Desktop buying tips

Purchasing a home or business computer can be a big and sometimes costly decision. Below is a listing of helpful suggestions on what to look for and what to ask when purchasing a new computer.

New vs. refurbished or used

If you are looking to save money buying a used or refurbished computer can save you money. A refurbished computer is a computer that has been returned to the company has been checked out as good but cannot be sold again as new. All major computer manufacturers have a refurbished section showing all their available refurbished products. Buying one of these computers instead of a new computer can save you hundreds of dollars.

In addition to refurbished computers individuals and companies for various reasons also sell their used computers. When buying these look out for the following.

  • Verify it has no physical damage by inspecting the ports as well as the inside and the outside of the case.
  • Make sure you pay for what you are getting. See the scam section below for additional details.
  • Make sure computer comes with any CD's for the operating systems or programs that are promised to be installed.
  • Realize that many computer manufacturers will not transfer the computer warranty from the old user to you.

Mac vs. PC

The decision between buying a Macintosh and PC computer running Microsoft Windows is always a heated debate. See our Mac vs. PC document for a list of advantages and disadvantages of both of these systems if you're still not decided.

What to look for

When purchasing a computer it is likely that you are going to have a general idea of what you may like in the computer or how you would like to configure the computer. Below is a listing of the various components likely to be found in a computer and recommendations and tips when considering any of the below components.

Case

The case or chassis is often overlooked when buying a new computer. Below are some things to think about regarding the case.

  1. Do you want a desktop or tower case?
  2. Will the case fit on top of or below your desk?
  3. Will the drives be accessible or will they be positioned the way you want them to be positioned?
  4. Does the case support the standards of motherboards, for example, the ATX motherboard standard? This is important if you want to upgrade the computer in the future.

CD media

Most newer computers today have an included disc burner in the computer. If you want to make your own CD's or DVD's make sure the computer supports it.

Hard drive

The hard drive will be the destination of all your files and information. Make sure you get a hard drive with plenty of available space and runs at speeds that don't slow the overall computer down.

Memory

Memory is one of the more important purchasing decisions on a computer. The more memory in the computer, the more efficient the computer is capable of running.

Modem

Depending on how you plan on connecting to the Internet the Modem may not be that important of a buying decision. Most users today are using broadband Internet, which does not require a modem. However, if this is not available in your area make sure your computer includes a modem.

Network card

Almost all computers today have a network card or network option on the motherboard. The network card allows you to share files between computers in your home and connect to a broadband Internet connection.

Processor

The computer processor is and will always be one of the most important considerations when purchasing a computer. Today, with multiple CPU/Processor manufacturers, it may be more confusing as well as more cost efficient to look at all options for computer processors.

Sound card

Today, the standard sound cards that are included with a computer are sufficient for almost all computer users. However, if you plan on doing sound editing or mixing make sure to look at the sound cards capabilities.

Video card

For computer gaming the video card has become one of the most important factors behind memory and processor. If you plan on gaming with your computer make sure your video card GPU and video memory meets the requirements.

Brand of computer

There is no such thing as a computer manufacturer who has a perfect history with all its users. Therefore when it comes to recommending one brand over another it would be impossible for us to say who's better than the other. Instead we'd suggest relying off the below considerations.

Add-ons

All computer manufacturers give you the option to buy additional accessories when buying a new computer. Keep the below in mind before buying these add-ons.

  • Make sure your buying accessories you actually need. For example, almost all new computers will include a keyboard and mouse. Also, if you're upgrading from an older computer many of your older peripherals and accessories may be compatible with the new computer.
  • If you're buying your computer online, check elsewhere. Many accessories available through the computer manufacturer are sold at a premium price.

Documentation

Most manufacturers today are reducing the amount of documentation included with their computer and substituting that documentation for online documentation. Make sure the documentation found online appears to be sufficient and that software and driver downloads are available if needed.

Hardware

As mentioned in the above what to look for section, make sure the hardware included with your computer meets your needs.

Return

If the computer is purchased at a local retail store, can the computer be returned if unsatisfactory to that store or does it have to be sent to the computer manufacturer? If the computer is purchased online or through a mail order can it be returned if unsatisfactory?

Service

  1.  Is the service onsite, meaning a technician will come to your location to replace or fix a bad component. If the service is onsite, is it for the complete time of the warranty?
  2. If onsite is not offered, what is and for how long?
  3. Can the computer be taken to a local service center? If yes, what is the closest authorized service center?
  4. What is the time frame the service takes to occur? For example, if the computer has a bad component, what is the time it takes for a technician to come onsite and replace that component, or if sent in how long does it take? Finally, if that time frame is not acceptable, what is the company willing to do, for example, are they willing to provide you with a loaned computer.

Software

  1. Does the software include Microsoft Office or Corel Suite? These packages allow you to have a word processor and a spreadsheet. For the most users this should be an important consideration.
  2. Is it the full versions of the software or is the software a demo, trial, or shareware? Many companies will include programs that will expire after 30-90 days and require you to purchase the full program.

Support

While you can always contact Computer Hope for support, manufacturer support is also an important consideration as if an issue arises with the computer you must be able to contact a support representative.

  1. Is support open 24 hours, 7 days a week? If not, what are the hours?
  2. Is support open on holidays? If not, what days are they closed?
  3. What support options are available? Phone? E-mail? Web? Chat?

Upgrade

While this option may not be considered at first when purchasing a computer, it is an important consideration. When purchasing a computer make sure the hardware you may want to upgrade can be upgraded. Common upgrades for most users today include: Memory, Video card, and Sound Card.

Warranty

Finally, does the computer manufacturer offer a warranty? How long is the warranty? Does the warranty cover both hardware and software issues? 

We highly recommend that a computer only be considered if it has at least an one-year warranty. Many cheap computers only come with a 90-day warranty. Meaning if a part goes bad, you pay for the part as well as the service. This may not be an issue for users who just need a cheap computer and are willing to replace parts and service the computer themselves.

Scams

Watch out for the below scams and tricks when buying a computer.

  1. Make sure you pay for what you are getting - A common tactic is to overclock the processor, memory, or other component. This can be done by anyone with a little computer knowledge. For example, you may buy a 733MHz processor but instead get a 500MHz.

    To determine the processor speed, open the computer and look at the processor itself. Do not look at the processor through a software program or through BIOS as these values can be changed or tricked.

  2. Legal software - When purchasing a computer, make sure it was legal purchased and the CD or other disc and its CD-KEY is included. Many end-users or small computer companies who build or sell computers may not provide you with legal copies of the software, which is illegal and may leave you with a fine or the inability to get updates.