Computer Talk Radio weekly show for the broadcast week starting October 26th, 2013. Our nerd host, Benjamin Rockwell, leads us on a quest to avoid mistakes when we purchase our next computer… laptop, or desktop. He also includes hints and tips that are usable in a number of technology areas. The hosts talking points are contained in a PDF that includes far more information than is covered in the audio.
Computer Purchasing Mistakes PDF right here!!!


Originally given 3 years ago as a seminar…

  • Personal introduction
    • Benjamin Rockwell
    • Computer field for 25 years
    • Computer Consultant for 20 years
    • 14 years as a hands-on I.T. Director… being a jack of all trades, but working in small companies where I deal with the technology hands on, and working with a small staff.
    • Started working with the Jeff Levy show to get into the radio industry, and now I have had my own radio show for almost 3 years
  • Computer Purchasing background introduction
    • My first computer purchase was a Tandy 1000HX.  Let’s frame this for you… it was a computer made by Tandy Corporation in 1988, at $600 (about $1200 in today’s money)
    • By 1993, I had 3 computers running on a home  network, almost unbelievable in those days.  I had already ditched 2 computers by that point.
    • In the years since, I have purchased one desktop every 2 years for myself, and one laptop every 3 1/2 years.
    • All of that compares to the 12 years of being an IT Director of a small firm, 5 years at Unocal handling the specification, a couple more years at other places, and offering endless advice to friends.
    • I’ve made mistakes, seen mistakes, and advised against many of these mistakes for ages, and today, I’m hoping to impart my wisdom to you in escaping the problems that I have seen.
  • Now, as I work my way through these different items, I’ll also be offering a Q&A period afterwards for general questions, and then an additional extension where we can cover even more of your specific questions pertaining to computer purchases.  Don’t go too far afterwards.

Topic Introduction

  • Purchasing a computer can be daunting.  It’s a scary proposition, where you venture forth, with little to no experience, plunk down the money for something you don’t understand, and yet, you know that you need it more than anything else in the world.
  • Personal computers are just another appliance in the home, except unlike the fridge, we have far more computers across the country, than we do refrigerators.  Think about this…  how many homes have multiple computers?  How many homes have more computers than cars?
  • So, the fridge purchase, however, is simple…  is it big enough?  Good manufacturer?  But computers have so many different components, features, and accessories, and then we start looking at the different prices.
  • Without the proper information when shopping for a computer, you can run into problems.  We’ll go through all of these in detail, but let me start by listing the major problems.
    • Bad timing on your purchase…
    • Insufficient knowledge
    • Changing operating systems for no rhyme or reason
    • Not getting the proper deal… not the best price, but the proper deal.
    • Extended warranty mistakes… and it’s not what people usually think.
    • Not thinking about the other computer costs
    • Each of these mistakes can impact your pocket book, and in this current economic climate…

Bad Timing on your purchase is a HUGE MISTAKE

  • My grandfather was distinctly aware of the evolving nature of computers, but he kept putting off purchases for years, hearing about X, Y, or the new Super-Uber Hyper Z component.
  • These delays kept adding to the paralysis through analysis, and he spent too long waiting.
  • Don’t fall prey to this, as the hype machine within the technology world is one of the biggest.
  • CES is the biggest computer show of the year, and it promotes the hype of operating systems that are dreams in someone’s mind, the hardware that may never make it to the shelves, and the concepts that will continue to drive the techno-economy further, faster, and make more money.
  • If you look to the news, press releases, and everything that’s coming out in the computing world, there’s so much that can be promising so much more that won’t be delivered in real time.
  • Who would like to have PERFECT verbal conversations with their computer?  How about the perfect operating system?  How about the ultimate gaming computer
  • The problem is that we’ve been hearing about perfect voice recognition since the 90s.  Perfect operating system?  Wasn’t Vista, and while 7 seems to be great, folks are already talking about waiting for 8 (and still running XP in the meantime.  And the mythical “ultimate gaming computer” is something that exists only in the moment,  and is obsolete in 3 weeks, no matter when you buy.
  • So, as you note, some people hear of the latest and greatest, and they run out to purchase the Masto-Blasto X-3000 joystick, and then buy the Masto-Blasto 5000 mere months later.  Resist this mistake!!!
  • New and improved comes out faster than you can afford it.  No matter what, it will be outdated as well, so you have to choose a different yard stick to determine your timing for your purchase.
  • Set a yardstick for yourself, and purchase based on your budget and needs.  The computer is not outdated in 3 months, but then again, your computer is ancient after 4 years.  There’s a sweet spot that I use for my needs, and it’s a little more aggressive, and that’s 2 years.  The average person will set one at about 2 years for laptops, and 3 years for desktops.  .
  • Also, don’t hurry your purchase.  Take your time and analyze your next computer purchase in the weeks leading up to the time for replacement.  Avoid hype, and purchase smart!

