My son has recently started a computer class at school and has asked for a home computer. How and where do you suggest I research the best computer for my money?
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I have actually found a lot of good information by going to a computer store and talking to a sales representative. Just be sure that you go to the store on a fact finding mission and don't buy a computer until you are ready. Never buy anything as expensive as a computer at the first store you go to. Shop around. You can also learn a lot of from friends or family that have recently purchased computers. Take advantage of any information that you can get from people that you know and trust.
If possible, ask your son's teacher for some guidance on what to look for. The teacher will probably be able to explain to you what to look for and has a really good idea of what will be needed for the class.
I recommend checking out The Cheapskate's Guide to Bargain Computing. It's a book by Bill Camarda that came out a couple years ago that has some helpful information. You can probably find it at your local library. Also you will find some good information online that can help you understand the jargon associated with computers. Here are a few good resources that are worth checking out:
Viewz Computer Buying Guide: http://www.view de/compbuy.shtml
Consumer Review: You can search for specific models and often find multiple reviews on them. http://www.consumerreview.com
Dave's Guide to Buying a Home Computer http://www.css.msu.edu/PC-Guide/
Keep in mind that consumer information about computers becomes obsolete as fast the computers do. There is a lot of general information that is quite useful but when it comes down to specific models and specifications, the newer the information the better.
Be sure to check both online and local retail stores and compare prices. It's a competitive market and at any given time, you probably can find a deal where you can get extra RAM or an extra peripheral device for free. If you buy mail order or through a website, be sure to factor in shipping charges and compare shipping charges of the various mail order companies. Buying used or refurbished computer's is an option, but be sure to buy them from an established company with at least a 60 day warranty.
Take your time and you should be able to find the right model for your son at a price you can afford.
What computer should you buy? Well, it all depends on what you're going to use it for. A computer used mostly for a lot of gaming, one used mostly for browsing, email, budgeting, and word processing (the type the majority of people use), and one mostly used to run processor and memory intensive design software would each need different functionality.
Here is some info which I hope will be useful in deciding on whether to buy a desktop or a laptop, and whether a MAC or a Windows system. It should be helpful whether yout budget is limited to a few hundred dollars or if it runs into the thousands.
To begin with, unless you are something of an expert, do not start your search for a computer on the internet. Unless you already have enough knowledge concerning computers in general, in which case you would not be reading this, you need to start a process which will involve brick and mortar stores.
Before shopping, decide exactly what you want to use it for, and whether you want a desktop or a laptop. Then go to a store which sells many different brands of computers, and explain to a sales person what you need the computer to do for you. (Unless you have firmly decided on a MAC, do not got to a store which sells only one brand.) He or she should then be able to tell you what your parameters are; how fast a processor, how much memory, and what types of software you really need, as well as what other things, such as CD/DVD drives, you need. You may find it useful to write that information down. Then ask to be shown which brands and models will do the trick.
If you have needs which result in a computer costing around $1000 or more for a desktop or around $500 or more for a laptop, you'll also want to take a look at MACs. If you decide to do that, you might possibly have to stop by a different store. Not all computer stores sell MACS, and no Apple stores sell Windows based computers.
Desktops vs Laptops. Nowadays, laptops are just as powerful as desktops, with the benefitv of portability. That was not the case in the earlier years. The one remaining notable advantage with a desktop is that you can add and change drives, boards, processors and even motherboards, things which are difficult or often even impossible with a laptop. And you can often add more extra memory than you can with most laptops. Ultimately, you can add capabilities and keep a desktop "cutting edge" as things change, without going out and buying a whole new computer. You can't usually do that with a laptop; what you buy is essentially what you'll have to live with, hardware-wise. But not a lot of people really need to keep their computer up with the latest technology anyway.
An additional thing to consider with a Windows desktop (but not a MAC) is that the display screen and speakers may or may not be included in the price. Also, if the display is included it might not be one that you want. There might be an additional cost to get a larger screen.
