Computer setup on a wooden desk

Which computer should I buy?

by Angus Jones

You need a new computer, some are $300 others are $3000. Where do you start?  What do you need?  In this guide, as we don’t understand your circumstances we cannot recommend the right computer but we will help you make that decision yourself.

PC is an abbreviation for personal computer. Personal computers allow us to write papers, create spreadsheets, track our finances, play games, and do many other things. If a PC is connected to the Internet, it can be used to browse the Web, check e-mail, communicate with friends via instant messaging programs, and download files. PCs have become such an integral part of our lives that it can be difficult to imagine life without them!

WHY do I need a new or different Computer?

The fact you are reading this guide means you are already considering a new PC. 

The most common reasons for a new PC are:

New staff member
Old PC is too slow
Old PC has failed
Existing PC will not run the program you need
PC has been written off from a financial perspective or deemed too old to continue being reliable.

The question that needs answering here is what is the difference between a PC for home versus a PC for work? Not a great deal depending on what you do for work.  These days a lot of home PCs have features built in to support gaming which is not much use at work unless you are doing graphic or video work.

A PC will not last forever and any moving part like a disk drive or fan is the most likely component to fail.

WHAT do I need to understand about a PC?

Walk into a retailer or go online and you will be presented with lots of choice and price points.  There are some key decisions you need to make upfront before we look at how to evaluate a PC.

  1. Desktop or Laptop – Laptops may also be called notebooks, which are generally slightly smaller. A Laptop is portable whilst a desktop is not.  A desktop can be more powerful, have more connection port options and upgradeable but few people except for gamers ever upgrade their desktop by replacing components. Historically desktops are cheaper for similar specifications but not always.  If the user will work away from the office they should have a laptop.
    1. Desktop – come as either a tower unit which is large upright box, compact or small form factor which places everything in a sandwich sided box, or an all-in-one which combines the components into the back of a monitor.
    1. Laptops –  are a self-sufficient solution with battery including screen, keyboard and touchpad (mouse).  Features, screen size and weight distinguish models.
  2. Operation system – Today there are four main types:
    1. Microsoft Windows – most common and will run almost every software.
    1. Apple Mac OS – traditionally favoured by creatives or anyone who has gone down the Apple ecosystem.
    1. Google Chrome – a cheaper solution that combined with a lower specified hardware set without a hard drive will perform most functions via a browser and the internet.  Popular in education today.
    1. Linux– an opensource operating system which is very cheap and generally only used in specialised applications.
  3. Tablet as PC replacement – Some modern tablets are so powerful they could be used as a laptop replacement.  When combined with a keyboard they are essentially the same with a different operating system.

As more and more applications and solutions go to the cloud, the operating system is becoming more irrelevant and all you need is to run a browser connected to the internet.  However, you do need to ensure that any specialist software or application your business will use can run on the device you buy.

HOW do choose which Personal Computer?

Now you have picked your form factor and operating system this starts to narrow down your selection.  Next, you can compare at various retailers instore or online, alternatively visit a specific manufacturers website who sell direct like HP or Dell.

Very simply the higher the specification on each of the below technologies the more expensive the PC will be. If your needs are basic the most basic solutions will do the job but we will make some recommendations below based on value for money and suitability for 3 to 4 years usage.

Key technologies include:

Screen or Monitor:  built into a laptop and often bundled with a desktop.  Similar technology as a TV.  Two factors to consider are screen size measured in inches and resolution.  For desktops, we recommend a 27-inch display with Full HD (1920×1080 pixels) resolution.  Those doing graphics or video work should consider a larger display with a 4K resolution.  More money will also buy more accurate colours.

Processor or CPU: This is your brains of the PC and will be an Intel or AMD product. The bigger the number the faster it will complete a task but at a higher cost.  A good sweet spot is an Intel Core i5. Those doing complicated mathematics or graphics should spend more money here.

Memory or RAM:  This is the PC’s short term memory. It controls how much it can remember in real-time.  8GB is the sweet-spot, however, most devices can be upgraded if not enough.

Storage or hard drive:  This is the long term memory and the place you store all your applications and files. A standard hard drive has moving parts and is cost-effective and can store large amounts of data.  A modern alternative is a solid-state drive or SSD which essentially uses computer chips to store data.  An SSD is very fast to boot and access files.  If you are using a laptop we recommend using an SSD of 256GB, if using a Desktop SSD would be good but 1 TB drive is the sweet spot.  In a desktop having both an SSD and hard drive will give you speed and greater storage.

Graphics card:  Unless you are using graphic intensive programs, we don’t suggest you need this functionality as the basics are built into the processor.  Graphics cards are very popular with home gamers.

Connections:  This is how you connect devices to your PC.  We recommend you ensure you have the following ports-

  • HDMI to connect an external monitor.
  • USB 3 to connect keyboards, mouse, printers, memory sticks, camera’s etc. Two or more ports recommended.
  • Thunderbolt (not essential but replaces both of the above).
  • WiFi is how you might connect to the internet wirelessly (see Set up a WiFi network guide).
  • Ethernet will only be required if you want a cable connection to the internet from the PC.
  • Bluetooth allows you to connect wirelessly to a mouse, keyboard or your smartphone.
  • Speakers are included in a laptop but generally needed to be added to a desktop.
  • SD card slot (not essential) makes it easy to transfer from this medium used in cameras and phones.

You will need to consider software for your new PC and further details on this can be found in our guides on office productivity software and internet security.

HINTS

Visit the gadgetguy website to see reviews and recommendations on various PC products.

How to choose a Windows laptop – a guide for home and office use 2021

Watch out for specials. As this is such a competitive market they are always around and will save you some money.

Next year’s technology will always be better so just accept your PC is out of date soon after you buy it.  However, most 3-year-old computers can handle any solutions currently available today.

Ensure you also read our guide on Backup- keeping your data safe.

Your IT support business or computer retailer can also recommend suitable models.

SUMMARY – understand the computer jargon

Buying a new PC can be a daunting task with lots of jargon and so much to choose from.  If you stick to reputable brands and understand the implications the various technologies have on the performance of a PC your decision becomes easier.  Make sure that what you buy will support the applications and solutions you need to run within your business.

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