By Barbara Perone
Some people buy a new home computer because their old clunker is too slow and becoming too costly to repair. Others are itching to get the latest model as soon as it makes its debut; typically, they get a new machine every 18 months. The majority of people usually hang on to their computers for at least three to seven years, sometimes longer.
Whatever category you fit into, there are a few things you should consider before plunking down your hard earned dough for a new system.
It’s important to know how you’re going to use it. To get started, prepare a short list of the software you want to use (or learn) and the tasks or projects you want to complete.
Do you want a desktop or laptop?
Essentially, desktops and laptops can do pretty much the same thing. Except, with a desktop, you get a separate mouse, monitor, keyboard, and computer tower; with a laptop, all that stuff comes in the same flip top unit.
If you live in a small place and want something lightweight and portable to do lots of graphic design work, then consider purchasing a laptop. At the moment, according to the December 2012 issue of Consumer Reports, Apple laptops are getting high marks from customers. Just remember, though, Apple laptops are costly, and you’ll have to learn how to use the Macintosh version of Microsoft Office. In general, remember that because they are wireless, laptops are more prone to viruses than desktops.
Apple makes pretty good desktops too, but, again, they cost a little more than their PC counterparts. But the PC manufacturers are trying hard to keep up with Apple by designing some pretty good laptops of their own that are a little less expensive than a Mac. There are many, many fairly good models out there, from both camps, so, it’s up to you to decide what you want.
If your budget is a little tight and you don’t need anything portable, have no interest in graphic design work, and have enough space in your home, perhaps you’d be better off purchasing a desktop.
These days, desktops are considered a real bargain because in our high-tech world they are gettingready for the bone yard, as they say in Maine. If you want one, just make sure you get something that fits your needs.
Do a lot of research
Google “best desktop laptop computers for 2013” and see what you get. Ask tech-savvy relatives, friends, or current/former co-workers to email you any articles they find about tips for purchasing PCs. Talk to people on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and see if they have any suggestions. Read books and magazine articles about the subject.
Most libraries have a bank of computers for visitors to use. Take time to go to different libraries in your area and use their computers. Take a notebook with you. Ask the librarians if they have had any problems with their PCs, then take some notes.
How much money do you want to spend?
Remember, the computer tower you buy will come with a keyboard, but, if your monitor, printer, fax, and any other peripherals are on the fritz, and you have to buy replacements, it will add to your bill. Whatever else you purchase, just make sure the new PC is going to be compatible with your old stuff. Ask a trusted salesperson, or a techie friend to help you figure this out.
Most techies agree that you should not skimp when it comes to the size of the monitor. Always buy the largest monitor you can afford; preferably, one that will fit nicely into your workstation. To get the actual monitor size, measure diagonally from the top left corner to the bottom right.
You may not be aware of this, but you may also have to shell out some extra money for software. Many PC manufacturers are getting pretty chintzy when it comes to preinstalled software. They’ll generally preload all of the well-known applications onto your new machine, but often these applications expire within 30 to 90 days.
If you are already in the store when you find this out, a salesperson may attempt to talk you into bundling (including) lots of free software in with your PC purchase, but think carefully about the offer. There are two reasons for this: first, you cannot register all of your software if you don’t have the original disks. Without proper registration, you won’t be able to get technical support if something goes wrong, and something always goes wrong!
Second, if, after a few months or years you decide to purchase a better PC you will lose all that “free” software when you get rid of the old machine. Again, that’s because you do not have the original disks to reinstall everything. So, think very carefully about this bundling business.
Try before you buy
Just like buying a new car, it’s a good idea to test-drive any new PC before you buy it. If a good friend, relative, or current or former co-worker has a PC you like, ask if you can try it out a few times. Bring over some baked goods or refreshments as a thank you.
Visit several electronic stores in your area and ask to try out the PC models that interest you.
