New Computer for the New Year

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Whether it be for school, work, or the result of an impulsive resolution, the New Year can be the perfect time to buy a new computer.  But, due in part to Moores Law, if you haven’t been keeping up with all of the technical advancements in the last year you may be a little more than overwhelmed when trying to decide what is right for you.  I am no technical genius, but I did work in computer sales and repair at a major retailer for a few years, so I can give you some basic tips to bypass all the numbers, stats, and gobbledygook that might distract you from finding your one true computer companion.

The first question you should ask yourself is “Do I really need a new computer?” Try these tips to make your old computer faster and see if they don’t solve your technology terrors. Now, if your computer had to be taken out back and put down…

The second question you should ask yourself is “What do I actually need this computer for?” Is it just to browse the web and type up a few documents, or to download music and stream Netflix? Will you be using it exclusively for work or school?
Here is an infographic we did last year that can help you decide which computer might be right for you.

Really consider these things first, because it can be the best way to avoid spending more for something you don’t need. Here are some of the most pertinent and common questions people have about buying a new computer.

Desktop vs Laptop? What about a Netbook vs a Tablet or Smartphone?

A Computer used to be a giant humming super machine the size of a room, but now they come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.

  • Desktop: The faster technology gets, the smaller it seems to become. But don’t discredit desktop computers. Usually you can get them for a cheaper initial cost in relation to speed, and if you don’t need the mobility it can still be a viable option because you can upgrade or replace many of the components easier and cheaper than the rest. A desktop would be a great idea if buying a machine for a younger (accident prone) child or for a gamer. If the newest game comes out and it needs a fancy graphics card, you can just swap it out instead of having to buy a brand new machine again. In fact, you can even build your own custom machine from scratch!
  • Laptop: The most commonly purchased personal computer in recent years,  you get the mobility of the smaller design and wireless technology, as well as the power of a desktop computer. All of this comes at a price, considering laptops usually cost the most. Also, make sure not to sit on it, because those screens are VERY sensitive! In fact, it is best not to use it in bed either because many people accidentally roll over on it, which is more than enough to seriously damage it.
  • Netbook:  The netbook has had many ups and downs the last few years but it should still be seriously considered. While not quite a laptop, it packs more of a punch than tablets or smartphones. In fact, most netbooks run full versions of the major Operating Systems, so much of your old software can be installed.  This means if you are looking for a machine to do the basics (web surfing, resume typing) then this might just be what you need at a more affordable price.  Many do not come with a cd-drive for size reasons though, and if you need one you will have to purchase and external USB one separately.
  • Tablet: 2011 was the year of the tablet. While the Apple iPad is the front-runner, there are many other manufacturers out there trying to get a slice of the pie. Many of these companies tout the tablet as an end-all be-all gadget, but don’t be disappointed when your tablet can seem like just a big brother to your smartphone. In fact, they usually come installed with modified (or not, in many cases) versions of the Operating systems found on cell phones, and while there are millions of Apps to be downloaded on these devices, they cannot install many traditional or advanced software packages that you might be used to.  The price for many tablets usually exceeds that of netbooks as well. These are great, powerful little devices though, and if you just want to watch Youtube or keep in touch on facebook, this might be way to look the coolest doing it.
  •  Smartphone: My newest smartphone is faster than the laptop I owned in college, and that is saying something! As the gap between phones and computers close, more and more are using their handhelds as the main device they use to go online. Many smartphones have the option to go wi-fi as well, so you don’t need to subscribe to an expensive data plan, plus it comes pre-installed with this awesome app on it that lets you call and actually talk to people!

Mac or PC?
This is the question that will most likely start World War 3.  I will refuse to say one is better than the other, because really they are very similar in many ways. One of the most important things that many forget to consider is, does your company or school require special software for one or the other? Some classes will require you have software they just don’t make for the mac, or your office might only use mac products so your chance to work from home will be limited to say the least. For the more tech savvy out there, it is noteworthy to mention that you can run a Mac OS on Windows, and vise versa, but expect your budget to increase dramatically if you want both operating systems.

A common misconception is that Apple computers do not get viruses. In the past, the dominance of Windows based machines spurred many to write viruses and malware exclusively for the operating system, much to everyone’s dismay. But the more people that migrate to Apple products everyday, you can bet that the problems will follow. With either Mac or PC, you can stay safe by having the latest anti-virus software installed, but the best protection is to be a smart internet user!

Additional Software?
Many who haven’t purchased a new computer in the last 5 years are unaware that much of the software that used to be included isn’t any longer. The Microsoft Office suite is the software most computer buyers miss the most after opening the box, and it can be pretty pricey on its own. I recommend using some really cool free options out there. Here is a blog post we did about Google Docs, and Open Office is also a great, free alternative.

Many new computers also come with additional software you don’t want, and they may even slow down your machine or require additional purchases. Many big box retailers offer services to remove this extra stuff for you, but to save money it is usually easy enough to do on your own. Here are some tips for a PC, and some for a Mac.

Warranties and Service Plans?
Major retailers LOVE adding additional charges on things like warranties or peripheral devices, because they usually make very little profit on the machine itself.  There are some that suggest these plans are all scams, and while some may not be the best idea, I wouldn’t go so far as to deny them outright. In fact, some can even save you money.  A lot of computer plans will cover the replacement of the charger and the battery, which are two things of the most common problems on laptop computers. Yes, you can buy replacement or universal chargers as well as new batteries yourself, but chances are it is a better buy to get the cheapest service plan at the time of the computer, and cash in on these replacements before your plan expires. Just remember to actually request these replacements! They wont just send them to you automatically, and in most cases are hoping you will forget about them.
Another reason you might be happy you have a service plan is if the motherboard fries. That is usually an irreparable item and will cost more to fix than a new computer is to buy. Hey, maybe that’s why you are reading this article in the first place!

 

Now that we no longer have to worry about Skynet, what computer are you considering to purchase in 2012?

 

Sources: HowStuffWorks.com, ZDNET, Wikipedia, NYTimes, PewInternet, LifeHacker, Apple.com, Mobiz, NetSquirrel, MacRumors

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