NOTE: When I say application or app, I mean an end user application, a piece of software designed for a user to utilize, anything from a game to a CAD (computer assisted design) program to a word processor to a calculator. I do not mean app as in something to use on a phone, as many people use the term nowadays.
Finally, with any computer, be it a Windows, MAC, desktop, laptop, whatever, you need to consider software. Different computers will come with different software included. One of the most common things you'll come across is different versions of Microsoft Office. If you need to have all of the apps that are in Office it might be cheaper to get the more expensive computer that comes with the full MS Office than to get the cheaper one that comes with a version that has only, say, Word, Excel, Outlook, and Powerpoint (I have no idea which apps are actually in which versions, MS keeps changing them, and I use Office Professional Plus anyway, which has everything in it). With the cheaper computer you'd have to spend money upgrading to the software you really needed. So you need to find out the total cost out the door, including the computer, the necessary software, the display, speakers, and the peripherals (if any).
Tablets. I'm not really going to address tablets, but they're essentially a mini-laptop. They're fine for browsing the internet and some other basic computer tasks, but their size does limit functionality, and with tablets you won't get things like built in CD/DVD drives, the number and type of input and/or output ports a desktop or laptop will have or, usually, expandable memory. The smaller display can be a problem for some, as can the smaller keyboard. It is likely that in the future tablets will become in many ways as functional as are desktops and laptops; not so long ago laptops were pretty limited as compared to desktops. But right now I'm only be talking about what I consider to be fully functional computers.
Windows vs. MAC. MACs seem to be more expensive, but they really aren't. Let's say all computers are in usefullness categories from A through G, with A being the most basic and G being the most capable. (These are not actual real categories, they're just made up for purposes of explanation, and G would be a special category, custom built systems with special capabilities, and really expensive) You can find a Windows system in any of those categories, but Apple only makes computers in categories D through F. While you can find Windows systems that are a lot cheaper than the cheapest MAC, they'll be in categories A through C. A windows system that's as capable as a MAC will cost pretty much the same as its MAC counterpart.
One possible advantage for Windows might be that there are many computer manufacturers making Windows based systems, with a large variety of features available, so you can more easily find a system which most perfectly meets your needs without spending more for capabilities you don't really need. With MACs you're limited to the specific models they offer, and there aren't many options availabe with each model. For example, my Windows laptop (I also have a Macbook) has dual hard drives, one being a virtual electronic drive, selectable video display cards with different levels of performance, the fastest processor on the market, 16 Gigabytes of the fastest RAM available, and a 2 year parts and labor plus lifetime labor warranties. I couldn't have gotten that in a MAC. But it also cost over $3.5K, and not many people need that much capability.
There are more applications for Windows systems now than there are for MACs, but that has been changing in recent years. More software companies are selling things in both Windowes and MAC versions and more popular apps, like MS Office, now also run on MACs. Today, you can even partition the disk and run Windows only software on a MAC. And there are actually some few apps which can only run on a MAC, which is why I also have a Macbook.
Also, some say that a MAC is better for creative work (art, sound production, video production, etc.). Others will say that isn't true, but some creative software, like Pro Tools, does seem to be more suited to MACs.
Finally, Apple claims that MACs are more secure than Windows sustems, and don't even require any security software. That's sort of true, but not completely. The security built into the Apple OS has always been adequate, but that's in at least large part because so few serious hackers have been targeting MACs. And as more people own MACs, that is begining to change. As time goes by Apple is having to put more work into the OS to keep things safe, and a Windows system with really good security software, like ESET and Malwarebytes, is just as safe. Unfortunately, some of the more commonly used Windows security software, such as like Norton and MaAfee, are somewhat less secure.
I believe that the only real drawback with a MAC, providing that you need a computer as capable as a MAC and will therefore have to be spending as much on an equally capable Windows system as you would on a MAC, are Apple's somewhat monopolistic proprietery policies. Nobody but Apple can work on a MAC without the warranty being voided. And Macbooks (and Apple tablets and phones) are built so that the user cannot even change the battery, or add memory, himself. However, there are beginning to be more and more independent repair shops which can work on Apple products, so once the warranty has expired you aren't still limited to going to Apple if something needs to be repaired.