Ask a techie to go shopping with you
If you are lucky enough to know someone who is a real techie, ask if he or she can accompany you to the computer store. Offer to buy breakfast or lunch as an incentive.
A technical minded person will be a God-send to have along, especially when the 20-something salesperson attempts to bamboozle you with enough computer jargon to numb your frontal lobes. The techie will be able to slice through the nonsensical sales pitch and get answers to any real questions you have.
Important: You don’t have to actually buy a computer the first time you go to the store. Tell yourself you’re on a field trip, just gathering information. Don’t let anyone, salesperson or otherwise, rush you into buying a PC. You’re the one who has to pay for it, live with it, and get it fixed when it breaks; so what you buy and when you buy it is always up to you.
The mail order pitfall
While it can be easy to order a computer by mail, there is a slight hitch—many mail order companies almost force you to purchase a more expensive machine because they refuse to offer on-site repairs for cheaper ones. Of course, this isn’t a problem if you’re willing to pay for the service.
You have one of three options if your computer breaks down: fix it yourself with the help of technical support, hire someone to fix it, or mail it back to the manufacturer for repairs; and, that last option could wind up costing you a small fortune.
Buying an external mouse for a laptop
If you buy a laptop it’ll come with an internal mouse, known as a touch pad or touch point. If you can’t get used to the feel of it, you can buy an external mouse. Beware, though, it might feel and work a little differently than a standard mouse; so, go to the store and ask the salesperson to let you try the external mouse that is compatible with the machine you are purchasing.
Limited & extended warranties
Find out how long the limited warranty lasts and which parts are covered. Many PCs come with a limited warranty of 30 to 90 days; some manufacturers may give you an even shorter amount of time.
It may be wise to shell out a few more dollars for an extended warranty on your new computer. If you do, just remember the PC manufacturer is not responsible to make good on it. The extended warranty is a contract offered to you by the store where you bought your machine. Just make sure the company you are working with will still be in business tomorrow, because if they close up shop your extended warranty will be worthless.
Goodtechnical support vs. no visible means of support
Let’s face it, just like any other electrical device you own, sooner or later your new PC is going to break down. When that happens, and it will, you’ll probably feel like somebody just cut off your oxygen supply, but, don’t panic. A good technician will be able to walk you through any problem and get you back online quickly.
Aye, there’s the rub, matey, finding a good technician. Here’s another area where you may have to take some time and to do a little more research. Again, ask your techie friends, relatives, or current/former co-workers to tell you their tech support stories. It may help you decide which PC manufacturers to avoid.
Again, many people give Apple high marks for its technical support; readers in the 2012 issue of Consumer Reports rated Apple number one above all others. Dell came in second, followed by: Lenovo, Hewlett Packard (HP)/Compaq, Asus, Toshiba, and Acer/Gateway/emachines, according to the magazine.
What’s the return policy?
Return policies differ from store-to-store, manufacturer-to-manufacturer. Find out what the return policy is before you buy your machine. Do they offer a full refund or just a store credit?
Unfortunately, some manufacturers won’t return a defective PC and these are companies you should avoid doing business with. Other companies will only offer to repair a faulty machine, or, they may take it back, but then slap you with a restocking fee. To find out more about what your rights as a consumer, visit www.njconsumeraffairs.gov.
Finally, time to shop
Whether you go the brick and mortar route, shop online, or via mail order, at least now you’ll feel a little better prepared.
This may seem like a lot of fuss and bother to go through just to buy a new computer, but, in the end, you’ll be glad you took the time to find exactly what you want rather than rushing out and buying the first PC you clap eyes on.
Now that you have that shiny new computer, what do you do with your old one?
In the spring, some towns have an electronic waste (or e-waste) day where you can drop off your old PC and other outdated electronic devices, at a designated site. Call your town to see if they offer this service.
Call local computer repair schools in your area. See if you can donate your old computer to them; it’ll give the students something new to work on. If you do donate your PC, ask the school for a written receipt so you can use your donation as an itemized deduction next tax season.