This is going to be an ever changing page.  Last update was May 2016

  • First off, please read this entire thing, and attempt to understand what you are reading.  You can always highlight a phrase/term, copy it, go to Google.com and paste it to search for what it means.
  • Secondly, this will be a very straight forward document, I like to tell it how it is, and I want people that read this to get the best deal on a computer/laptop.
  • Third – Please don’t be offended if I say something that you disagree with or don’t like.  I really don’t care, this document is for many people, and I have handed out variations of it to many others.  Thanks.
  • Fourth – Check the links on the right for some sites I like.

Onto the good stuff…

Before thinking about computers, be sure you have the proper perspective.  Count the hours per day you will be using your machine…how much would you be willing to pay per hour?  How long do you want your computer to last?  These numbers get you into the approximate cost ballpark….if you’re realistic.  Also, realize that if your computer is the source of any income, the creation of a public face for you/your company, or you somehow promote a cause you support by using it….that those activities can all have a ‘cost’…that they all have a ‘benefit’…a benefit which you should be willing to pay for (in the form of a tool which allows you to continue to promote your activity/cause/business…a computer!).  This point really bothers me and most people don’t bother to care or understand it.  If a computer is your primary tool…be willing to spend at least some cash to have something you will enjoy using!

If you are buying (or already own) a computer without a reliable, updated backup system in place, I’m sorry for your loss (that’s inevitably coming), yet probably won’t feel too much sympathy when you lose all your precious, sentimental, once-in-a-lifetime data.  A computer is nearly worthless to me without a solid, off-site backup system.  Computers are mechanical and electrical.  Something is bound to fail.  Plan for this failure!  Don’t complain WHEN a component fails.  ALWAYS have your critical data backed up.  If you would be sad to forever lose something, back it up.  Don’t backup music, internet stuff, downloadable stuff…back up pictures, projects, personal stuff, anything you put time into the initial creation of that can’t just be replaced, re-downloaded, re-copied, etc.

Components:

  • Processor (100-300): The brain of the computer.  This is what does most the work.  The charts I love are found at PassMark – click on one of the charts (I vote ‘High-end’ but some of you may be looking at the ‘High to Mid range’.  Find your processor on the page (ctrl+F helps)…and look where it ranks in the grand scheme of things.  I say if it’s not on the ‘High End’ chart – don’t buy it….more on that later.
  • RAM ($5/GB, 8GB for $40): The ‘quick thinking’, multi-tasking component  DO NOT pay for more ram when purchasing a computer.  Save money upfront and get as little ram as you can, and buy more aftermarket later.  It’s much, much cheaper to buy aftermarket, otherwise ram has insane markups/margins.
  • Hard-disk ($.05/GB, 2TB for $100) The storage and long-term memory.  These will eventually break, so have a backup plan (article coming soon).  Otherwise, purchase a 7200rpm drive if it will be your only/primary drive.  Purchase a 5400rpm drive if it will be a content/storage/backup/etc drive that won’t be being utilized the entire time your computer is working.  IF you have the need for speed or the desire (and the budget), try out an SSD drive.  Solid State Drives are the latest in computer technology – they are like broadband internet to older dialup as far as impact on computer usage goes.  The drawback is that you may want to buy one of these as a primary drive and another ‘hard disk drive’ for content storage if you have tons of pictures/music/photoshop stuff/etc.  Consider a 500GB SSD to revolutionize your computing experience.  Reboots take under a minute, windows bootup is a blink of an eye.  Programs open right when you click on them.  It’s a great experience.
  • Video Card ($30-$150): If you play games or do graphic-intensive work, read on…Video cards won’t affect activities like internet surfing, email, office tasks.  They will affect flash-based games, any actual computer games, and will also assist you with any graphic-design related task (including Photoshop)
  • Blu-Ray/DVD/CD-ROM drives (75,20,15): If you want to play cds, watch movies, or load ‘older’ software, you need at least a DVD-RW ($20).  These drives are becoming less of a necessity due to the prevalence and cheap price of USB sticks.  USB sticks can easily transfer/store large amounts of data quickly, and are reusable.  Some software is also now being distributed on USB sticks.
  • Monitor/Screen:  The higher ‘Native resolution’ they have, the better.  The upcoming standard for most desktop monitors is ‘Full HD’ or 1920×1080.  Laptops are ideally 1400×900 (great!), but typically fall in the 1360×768(ok).
    As someone who is on their computer all day, I prefer nice monitors at a higher resolution (either 4k or 1920×1200). My current favorite is Dell 24″ Ultrasharp
  • Brands: I like Dell.  Many don’t.  ASUS is great, up and coming, reliable and reasonably priced.  Toshiba has always been nice to me.  HP is being coy about their future computer business.  Lenovo is a decent brand some businesses use. Microsoft Surface/book are also pretty great form-factors!
  • Operating system (more likely $100-200): Windows 10 is the most common.  Too bad all your data gets sent to Microsoft. Ubuntu is free (and relatively easy to use!) for people that only need internet/email,  and basic document editing, and can also revitalize an old computer to make it useful, since running it typically requires less resources than Windows.
  • Productivity Suite ($200) – Commonly known to people as Microsoft Office, everyone thinks they need this software.  There is no LEGAL way to get this free.  You can’t just ‘copy’ it from your old computer.  You can’t just borrow it.  You must buy it.  The cheapest way to get it is by being a student, it can be had very cheap ($20-70 for all the applications).  Otherwise, the typical home edition runs around $200.  A great alternative, especially for secondary machines, is using LibreOffice.  It’s a free, Open Source equivalent to MS Office.  Microsoft does their best to maintain a monopoly by not adhering to document standards, so compatibility with MS Office may be limited.  However, LibreOffice is great for school papers, presentations and laptop work when you don’t need to worry about transferring the actual file to someone else.
    If you can’t get MS-Office, or if you want more flexibility (using on phone, various machines) consider Google Drive. All you need is a Google Account, then your documents are wherever the nearest computer is. Always backed up. Good plan.

