Buying a computer in the 21st century for non-techies

By Max Williams

This is a guide for those who are non-technical and don’t know that much about computers. In simple terms I will explain computer technology to the point that can be understood by the average person (that will be my attempt anyway).

So due to the pandemic that has been occurring in the world nowadays, I think it’s pretty safe to say, we are becoming more and more dependent on technology to help us in this world. From ordering online, to shopping online, to more online schooling, and also doing more work online as well.

The need for a computer (and possibly more than one in a house hold) is essential for the modern human to keep up, in these uncertain times. This guide will help you sift through all the information overload, and help you make a better decision in buying your computing needs.

So what is a computer:

To start with, we will go over in simple terms exactly what is a computer and some of it’s parts.

So a computer system is made up of several shall we call them → sub-systems, but we will only need to go over only a few, and here they are::

CPU (Central Processing Unit):

In simple terms, a CPU or Central Processing Unit, is the brains of the computer that executes instructions of a computer program.

A more official definition can be found here if you like:

CPU wiki definition

CPU webopedia definition

Next, let’s briefly go over computer system memory, the CPU uses the computer memory to run the programs in the computer:

In the picture above, you have memory sticks, the top stick goes into a desktop computer system (we will go over that later), and the bottom one goes into a laptop computer.

Memory definitions below:

memory wiki page

memory webopedia page

And then, there is computer storage, or more to the point, the hard drive (hdd / ssd).


This picture above shows the different hard drives you might encounter in and on your computer system. And simply put, the hard drive holds your data (files, folders, programs, documents, pictures, etc).

Again, below are links to official definitions if you are so inclined;

Hard drive wiki

Hard drive webopedia

Now, in my humble opinion those three devices make up a basic computer system, they are by NO MEANS, the only thing that makes up the computer system (of course, there are many, many more parts and systems), but for the layman, and average person, those are the three things we will work with (there are more things to consider of course, network connections, monitor size and type, specialized software, sound system for speakers, webcam, etc). This again in my opinion the CPU, the memory, and the hard drive, are found in almost if not all computer systems in one form or another.

What will you use the computer for:

All that being said, the next question will be, if you want or need to buy a computer, exactly what will you be using it for?

Asking this question will save you a lot of headache in the long run, believe me, so lets start with the following questions –

  • Will you need a computer for personal use
  • Will you need a computer for work
  • Will you need the computer while traveling, or will you use it mostly at home
  • Will you need a computer for school
  • Will you need a computer for an elderly relative

The questions above are not a complete list, but they are a good place to start, so let us begin with them.

Personal Use:

Do you want a computer for personal use, such as for emailing, surfing the internet, general documents, a place to save your pictures, social media, gaming, video streaming, etc?

Consider the above question carefully, because as an example, if you want to buy a computer for gaming, you will want to consider buying a desktop computer, as they are easier to upgrade.

They do sell gaming laptops as well, but for a gaming computer, you might need to do several upgrades through out the ownership of the computer such as put in more memory, upgrade the CPU and hard drive, add a more powerful power supply, and change out the whole inside of the system, this is easier to do in a desktop computer than a laptop computer.

Desktop computer image below:

laptop computer image below:

Work Use:

Do you need a computer for work as a requirement for your job, as possibly a work at home position. If you need a computer for work, then you will need to consider buying NOT one, but two computers (this is not absolute, but you need to consider it), let me explain why::

  • Your job may require you to install additional software on your computer, they may also require you to only use that computer for work and nothing else (a bit extreme, but it’s possible).
  • Your job may also require you to install monitoring software to make sure you are doing your job during working hours.
  • If you only have one computer and it stops working for whatever reason (EVERY computer system breaks down or stops working at some point), you won’t be able to work until it gets fixed, and that may be days, weeks, and sometimes months (again, a bit extreme, but it can and has happened).

Traveling or Home use:

Do you need a computer because you will be traveling to meet your clients

  • salesperson
  • teachers
  • instructions
  • consultants
  • freelancers
  • auditors
  • technicians
  • field engineers

The list above can go on and on, but if you fit into it, you will definitely want to consider a laptop, or a tablet if possible to take notes until you get back at home or office to upload to your main computer.

Picture of a tablet:

School use:

A computer is excellent for anyone who will be going to school whether online, or offline and on physical campus. A tablet may work in this area, if you are onsite on campus, and again, you will be taking notes, recording class sessions (where applicable and through the permission of the instructor and or school of course), and doing light work, otherwise you might want to consider a laptop.

Elderly use:

A computer is good for all ages from three or four years old to one-hundred and twenty (yeah I know, but just covering all the possibilities). Not singling out the elderly population, but, a computer system is excellent for the senior citizen, they can keep up with the family, especially those that are in another town. They can have video conferences to again talk to relatives in another town or city.

