Written By Scott Davidson
This guide is designed to help you purchase a new computer (PC, not Mac) for basic uses like Web browsing, email, and word processing. The average price range for this sort of basic system is roughly $400-600. If you are shopping for a gaming or high power system, call me for more information before spending several thousand dollars.
Overall, this is a great time to buy a system! Computers nowadays are overpowered for what they need to do and even the inexpensive systems are very fast. Windows 7 has a great backup feature which will automatically back up your entire computer to an external hard drive.
My favorite brands are Dell and HP, in that order. I like Dells because they have onsite service and don’t come with as much junk software as other brands. HP builds a fine system as well. All large companies have horrible phone support. The following is a summary of the individual components in a computer system and current recommendations. A few laptop and Dell-specific tips are listed at the end of the guide.
Backup – Let’s start with the most important aspect of the new system. You need a place to store your automatic backups. If you do not already own one, purchase an “external hard drive,” which is a hard drive in a box. It’s the size of a paperback book and should store at least 1 terabyte of data (a huge amount!) for about $100. I like the Seagate brand the best; Western Digital is second place.
Processor (CPU) – The processor is the brain of the computer. For example, you may have heard of Intel’s “Pentium” processors over the years. The latest family of Intel processors is called the Core i3, i5, and i7. They are very fast! You can find a $450-500 system running the Core i3 processor and you will be very happy with it.
Operating System – This is now a much simpler choice than in the days of Vista. The vast majority of users will want “Windows 7 Home Premium.” If your model only comes with Windows 7 Professional (a Dell Latitude laptop, for example), that’s just fine.
Monitor – You can oftentimes buy a computer with a monitor in a package deal. The smallest monitor to consider is a 19” and you can often find 21-22” ones inexpensively bundled with a system.
Memory (RAM) – Memory allows you to run multiple programs at the same time. If you are only doing web browsing and word processing, 2 GB (gigabytes) is fine – if you have any plans to do anything else, get 3 or 4 GB.
Hard Drive – Imagine hard drive size as similar to trunk space in your car. The more you have, the more stuff you can store. Hard drive size is measured in gigabytes just like memory. To give you an idea of how much storage this gives you, 250 GB can hold entire libraries of text, or over 100,000 pictures, or 50,000 songs, or 50 DVD movies. Notice that movies are the only things that really fill up space quick. Most desktop systems come with 500 GB or more, which is plenty of room.
CDROM / DVDROM – DVD writing drives are now standard on almost all computers. These drives allow you to read and write both CDs and DVDs. Sometime in 2011 we should begin to see cheap Blu-Ray players in computers. Blu-Ray is the next generation of disc technology and is backwardly compatible to play DVDs and CDs.
Video Card – If you plan to edit photos/videos or play graphically intense games, a “discrete” video card with at least 1 GB of video memory would be helpful. If not, “integrated” graphics chips will work for you and don’t worry about looking into it.
Sound – Integrated sound or the default option is fine unless you are an audiophile.
Other Software – Two important software programs will be needed. The first is an antivirus program, the only needed security software. Our highest recommendation is Microsoft Security Essentials, free to the world from the mother ship, Microsoft. There is now a step by step guide to downloading and installing this on our web site, http://www.arxcomputers.com Do not purchase a security software package with your computer. The web site to obtain Microsoft Security Essentials is
You do not need any other type of security program, like a firewall or security suite such as Norton 360 or Spysweeper. There is a firewall in Windows and in all routers and the most common computer problem, spyware, is not prevented by using a suite or Spysweeper.
There is now a FREE version of Word and Excel which comes with every new computer nowadays. It’s called Office Starter 2010 and it consists of a fully functional Word and Excel with a little advertising window on the right side. If you need PowerPoint or other programs, you will need to purchase one of these packages:
Microsoft Office Home and Student 2010: 3 licenses of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint for roughly $120
Microsoft Office Home and Business 2010: 1 license of the above plus Outlook for $200
Microsoft Office Professional 2010: above plus Publisher and Access for $350
Important note: If you are purchasing the computer for a college student, they can frequently obtain the latest Office software from school for as low as $30! Call the IT department and stop by the bookstore or stop by http://www.ultimatesteal.com
Warranty – Most computers come with a one year warranty. With systems so inexpensive, I don’t think an extended warranty makes sense. If you are spending $800+, I would probably purchase the extended if it isn’t too expensive.
Laptop Info – Laptops are amazingly cheap nowadays, comparable to desktops. They are obviously mobile, but less upgradable and more difficult to repair than desktops. They have a shorter lifespan than a desktop, as well as a smaller screen and keyboard. If the screen or motherboard dies, they are usually not worth fixing.
Screen and overall size – If you are carrying the laptop around regularly, do not get anything larger than 14”. If you are mainly staying in one place, get 15”-17”.
Wireless – Every single laptop built today has wireless capability built in. This allows you to connect to wireless hotspots in hotels, restaurants, libraries, etc, as well as connecting to a wireless network in your house if you have one.
Hard drive size – If you have a large iTunes library or download videos or TV shows, be sure to get at least 500 GB. 250 is not enough nowadays! For basic web browsing and word processing, the default lower size is fine.
- The standard model desktop running the fast Core i3 processor is the Inspiron 580 (not the slim 580s) from the home side of their site.
- Be sure to select 3-5 day shipping, which is free.
- Dell claims it will take 2-3 weeks to arrive and it’s usually 7-10 days.
- Stay away from XPS systems because XPS stands for eXPenSive.
- Dell has a new “outrageous deal” every day; don’t feel pressured.
- Don’t call Dell because their salespeople will lie to you repeatedly on many topics in order to sell you whatever they get the most commission from. Order it online or buy it from Micro Center, Best Buy, Costco, etc.
- Warning: Dell has very cheap, well-made systems and a good onsite warranty, but their phone support is horrible. You will spend quite a while on hold and they will try to insist on you opening the computer case and removing components for troubleshooting. Other large national companies also have bad phone support. Once you get past the phone experience, they will send a technician to your house to replace parts, which is very convenient and a definite advantage over bringing your computer in to Best Buy.
- A great site to find Dell deals is http://www.edealinfo.com Go there and click on Dell. Then click Desktop or Laptop, then under Processor click Intel, then Core i3. Then select any other specs you like, such as screen size.
IMPORTANT: Avoid buying a slimline computer, or a nonstandard size/shape, such as a machine with the computer built into the back of the screen. These unusual machines have a higher failure rate as well as more expensive proprietary parts. Get a standard “midtower” type case if possible.