When you’re in this business of fixing and maintaining technology – one of the most common questions you’ll be asked is “What do I look for in a new computer?”. While I’m usually obliged to ask for more about the prospective computer in question – sometimes the brand names come up and sometimes it’s just a general question because the customer wants to buy a new one. Coming to me (the IT Guy) is a good step and a worthwhile use of time, but without me, what kind of stuff can you do to find the computer that’s best for you?
Summary: Join me as I give you a list of things to look for when buying a new computer
Just a small preface to this article. Things change FAST. Technology is often not about the specifications at the moment and more about how useful it is to you now. You will only be able to buy what the store/merchant/online market can sell you and no more. The two most important things you can do are (1) research and (2) physically go test it out.
1. Laptop/Desktop: Check the Boot time – There is a school of thought that the time a computer takes to boot is a good indicator that things are working smoothly. That’s not all wrong considering the kind of work a machine does during a typical boot process (and it usually isn’t skewed by what’s in memory at the time). While in the store: Your best best is to simply use Shutdown in Windows/Mac while the computer is running and pay attention to any errors and the time the computer takes to shut down. If you can’t do it in the store: Sometimes there are locked demos, so just use the power button to turn it off, then on. In a desktop, look to pull the power cable from the back ever so subtlety and turn it on again.
2. Laptop/Desktop: Look for Shovelware – One of the worst culprits of slower computers these days is the idea of shovelware (Software preinstalled on a computer either as a marketing tool or simply just over done). I’ve found Macs are not prey to this problem (yet?) as much as Windows computers are. While in the store: Look into the Start Menu or Tiles of the screen, if there are 18 different Symantec products installed as trial versions, skip that computer. Press [Windows Key + R] and then run appwiz.cpl – if that list is more than 10-15 apps, you’re in trouble. If you can’t do it in the store: I would probably look to the Taskbar (the bar that has the clock, usually on the bottom of the screen) and look for application icons. If you can’t get a feel for this, look to restarting (tip #1) and watch closely for all the programs that load.
3. Desktop: Check for noise – Not all desktop computers are the same. There are often upwards of six fans in a typical desktop case and they’re all going to make a ton of noise when they start to fail (and drive you nuts!). While in the store: Put your head up close to the computer and try to get a feel for the noises the machine makes. If you feel for a second that it’s too loud, skip it. Even better, if you can get the machine open or see inside, look to see common components or the quality of the construction. If you can’t do it in the store: Try returning to the store when things are a bit quieter or finding another store in the chain where workers may have more time or be more sympathetic to your tests. If you can hear anything in a loud store while standing away from the computer – don’t buy it. This is supposed to be the best they have on display.
4. Laptop: Check the physical quality – Laptops, netbooks, ultrabooks, tablets and whatever else comes next are all going to be constructed to be light or small or have a big keyboard or for some other design aesthetic. When that happens, there is often a trade-off on terms of quality. Look for those trade-offs and decide wether you’re ok with that. While in the store: Look at the display hinge, does it feel cheap or too loose? Look at the keyboard, do the buttons feel to plastic or like they might come loose? Feel the weight of the laptop, would this be too much to carry around everywhere you go? Look at the overall construction, would this withstand a drop? If you can’t do it in the store: If you can’t touch the laptop at all, I suggest you going somewhere you can. All the retailers are generally allowing people to touch and use computers – so get out there and do it!
5. Laptop/Desktop: Pay attention to the little things – In time, you would probably get tuned to this sort of sense, but as an infrequent buyer, you’re probably not going to see it. The idea is simply to look for cost cutting measures and for anything not right in the mix. Look for comparable products and check out pricing. Look for a lack of features when compared to others (one common thing I’ve seen is a 64bit OS on a computer with 2 gb of RAM, find out if that is unusual). Look at the Operating System version. While in the store: Ask lots of questions, request full specifications if they don’t have them shown and make sure you have done a little research on what you want (it goes a long way). Don’t buy it until you know it has everything you need. If you can’t do it in the store: Record the model number of the computer and look it up online later. Search the Internet for others that may have thoughts about the computer (you’d be amazed what you find).
6. Laptop/Desktop: Look into configuration options – Something that will help you down the road might not appear to be useful now – but the options you have for configuration and modification provide you the flexibility to save money. The classic example is many of Apple’s products. The iPad’s battery cannot be replaced, nor are many other Apple-related components. This all leads to costly repairs down the road if something were to fail. While in the store: Scan the device for removable parts, screws and how easy they might open. Look to buying things that stick to standards you can work with later to extend the lifetime of the device. If you can’t do it in the store: Once again, you look to the information online, reviews and sites that might show pros and cons.
Bonus – According to website DealWatch (old, but likely still relevant), the best time of the year to buy laptops and desktops is April. So, this is the best time to get out there this month and look for your new laptop!
I’ve found that there is big limit to the lengths people will go to for the sake of testing a computer. While they have really become commodities, you’ll save yourself a world of pain, expense, and hassle down the road if you take the time and use some of these suggestions. These devices are always incredibly expensive, so don’t take the chance and get it wrong! Looking for a computer or new piece of technology? Let us know and we’ll tell you what we think!