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by Leilani Wardle

Being an essential service IT support does not stop once the workday ends.  Much like the doctor who gets asked to look at a suspicious mole at the family dinner party; our friends and families like to reach out and ask for advice.  By far the most frequent question is “What kind of computer should I get?”.  Seems like a simple enough question and yet buying a new computer is a complex maze of components, cost, and quality that can overwhelm the most well informed buyer.  And technology buyer’s remorse is the worse right after buyer’s remorse for a car.

As an IT support provider we frequently help our clients update and replace their workstations so we’ve developed a few simple questions to help us match workstation to business function.  One, what is the computer going to be used for the most?  Two, how long does the computer need to last? And finally, what would I like to be able to do with it?  The first question requires a little personal reflection – it’s important to be honest with yourself on this one.  Of course everyone is going to use their home computer to write letters and make budgets and track schedules.  But really that is only going to be 15% of what you will do on the computer.  More than likely the majority of the computer’s time will be spent playing movies, or watching videos on you tube, or playing facebook games, or going through the vacation photos from last year.  And you shouldn’t feel bad about that – your home computer is a tool and a toy all wrapped together.  You don’t feel bad because your car takes you to both work and the movies right?

So what does this personal honesty about how you really use your home computer get you?  The freedom to save money on one part of your computer configuration and invest it in other parts that will provide the best daily performance.  And here’s the professional tip: invest in memory, CPU, video card, and hard drive speed.  Don’t be seduced by a large hard drive or fancy software.  You can save a lot of money by selecting a small hard drive with 7200 RPM write speed that will let your computer run very quickly and smoothly.

The second question determines how much memory, CPU and video card you want to buy.   If you want your computer to last a long time (long time for computers usually means 5 years) then you want to upgrade to the maximum number of cores in the CPU you can afford.  Cores are individual processors within the CPU which means the CPU can work on 2, 4, 0r 6 separate tasks at the same time.  The lowest number of cores you should get is 4 and if you are looking at running heavy duty photo/video editing and office software; you are going to want to up those cores to six.  It also means you should up the memory to maximum the motherboard will support.  And for longer computer life – don’t do the integrated video card.  An integrated video card means that it’s built into the motherboard and you cannot upgrade it without upgrading the entire motherboard.

The final question helps you figure out how to balance how much hardware and software you are going to buy and what kind of computer you are going to get yourself.  For example – would you like to be able to take a computer on vacation with you to upload photos to your sky drive and watch movies on the plane?  Well then you are going to want a laptop that is light and has wireless.  And has at least 8 GB of RAM with a 1 GB video card.  Windows 32 bit can only support 4 GB of RAM so now you know you are going to have to get the 64 bit version.  What if you truly just want to manage the family business and not do much else – well then a small desktop with 4 GB of RAM and integrated video card will suit you nicely.

So that’s it – this is how these simple questions help IT help their clients.  Buying a computer can be really simple if you know what you really want and need and what to focus on.  I’ll be posting additional articles that focus on the ins and outs of the various hardware components discussed in this article.

MLWardle
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