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stevie-boy

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How to choose a computer...

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29.10.2002

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You could find a very good deal !

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You may buy a duff computer !

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Computers, computers...you see them everywhere you go. Whether it be someone's house, an office, a shop or even in a delivery van. The question is, when I buy a computer, how can I be sure that I'm getting good value for money?

Don't worry, stevie-boy's here to help you on your quest to find a good computer! I work part time in a computer shop so I have good background knowledge on what to buy.

For this piece of advice, I'll split the computer into four parts, the box, the monitor, the essential externals and the optional externals.

The Box (CPU)
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This is what houses all the parts that make your computer work, such as the processor and the hard disk. I'll go through each part individually and tell you what should be good for your needs.

The processor
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This is what performs all of the calculations and instructions in your computer. There are many different types, but there are four main ones in the market. These are; AMD Athlon XP, AMD Duron, Intel Pentium 4 and the Intel Celeron.
The Athlon XP and the P4 rival each other as mainstream processors, and they concentrate on the power end of the market, provide very fast speeds and more memory.
The Celeron and Duron, on the other hand are budget processors, and these provide good value for money for undemanding tasks, such as word processing.
You may have noticed that speeds are now clocking over 2.6 ghz, but no-one but a real power user who is into high end graphics will need this. My advice is that for office tasks and general internet surfing, a 1.1ghz Duron/Celeron will be more than adequate. A family computer, on the other hand,is more multi purpose, so I would recommend a processor speed of about 1.8ghz, and the type I recommend is a Athlon XP/Pentium 4. For the real power user, a 2.6 ghz Pentium 4 would be the best.

Hard Disk
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This is what stores all of your files and information. Obviously the more you do on your computer, the bigger the hard disk will need to be. You get many different makes and models, which offer fast access speeds, high capacities and silent operation. My advice is to pick one which is a good brand name, such as Samsung or Western Digital. Generic hard disks might not be as reliable as a branded part.
For the home/office user, I would not recommend buying a PC with a hard disk less than 20gb, as this is now the bare minimum. For people who demand more from their computers, a 40-60gb drive should be adaequate. For the power user, you can now get drives which have a 120gb capacity.

RAM (random access memory)
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The more RAM you own, the faster the computer will be, as a rule of the thumb. You can get DDR memory, which is twice as fast as standard memory, or you can opt for SD-ram, which is the standard type.
If you buy a computer, you should not go less than having 128mb Ram. Windows XP takes up a lot of space when running, and if ran on less than 128mb, the whole computer will be painfully slow. My advice is to try and get at least 256mb Ram, if not 512mb. This will boost your computer's performance and make programs and games a lot more perkier.
DDR Ram stands for double-data-rate, meaning that information accesses the memory a lot quicker than normal, so this will boost the run time of the computer by a considerable amount.

CD/DVD and floppy drives
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A floppy drive is more or less a standard component on all computers. They offer a space of 1.44mb in a small plastic case which can be transported easily.
CD drives read compact discs on the computer, which can hold the contents of a few hundred floppy discs. However, now even CD'S are being replaced with dics called DVD's. DVD's have a huge capacity, and can hold full length movies or even the contents of a small hard disk.
When you buy a computer, a DVD dive should be the bare minimum which you get, meaning you can watch movies on your computer, and install big software packages from them. A DVD drive can also read CD's, meaning you have a dual compability drive which should last for the forseeable future.
A CD-rewriter is another very desirable piece of equipment. This drive allows you to backup all your data onto a blank CD, meaning that if you hard drive fails, you still have a permenant copy of your data, which could save your life!!!

Graphics and sound
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When you buy a computer, pay close attention on the graphics and sound components included in it. Onboard graphics are intergrated into the main circuitboard of the computer, and while they are acceptable for office users, they are very memory hungry, so they are not really any good for family or power computers. Look out for a computer with seperate graphics and sound, and if in doubt, ask someone!!
The graphics card will include seperate memory if its a seperate card, and I would recommend a card with at least 64mb of seperate memory on it. This will give you ample power for most games and general taks. Again, look closely at the computer or ask someone if you are in doubt over this!!!
If you have a proper sound card, then this should provide better quality sound then onboard sound, and it will free up memory for other tasks.

The Monitor
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You should never overlook this part when buying a computer, as you are always going to look at it when using a computer, so its best to have a good quality screen. Do not buy anything less than 15", and try and get a 17" screen as part of the package
People say that bigger is better? Not sometimes with monitors. 17" monitors are now standard with computers, with deluxe ones rapidly taking part of deals with features such as flat screens and fancy controls as part of the monitor. Some manufacturers, however, offer either a flat screen 17" monitor or a standard 19" monitor. My advice is to take the flat screen 17" monitor, as it will have a much better picture quality, meaning it will have less strain on your eyes.
Flat panel screens with Liquid Crystal Displays are now becoming increasingly more common. These are more expensive than standard monitors, however they take up a lot less space, have very good picture quality and look attractive as well.

The Essential Externals
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A keyboard and mouse will form part of the deal. The keybaord is usually a cheap membrane model, so when buying a computer, try and get a good quality branded model, such as Microsoft. Some keyboards have handy buttons on them which directly open programs such as Internet Explorer, My Computer, and Caluclator. These are all very useful little touches.
The mouse should come with a scroll wheel in it, which means instead of clicking and dragging down, you just scroll through pages. Optical mice are now more common, as these use light instead of a ball, and these never need any cleaning to them, as there are no moving parts to go wrong.
The speakers which are thrown in with computers are normally cheap small models, and these are fine for basic sounds but lack power when playing games. Try and get a model with a subwoofer included, as this makes sounds stand out more and have a lot more bass to them.

The Optional Externals
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If you buy a package deal, you may well get a printer thrown in with it. Be wary of the printers that get offered with computers, as they are normally budget models with high running costs. It is better to purchase a high quality printer seperate from the computer, as it will save you a lot of money in running costs in the long term! Look out for single colour cartridges, as instead of replacing a whole cartridge, you just replace the colour that runs out, meaning greater savings on running costs.
A scanner may also be included, and this is normally a fairly basic model. It may do everyday photos quite well, but it will lack the extra pizazz of high quality scanning. The higher models also feature negative scanners, so you can scan old negatives into your computer as well as photos.

Conclusion
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If you follow my advice, you should end up with a well rounded computer that will serve you well. Don't just buy a computer on its processor, look beneath the surface at the other parts of it, as these will always make a difference.
If anyone needs any advice, please leave a message and I'll try and assist in any way possible.


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Comments about this review »

Pipster01 12.03.2003 17:28

Great advise that's easy to understand. Thanks!

christina44 28.02.2003 20:24

Thanks stevie,if only you'd been around last year when we bought our very first one!A really simple to understand well detailed and explained review. chrissie x

wreckferret 18.02.2003 22:24

A great introduction for PC-beginners. Cheers, Simon

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This review of Member Advice on Buying A PC has been rated:

"very helpful" by (100%):

  1. Belle
  2. JamesLockett
  3. silver40

and 30 other members

The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.