Tech Tips

How to Choose a New Computer

shopping cart and computer drc technologies

You need a new computer. You check online. But there are so…many…choices! RAM this, processing that. It can be overwhelming. What the heck does it all mean? You’re not a tech. How are you supposed to know how to choose a new computer?

So, off to the nearest big box or office supply store you go, figuring at least there will be a real, live person there to help you.

computer with miniature shopping cart sitting on it

And there is! You trust their opinion because they work with computers right?  Maybe they do. Are they good at it? They might be.

Maybe they just sell them on commission.

But since you don’t know anything about computers, how do you differentiate between salesmen that are honest and those that are self-serving? How do you know they’re not going to oversell you on something you don’t need? It’s hard not to feel like you’re at their mercy.


How to Choose a New Computer

There is no perfect computer. Every option has pros and cons. But with just a few steps, you can make an informed decision and buy the right one for you. Buying a new computer doesn’t have to be stressful. 

It doesn’t have to be overwhelming either. Start by asking yourself a few simple questions.

What kind of computer do I need?

What are your computer needs?  Choosing the right computer starts with knowing what you use it for.

puppy with glasses using a laptop
  • Do you mainly play simple online games, check email, & go on facebook?
  • Do you need to be able to compose documents & spreadsheets?  
  • Do you need to be able to download full versions of Photoshop, Quickbooks, or even software for crafting tools like Silhouette or Cricut?
  • Do you require a lot of storage for pictures or documents?
  • Is portability an issue for you?

What’s Your Budget?

Computers & tablets vary wildly in cost. There’s no need to overpay for a system, or spend a lot of money on a system that is more than you need.

But, conversely, you also don’t want to choose a system simply because it’s cheap as you may find yourself with less of a system than you need.

Now that you have a good idea of what you use your computer for, and what your budget is, let’s look at…


The Technical Side

Don’t run scared. We’re here to help. Specifications are easy to find for every different type of device & we’ll break it down in non-tech speak.

What do all of these computer specs mean?

CPU & RAM

CPU & RAM are what makes your device go fast or slow.

Storage

Storage is often incorrectly referred to as memory. These specs show how much stuff, like documents, photos & software you can store on your device.

Resolution

Resolution really comes down to personal preference. Like other electronics, tablets come in Standard Definition (1024×600) & High Definition (1920×1200). Cheaper versions are usually standard definition and are perfectly easy to see.

Battery Life

Battery life varies from tablet to tablet, and laptop to laptop, depending on the manufacturer. Note that you will generally see less battery life than the manufacturer states as their specs are often outside maximums.


How to Choose the Best Computer or Device for Your Needs

Tablet –  Light use

Tablets are your cheapest option when choosing a computer or device. They’re also the least functional of all options, but, depending on your needs, they may just be perfect for you.

Tablet with the news on it and coffee and daily planner

Pros:

  • Tablets are similar to smartphones in that they work with apps and operate by touchscreen. 
  • If you only utilize the internet to play very basic online games like solitaire or candy crush, check your email, & surf the web, a tablet could work for you.
  • Tablets come in varying screen sizes and are more compact than a laptop. 

Cons:

  • They do not include keyboards, though you can purchase a keyboard as an accessory.
  • Will fall victim to planned obsolescence fairly quickly.

Tablet Specifications

CPU & RAM

  • CPU – We recommend Quadcore & higher
  • RAM – 1 GB or greater unless using for intense gaming, in which case, go for 2GB or greater.

Storage

  • Tablets generally come with 16GB (least expensive), 32GB, or 64GB (most expensive) of memory.
  • If you’d like the cheapest version (16GB), be sure to look for one with SD expandable memory. This means you can purchase an inexpensive SD card to expand the memory of the tablet, often up to 512GB.

Resolution

Like other electronics, tablets come in Standard Definition (1024×600) & High Definition (1920×1200). Cheaper versions are usually standard definition and are perfectly easy to see.

Battery Life

Battery life for tablets varies. Manufacturer’s generally show batteries lasting between 7-10 hours.


Chromebook –  Light use

Though not as cheap as tablets, Chromebooks are inexpensive and provide greater functionality than a tablet.

Pros:

  • You can use Chromebooks to surf the web, check email, & you can add apps for games.
  • Google does have their own version of Microsoft Office Products.  Google Docs is their version of Word, Sheets is their version of Excel, & Slides is their version of PowerPoint.  You can save docs & sheets in forms that are compatible with Microsoft.
  • Chromebooks look like laptops, with full keyboards, and depending on model, even 10 key operation. 
  • Some models come with 360 degree rotating touchscreens that can be used like a tablet.
  • Antivirus software is not necessary on a Chromebook as there is very limited memory.  In the very rare instance where you might find yourself with a virus, you simply “powerwash” the machine with the press of a button & your system is back to new.

