Picking your PC – Updated July 2011








There comes a point in time when we must decide to purchase a brand new computer.  That leaves many various options open to each of us.  From your operating system to the amount of memory you need, to the size of your screen, I’ve got some answers for you.  If you have questions on this list, please contact us.

Question 1 – Windows, Mac, or Linux

Windows –  If you already run Windows, learning the other stuff is hard enough as it is…  Don’t go to Mac or Linux unless you qualify under the caveats below.  64 Bit is a good idea if you are not running DOS based applications.  

  • Caveats:
    FIRST – Note that you should try these other choices out before you try them.
      You may find that you are best sticking with Windows.
    Mac – If  you are in intensive graphics in the professional industries, AND your company  uses Mac’s for those graphics.  Additionally, if you have no experience with a  computer, everyone you know is on a Mac, and you can get helpful support from friends who are Mac savvy…

    Linux – Only if you have very little money, and are willing to completely sacrifice your support options in the hopes of saving money for a few lattes.  OR, if this is your 5th computer, but then again, why buy it?  Use your oldest computer as a test bed for Linux and experiment away…  when you’ve grown tired of it, you can go back to Windows or try a new Linux distro.

Question 2 – Desktop or Laptop
Desktop – I’ve owned just shy of a dozen laptops, and like them very much.  At the same time, I use my desktop PC’s 75% of the time or more…  A laptop is vulnerable to all sorts of abuse that your
desktop will never see.  Additionally, it’ll run at least $200-300 more than a comparable PC, and the expected life expectancy of the thing is 2/3rds of the time of a desktop.

  • Caveats:
    If you KNOW you need a laptop, who am I to argue with you.  College students will like the flexibility to take to class or the coffee shop, but will also miss their ability to play the highest horsepower gamer favorites like Crysis 2, Oblivion, or Call of Duty 4.  Business users will usually need something to travel with.

Question 3 – Brand
Choosing a brand is something that is sometimes more of a preference than a “must-do”.  From past history, I’ve had good luck with some brands, and not so good luck with others.  So-called “white box” vendors, the companies that make them for you “cheaper and better” than Dell, are not cheaper, and not better.  Go for a company with an established reputation for quality.  In either laptop or desktop (in my order of preference), Dell, HP, Toshiba, and Sony all make very nice computers that will last you a while.  There are nuances between each brand, however.

  • Caveats:
    If you want a Mac, there is no other brand than the Apple.  If you want Linux, go for the same recommendations as  Windows.

The remaining questions apply to Windows based only…  If you chose otherwise, you’ll need specialized advice or have distinctly different options.

Question 4 – CPU (the main chip)
The power of your CPU is distinctly subject to the whim of your budget.  Intel Core i3 and i7 (2nd Generation) are the lead standards by which others are comparing themselves, and is a wise choice.  If you go with the AMD chips, you’re going to do fine, especially on a budget.  Avoid the Core 2 Duo, Celeron or Sempron based, computers, unless your budget just can’t handle it.  Don’t buy the latest and
greatest super-chip either.  If the cost of the CPU is bogging down your computer, it’s not worth it.

  • Caveats:
    Unless you’re running something highly demanding, you don’t need the chip that was announced last week, or even last month.

Question 5 – RAM (Memory)
Easiest answer…  Right now, choose 4GB of RAM, on either XP or Vista (if you really want the old stuff).  4GB is fine on Windows 7, unless you’re running some higher end stuff.  Now, if you want 64-bit Windows 7, then you will want to go to 8GB, and if you want 8GB, you have to have 64-bit.  If you’re running less memory, this is one of the first places to improve. any computer.

Question 6 – Hard Drive (Storage Space)
Even the low end computers are coming with 320GB hard drives.  Unless you are doing video editing, you won’t likely need more drive space before your computer needs replacing.  Even if you’re dealing with a lot of MP3’s…  you can fit 10,000 songs into about 40GB.  If you’ve got more than this much music, you already know you’re obsessing, and can think about a larger hard drive.

Question 7 – CD, DVD, high-definition (HD-DVD or Blu-Ray)
A dual-layer DVD writer is standard on most machines now, and will be about all you need.  Blu-Ray is still (3 years running) an expensive option that most people don’t go with, as they don’t have Blu-Ray discs, and it’s suggested that it’s not worth it quite yet.

Question 8 – Video graphics card
On your budget machines, you can go with integrated or “shared” graphics, but they chew into your RAM.  Gaming and video will be slower, and you’ll really need a separate card.  If you’re spending over $600 on a desktop, or $800 on a laptop, then you need to get a decent card.  You want NVidia or ATI, nothing else.  Don’t spend more than $100 on a video card without knowing specifically that you need it for sure (from the specs on a specific video game package like “Crysis 2”).

Question 9 – Screen size
Desktop – What you can afford.  Consider dual monitors for more “screen real estate” at a cheaper price.  Two 19″ widescreen monitors will cost you a little less than a 24″ widescreen monitors, but give you a combined display area of 32″ wide, instead of 20″.  The sweet spot is dual 24″ monitors, and anything more is overkill.

Laptop – The smaller the laptop, the smaller the screen.  If you want a light laptop, without the drives, that’s small, you’ll have to have a small screen.  The standard size is 15.4″.  If you want all of the extras, like a DVD drive, floppy drive, and so forth, you’ll get a larger screen.  Don’t bother with the larger 17″ screens unless you’re looking for the power and aren’t traveling much.  If the laptop is merely to save space on a college student desk, perhaps the 17″, but that’s pushing it.

Question 10 – Cache, Front Side Bus, Memory Speed
Don’t worry about these specs.  As your computer price goes up, these specs will follow.  They are good for comparing oranges-to-oranges, but these are usually not options, so much as features.

If you have any questions regarding this guide, contact us!