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Assess Your Needs Before You Go PC Shopping

written by: John Garger•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 5/31/2011

Buying a computer can be difficult if you don't have an idea of what you are looking for. Here is a list of 10 tips to get you started.

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    There are several important factors to assess when buying a new computer that go far beyond just whether you want a desktop or a laptop computer. You need to assess your needs, the amount of money you are willing to spend, the PC’s core configuration, and other important aspects to ensure you get the right computer at the right price.

    Listed here are 10 tips that will get you started and see you through your purchase. Remember that everyone’s buying experience is different; what works for one buyer does not always work for another. Tailor these tips to suit your individual needs.

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    Do You Need a New PC?

    So often, buyers are so caught up in the purchase of a new computer that they forget to stop and ask whether it is necessary. Perhaps a new operating system was just released or the newest speed RAM (Random Access Memory) was just developed. The fact is, many new computers do not offer any significant advantages over sticking with an older one. Be sure you really need a new computer before you hand over your money.

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    How Much Do You Want to Spend?

    Before you even start looking at features such as CPU and graphics cards, take some inventory on how much you want to spend. If you have only a few hundred dollars to spend, your choices are severely limited, especially when it comes to computing power. Having too much to spend can be a problem too because you may be tempted to buy far more than you need.

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    Decide on Your Needs

    The best way to decide on your computer needs is to ask yourself the following question: what is my current PC incapable of that warrants the purchase of a new one? If you can’t answer this question quickly, you may have fallen into the clutches of a marketing campaign (see Tip 1 above) that makes you feel you need something new that is not really going to benefit you. Just because a new version of an operating system was released does not mean you need. Companies have something to sell to you and will say just about anything to get you to hand over your money.

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    Desktop or Laptop?

    Buying a Laptop Computer This question can be a difficult to answer. Typically, laptops do not offer the processing power of a desktop. However, what you lose in power, you gain in portability. Some laptops are capable of near-desktop processing power carrying in them ample RAM, fast CPUs, and generously sized hard drives. These laptops tend to cost well over $1,500 and some climb above the $2,000 mark. If you need a “Desktop Replacement," the price may be worth getting portability and power in one package. If you care only about power, go with a desktop. If you only need portability, go with a laptop computer. If you need both, you may have to shell out the big bucks.

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    Decide on Core Configuration

    A computer’s core configuration refers to its most important parts. These parts include the CPU, RAM, Hard Drive storage, and other components that increase capability such as USB ports, DVD Drives, Blu-Ray Drives, and IEEE 1394 ports (FireWire). Ask yourself what you need this computer to do.

    If you take and store many pictures, you need accessible ports such as USB or eSATA and you need plenty of hard drive storage. If you are into hard-core gaming, you need lots of processing power, RAM, and a high-powered video card. Do not just settle for the configuration the manufacturer suggests you buy. Those prefabricated PCs are designed to appeal to the average user and typically benefit the manufacturer more than the end consumer.

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    Decide on a Manufacturer

    There are only about five big manufacturers out there that make up the majority of the sales figures in the computer retail market. These firms offer many different core configurations and allow for customization of just about every major part you can buy. However, do not discount the smaller, local company in your area.

    Often these local companies have to try that much harder to compete with the national and international brands. They are also more likely to use name-brand, off-the-shelf parts, which are easier to upgrade or replace than proprietary parts used by large-scale vendors. If you have reputable manufacturers in your area, stop in and see what they have to offer. Often, these smaller companies are willing to sit down and talk about your needs. This is far better than just clicking around a large manufacturer’s website.

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    Put Together a Few Samples

    After you decide what you want, what core configuration fits your needs, and from whom you intend to buy your new computer, it is time to put together a sample computer and see what you have. The large manufacturer’s websites are the best place to start because you can put together a computer without a salesperson standing there trying to close the deal. Play a little bit at this stage to see what different configurations cost and what a single change to a higher or lower component does to the price.

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    Assess the Price and Features

    By this time, you should have a firm grasp of the core configuration, price, and capabilities. Now is the time to reassess whether you have made the right choices. Do not be afraid at this point to question whether this new purchase will benefit you significantly more than your current computer. This is the point in the process when most prospective buyers bail out. Maybe they were just window shopping or maybe the benefits just do not justify the cost. Either way, this is the point at which you make the decision to buy or not buy.

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    Assess After-Sale Relationship

    One of the most important aspects when buying a new computer is the warranty offered by the manufacturer. Is this a reliable company from which to buy a computer? What kind of reassurances do you have that the company will be there if the computer turns out to be a lemon? Is it worth paying extra for the in-home warranty option or is the mail-in option enough? Although these considerations typically do not preclude someone from making a purchase, knowing up front the after-sale relationship you will have with the manufacturer can save you trouble later.

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    Buy Your New Computer

    You have done the research, assessed your needs, played with your options, and put together your new computer. It is time to buy, so go for it. If you used the tips offered in this document, you have followed a logic progression from casual assessment to serious exploration of core configurations. Trust your judgment and enjoy your new purchase.