How to Buy a New PC


This is probably the question I get MOST often from family and friends.  What options do I need to pick when buying a new PC?

The first thing I ALWAYS say is “If your current computer is at least 6 or more years old, then the cheapest, crappiest computer that you buy brand new is going to be 10 times better than what you currently have.  So definitely keep that in mind.  The other hand of that though, is that you’ll want it to last.  So I don’t RECOMMEND getting the cheapest, crappiest thing you can find.  So, what specs ARE important?  Here’s the breakdown

Processor – This is the “brain” of the computer.  It tells the computer what to do, when to do it, and prioritizes the activities based on what it thinks is most important.  Obviously here the faster the better, but you can get away with a little bit of cheating here if you are on a budget, since processors now are getting so fast.  Speed of processors is measured in hertz, so 1 MHz is equal to 1 million cycles per second (which means 1 millions different instructions for the computer to carry out).  1 GHz is 1,000 MHz.  Most processors now are at least over 1 GHz.  Make sure you understand what you are getting though.  A Dual Core processor means that it has TWO brains running at the same time, so a 1.4 GHz Dual Core processor is really closer to a 2.8 GHz processor.

Memory – I’ve always said that the quickest way to speed up a computer is to add RAM (Random Access Memory) to the machine.  I remember when I worked at an IT company there were a few computers for the techs to use as we would randomly come in to the office between clients.  One day one of the techs was using one of the machines complaining about speed and decided to just throw some RAM in it.  He was raving the whole rest of the day about how much faster the computer was.  Also I was in a Microsoft class once and the answer to almost every problem was “Add RAM”.  The more memory you have the more things you will be able to have open at the same time.  If you typically use one program and then close it before opening another, then you would be able to get away will less memory.  If you are like me though and NEED 10 programs open at the same time, including memory hogs like Photoshop, then you should definitely get the most memory you can afford.

Hard Drive – A lot of my non-techie friends really get tripped up on the hard drive.  Here is how I usually approach it with them.  Go to your current machine.  Open up “my computer” and then right click on the Local Disk C: and go to properties.  It will tell you how much space you are using.  Obviously pay attention to the “used” area.  If it says that you are using 80 GB, then anything over 100 GB will do nicely.  I like to keep my hard drive at least 20% free at all times.  If you aren’t using very much space, but PLAN to, then definitely get something larger.  Movies, music and pictures can take up a LOT of space.  If you plan on storing a lot of those on there, then get the most money can buy.  There are 2 types of hard drives now though.  Regular hard drive have disk’s inside of them and something like a needle reading the data (think record player, but waaayyyy better.  There are new solid state drives though that are more like a USB drive.  They don’t have RPM’s in their specs, because they do not have disks to read.  These Solid State drives can handle falls much better, and don’t have to wait for the disk to spin to get what they need, and are therefore faster (but you WILL sacrifice available space for saving files, they are much smaller than their counterparts.  In the other drives, pay attention to the RPM’s.  The higher the number, the faster the disk spins and therefore the faster the computer gets the information it’s looking for.

Those are the main 3 specs to pay attention to.  The rest is just icing (type of display or video card, internal wireless, what type of CD drive to get, etc).  Just add the options you think you will need in those cases.  For example, if it’s important for you to be able to watch your movies on your computer, and most of your disc’s are blu-ray, then having a blu-ray drive in your computer will be something you want.  One of my favorite things to do is go online and shop for new computers, so really, if you ever want me to just send you what I would buy… ask.  Warning… I have expensive taste in electronics!  Have fun shopping!


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  • Hey Sarah!
    Thanks for this post! I was wondering how do you feel about refurbished laptops from places like Dell? Is this a good way to go or not? I’m looking for a new laptop, nothing fancy just something that works. 🙂
    Thanks!

    • Yes, I believe outlet.dell.com is a great resource for a laptop or pc. They typically come with the same warranties that the new PC’s get, but the only downside is sometimes the specs you want aren’t all on the same machine. If you aren’t particular about your specs though, I definitely say go for it!