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Home Computer Buying Guide

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln Prior to Buying Every tool is designed for a specific function. Hammers were made to drive nails and shovels were made to dig holes. Computers are tools designed to transmit or store information and then do something with that information.
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're looking to save money buying a used or refurbished computer can save you a lot of 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 will 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 will 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're getting what you pay for. See the below scams section 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 document CH001238 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 will 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.

DeviceShort recommendation
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 wish them to be positioned?
  4. Does the case support the standards of motherboards, for example, the ATX motherboard standard? This is important if you wish to upgrade the computer in the future.
CD media Most newer computers today have an included disc burner in the computer. If you wish 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 disk drive that will have plenty of available space and will run at speeds that don't slow the overall computer down.
MemoryMemory is one of the more important purchasing decisions on a computer. The more memory in the computer, the more efficient the computer will run.
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 is what will allow you to share files between computers in your home and connect to a broadband Internet connection.
ProcessorThe 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.

Consideration Explanation
Add-ons All computer manufacturers will 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 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?
  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 will take 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.
  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.
SupportWhile you can always contact Computer Hope for support, manufacturer support is also a very 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 ability 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.
WarrantyFinally, 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 will only come with a 90-day warranty. Meaning if a part goes bad, you will have to 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.
Unfortunately, like anything, it is possible to be tricked or for computer companies to scam you. Watch out for the below common scams.
  1. Get what you pay for - Make sure you're getting what you paid for. 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.

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