Let’s be honest here. Buying a new PC is exciting. Absolutely, it’s a decision best made with a good dollop of sensibleness. At the same time though, there’s just so much cool, flashy stuff to choose from.
In this article, we’ll help you traverse the delicate line between sensible purchasing sensibilities and full-throttled techno-bedazzlement.
We’ll show you the key things to look for when buying a PC —so that it’s not just cool, but a powerful and useful tool that’s going to last.
Before we dive in though, remember that Nerds On Call are experts in getting great bang for your buck when it comes to computers and technology.
Solid State Drive
OK, this might not be the most exciting feature of your PC, but it’s really important. We’re talking about your hard drive.
Back in the day, hard drives were an entirely mechanical affair, and the fact is, a lot went wrong with them.
While these drives are a lot better than they used to be, it makes all kinds of sense to pay a little bit extra for what is known as a “solid state drive.”
It’s not often you can say something as simple as this in the nerd world, but solid state drives are … just better. They don’t have moving parts so they’re more reliable and will protect your precious data.
They’re also faster, lighter and smaller.
The cost of upgrading from a standard hard drive to a solid state drive is as little as £40, and for that, you get peace of mind, better transfer speeds, and a generally more robust machine. Definitely a no-brainer.
Grab as much RAM as you can afford
This piece of advice is as true today as it was back in the dark ages of 386 PCs, dial-up modems and VGA monitors.
Get as much RAM as your budget can afford.
So let’s just take a tiny step back and deal with the obvious question. What is this RAM stuff? RAM (Random Access Memory) is the equivalent of your short-term memory. It’s like all the stuff you’re holding in your head right now as you’re reading this article.
The more RAM your computer has, the more it can do at once and the quicker it is at doing it.
The thing about RAM (and the reason it’s such a fantastic upgrade) is that you basically use it for everything you do on your computer. From graphics to games to boring spreadsheets, RAM is the secret sauce that transforms your computer from grinding slowness to awesome zippiness.
These days, 8GB of RAM is really the rock bottom for anything running Windows. You will absolutely notice the difference if you upgrade to 16GB though.
Your machine won’t just be faster, it’ll also be more reliable.
It’s a similar deal to our friend the solid state drive, in terms of bang for your buck. 8GB of RAM these days will start at around £35, making it an inexpensive upgrade for a whole lot of added processing power.
Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of what makes your computer a computer, rather than a really expensive paperweight.
The processor of your computer is likely to be with your computer for the life of your PC. Typically if it’s time to upgrade that it begins to make sense to do a complete replacement.
For this reason, it makes solid sense to buy something that is going to stay functional and useful for as long as possible.
Intel Core i5 or i7 is what you should be aiming for here. Generation 7 or higher is highly recommended. With one of these powering your PC you should expect to have solid processing grunt for at least a few years.
Oh and note that we’re specifying a brand name here: Intel. Generally, it is better to go with an Intel core over the less expensive AMD brand.
The quality difference is enough to make a noticeable difference in how your computer runs.
Laptop: Screen Size & Clarity
So far, we’ve been looking at the nuts and bolts of what makes a computer perform well.
When it comes to a laptop purchase though, it’s just as important to think carefully about screen size and clarity. After all, unlike a desktop computer, you’re kind of stuck with the same sized screen and resolution throughout the operational life of your laptop.
There’s one basic piece of advice that will serve you really well: whatever you do, don’t buy a laptop blind.
Going off a picture will tell you nothing of how it feels to actually sit in front of a laptop.
A really easy way to check out which laptop screen size works best for you is to go into any store that sells computers (PC World, Amazon, eBay, Laptops Direct or eBuyer) and actually get up close and personal with each screen.
If you find yourself squinting and grumbling at how small a screen is after five minutes, you can be pretty confident it won’t work for you long-term!
What you need to think carefully about is the trade-off between ease of use and convenience of transportation. A smaller monitored laptop will be lighter and easier to lug about. A larger screen will be heavier but way better on your eyes.
Of course, you can also think about whether you wish to invest in a secondary standing monitor for use at home.
This will give you the best of both worlds, but of course, it’ll also require forking out extra cash for that sweet second monitor.
USB 3.0 Ports
USB ports are vital because they’re the connection point between your computer and all the various devices you use (from smartphones to external hard drives to cameras).
You might be tempted to go for a USB 2.0 port. After all, most of your devices are likely built for that right now.
The problem with that is, USB 3.0 is rapidly becoming the new standard. Within a few years, it could be a real headache to have to deal with obsolete USB ports.
It’s worth making sure you have the latest that USB has to offer. However, you will need to purchase an adapter for your current USB 2.0 devices. Which just goes to show you, sometimes there’s no perfect solution!
Nevertheless, our advice is that it’s better to purchase an inexpensive adapter now so that you’re better positioned to use new devices down the track.
We get it. There’s a lot of brand snobbery out there. You can spend $150 for a pair of runners just because it has a fancy name brand logo emblazoned across it.
Brand really does make a difference with computers, though. Quality brand computers are built from better components and, generally speaking, will serve you better and last longer. They also provide better support.
The bottom line is, it’s worth it to pay a little bit more for a quality brand machine.
Engadget ranked Lenovo highest among laptops. You’ll also do very well with HP & Dell brands.
So, all this leads to the sixty bazillion dollar question, how much should I pay?
For a decent but basic PC or laptop, expect to be paying somewhere between £250 and £350.
If you’re looking for a system which will last 4 to 5 years, you’re probably going to be paying somewhere between £450 and £650.
While there’s a bigger immediate outlay to a higher spec machine, in the long run, it’s likely to save you money buying a machine that will last. If your budget can stretch that far, it’s a smart nerdish move.
Buying a new PC can be a bit overwhelming, but if you keep your head screwed on and focus on the features that deliver speed and reliability, chances are you’ll be taking a good quality machine home with you.