Whenever I am at a social event the conversation always turns to computers and technology. (Can’t imagine why!) The most often-asked question is, “What should I look for in a new computer?” So for Roger, Betty, and all the others who have asked, as well as those who might ask in the future, here’s the answer.
It is actually easier to purchase a computer now than ever before. For the most part the hardware is ahead of the software, so most of today’s computers are adequate for most jobs. If you just want to do email and surf the Net, even today’s inexpensive computer will do the trick. Yet, there are a few things you should know.
Most computers today come with an Intel Pentium 4 processor. The equivalent processors from the competing company called AMD are just as good. For years the industry has measured processor speed by megahertz. With the complexity of today’s computers, the speed of the processor is becoming less important as a measurement tool. So you may want to spend a little more to get a faster processor, but don’t spent too much extra.
One important thing to know here is that the Intel Celeron processor is less powerful than a full Pentium 4. You may save a few bucks by choosing a Celeron, but you’ll get more power and longevity from a Pentium 4 or AMD processor.
There are two video components in a computer: the video board and the monitor. On cheaper computers the video board is integrated with the motherboard. This is not necessarily bad, but if you want to work with videos or high-speed graphics like those found in computer games, you will want to have a separate video board with as much memory as possible.
The new flat-panel LCD monitors are wonderful. They take up less desktop space and are easier on the eyes. If you shop around you will find that the flat panels have become much more affordable. Don’t get one of those chunky old CRT monitors unless you really can’t afford a flat-panel LCD. Buy a flat-panel monitor as large as you can afford. Your eyes will thank you.
Standard CD drives will play CDs, but you want at least a little more in this area. A writable CD drive is a must in today’s computers. You can use it to backup your files. If you are into digital photography writable CDs will be wonderful for archiving your pictures. If you love music you can download music and burn it on CDs.
If you want to watch videos on your computer or you have a video camera, you will want a DVD drive. A DVD holds more information than a CD, so if you have a DVD drive, it is also beneficial for programs like encyclopedias which will come on several CDs, but can fit on one DVD so there is no disk-swapping. Writable DVD drives will enable you to create your own video DVDs.
Like video, there are several components to the audio in a computer: the audio board and the speakers. Again, if the audio is integrated on the motherboard it will usually be of lesser quality than a stand-alone audio board. That’s fine for simple computer sounds. If you want to use your computer as a stereo you can get more expensive sound boards. Speakers can be as simple as two small units. Or you can go hog wild including stereo systems with sub-woofers and multiple speakers. Remember that computer speakers will be shielded. Regular stereo speaker should not be used on a computer. Also if you go for a high-end speaker system be sure to match the audio board to the speakers you will use.
If you will connect to the Internet via regular telephone line you will need a modem in your computer. These are standard on most computers today. If you will connect to the Internet via a broadband connection like DSL or cable, you will need an Ethernet port. Again, most computers come with them. For a wireless network you can get a wireless card in the computer. 802.11g is the current standard (802.11b is a little older standard, but still adequate.) If the computer you are looking at doesn’t have wireless built-in, don’t worry. You can still put the computer on a wireless network with an inexpensive and easy-to-install USB wireless adapter.
If you want to hook up a video camera to your computer, get a Firewire port. These are standard on Macs, but are option on PCs. Don’t worry about a floppy drive; they are almost useless. If you need to transport files you can purchase an inexpensive USB hard drive, which can be used instead of floppies.
Most computers come with a keyboard and mouse. If you are choosing the components separately look for an ergonomic keyboard with a good feel. Make sure you get a wheel mouse and spend a little more to get an optical mouse. It has no moving parts to wear out, is more accurate than the older mice, and is easier to clean.
Well that’s about it. Hope this brief overview will help you choose your next computer. If you meet me at a dinner or a party, you’ll have to think of a different technology-related question to ask.