A PC BUYING GUIDE
[Borrowed from Prentice Hall
and added changes to fit my preferences/opinions/newer stuff.]
You might want to print out this Check List
before, while, and after you do your shopping.
You can buy PC's from hundreds of companies, retail or through the mail,
without a standard configuration. The PC has, in effect, become a commodity
where the consumer is able to select each component. We suggest you approach
the purchase of a PC just as you would the purchase of any big-ticket item...
with research and planning.
- Be sure you know your hardware requirements before you
walk into a computer store, or else you may spend too much money or buy
the wrong system. [And to this I need to add... be
sure you know your usage requirements.
In other words, have in mind what you are going to use this machine for...
spreadsheets, graphics, etc]
- I want to mention Linux. .. A number
of the manufacturers are/were using components that are Windows specific.
They can make the machines cheaper by dumping Hardware for Software replacements.
Unfortunately, these software replacements only work in Windows. If you
have any plans to put Linux on your machine, make sure that your modem for
example, is real and not a Win Modem. This will usually also involve the
sound card. Also can be a problem with some printers.
- Stick to your requirements and DON'T be swayed to purchase a different item if the vendor is out of stock. You've waited this long to buy a computer, so waiting for another week or two won't matter. We have prepared a check list for you to use that lets you list all of the components in your system, then compare the features of one system against another.
- Mail order will almost always offer better prices than a retail establishment, but price should NOT be the sole consideration. Local service and support are also important, especially if you are a non-technical new user.
With a little research, however, you can purchase through the mail with confidence, and save yourself money in the process. If you do purchase by mail, confirm the order in WRITING, so to have documentation in the event of a dispute. State exactly what you are expecting to receive and when. Include the specific brands and/or model numbers and the agreed-upon price, including shipping and handling. Our experience has been that the vast majority of dealers, both retail and mail order, are reputable, but as with any purchase, caveat emptor.
GOOD LUCK AND GOOD SHOPPING! Keep the following in mind:
- Don't forget the software. Any machine you buy will come
with Windows 98 or Windows XP but you must purchase the
application software you intend to run. Many first-time buyers are surprised
that they have to pay extra for software, so be sure to allow for this in
your budget. Ideally, Microsoft Office will be bundled
with your machine, but if not, look to purchase it through your university
bookstore as it offers a substantial educational discount. [Actually
I personally haven't seen Microsoft Office bundled with a machine. What
is normally bundled is Microsoft Works, which has toned down versions of
the programs in MS Office.]
- Don't skimp on memory. The more
memory a system has, the better its overall performance. Windows
98 or Windows XP and their associated applications are powerful,
but they require adequate resources to run efficiently. 128MB of
RAM is the minimum you should consider in today's environment, but 256MB
is better. You should also be sure that your system is able to accommodate
additional memory easily and cheaply. [In other words,
make sure that you can add more memory if it is needed.]
- Buy more disk space than you think you need.
We purchased our first hard disk as an upgrade to the original PC in 1984.
It was a "whopping" 10MB, and our biggest concern was that we would never
fill it all. The storage requirements of application programs have increased
significantly. Microsoft Office, for example, requires
200MB for a complete installation. A 40GB drive is the minimum you
should consider in today's environment.
- Let your fingers do the walking. A single issue of a
computer magazine contains advertisements from many vendors, making it possible
to comparison-shop from multiple mail-order vendors from the convenience
of home. You can also shop online and visit a vendor's Web site to obtain
the latest information. You can generally get to a vendor by using a Web
address of the form, www.company.com such as
or www.gateway.com or
[Now I have included the Auctions site for a big reason.
I personally will never buy another brand new computer. I feel that I got
burned badly, financially, on my last PC purchase. The cost of my latest
system, when I got it, was $2000. Less than 4 months later the same
machine was being offered on the auction site for only $850!!! I do believe
that the machine I purchased was my Dream machine .. my Super Computer ..
but ... well I'm sure you get the picture. On the other hand I may not have
been able to get one at all if I had waited. The machine was released to
the market on November 12, 2001 and by March of 2002 you couldn't find a
new one anywhere! They quit making them. Matter of fact, I was told that
I had purchased the last one in the store.. CompUSA.. other than the one
on display. It was an HP 9995 and it was a fine machine. I used it until
January 25th, 2007. I replaced it with fine HP m7480n
Dual Core with 2GB of RAM and 600GB of HD and a lot of other stuff.]
- Look for 30-day price protection. An unconditional 30-day
money-back guarantee is an industry standard. Insist on this guarantee and
be sure to get it in writing. A reputable vendor will also refund the amount
of any price reduction that occurs during the first 30 days, but it is incumbent
on you to contact the vendor and request a refund. Don't forget to do so.[Hmmmm...I
should have read this before I made my last purchase.]
- Use a credit card. You can double the warranty of any system
(up to one additional year) by using a major credit card provided it offers a
"buyer's protection" policy. (Check with your credit card company to see whether
it has this feature, and if not, you may want to consider getting a different credit card.)
The extended warranty is free and it goes into effect automatically when you charge
your computer. The use of a credit card also gives you additional leverage if you are
dissatisfied with an item.
- Don't forget the extras. A modem is an absolute must,
but it is not necessarily included in the basic price. The standard PC comes
with a simple speaker that is capable of little more than a beep, but true
sound requires the installation of a sound card and the availability of
speakers. A microphone is required if you want to record your own sound.
Any vendor will gladly sell you these components. Just remember to ask.[Now
then, most of the newer PC's are coming equipped with a 56K modem. The real
decision you will want to consider is DSL or Cable. Wireless is also getting
popular. Course this really depends on what you have available in your area...
and how much Internet surfing you plan on doing.]
- Don't be frustrated when prices drop. [That
statement will only fit the rich ... and not even some of them. A better
version would be "Plan on being frustrated in less than 4 months over
the price!!"] The system you buy today will invariably cost
less tomorrow, and further, tomorrow's machine will run circles around today's
most powerful system. The IBM/XT, for example, sold for approximately $5,000
and was configured with an 8088 microprocessor, a 10MB hard disk, 128KB
of RAM, and monochrome monitor, but it was the best system you could buy
in 1983. The point of this example is that you enjoy the machine you buy
today without concern for future technology. Indeed,
if you wait until prices come down, you will never buy anything, because
there will always be something better for less.
- For the most part I personally recommend HP computers.