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14 Tips for Choosing Your New Computer

Over the years, quite a few people have asked me what they should know about buying a new computer. Here is a compilation of key tips and elements that should help you choose the computer that’ll best suit you.


  • Dual Core?
  • What is RAM, and what do I need it for?
  • Is the extended warranty such a good idea?
  • Oooh! 800 GB! (…What’s that?)
  • Should I get the processor upgrade?
  • And how much is a MB?

1. The first decision: Mac or PC?

This is pretty simple. In fact, this decision really comes down to getting a home or work computer. Both types dabble in both areas, but have their own niche. If you are looking for a simple, fun at home computer that you can use for everyday domestic tasks, I recommend an Apple computer. However, if you’re looking for a relatively stable operating system that supports almost everything, go for a personal computer running one of the latest versions of Windows. (Keep in mind that Apples with Boot Camp can function as either or both.) If you are looking for an advanced, complicated, yet fully customizable and efficient operating system, then get a personal computer running a Linux distribution such as Ubuntu. Fair warning, these systems are much more complex and can be quite a pain in the neck when you notice that their technical support teams are lacking. Such a relief that it’s free.


2. Laptop or desktop?

You probably have one of these in mind but it would be a good idea to review.

It depends, although many people love the portability aspect of laptop computers they don’t have the price advantage, and a smaller package may not be worth your money.
If you find yourself traveling often, or needing multiple computers, then a laptop could be a simple solution as you can take it from school or work to home and back. But if it’s going to sit on your desk you may as well go for the cheaper alternative and get more bang for your buck, a desktop can pack in a lot more power. Laptops have flexibility in use but not in power, or upgrades.

Mobility = Money. It’s up to you to decide how useful it would be to have a computer with you often.

3. Processor upgrade?

The processor is in all senses the brain of the computer, it does simple things that code asks it to do. for example, when you click on a button the program might say: play this file, hide this textbox and change this textbox to say “I love leather products!”. Obviously, coding is much more difficult then that. But the question remains, get the better chip? I’d have to say yes. You’ll need it eventually and if you intend to keep your computer running fast for a few years, you’ll need the upgrade considering processors double in power each year. If you don’t get the upgrade, in a year, any new computers on the market will be three times faster than yours.

4. What is RAM, and is it worth upgrading?

RAM is, to put it simply, the chip that holds everything you have open. This website, for example, would be saved on your RAM, so if you minimized it, when you opened it would still be there without you needing to reload the page. I think eventually you will use the upgrade as tomorrow’s applications are going to be bigger, better, and faster, and you will want to be able to run them. You should definitely go for the largest option, if you are a multi-tasker and often have multiple programs open at once.

5. Bigger hard drive?

A bigger hard drive means that you can store more stuff, high end applications now come at around 5 GB max. The average user will use 20 GB average for his system and software. This leaves the rest for documents and files, unless you are working on extremely large files like .psd and model files. In this case, you probably don’t need 600 GB for emails. If you have the cash, go bigger but chances are you won’t need it anytime soon. The average person could go with about 50 – 100 GB (for e-mails, spreadsheets, pictures, documents, etc.) over a 3-year period.

6. What about dual core?

Is the newfangled Dual Core Processor such a great idea? Although I am not opposed to it you should keep in mind having one dedicated processor might be the best idea for you. This situation is similar to the one I reviewed regarding Multiple Monitors. Having a dual core processor might actually slow your computer down, depending how you use it.

If you constantly have multiple-processor heavy applications running then having a dual core processor isn’t such a bad idea, as long as it keeps you working steadily, but sometimes it’s better to have only one processor. Of course, salespeople tell you it’s the latest and greatest and it’s much better then having one, but everyone knows they’re only trying to get a bigger commission. But if you are the kind of person who could benefit from having a single dedicated processor, if you find yourself running one thing at a time, be it games, movies and/or advanced applications that will take up a lot of CPU space, then by all means go out and get a single core processor as it would probably benefit you more.


7. TV tuner?

The latest rage is to outfit computers with TV tuners so you can watch TV on the same screen you do your finances on. Here at GearFire, we highly disapprove of this situation, besides if you want to watch TV and already have one why slow down your computer? If you don’t have a TV and intend to use the computer you purchase as a media pc then I suppose you could get a TV tuner, but on the practicality side it’s useless.


