You know you need a computer because… yours is dead, maybe it’s your first time buying it, or you need a second computer for your child’s school work. You go to the store and… the sheer number of makes and models leaves you confused. The salesman approaches you and what he says sounds like Greek. Somehow you get the feeling that he is trying to push you towards the computer where he earns the highest commission. You don’t want to bring it home and find that it needs more power, RAM, or is already out of date. My Top Ten List will help you get the right computer for YOUR needs.

1. What brand is the computer? Buying generic brands can work in the food aisles, but when you’re shopping for a computer, you want one that carries a name brand. Look for a brand that has been around for a while and that you can trust. There are hundreds of no-name brands that may be cheaper, but in this case, you get what you pay for. Parts are not as well designed and failures are more likely.

2. What will you use the computer for? If you only plan to check emails, surf the Internet, and do some simple word processing, a lower CPU (central processing unit) will be adequate. However, if you plan to edit videos, burn CDs, play games, and watch movies, you’ll need to look at a dual-core processor.

3. How up to date is the computer? If the computer you’re looking at meets your minimum requirements at the time, you should consider a more up-to-date computer. It might cost a bit more, but you don’t want to get the bare minimum and find it outdated in two months. For example; A computer with 1.5GHz processing power and 1 gig of memory may meet your requirements now, but will the newest software being developed tomorrow work on this computer? As new software is developed, it requires more memory and processing power to run.

4. How many cores do you need? Quad-core, Dual-core, Single-core? What is the core? The core is known as the processor or CPU in the computer. It is the brain that tells the computer what to do and when to do the tasks. The more core you have, the faster your computer will be and the more applications you can run simultaneously. A single core processor is exactly that, a single brain CPU. A dual-core processor is essentially two processors dividing application tasks between them. This allows for greater speed and stability. A quad-core processor has four processors for increased speed, reliability, and stability because tasks are divided among all four processors. In this way, a single processor is not overloaded under stress. One thing to consider though is that the higher the processing power…the more cooling you need to keep from burning out. A dual core processor needs a much bigger fan to cool the processor and a quad core processor needs an even bigger fan. They may have multiple fans in the cabinet to keep cool. You need to make sure that they will be kept in a location that will not block these vents. Also, the higher the number of cores you have… the higher the electricity usage.

5. Portable or desktop? Today’s laptops can do just about anything a full-size computer can. They have a stock of applications and programs, add to that the portability and you have a great advantage. The problems you may encounter are that the laptop cannot be upgraded as easily as the desktop. You cannot upgrade the video card, sound card and upgrade the CPU is a daunting task as the entire laptop has to be disassembled to do so. However, you can easily upgrade the memory. This is done by removing a screw on the side taking out the CD/DVD ROM drive and changing the memory card. Laptops are not that great for gaming applications. Today’s games run better with heavy graphics cards that laptops don’t have.

The desktop is easily upgraded by removing the side cover and removing a few screws. Upgrading your desktop is only limited by what your mainboard/motherboard will handle. However, even the motherboard can be replaced with a more up-to-date one. The main drawback of the desktop computer is that you can’t take it with you to a board meeting or on a business trip.

6. Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7? Having Windows XP is a sign of an older computer. Windows Vista and Windows 7 have advantages and are far superior to XP. If you look at a computer with XP installed, it’s an outdated machine. Unless you only need the basics and it’s a big sale, you probably shouldn’t buy it.

7. How much memory do you need? This depends on what you will be using the computer for. Two gigabytes is the minimum memory or RAM you should look at. Internet applications and programs running on the PC will easily use up a full gigabyte. When you start to run out of memory, the computer will slow to a crawl and may freeze as it tries to keep up with your requests. A lower gig will also limit the number of apps you can have running at the same time.

8. What screen size do you need? Having used several, my opinion is that a flat screen between 17″ and 20″ is the easiest to use. If you have vision problems, a 20″ screen is easier to read and write on. A flat screen uses less energy, saves space, and has a clearer image.

9. What size hard drive do you need? Hard drives average from 120 gigs to 500 gigs or more. The average user can get by with 120 gig to 250 gig internal hard drive space. The more apps you plan to use, the more gigabytes you’ll need.

10. Where to buy? If you go to a computer store, you will most likely pay a higher price. They will have the latest and greatest, but the sellers will try to pressure you to spend more money as it will mean a higher commission for them. You can go to K-Mart and get the same computer cheaper in most cases. Shopping online can be the best of both worlds, you can easily compare features, read reviews, and with a little effort, get great prices.

I hope this article has sorted out what you need to know and made the available information less confusing.

Happy shopping!