Posted by on November 28, 2017

How to shop for a new computer

I’m often asked what to look for when shopping for a new computer.  This article provides you with the knowledge required to make a smart decision.  The process is not as difficult as you might think but there are a few technical considerations that must be taken into account.

Click below to view an updated video presentation of this article:

The short version: (My recommendations)

Processor:  Intel i3, i5 or i7 with a CPU Benchmark Speed of at least 7,000.
Memory: 8GB is sufficient for most cases.
Hard Drive: Get a SSD drive if  possible. Otherwise get a 1TB+ hard drive & upgrade later.
DVD Drive:  Do you require one?  Many manufacturers are leaving them out.
Other Considerations: Built-in WiFi, built-in network jack, picture card reader, touch screen

The long version: 

The Processor (CPU)
The processor, also known as the CPU, is the single most important item.  The type of processor you choose determines if the computer will be able to handle applications, web pages and videos at an impressive speed or not.  I recommend that my customers buy new computers that have an Intel i3, i5 or i7 processor.  You’ll run across PCs and laptops that include processors made by AMD (another manufacturer), but the Intel i3, i5 and i7 processors always seem to come out on top.

It is a little more complicated than that though. Keep in mind that an Intel i7 is faster than an Intel i5 CPU.  An Intel i5 CPU is faster than an i3 CPU.  The higher the number, the faster and more capable the processor will be.  Some processors are designed to require less energy and produce less heat.  That is great for prolonging battery life but it can cause the computer to run much slower than another whose processor is more focused on performance.

For that reason, I always look up the CPU Benchmark Speed for each processor when determining which computer to buy.  Think of a CPU Benchmark number as being similar to the speedometer in your car.  Higher numbers mean faster performance, such as how a car travelling 100MPH is moving twice as fast as a car travelling 50MPH.  By comparing the CPU benchmark of two computers, you may find that a lesser priced model may operate 30-40% faster than the higher priced model.  That example would mean that the higher priced model is more concerned with battery life than performance and the lower priced model is more concerned with faster performance.

As a rule of thumb, I tell my customers to always buy a new computer whose CPU benchmark speed is at least 5,000 on the chart on the CPU Benchmark Page.  Over half of all PCs sold in the store today do not meet this criteria.  People are often disappointed when they buy an “affordable” $200-300 PC and find that it runs slower than the old PC they are replacing.

I recommend purchasing a new computer with at least 8GB of memory (RAM).  More is even better but 8GB is fine for most applications.

Hard Drive
Most computers are configured with a 500GB or 1TB mechanical hard drive.  500GB is a decent amount of storage but 1TB (1,000GB) or more is even better to ensure that you will have plenty of storage space for many years to come.

Mechanical hard drives tend to run very slow and use technology from the last decade.  Some people wonder why their new high-end Intel i7 laptop or desktop computer seems to take forever to boot up and run programs.  The answer to this question is that the mechanical hard drive installed in the computer is simply s-l-o-w.  Buying a new computer that comes with a Solid State Drive (SSD), or later upgrading the computer’s hard drive to a solid state drive will provide an unbelievable boost to the computer’s performance.

Solid state drives cost much more than their mechanical counterparts.  For that reason almost every PC-based desktop and laptop in the retail stores will NOT include a solid state drive.  The retail stores value cheaper prices over better performing products for some reason.  As mentioned earlier, the PC’s hard drive can be upgraded to a SSD at a later time.  Please visit the SSD Upgrade Info page on this website for more information.

DVD Drive
Many new PCs do not come with a DVD drive because the Internet has become so fast and widely available.  DVD drives seem to be a dying breed and the manufacturers are beginning to leave them out. This may be a consideration when you are deciding which PC to buy so make sure you take it into account.  Do you need a DVD drive or not?

Additional Features:
Don’t forget to make sure that the new computer has all of the additional features you require.  All laptops today have built-in WiFi.  Some have integrated web cams and picture card readers.  Some have an on-board DVD drive and touch screen capability.  Be certain that you’ve considered all of these options when making your decision.

How I shop for a new computer:
I search the websites of various stores (Office Depot, Staples, Best Buy, Costco, etc.) and look at all of the computers that are on sale.  Each store usually has certain models that are $100-$300 off of the normal retail price.  Sometimes those PCs are very well equipped and can provide an amazing amount of processing power for the price.  Taking advantage of those sales is a great way to buy the PC that would normally be out of reach due to its non-sale price.

Best wishes for your search!

Jason E. Bagnell, President
JB Computer Services, Inc.