopping can be a chore. The salesperson can show you products that give you premium power, but at a premium price, as well as pricey extras you may or may not need. So, if you're in the market for a computer, here's a look at what you do need, and what you don't.

What Should You Shop For?

Like a car, there's no use buying a computer until you can test-drive it. So, before you shop, try someone else's computer to see how it works, and get an idea about what you'd like to use it for. Even an hour or so spent watching someone else work with it will help - although hands-on is far better.

Early in your shopping you'll have to decide - Windows or Macintosh? These are the names of the controller programs for each computer (and also the product name for the Macintosh computer). Both get the job done, but from slightly different perspectives: Macintosh computers emphasize ease of use and artistic expression with their software, whereas Windows computers are more business oriented.
However, Windows computers have a much larger share of the market, with more software available, and more users. This can be significant when you have a problem, since a friend with the same computer means they can help you when you’re stuck. In fact, you may find you buy the same computer as your friends for exactly this reason.

What about laptop versus desktop computer? They each have advantages: besides portability, a laptop has a built-in monitor and webcam, and consumes less power. Desktops, by letting the monitor and keyboard be set up exactly the way you want, trade portability for comfort.

Today's Computers Are Ready To Go (And Use)

The good news: Just about any new computer you can find locally is powerful enough for what you'll want to do, such as browsing the Internet, watching videos or emailing others. Even adding pastimes like writing or simple game playing, like solitaire or chess, and you'll still be fine.

There was a time when you had to know details, like how fast the computer "ran" (processor clock speed), the amount of slots in the system for component extras, hard drive size (for permanent data storage, such as for photos and typed documents) and RAM size (for temporary data storage). But today's computers are complete and don't need extras, although a salesperson will happily sell you them.

However, if you want to spend on worthwhile upgrades, go for extra RAM memory and a larger hard drive. For example, a new personal computer with Windows 7 should have at least 3 GB (gigabytes) of memory, and more is welcome (4-8 GB, with a gigabyte being about one billion bytes of storage). And a hard drive of at least 100 GB is worthwhile, with 500, 1,000, or 1,500 even better.

Finding The Extras

To go with your personal computer, you'll need a monitor - unless you buy a laptop computer – and probably a printer. Monitors are a personal decision, so I recommend you sit in front of one for a few minutes to see if the size is right for you, and that glare is not a problem.

For printers, the two choices are laser, which works much like a photocopier; and ink-jet, which spits droplets of ink out onto the paper. Both are fine, although laser printers tend to be preferred for mostly black and white business printing, and ink jets are better quality for colour images (such as photo printing). Exceptions exist, of course, so always look at a printing sample before buying any printer. Also, take care to ensure the printer works with your computer model, and research online for the cost of consumables, since printer companies make a good deal of their money from ink and toner sales.

And the final add-on: Internet. Locally, both Shaw and Telus offer Internet connectivity; either is fine and with their different levels of service you can start small and add upgrades as you need them.

Conclusion

Like car shopping, computer shopping can be confusing, and it's easy to spend more than you planned. But today's models offer what you need at every price point. So, there's no reason not to go out and get yourself that new toy to open up the Internet, communicate with others, or find someone to play online chess with!

 

JANUARY 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND

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