How to choose when buying a computer – is asking “what is the most popular computer” the right question?
(Note: this article was written and sent out to subscribers to my free computer lessons email newsletter on December 12th, 2007)
Around this time of year, it’s common for people to be looking into buying a new computer as a gift or to replace the aging one they’re using.
I thought I’d write an article to give a few tips on how to chose when buying a computer.
First off, I’ve found that a lot of people start thinking about this by asking “what is the most popular computer?” and letting the answer to that decide the question for them. Well, this isn’t necessarily the best idea.
Just because something is popular doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best — for example, fast food restaurants are popular places to go, but I think we all know they don’t serve the best food in the world.
Here’s the thing to remember when thinking about how to chose when buying a computer — you should generally avoid the big brand names.
Yes, this might surprise you, but in my opinion, it’s usually not a good idea to buy from one of the big brand name companies (there’s one exception that I’ll get to in a minute).
Here’s why: dollar for dollar, you’re generally going to get a worse deal than if you go with a reputable “generic” or “white box” store.
A lot of people have low price as the first thing on their list when they’re trying to figure out how to chose when buying a computer. So they go with a cheap brand name and spend a few hundred dollars on it, and they think they’re getting a good deal.
But what they don’t realize is that it’s common for a lot of the big brand companies to sell very out-of-date computers in their lower price ranges, and from what I’ve heard, they also often sell computers with parts they know are bad!
I’m not kidding about this — most of the big computer companies out there, when they sell their least expensive computers, are trying to unload old inventory that’s been collecting dust on their shelves for a long time.
They sell it to you as if it’s new, and maybe it is in the sense of never purchased before, but it’s hardly new in terms of the technology.
And the more disturbing part of this is that from what I’ve heard, those computers often have parts in them that are *known* to be bad parts!
You see, when a chip manufacturer like Intel makes a computer processor (the “brain” of the computer), they test it to make sure it works.
Makes sense, right?
But inevitably, many of them fail these tests. Now you’d think these bad parts would be thrown away, but no — from what I’ve heard, what happens is they still sell them to the big computer companies at a discount, and those companies put them into their computers anyway.
What you can do with a bad processor a lot of the time is set it to run slower, and while it may not be running at full speed, it works well enough to pass the tests.
But the parts are still bad! Sure, they may work OK for a while (maybe just long enough to make it through the warranty period) but they have more little “glitches” and end up breaking down sooner.
So if you can find a reputable local company that sells computers they assemble themselves, you’ll get a well built computer for a lot less because you’re not paying for the brand name.
A family-owned store like that is the only place I’d buy a Windows PC, personally.
So earlier I mentioned there was an exception among the big brand names — if you’ve been reading my newsletter for a while, or know me, you might have already guessed which one it is — Apple.
Apple is the only big brand name computer I personally would buy (I’m writing this on a MacBook Pro). I do this partially because I’ve used a lot of different types of computers over the years, and really don’t enjoy using Windows much. But remember, Macs can run any Windows program as well, so it’s not an either-or situation!
But I also do this because Apple doesn’t deliberately put bad processors in their computers, or try to sell out-of-date computers as new. Some people complain that Apple’s Macs are overpriced, but that’s actually not the case — when compared apples to apples (excuse the pun) they tend to be in the same price range as a Dell or HP of the same general specs.
So bottom line is, here’s how to chose when you’re buying a computer: if you want to stick with only running Windows , then support a local business and go to a good store that puts your computer together for you from parts.
And make sure you ask them to put Windows XP on it, not Windows Vista (for reasons I’ve covered in a previous 3-part article about the problems with Windows Vista).
Or get away from Windows and switch to a Mac.
Either way, you’re getting a better deal.
Hope that makes sense and helps with your decisions on how to chose when buying a computer.