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How to Buy a Computer for Your Needs

This is not exactly my usual run-of-the-mill stuff, but since I wrote a post or two about benchmarks not being the ultimate say in computer buying decisions, I have had mails requesting me to elaborate on how to buy a good computer. So I decided to dedicate this small post to an answer. I do not pretend to be an expert, but I can still provide a few small hints:

Important: Learn not to be awed by what marketers throw at you, and the specifications you see! Stick to what you had in mind.

  • Look at your budget. As a general rule, there are two best ways to buy a computer:
    1. Fit the best computer to your budget
    2. Fit the most economical computer to your needs
  • Further, there can be two ways to get a computer:
    1. Buy a branded box (more expensive, but sure to end you up with a good PC)
    2. Buy the components, and make up the PC (less expensive but required a little know-how about PC parts and combinations)
  • The exact choice depends entirely on you, and how much time and money you can spare.
  • The internet is your tool. Whenever buying a branded computer, making one from components, or a laptop, be sure to to check out the reviews around the internet. And not only ‘editorials’ and ‘expert reviews’ but also ‘user reviews’ which are often more helpful than the expert reviews in pointing out flaws and performance issues, even if they are rather subjective.
  • A computer’s final performance should at least be equal to the sum of its parts, or perhaps even more. Some combinations of hardware work particularly well – in my experience, AMD and ATI hardware couples well, as does Intel and Nvidia.
  • Performance is purely subjective: the computer should ‘feel’ fast, and run the software you want in the way you want. Other metrics are all eyewash. For the same price, one computer can be faster than the other.
  • If you are buying a laptop or a branded PC, see if you can do a hands on test. It helps to see if the object you are buying is up to your needs.
  • If you are buying a Windows Vista system, the Windows Experience Index is a handy little rating of what your system is capable of – many applications and games for Windows are rated by this, so you can know beforehand what your platform will be able to run.
  • Unless you are buying a gaming rig, go for maximum performance per unit price. At the higher end of the performance spectrum, large inputs of cash bring only marginal improvements in performance. Avoid them.
  • Always invest in the largest hard-disk capacity you can.
  • Remember to buy a balanced computer, no matter what the salespeople tell you. A computer is only as fast as the slowest component (for general work), and computer with a very powerful processor, and lots of RAM is crippled without a strong complement of graphics processing.

This is hardly a conclusive list. But this includes many points that people often forget when buying. Addition of points to this list will be welcome!

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