Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Buying a Computer for Christmas (12/2006)

Q. I’m thinking of buying a new computer this Christmas. The least one I bought was nearly 10 years ago and I don’t recall the process being so difficult. What is the difference between the $299.00 computer that Dell sells and the $549.00 at Wal-Mart? What should I look for? How do I decide?

A. I feel your pain. Ten years ago, the choices were a lot simpler: You came up with at least $1500, drove down to the computer store and simply bought whatever was on sale. Now, there are dozens of leading brands and a bewildering selection of features priced from $299.00 to thousands. Deciding what to buy can be quite daunting task unless you educate yourself first.

I have witnessed sales people persuading 80 year-old grandmas to spend $1,500 on a monster system that they might use once a week for email. I have seen young folks buy the little $299.00 systems expecting to have a good “gamer” system. One is overkill, one is underkill. Both are a waste of good money.

So, how do you decide what to buy? There are three basic steps in making an intelligent computer purchase. 1: Determine your mission, 2: Set your budget, 3: Buy as much system as you can within that budget.

Step 1: You can’t make an intelligent choice of what to buy until you decide what you want to do with a computer. The architect who plans to design Sheffield’s next skyscraper or the Warcraft addict has different needs from a grandma who wants to check email once a week. This difference is usually measured in dollars which leads us to step 2.

Step 2: Generally speaking, you get what you pay for with computers. The computer that cost $800 two years ago sells for $400 today but that’s only because there is another faster computer occupying the $800.00 spot. The newest, fastest technology costs more than two year-old technology and two (or more) year-old technology is exactly what you get when you buy one of those cheap, sub-500 dollar systems. Don’t get me wrong; a sub-$500.00 system is a great deal if all you want to do is basic stuff like such as internet surfing and email. But if you are a gamer or an architect or simply loaded with money you owe it to yourself to buy as much system as you can reasonably afford which brings us to . . .

Step 3: Buy as much system as you can based on steps 1 and 2. This is a tough one to address in such a little column so I’ll have to leave you with a couple of pieces of buying advice. First, don’t spend $300 on a computer if you can easily afford $600. The cheapest system is not always the best value. Secondly, educate yourself by calling a couple of computer dealers and picking their brains. Google on “buying a computer” or call any of my competitors at home after 10:00pm. They like that.

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