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Buying a PC

There are many things to consider when purchasing a computer. Before you purchase anything, make a list of what you need and a list of what you want. Make sure that your new computer meets the minimum requirements before you purchase anything.

Here are some things to keep in mind when purchasing:

Company track record. If you computer has a problem, is the manufacturer going to pay to fix it?

Company customer service. If your computer breaks down, can you get through to a service representative that is capable of helping? Test it out! Before you purchase from a company, call their support line and check the hold time. If it is more than 20 minutes, you might consider a different company.

Warranty. Your new computer will probably be with you for at least three years. Research the company's warranty (term of contract, coverage, responsibility, on-site service vs. shipped service, etc.). It may be advantageous to purchase an extended warrantee plan on the new computer if it is offered at a low cost.

Quality of parts. Many OEM manufacturers use the cheapest parts they can find, increasing their profits but increasing the chance you will have problems. Before purchasing, ask your sales person questions. Make sure that they are using standard parts from known companies.

Cutting edge vs. good enough. All computer users have to come to the realization   that the computer industry moves too fast to keep up with. A computer that is purchased today will be at least partially obsolete in less than two months. Our advice is: don't break the bank getting something "Better than the Jones' new computer" just to send to college. Make a serious evaluation of what will be needed for the next four years. If the user will be doing processor and RAM intensive tasks (like graphics, video editing, etc), it might be worth it to purchase one computer now and replace it in two years. If all that is needed is a word processor and web surfing machine, look to something in the middle of pack in terms of price.

When "Specing Out" your new computer, consider:

Hard Drive space. A good rule of thumb when purchasing a hard drive is to purchase twice the space you believe you will need. In the mid-ninties, many people thought that a 6GB hard drive was all that they would ever need. Then portable music formats cam along and that 6GB drive was no longer even close to big enough. If you think that you might need a 20GB drive, look for something closer to 40GB.

Processor speed. Intel vs. AMD. We will not try to determine which is better, that is covered in depth at many sites (such as anandtech, sharkyextreme, cnet, and tom'shardware). When considering which processor to purchase, consider what it will be used for.

System RAM. Before deciding how much RAM to purchase with your computer, keep in mind that it is the easiest thing to upgrade in the future. If you are looking for a computer for a little less money, RAM is one place where you can save. Purchase what you think you will need and then plan on upgrading it in 12-18 months.

Monitor. When selecting what monitor to buy with your new computer, look for one with the following characteristics: high resolution (1600x1200), high refresh ratedot pitch. LCD monitors have come down in price to the point where they are legitimate competitors for typical CRT (75Hz at 1600x1200), and low (0.24mm). Also look for something that can be moved easily (since it will be moved at least twice in 9 months). monitors.

Graphics card. If the computer will be used to play any 3D game, the graphics card determines performance of the game when played. In the world of graphics there are two main options: onboard video or separate video card. Onboard video has not been a viable option in previous years. nVidia has recently released their nForce series chipsets that boosts performance of onboard video. If you choose a separate video card, you will probably be offered either an nVidia GeForce card or an ATI Radeon card. Either of these are good options.

If you are looking into a notebook computer, consider:

Display size. Laptops come in many shapes and sizes these days. You should consider what the laptop will be used for before making a decision on which size display to purchase. If the computer user likes higher resolution settings, make sure the notebook's display can reach the levels the end user will desire.

Processor speed. In the PC notebook world, there are several options. Just keep in mind that the faster the processor, the warmer it will run and the more battery it will drain.

System RAM. Upgrading system RAM on a notebook is generally a difficult task. Some notebooks also use propriety RAM modules that can only be purchased from the manufacturer. If you are not planning on upgrading the RAM in your notebook, this will not be an issue.

Hard drive. Because notebooks use smaller parts to achieve smaller form factors and extend battery life, hard drives can be very difficult to replace or upgrade. Some companies use proprietary designs and parts for their hard drive. Unlike their desktop counterparts, most notebook computers only have space for one hard drive. This can complicate a hard drive upgrade.

Expansion. Notebook computers use a PCMCIA slots for expansion. These slots give users the ability to connect external CD-ROM drives, external hard drives, network cards, and other expansion cards. Look for a notebook that either offers everything that you will want in the base unit or a notebook with two PCMCIA slots.

Weight. What makes notebook computers popular is portability. Weight is the biggest issue with a computer's portability. Look for something that can easily carried around in a backpack.

Battery life. A notebook without an outlet or a battery is a paperweight. There are two types of batteries you'll come across: lithium ion (Li-Ion) and nickel metal hydride
(NiMH). Pound for pound, a Li-Ion battery delivers more power and is therefore more expensive.

Accessories. Does your new laptop come with or have an optional carrying case? Does it come with a separate mouse? What about a speaker? These are just some of the accessories that might be needed over the life of the computer. Do your best to determine what the new computer will be used for and what might be needed in the future.

Upgradeability. Different companies do interesting things with their notebook computers. Some use all standardized parts, others have a totally proprietary system. You are most likely to find a mixture of both in your new notebook computer. This makes upgrading your notebook difficult to do yourself. It can be very handy to have a store affiliated with the brand name of the notebook when trying to upgrade a notebook.

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