PRICE:

Pay at least $500 – for anything.  A laptop, a desktop…$500 is where you can get some very good deals for some very good equipment.  Do this.  You won’t regret a slightly higher up front cost which will earn you a much longer usage time of your purchase.  Expect a few years of prime-time usage at this level.  Not 10…not 7…maybe 5.  Technology changes extraordinarily rapidly.  $500 is cheap if you’re using a computer on any kind of regular basis for 1825 days.  About a quarter a day.  Good deal.  If your business/hobby/service/program depends on your computer – I hope you’d be willing to spend closer to 60 cents a day, and buy a $1100 machine (which is where I believe the max is for most any configuration if your getting good deals).

The other thing about pricing is that a slightly higher initial cost can get exponentially better performance.  Compare a few processors using the link above to see what I mean.  An i5-2500 has double the performance of an i3-2100, at about 50% more cost.  That’s a good investment (and that’s the processor I used for a year, now I have the Intel Core i7-3770 @ 3.40GHz!)

11/19/2012 Update – today, I would buy a AMD FX-8350 Eight-Core for the price/performance ratio! Or if you really want an Intel chip, the same Intel Core i7-3770 @ 3.40GHz

5/11/2016 Update – today, I would buy a Intel Core i7-4790K @ 4.00GHz for the price/performance ratio!

USED?

I have had a few people ask me about buying used computers which have been ‘restored’ and are now cheap and ready to go.  I have many qualms about buying used.  First, since technology changes at such a rapid pace, you are still spending at least 30% ($150) of a new computer cost to get something that has technology that’s waayyyy worse than 30% overall (compatibility is hard to measure, but lacking in older computers).  Secondly, it will only be obsolete sooner.  Third, it just won’t have that ‘snappy’ feel when using it.  Yes, a used machine will be cheaper, and it may even be adequate, but if it’s the primary machine you will be using day to day (as mentioned above – earning income, supporting something) don’t skimp out.  There are very few applications (most which are rather technical) where a used machine can be brought back to daily usage.  Fourth – sometimes there are interesting licensing issues with the operating system, and I would be weary of systems claiming to have Microsoft Office pre-installed.

Closing:

If you are a sys-admin, sys-builder…whoever, reading this site because someone told you this is where they are getting their advice…then great.  If you want to leave a comment stating how you feel or what you feel; that’s fine.  I have nothing in this game.  I have no profit to make.  I build my own machines for me and others.  I stay rather up to date – but if you can prove me wrong, please do so.  I want to learn, but I have no desire to be chastised for something that you merely don’t like.  Thanks.  Most things about computers aren’t opinions, so I try to present the honest facts here.  I also take into account that everything I propose is the legal, straightforward way to deal with licensing and such.  Thanks.

Leave a Reply