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How to Choose a New Computer on a Budget
Whether you’re in the market for a new laptop because you dropped yours on the floor or you fancy an upgrade of your specs for college or work, buying a new computer comes with a whole heap of jargon and plenty of sales speak. Do you really need a dedicated graphics card? And what do all those letters and numbers even mean?
It’s even harder if you’re not much of a techie and you can’t tell your AMD processor from your Intel Pentium. Do they not just do the same thing?
To make your decision easier, we’ve pulled together a guide to help you choose a new computer that does exactly what you need it to do. There’s not much point spending two grand on a high-end computer if you’re only going to use it to Skype your long-lost relatives or to use Office.
A note: this guide is for people with a basic to solid knowledge of computers. If you already know what you’re doing, then you don’t need us, Padawan.
Things to consider when buying a new computer
1. Laptop vs desktop
The first decision you need to make is whether you want a desktop or a laptop. You might think that because desktops are bigger and bulkier they’re more expensive, but generally desktops with the same tech spec are cheaper than the laptop equivalent.
But that doesn’t mean you should run out and buy the nearest desktop. While desktops and laptops do essentially the same thing, your decision should come down to how you’re actually going to use your new computer.
Laptops weren’t designed to be used all day long for work or play, and that’s why they give you headaches, eye strain, or a sore neck after using them for a few hours.
If you’re going to use your new computer as the hub of work or gaming, a desktop could be right for you. Get yourself a comfy chair and a desk and you’re three quarters of the way to a proper office set-up.
Desktops are also good for any kind of work that involves using a combination of a mouse and keyboard. Sit on your bed and type away without proper support and your neck and elbows will start to hurt. If you’re doing heavy video editing or work and are going to be spending a lot of time in front of your new computer, a desktop could be what you need.
However, if you’re after a desktop because you want to play The Sims on it, your money will be better spent on a laptop. It’s an easy decision to make. Want to use your computer on the go? Get a laptop. If you’re only going to use your new device for light work, a tablet or cheap netbook is an option too.
Despite what you may have heard, bigger isn’t always better!
2. OS…or oh no?
Once you’ve decided between a desktop or laptop, you’ll need to hop on over to step two and decide what OS or Operating System you want to use. For most people, this comes down to a choice between Windows or Mac.
There’s also Linux, if you’re feeling adventurous. Here’s the thing about Linux: it’s for a certain type of computer user. If you need to Google what Linux is, then stick with Mac or Windows.
But how do you choose between a Mac or Windows? Should you show Windows the door in favour of Mac’s sleek look or will Windows do? There is no quick and fast answer and if you ask the internet you’ll get a million articles in favour of either option.
Let’s tally it up.
This one is a clear win for Windows. Apple makes a small range of computers: the standard laptop, Mac Mini, the iMac, and Mac Pro. Depending on your budget, a Mac might not even by an option for you. Go with Windows and you’ve got far more choice.
Round one: Windows
Even second-hand, you’ll find it very difficult to pick up a cheap Mac. Macs are sleek and far sexier than Windows, and come with excellent specs. You know you’re buying quality with Apple, but if you’re stuck on a budget, Windows is the way to go.
You can pick up a solid laptop for £350 from brands like Asus or Acer or Lenovo that does everything you need it to do—just don’t expect cheaper laptops to suffice for gaming, editing, or anything heavy. If you just want something that gets the job done, go with Windows.
If you want something to do heavy work and high-end video editing, go with Apple. High-end Macs are very good at what they do and come with a certain prestige, so if that’s what you’re looking for, go right ahead.
Round two: it depends!
You’ve heard the old chestnut, “Macs/OS X can’t get viruses.” Not so! Now, Macs are much safer than Windows because they’re built to be far harder to hit with a virus—but it does happen. That’s a pretty big ‘but’.
Is it enough to sway you either way? Safety shouldn’t be a big consideration. Get yourself some good antivirus software and you’ll be fine.
Round three: Mac
It’s an awful lot easier to get your hands on software for Windows. Want to know what the most popular suite for Mac is?
Microsoft Office. It doesn’t get much more Windows than Office! Windows has a wider range of software, for gaming and for general use, though Mac comes with plenty of excellent software for video editing and media work. For media-types, Mac is the place to be.
Round four: Windows
For most people, Windows is the clear winner. It’s good value and has a better range of software and games. However, if you’re a media-type, you may well be swayed by the Mac, as the specs are genuinely impressive and fairly priced.
3. The specs
Dun dun dun! The big one. The thing that separates the wheat from the chaff, the cream from the crop, the…Lannisters from the Baratheons. You get the idea. Laptop specs are what it’s all about—but they’re also where a lot of people fall down.
Once you start talking about RAM and graphic cards and solid-states drives, most people’s eyes glaze over. “That’s nice,” they say, while they ponder what they’re going to make for dinner. The fact of the matter is that specs aren’t terribly exciting for most people.
If you’re one of those people who isn’t too pushed, we’re going to talk you through it anyway because choosing the right specs can:
· Save you money
· Change how you use your computer
Let’s take it from the top, or the ‘brain’ of the computer: its memory. We’ll start with RAM, so we can get the obligatory goat joke out of the way.
How much RAM you need depends on how you’re going to use your laptop. If you’re using it for Office and social media, you should aim for 4GB. You could probably get away with 2GB, but don’t be surprised if things start to get sluggish. If you’re keeping an eye on clock speed (in GHz), bigger is always better.
The good news: even budget laptops now come with upwards of 4GB of RAM. The more RAM theoretically means the more able your computer will be at multitasking and running more intensive software.
Next up is the hard drive. The great thing about hard drives is that upgrading them is easy. Bring your laptop into a computer shop and they’ll pull your hard drive out and swap it for something bigger.
But even better is that most budget laptops now come with a hard drive of 500GB to a 1TB.
That’s more than enough space for most people, even if you’ve got a packed video folder. If you’re looking for the higher end of things, a solid-state drive (SSDs) could be an option. SSDs are expensive but are far, far better for computer performance. They’ll turn your computer from a Golf to a Lamborghini.
But why spend all that money on a Lambo when a Golf is everything you need?
Last but not least is the computer’s processor. This is the big one. A 250GB difference in hard drive space or a difference of 6GB RAM to 8 won’t make or break deals for you, but your processor should. Processors are where it starts to get complicated, as numbers and letters become the norm.
Quick tip: more cores is generally better. If you’re on a budget the i3 or AMD are safe bets. If you can afford to stretch to i5 instead of i3, you’ll see the difference. For most people i5 is just right. An i7 processor isn’t something you’ll need unless you’re planning on using your computer for heavy software and gaming.
Which leads us on to the graphics card. Most low-end computers come with integrated graphic cards, which means they’re built into them. Generally, these are on the lower end of things and won’t be much use for playing a graphically-intense game. For anything more than basic gaming or video editing, look for a dedicated graphics card.
Bigger is better here too: more memory and a better processor is always a win. But again, for most users, an integrated graphics card will do the job.
Whatever you choose, look out for solid deals!
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