Cons:

  • Chromebooks have extremely limited internal memory. To save pictures or documents, you need to either use an external hard drive, thumb drive, or save to google’s version of the cloud, Google Drive.
  • Planned Obsolescence.  Chromebooks have a definitive End of Life at which point your machine will no longer be able to accept updates & security becomes an issue. Plan to buy a new Chromebook every 6.5 years.  This may or may not be an issue for you as the vast majority of electronics are no longer built to last longer than that. Google does at least give you a definitive date ahead of time.
  • Side note: Be sure to check the End of Life for whatever model Chromebook you’re looking to purchase before buying it. Many companies sell Chromebooks that while new insofar as they’ve never been used, are not a new model. They’re actually leftover stock from a previous year(s), like buying a 2017 car with 0 miles on it in 2019. Because the 6.5 years End of Life begins from date of manufacture, if you don’t check it first, you may end up paying full price for a computer without getting the full amount of life from it. If it’s cheap enough that you don’t mind having to purchase another one in a few years, go for it.

Chromebook Specifications

CPU & RAM

  • CPU for Chromebooks vary between 1.6ghz & 2.2ghz
  • RAM for Chromebooks include 2GB & 4GB
  • Given that the majority of use will be light, you can’t really go wrong regardless of what you choose. Though, bear in mind, 2.2ghz processor will be faster.

Storage

Chromebooks don’t have a lot of storage as they’re mainly meant for internet based applications. Their internal storage ranges from 16GB (cheaper) to 64GB (more expensive). Since you’re likely going to be storing any pictures or documents in Google Drive or on a jump drive, a machine with a lower internal storage is a solid pick.

Resolution

Standard or High Definition. Again, go for your personal preference.

Battery Life

Battery life on Chromebooks is generally better than on laptops due to their very lightweight operating system; most start at 7 hours and go up from there.


Desktop PC – Medium to Heavy Use

Desktops are the most expensive option for a computer, but they also offer the highest functionality.

Desktop computer monitor & keyboard

Pros:

  • Can install a variety of software like Microsoft Office, Photo Shop, Adobe Reader, etc.
  • You can choose your monitor (screen) size, as well as keyboard & mouse style.
  • Desktop PC’s have more drive space meaning you can save more documents, photos, etc, directly to your computer.
  • Faster speeds than laptops.
  • More upgradable than laptops. You can upgrade memory, video cards, processors, add USB ports, and can run multiple ethernet cables.
  • You can install your favorite browser whether it’s Chrome, Firefox, or Edge.
  • Windows operating system becomes obsolete after a longer period of time (ten years on average) than Chromebooks or tablets (four to five years on average).
  • Depending on your system, desktops can be used for simple things like email & facebook,

Cons:

  • Desktops are heavier & take up more space than laptops or tablets.
  • You need to have anti-virus software.
  • Unlike laptops, desktops are not portable. You are tethered to their location.
  • Desktops do not always automatically come with a wireless card. You can have one installed, at a cost, later if need be.
  • If you do not have a wireless card in your desktop, you’ll need to locate your desktop next to both your modem & a router.

Regarding desktops specifications, as specs for laptops & desktops overlap, we’re lumping them together below.

Laptop

Laptops are a step above a Chromebook and, depending on model, a few steps below a desktop. Price-wise, laptops are in the medium price range.

woman using laptop on lap

Pros:

  • Portable.
  • Laptops come in a variety of sizes.
  • Can install a variety of different software & programs.
  • Unlike desktops, laptops come standard with wireless capability.

Cons:

  • Limited screen size.
  • Depending on where your laptop is sitting, it can become hot, which leads to slower speeds (known as thermal throttling).
  • Portability means greater risk of breakage.
  • Limited upgradability.

Laptop & Desktop Specifications

CPU & RAM

The CPU (Processor) you need depends on your usage.

  • Low usage: i3
  • Medium usage: i5
  • Heavy usage: i7 or greater

Storage

The memory you’ll need will also depend on your usage.

  • Low usage: 4GB
  • Medium usage: 8GB
  • High: 8GM or greater

A note about hard drives: Your best bet is to get a computer with a SSD (solid state drive) as opposed to a machine with a conventional hard drive. Solid state drives do not have moving parts & therefore generally last longer than conventional hard drives. If you have a laptop & you drop it, SSD’s are less likely to break.

Resolution

Laptop screens range in size from approximately 11″ to 17″.

For both laptops & desktops screen resolution varies between standard and high definition.

With desktops, you choose your monitor separately. They vary wildly in price and size; anywhere from $50-$2,000 and from 15″ to 34″. Desktop monitors can have ultra wide screen ratios which enables you to have two windows on your screen at the same time. This is advantageous if you multi-task.

Battery Life

Laptop battery life varies between 2 to 12 hours. You may need to replace your battery after 2-3 years.

A note about laptop batteries: If you consistently leave your laptop plugged in, you will drastically reduce the lifespan of your battery. Be sure to let your battery drain out completely once per week and recharge in order to prolong its life.


How to Choose a Computer Table of Types & specs DRC Technologies

What’s Next?

Now that you have a greater understanding of what type of computer or device you need, you’re prepared to go shopping with more confidence.

Remember to support your small, local businesses! If you’re in the Northampton, PA or Lehigh Valley area, DRC Technologies has you covered for all of your computer needs.

And don’t forget to Recycle your old electronics! If you’re in the Northampton, PA or Lehigh Valley area, we accept ewaste recycling drop offs, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. For more information, give us a call or visit our electronics waste recycling page today.

Shopping cart and computer with DRC Technologies logo

-S

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