So forget about the aparrent cost difference itself. Decide exactly what you need the computer to do, then shop for one with the right capabilities. If your needs aren't too complex, a MAC may get you things you don't need and cost you more than you need spend. But if your needs aren't just basic, you might have to spend just as much for a capable enough Windows system as for a MAC. And if you need something REALLY capable, more than most people need. you have to go to a custom built Windows system.
Bottom line on MAC vs Windows is that if you only need a lower end system, go with Windows because Apple doesn't make any lower end computers. If you need something unnusually capable, and/or a specific set of features not available in any ready made computer, go with a custom built Windows system because Apple doesn't do custom builts. If you're in between, needing a really good computer but not a lot of very specific hardware component choices, it's a tossup, and you sould decide on which has the most appeal, for whatever reason, to you. Even if it's something as simple as lots of people think a MAC is more "cool" than a Windows computer.
Your actual purchase. You've finally decided what computer you want to buy. Your final step is to write down the make and model, along with any "options" (for example it may come with a choice of this thing or that thing) you want, and hit the internet. You needed to do some hands on shopping to come to a decision, but there's a decent chance that you can find a cheaper price for that exact computer on the internet than you can at your local stores. That is true, although with a lesser chance, even with Apple products. Be sure that anything you find online is absolutely identical in every way, specs, features, included software, etc. as the computer you decided on, and buy it from wherever offers the best price.
I just recommended to my mom to get a Dell. My opinion is that they are the best computer for the money. You might also want to research wwwzdnet.com and esp. www.cnet.com because both have reviews of all kinds of hardware and their support, and make recommendations with explanations. They also have links to resellers where you can compare prices in a list. A cheaper option would be to go with some place like TigerDirect.com where you can get a bleeding edge Athlon for about $500-600 for a geneic computer, versus major manufacturers who will sell you an average computer for $800. They use the same parts made by outside manufacturers and just slap their name on it. Good luck!
I have 2 bits of advice about Computer buying. Shop around & buy the service policy for as long a period as you can. We don't buy them on our
other things like TVs & radios as they are usually cheaper to donate than repair. Computers are worth the expense as the policy frequently comes with free tech support. Check for this feature & ask about it. You will soon have those Numbers engraved on your Brains.
- Linne Dodds
Someone posted about getting an extended warranty with your computer. The online technical support is great especially if you are a new user ... nice to talk with someone to get you straightened out.
I would like to offer suggestions:
The computer comes with a one year warranty. When I bought my Compaq the salesman could not understand why I did not want to purchase the extended three year warranty at the time of my initial purchase (remember the salesman makes a good commission off selling warranties). I contacted Compaq direct close to expiration of the initial one year warranty and purchased direct from Compaq and paid with my Visa. This also saves on having to pay so far in advance for the extended warranty and saves interest.
Many times you can purchase the computer with no interest if the account is paid off in six months. Don't add the warranty to the computer at this time is my suggestion.
This was what I did.
Personally (and I'm no super-geek) I prefer to build or re-build my own boxes. I'm not a gamer or graphic artist so I don't need a hot rod, just something to get the job done. I have an old Pentium III 450Mhz, and it works pretty well though I'd like to double my 256Mb of RAM; that would speed things up a lot.
Also I wouldn't buy anything with an MS Windows operating system included. I enjoy using Linux, and some of the newer distros do everything I need to do and then some. I'm currently using Simply Mepis, and it will run from a single CD without installing it on the hard drive so you can test its features before installing it. Keep in mind, though, that it runs a lot faster once installed than it can from a CD. There are other "live" CD Linux distros as well, and many can be downloaded from the Web and burned on your blank CD-R. I've recently installed Novell SuSE 9.3 Professional but haven't had time to play with it. It comes on five CDs and has all kinds of bells and whistles I'll never use, but I'm looking forward to checking it out; it looks great. (They've released at least one later version since this one came out.) Note also that Linux can generally be set up as a dual boot with Windows (on the same hard drive). They won't run at the same time; Windows does not play well with others. On boot-up you simply choose which OS you want to boot into and it takes you there. I still have Windows 2000 SP4 on this drive but I almost never use it anymore.