Making the purchase with insufficient knowledge is a big mistake!

  • This comes in so many varieties and flavors, that all come together.  It’s a reflection on not keeping informed in one of the many areas of purchasing, and this is crucial.
  • First, for instance, is considering how the computer will be used.  Is this a computer for gaming (which means the most money), or just for e-mail (which means the least money)?  Is this being used for business applications (which means more money), or looking up and tracking home photos and recipes (less money)
  • Everyone needs to take the critical first step of assessing their needs and requirements.  So often in life, we jump to a solution, before understanding the problem, leading to bad results.
  • Tackling this problem head on is important, and that includes different tricks…
  • Assess the various programs that you currently have, use, and rank by importance
    • Different programs have different needs, and different reactions to hardware.
    • Games can be finicky, for instance, and require better video cards.
    • List concerns that you currently have with your computer, and thoughts for improving.
      • Is the computer too slow, or is it that you can’t run any modern programs now?
      • Is your quest for knowledge of the latest operating system, or is it for streamlining the mountains of photos, videos, and music that you keep on your hard drives?
      • Is there a concern for portability (like a laptop), or perhaps the old laptop wasn’t durable
      • List these out in detail, and rank these by importance as well.
      • Include your family in the decision, that’s all of the members of the household.
        • The spouse will likely know your frustrations with the computer as well, if not better than you, and the children may have their own ideas in mind about improvement.
        • Now that you’ve labeled out your needs, you move forward and tackle the learning path.
        • Ignore the “magic number” and “baffling buzzwords”.  There are a number of enticing figures that get thrown in sometimes that have little to no impact on your computing power, and others that are key concerns for most people.  Pay attention primarily to the basics…
          • Processor (and the comparison of the processor (brain) to others)
          • Random Access Memory (the place where your program resides while running)
          • Hard drive storage size (but don’t over buy (we’ll get to that in a few minutes)
          • Video capability if you’re editing video or playing higher end video games
        • Even still, some of these things can be concerning.  One of the things that I offer to folks frequently, is a quick review of the specs of a computer that someone is about to purchase.  I ask some basic questions, and then see how that computer will fit into the budget.
        • One of the things about knowledge that I have to tell people frequently, however, is don’t be afraid to ask questions of your friends, of myself, of people who know.  Before I go too far, don’t include the salesperson as someone who knows.
        • Many sales people are not computer experts, they are money experts.  The goal of many salespeople is to make money, and encourage purchases that you don’t need or want.  They want you to spend the most amount of money, giving them the highest profits, and that is a conflict of interest.
        • If you have to drag a friend along, do so, but make sure that you treat them to a nice dinner afterwards.  Don’t impose upon them for free, but instead, reward them for their assistance.
        • These friends know you, and how you deal with your computer, far better than the salesperson.
        • If knowledgeable, they will be able to steer you to a number of options that are ideal for your long term benefit in the computing world.
        • One caveat, however, is to make sure that they are not a Mac Fanatic, a Linux Geek, or even the Windows Worshipper.  They should have an open mind to the other options too.

