Need a new computer? Purchasing a computer for a student?
At this time of the year, many companies are running PC sales, and you might consider upgrading your computer, or even purchasing a computer specifically for your son or daughter. However, instead of purchasing a machine that will last several years, many people choose a computer based entirely on the price tag. This can lead to purchasing another machine a year or two later, as the components in the inexpensive machine lags behind current technology or fail altogether.
A well-designed and well-chosen computer can have a lifespan of five years or even more. Save yourself (and your children!) the frustration of a slow, outdated machine, and save yourself the cost (and frustration!) of frequent replacements by shopping smart. Here are a few of the things we consider when deciding what machine to recommend.
When considering the computer you would like to purchase, the first thing to keep in mind is your budget. Following that line of thought, remember the computers which have lower prices are likely made with cheaper parts which shortens the lifespan of the computer. A typical price range for a laptop with decent components is $800-$1000. You may be able to find one less expensive than this with a sale price, but keep an eye out for outdated components or quality control issues. When buying any pre-built system, it pays to read consumer reviews.
Remember to factor software into your budget. The Microsoft office suite is essential for many school and business computers, and students heading to college may need specialized software, such as the Adobe Suite or CAD. While these programs can be expensive, if you are buying for a student, contact their school’s technology department. They may be eligible for a student discount, or even free software licenses.
The next big component to consider is the processor. The processor is the part that does all of the major computing for the computer. It is important that this runs at a decent speed to ensure your computer operates optimally and students aren’t wasting time waiting for their computer to catch up to them. In order to check processor speed we use a website called cpubenchmark.com. We enter in the name and type of processor and then it provides a benchmark number used to compare how fast that processor works compared to other processors. An average computer we like to see is around 4000 and typical “performance” computer processors run around 7000 to 10000, not quite the top of the range, but close. Many processors are soldered directly to the internal circuit board so they are not upgradeable, therefore it is important that when you are choosing a processor for a laptop, choose the fastest one that will fit your budget.
- Operating system
Some people have a particular operating system that they prefer to use. Are you a Mac person? The Mac vs. PC ads were everywhere for a while. Needs are either based on what software a company runs and the compatibility of that software between operating systems, or your personal preference. The Windows operating systems available include Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10. However support and updates ends for Windows 7 in January 2020. If you would like your computer to last several years, you may want to go with Windows 10 unless you have software or specific requirements which prevent you from using this operating system.
Mac OS is a great alternative. The security is stellar, the interface is clean and well designed, but not all software is compatible with Mac and the price tag is a bit higher. Be sure you confirm your software is compatible with either system you choose.
Many computers, especially less expensive computers, ship with 4 GB of RAM installed. Tech Lab recommends 8 GB as a minimum to have in most modern PCs. However if the computer you purchase meets all your needs except for RAM, an upgrade is usually possible and fairly easy to do. However just like the processor, some laptops have RAM soldered directly to the board so if upgrade-ability is important, be sure to verify this before you purchase!
Some software requires more memory resources. If you are buying for a student, review the requirements for the software they need to purchase, and ensure that the computer you’re purchasing has more than the minimum. If the plan is to run AutoCAD, Graphics manipulation, animation, or video production software, increase to at least 16GB of RAM.
- Hard drives, size or solid state
When you consider the size of hard drive to purchase, you first need to know how much space you are currently using. To find this information on Windows PCs open My computer. Right click on the C: drive and choose Properties. A graph will be displayed which shows you the size of your current hard drive and how much space you are using. If you plan to move your files, music, and pictures to your new computer then we suggest you look at these numbers and consider purchasing a hard drive with at least 1.5 to 2 times what you currently are using so you have room to grow. There are plenty of people who choose 5 to 10 times as much space too, it’s up to you to consider how quickly you might fill the space.
Another option to consider is upgrading to a solid state drive (SSD). This will boost the speed of your computer 2-4 times the performance of a standard hard drive since there are no mechanical moving parts in a SSD. This might be an upgrade you can choose on a new computer or you could have one installed anytime after purchase by a technician at Tech Lab. The price of a SSD drive can be 3-5 times that of a standard hard drive.
We have had a few clients try using hybrid drives which are a combination of a regular hard drive and an SSD to get a decent mix of both size and speed, but they still don’t have that “near instant response” feel that a good SSD can deliver.
- Additional features- touchscreen, CD drive, screen size, weight
The final thing we consider when recommending a computer for someone is any additional features they are looking for. Some people want a touchscreen while others do not prefer this feature. If you would like a touchscreen feature, we would recommend that you purchase a 2 in 1 computer which can be either a tablet or a laptop. This way you can take advantage of features a tablet offers but also use the device as a laptop when you need to.
CD drives are not always a common feature anymore and not everyone wants or needs one. However this can be solved with an inexpensive USB external CD drive. Other features to consider would be screen size, weight, webcam, and bluetooth capability for all your other connected devices.
- Gaming performance/Graphics card
If you are buying a computer for a child or college student, the ability to play games on the computer will inevitably come up. Most of the practices that we suggest above will help a PC’s performance when playing games, but there is one additional component that gaming PCs require: a separate graphics card. Many computers have “on-board” basic graphics cards which will run simple games effectively, but the latest and greatest popular first-person-shooter or multi-player online games might require a boost.
A modern graphics card that adds meaningful performance will add from $200-$400 to the price of a PC. On a desktop computer, a graphics card is an easy component to add in at a later date. However, on a laptop, most graphics cards are hard-wired into the system, and are difficult to replace, if not impossible, so it’s important to get a graphics card that will hold up over time.
Buying a computer can be an intimidating process that involves some research, but finding the right computer the first time can save you a lot of money, and your child (or college student) a lot of frustration. If you have any questions about whether a computer is right for you, or if you just want us to find the perfect one, please contact us!