Computer Shopping Basics
Picture yourself using your new computer. You might think you know nothing about computers, but you'll be surprised by your preconceived ideas and preferences. Is your ideal system a desktop or a laptop? Are there are a variety of peripherals such as printers and scanners and external speakers connected all over? How large (or small!) is the monitor?
Why do you need a computer? The first and probably most important thing to do is have a clear idea of your purpose for buying a computer. For example, do you want it for simple word processing or do you need it for a broad range of tasks like spreadsheets, access to the Internet and multimedia applications? This will help you determine what software and hardware you need for your computer.
Background reading: If you don't know much about computers, do some background reading so that you have an understanding of the basic components and how they work. Scan the computer sections of newspapers, PC magazines, check with user groups, library and Internet resources.
Shopping checklist: Things to keep in mind
- Ask family and friends about computer systems and suppliers that worked for them.
- Be careful not to compare computers based on price only. A computer with a 6GB hard drive is always going to be cheaper than one with a 16GB hard drive.
- Compare the specifications of equipment you're after and whether it will operate the software you need or is compatible with other equipment you are currently using.
- Check out the cost of consumables for the equipment being offered. The low cost printer may have a high cost to replace the toner cartridge.
Speed: Decide the performance level you need from your computer. This depends on what you plan to use it for. Computer games, multimedia and desktop publishing software require a faster computer whereas simple word processing software can run satisfactorily on a less powerful computer.
The performance level your computer is capable of is determined by a combination of variables: the Central Processing Unit (CPU); the Motherboard; the amount of Level 2 cache (high speed memory) installed; the memory installed; and the internal hard drive. Beware of 'overclocking'. This is the practice of adjusting the processor to run at a speed faster than its original specification.
Memory: Make sure your computer comes with enough Random Access Memory (RAM) to efficiently operate your software. RAM is measured in Megabytes (MB).
Storage capacity: Make sure the hard disk has sufficient storage capacity to store your information and programs. Storage is measured in Megabytes (MB) or Gigabytes (GB).
Ability to upgrade: You may want to consider buying a computer, which is upgradeable. This means that you will be able to replace existing components with up to date and faster components at some stage in the future. You need to be aware, however, that the ability to upgrade your computer may cost you more and that in some instances buying a new computer can be cheaper than upgrading your old one.
Pre-installed software: Sometimes the software you purchase is preinstalled. If this is the case you should always make sure that you are also given the original media (e.g. diskettes or CD Rom).
Pirated software: Make sure the software supplied is not a pirated copy. Pirated software doesn't generally come with disks, instruction books (if they do they are usually just photocopies), and a license to use the software or help from the manufacturer if you have problems. If you erase the software and you don't have the diskettes, you won't have any way of restoring it.
Shareware: Many of the software 'bundles' on the market come with shareware. Shareware is software that is offered to users on a trial basis. This software is provided on the condition that if you use it on a regular basis you will send a payment to the authors. Manuals for shareware may come on a CD or floppy, but more often than not, as a downloadable file from the Internet.
Anti-Virus Software: Viruses are hidden instructions, which can move through networks and operating systems and become embedded in programs. They can destroy data or display messages. It's a good idea to purchase anti-virus software. This is particularly important if you plan to use Shareware and the Internet, as your chances of picking up viruses are greatly increased.
When purchasing anti-virus software you should also make arrangements to be kept up to date on the availability of new anti-virus software.
Availability: Make sure the goods are in stock, If not, get the retailer to give you a firm date when the stock will be available. You may wish to make the purchase of your computer subject to the computer being available by a certain date.
Taking delivery: Before taking delivery of your computer it's a good idea to open the boxes and make sure that all the components are actually there. Some consumers ask the store to have their computer set up and working properly before agreeing to accept the goods or making their final payment.