Changing operating systems for unspecific reasons is a mistake many people make…

  • Abraham Lincoln, in his 1864 reelection campaign, quoted what amounts to a Dutch proverb, of “don’t change horses in midstream”.  One of the biggest mistakes that folks make, is to change from Mac to Win, or vice versa, because “I heard it would be better/easier/prettier”, etc.
  • If you stick with what you have experience with, then you are ahead of the game.
  • If you change O/S, then you will have a new learning process, and sometimes that new learning process will chase you away from your computer, rather than you embracing the new computer.
  • I suggest that folks who are interested in changing operating systems, first take at least 2 classes in the proposed new operating system, and see if they are comfortable.    If not, then don’t do it…

Not getting the best deal for your budget is one of the most common mistakes…

  • This doesn’t mean being cheap.  It also doesn’t mean throwing the budget away.
  • Perfect purchaser has a perfect deal…  Sure, a new Rolls Royce Ghost is an absolute bargain at $175,000…  And a Yugo with 120,000 miles is a rip off at $1000.  You need to determine based upon your budget what you can afford.  And you need to leave room for the options in some purchases.
  • Let’s talk the budget system.  At a certain low-dollar point, computers are so cheap that spending 10% more will give you far more advantage.  The concept of the netbook is great, but you are paying for the size, not the power.  Spending the same amount as the netbook, you can get a more powerful laptop that hasn’t had to be miniaturized.   A desktop in this same range has even more power.
  • Are these systems ideal at $400?  Not for most people.  The value that you get for spending another $100 or $200 can return a life and power in computing that is significant.  Many folks these days are handing down the computers in the house, and if you spend wisely, everyone has a decent computer.
  • We all have this drive to save money in this economy.  There are also gimmicks, like the old common deal of a cheap computer, but you had to agree to a year of service (at inflated rates).  Ignore the “slashed prices”.  That Yugo of computers had a $12,000 MSRP on it at one point…  who cares what the sale price is.  Compare the features carefully, and examine, rather than buying the “deal”.
  • Many people in the business world make this mistake.  They purchase the cheapest computer available, but then they get a computer that’s already outdated, or one that made with cheap components.
  • Sure, you can save money, but again, do  you really want to overpay for that Yugo?
  • Of course some folks like the expensive system.
  • I can sit with you and rack up a $10,000 computer that will be the best in desktop computing for the avid gamer, and it will knock the socks off anyone you know or compete against.  But it’ll only be state-of-the-art for months.  Most folks aren’t like that, but I have known quite a few that didn’t care.
  • Still, that’s being dramatic.  Many folks over buy now, thinking that they need to “buy for the future” or that they can get more life out of the computer by spending more up front.  It doesn’t work like that.
  • Unless you live on the computer, anything over $2000 is absolute excess.
  • Purchasing the convenient option is not good either.  Office supply stores are all convenient, and everywhere.  I can’t even get them to answer questions on computers intelligently.
  • They frequently have no clear concept of competitive pricing on computers.
  • Lastly, on that “good deal”, ignore any and all of the software options.  A trial version of Office comes with all computers, and frequently they neglect to mention it’s a trial.  If it’s there, great, if not, use a program like OpenOffice, which is free from
  • Essentially, the middle ground for pricing is the ideal range to be.   Aim for something within your budget, and stick to the budget.  I use a sweet spot pricing guide if I only have 3 minutes to talk to someone, and that sweet spot pricing has fallen over the years.  Currently the sweet spot for a desktop with one standard monitor, is about $600.  Add another 20% for the laptop, and you’re in that Goldilocks territory… not too little, not too much.

Warranty Territory, a change to make a monumental money mistake…

  • This is one of the biggest areas of controversy amongst my peers in the community.  I’ve seen times when warranties were worth it, and when they were not worth it.  I’ll give you a little bit of an idea of the controversy…
  • Retailers push warranties, as there are better profits on the warranties.  So, you’ll experience a great deal of pressure.  There’s different stances that I take on warranties, with me in the middle of my peers.
  • Warranty companies are just like insurance companies, and might tell you something isn’t covered under your warranty, even though it seems like it should be.
  • Read the terms and coverage of the warranty before purchasing.  It’s complicated stuff, but you need to not trust the salesperson on the warranty, as they will promise EVERYTHING, but will not be there when it’s time for coverage under the warranty.
  • So, what’s the mistake zone?  What’s the safe zone?
  • Desktop warranties?  MISTAKE!  The computer is usually going to fail within standard manufacturer’s warranty, or it’s going to last a long time.  There’s no real stress on a desktop that is placed properly (not in a cabinet, floor area, etc).
  • Laptop warranties?  Of the laptops that I have purchased over the years, 3 of them died in the “warranty period”, one of a spill, and two because of screen breakage.  Tricky here… get the warranty that COVERS the screen replacement.  If it doesn’t cover screen breakage or spills and accidents, it’s not worth it.
  • Don’t spend more than about 20% of the purchase price on that warranty.