8. Optical drive?

You probably only need one optical drive, and DVD drives are mostly used for games, movies and the occasional back-up. I recommend getting a DVD drive only if you think in the future DVD’s will become more popular as data storage devices, or if you use your computer to watch movies, which is another thing we discourage here. A good CD-RW should do you fine until your next computer.

Floppy disks have been extinct for longer than Pterodactyls. Don’t even bother.


9. Monitor?


If you are getting a laptop this doesn’t apply, but most desktop computers ship with monitors. I recommend whatever you were using for your last one, if you think it’s time for an upgrade then avoid going big unless you think you will need it.

When you are buying a monitor, keep in mind the resolution, as it is what really makes a big monitor spacious as opposed to bulky.

10. Video Card?

Most people are fine with the average, but if you find that you are missing those clean lines on your favorite video game or are missing some frames in your movies then go for the upgrade. I must warn you, though, that operating systems and applications are getting more graphic, and if you are doing photo/video editing or 3D work it would be a good decision to go for the upgrade.


11. Keyboard and mouse?

Two words, comfort and functionality. That’s all that matters. You don’t need something that uses heat sensors to analyse your stress level and then procedes to massage your temples, as long as it does the job well and isn’t a pain to use.


12. Extended warranty?

Get it! No matter how unnecessary it may seem at first. Unless you are real handy with computers and don’t mind paying for new parts if they break throughout normal use, then I highly recommend getting a new one. For example, if it’s as simple a thing as your computer fan breaks and the whole computer over-heats damaging multiple segments then you would not want to be left without coverage, you’d have to buy an entirely new computer instead of getting a free one from the manufacturer.

13. Sound card / good speaker upgrade?

Unless you are a musician or are highly involved in audio work it just isn’t worth your money. Most computers have functional, decent cards already.


14. Mb Breakdown – bits and bytes

Your computer communicates with a large array of switches, on and off. You may have seen 0’s and 1’s before but this is what they relate to. 0 means no current and 1 means there is a current, simply – Off and On. Well each digit of binary code (the computer 0 and 1 code.) is called a bit. 8 of them together make a byte, because 8 on and off’s together could make any character required. Here is how it works:

  • 1 bit (0 or 1).
  • 8 bits makes a byte.
  • 1000 bytes makes a kilobyte (Kb).
  • 1000 kilobytes makes a megabyte (Mb).
  • 1000 megabytes makes a gigabyte (Gb).
  • 1000 gigabytes makes a terabyte (Tb).

(The “true” breakdown consists of all multiples of 8. and are labelled: e.g. KiB and MiB.)

How much is a MB?

  • One “typical” sized photograph with reasonably good quality.
  • Roughly, a minute of near CD-quality MP3 compressed music (at 128 kbit/s).
  • Approximately 100 pages of single-spaced 12 point font text in Microsoft Word.
  • Approximately 3 seconds of DVD-quality video.

* Taken from: Saturday, January 6, 2007.



Bend the above suggestions to fit your price range and then do a search. If you find you have extra money left over then you can indulge yourself, save up for the next computer or help keep GearFire ad-free!

That’s all, thanks for taking the time to read my article and don’t forget to back-up!

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One Response to “14 Tips for Choosing Your New Computer”

  1. Get to Know Your Technology Better – February 26 2007

    Welcome to the February 26, 2007 edition of ‘get to know your technology better’. (yes – it’s a day late) If you are a regular reader at Sickles Insight then you are already aware that I occassionaly kick out these articles …

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  3. Adam says:

    All great decision points for purchasing a computer/laptop. I would always recommend a laptop for college students. There is much more flexibility available for laptop users. Especially with the amount of power a laptop can provide its users. it just makes more sense.

    The only disadvantage of a laptop is that making it mobile succumbs your computer to the trials and tribulations of being carried around. I think you should create a post specifically for laptop cases. There is a lot to consider when purchasing the proper laptop case that will be comfortable, stylish and provide adequate protection.

    For myself I use this laptop carrying case: I would recommend going into a retailer and trying them on first before purchasing to make sure your laptop fits the bag and is comfortable on your shoulder.

    Good Luck!