Social media is an excellent tool for keeping up with the family.

The possibilities are many, and growing.

What to look for when buying a computer:

So remember at the beginning of this article, I mentioned the three main systems/parts of

  • CPU
  • memory
  • hard drive

You will want to look for the above three, and how much a computer has of each one (CPU, memory, and hard drive, to start with).

CPU ==> get one as powerful as you can afford, they usually come from the following manufacturers

Intel
i3
i5
i7
i9

AMD
Ryzen 3
Ryzen 5
Ryzen 7
Ryzen 9

Intel processors/CPUs:

AMD processors/CPUs:

The above is not a complete list, but a general one that should help you in your search for a good computer / PC (Personal Computer).

Memory ==> you will want to get as much memory as you can afford (obviously)

Hard drive ==> you again will want to get as big a hard drive as you can afford, to hold your data in (again, files, folders, documents, pictures, videos, movies, ect).

Next you will want to consider which type of computer to buy:

We will break up the computer systems into three types::

  • Name brand: Dell, HP, Compaq, Acer, Lenovo, Alien-ware
  • Proprietary: Apple
  • Generic: meaning any computer system bought from a independent computer vendor or store.

Will you buy a Dell, HP, Compaq, Acer, Lenovo, Alien-ware, Apple, or a generic brand?

Consider the following::

Brand Name:

If you buy one of the manufactured name brand ones such as –

Dell, HP, Compaq, Acer, Lenovo, etc

These are good solid computers (pending your own preference, research and experience), and if you want to do any hardware/software upgrades, they all have enough off the shelf hardware parts and compatible software to make upgrades manageable and relatively inexpensive for several years.

Also take note, that these systems are usually sold with the operating system (the main/master software that controls the other software on the computer) Microsoft windows.

Proprietary:

If you decide to buy a Apple computer, note that they are good stable machines, but they are proprietary (meaning, you can only buy apple productions such as hardware and software for Apple computers, with a few exceptions of course).

Generic:

There is nothing wrong with buying a computer from a independent store, but you will need to consider the following::

  • what is their history, have they been in business long, if they close down, who will honor your warranty if it is still active.
  • Do they have a good track record, a quick Better Business Bureau search online and such should tell you that.
  • How to do a BBB check
  • How many stores do they have, if you move to a different city or town, do they have branches state-wide, nation-wide?

Where to buy a computer from:

So to buy a computer system, I would suggest the following (and again, this is NOT written in stone, just my opinion based on my own experience)::

  • start with researching a computer system that is being offered at any of the national chains – examples – Wal-Mart, Target, Best-Buy, even the online store New-egg has a good track record.
  • You may also want to consider shopping direct from one of the manufactures such as one of the name brands – Dell, HP, Compaq, Acer, Lenovo, Alien-ware

Now after finding a system you like, and BEFORE you buy it, look up the reviews for that system online–

CNET

YouTube

Pc Mag

have some excellent reviews everyday regarding these systems, as well as others, so give them a check.

And before someone asks —- how can someone who don’t have a computer, shop for one online??

Easy, even if a person don’t currently have a computer, they almost certainly have a smart-phone with some-type of data plan, or they could borrow a computer from a friend, or finally, most public libraries will let you use their computer for a limited time for free, as well as there are internet cafes.

Special Note to consider when buying a computer::

When buying or considering buying a computer, take note of the following concerns –

  • computers can be sold as a bundle that might include extra hardware/software, be sure and ask what warranty if any is covered with the bundle if it’s not evident.
  • Question how the warranty works, and who will honor it, the place where you bought the system won’t always be where you send it, if it needs to be fixed.
  • Get the specifics of the warranty, who is responsible for what, some of the software may not be covered in the computer, while others may be under a different warranty (Microsoft Windows, will sometimes be covered not by the people who sold you the computer, but directly from Microsoft, so make sure, and ask questions).
  • In addition to buying your computer, ALWAYS, ALWAYS buy an additional backup hard drive, this is VERY IMPORTANT, most places that sell you a computer will NOT be responsible for your data unless you pay extra for backups to be included, so again, ask questions.
  • And finally, always back up your data on a regular basis, and before sending your computer out for repair, viruses, malware (bad software), system crashes, and software re-installs, may cause you to loose your data, and most places WILL NOT back up your data for you, unless you pay them, and you need to backup you data BEFORE you have a computer problem, not during or after, so remember to backup your data.

For a quick free computer check list, download the document in this link:

Computer Buying Check List

I hope this guide helps you in your journey to buy a computer system, thank you, and until next time, bye.

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