Not thinking about other computer costs is a costly mistake…

  • You have massive hidden costs that you need to factor into any and all purchases.
    • Antivirus software is a must, and it runs about $40
      • Your current anti-virus may include up to 3 licenses for computers in the house.
    • Desktop computers need a good spike strip, from APC or Tripplite at about $30
    • You may be able to reuse some of your old computer parts too with no problem.
      • Monitors?  If it’s 17″ or larger, it’s probably OK, unless you really want to upgrade.
      • Printers?  You might be able to use your old printer, so long as it’s not too old.
      • High-end mouse and keyboard?  You can move those from the old computer too!
      • There are things that you may hear about, but don’t need…
        • Blu-Ray readers / burners…  only if you already have started your Blu-Ray movie collection
        • Fingerprint readers…  more hype and fun than real security
        • External hard drives…  for backing up what?  OK, but only if you’re working on business related items over half the time on your computer.
        • Joysticks, high-end video cards, high-end audio cards, etc…  You’ll know if you need them.  And I mean that you’ll KNOW it…  if you don’t already know that you NEED them, skip them.
        • The final cost in computing is that folks don’t think about, is that you’ll make this purchase again in 2 or 3 years.  Not 5 or 7 years, but 2 or 3.  Start budgeting now.  Start setting aside the money, and plan on the fact that you’ll need a new computer sooner rather than later.
        • Every 18 months, computer speeds double.  As new software comes out, they take advantage of those new computer speeds, new computer features, and the systems slow down as well.
        • In the business world, that means that a computer that was purchased a mere 3 years ago, is 1/4 of the speed of the current computers.  If the average person waits a mere 3 minutes a day for their computer that we can eliminate by a $750 computer upgrade, the payoff is 1 year.  A 5 minute boot time on a computer that becomes a 2 minute boot time with the new computer… that pays off the new computer ALONE!

CLOSING:  Summarizing up the mistakes and addressing them simply…

  • Bad timing, whether you wait for the next big thing, or you purchase when the newest thing comes out, it’s a big mistake.
    • Find a happy medium, and stick to it.
    • Set that yardstick of 3 years for the desktop, and 2 for a laptop, and you’ll be golden.
    • Your child is going to college?  Well, figure on a laptop for their first year, and then again in their third year…
    • Not knowing the path is going to hurt you in the long run…
      • Plan your needs, plan your concerns, and include people who know you.
      • Take someone along that knows more about computers.  Don’t always impose on them, and seek to reward them well.  They can save you headaches and heartaches easily, and it’s better for them to see you as a friend who needs help, than anything else.
      • Changing your operating system randomly is a mistake that has had folks returning computers or moving away from technology… the stuff that can help us.
      • The best deal doesn’t mean the best price overall… it’s a mistake to think that.  The best deal is meeting all of your requirements efficiently within your budget.  It means planning, it means education, it means working towards your ideal system.
        • If all else fails, go for the middle ground…  not too much, not too little.  You’ll stay safest there.
        • Currently… that’s $600-650 for a desktop, and about $800 for a laptop…  with flexibility.
        • Dealing with a warranty… most would say the mistake is getting one, but those laptop warranties that cover accidental and spill coverage are frequently worth it.  Still, make sure that you get a good price… no more than 20% of the overall laptop price.
        • Remember to think about the other expenses in your computer costs…  include anti-virus software and spike strips, and perhaps you might bring the price down by reusing some of the other things.  Plan carefully.
        • Remember to start budgeting now for your next computer…  plan accordingly, as you do for a car, or other major recurring purchase.  It’s a must.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Skip to toolbar