Linux does require a 'learning curve' and takes some getting used to, but many of the newer versions are quite stable and are much less virus- and malware- prone than MS products. As far as I know about the only demand they don't (yet) meet is gaming.
If your son will be using it, then I would recommend the largest hard drive you can afford and the most memory you can afford as kids like to keep their music ect on the computer.
You can get a very nice machine for 300-500.00 that will have what you need on it.
Also consider these things:
1.For digital photography and video-a good nvidia based graphics card, firewire port, and built in card readers a re very nice to have
2.If your son is using windows at school, then I would go with a windows xp system. If you want to run Linux, you can still do so on a windows pc.
3.A cd or dvd burner is a plus for sending photos to grandma, backing up data, ect
4.I am also partial to AMD Athlon processors
Shops I recommend:
I usually just order a system with what I want in it as opposed to buying a "Dell" for example, I might buy a machine where some of the parts are made by Dell, and some by other companies. Currently I own an AMD system with 2 hard drives and 512 ddr memory. Your hard drive speed is important for graphics, video, sound, ect-7200 rpm is good.
From time to time, Walmart has some great deals on some wonderful systems. And they have layaway, which is nice too.
I teach a digital photography class for kids and approve the tech purchases.
I forgot to ask! How old is your son>and also, what types of things do you think you will use your computer for?
Looking ahead at the possibilities often helps when computer shopping. You may end up doing things on the computer you never thought about! My son has recently gotten into doing digital music and I am sooo glad I have the machine I have, lol. I work on my computer everyday and doing photography, it helps to have those built in card readers, though it isn't necessary,lol.
I hope this has been at least a little helpful.
I would suggest buying a custom dell. They are great. I recently bought one with 2 gigs ram for 300 dollars.
My son-in-law is in pc works. He compared dell versus gateway-gateway won hands down. Needless to say I will always have a gateway. The best.
You want the best computer for the money get a Apple.
I have to agree with Alph's post above. I wouldn't buy anything with Windows on it, especially Vista! I would also not send a fortune on a machine as this is his first machine and the computer technology changes faster than one changes their dirty socks. I also would not buy a machine from Dell, Gateway or any big name brand. You are sending $$$ for the name only, not on the best hardware available. These big name companies are selling re-branded equipment. 99% of the time getting the extended warranty is a waste of money. I would also use Linux for my OS of choice (PCLinuxOS), and if I need for whatever reason run something that only works in Windows, I would run that in a virtual environment. Good luck in which ever way you go. Just remember that buying the newest or latest equipment is always the best solution. This is not an area that one has to buy to keep up with the Jones next door.
I would base the "best" rating on what your son's level of experience and use for the computer are.
If your son is not into computer hardware work or software development, and wants to go into computer graphics, then the Apple is a great deal.
If your son is going to do computer hardware work (building computers, stringing network wire etc.), building an IBM-based PC himself is a great learning experience, but don't expect to save much money by doing it yourself. Sweat equity in computers is very small and real computer builders would gladly trade a little sweat for a few extra GB of RAM or a bigger disk drive...
If your son is into software (other than computer graphics), an IBM-based PC is the best way to go. In this case, I would recommend any of the normal reputable dealers, including Dell, HP/Compaq, etc. My current and last PCs were both Dell and I have been happy with them. Prior to that I had Compaq which worked fine forever (I still have it and intend to convert it to Linux soon).
DEFINTELY SHOP AROUND FOR THE BEST BARGAIN! Prices differ widely for *very* similar equipment. You may get a PC that you just need tp slap a few RAM chips into much cheaper than one that comes pre-built. Check out a bunch and shop for the best deal.
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