I give a lot of computer buying advice. Usually it’s a friend or relative sending me a link asking if this or that computer is okay. Sometimes I’ll get a request to “tell me if you find any good deals.” I’ve been doing this for 25 years now and the process I go through is pretty much the same for everyone…so here it is! Follow this worksheet to figure out what kind of computer to buy.

  1. First, I’m not even going to suggest you buy a desktop. Laptops are too cheap, powerful, and portable.
  1. Decide whether you can get by with an Android/Apple tablet or a laptop. What are you going to use the computer for? Are you going to just read website and play games? Maybe send an email once in a while?

Decision Point: If you will only be viewing the web and playing games, go buy an Apple iPad or any Android tablet. You can get a low-end Amazon Fire tablet for as low as $50. It will be your cheapest option. STOP HERE. You’re done.

Congratulations on saving boatloads of cash. If you think you will be typing a lot, continue to the next question.

  1. Decide whether you can get by with a Chromebook or you really need a laptop. What kind of typing will you be doing? Do you have Internet access almost all the time? What kinds of programs will you run?

Decision Point: If you will have Internet access almost all the time and you only plan to use word processor, spreadsheet, presentation maker, surf the web, stream music/movies, uploading pictures, and write emails, then a Chromebook might be for you. Chromebooks are lightweight laptops that run Google’s full suite of products. They’re not Microsoft Windows and not Mac OSX, so you can’t install programs like you would normally do. However, you can get quite a bit of functionality through Google Chrome’s Extensions. Chromebooks are the cheapest laptops you can buy at around $200. They can be good for kids, but remember that Internet access is usually required and you can’t install Net Nanny or other family safety suites. STOP HERE. You’re done.

If you think you need to install special programs like Adobe Photoshop, continue to the next question.

  1. Decide whether you want a Mac or PC? If you’re reading this guide, you probably don’t want Linux. The decision to go Mac and PC is normally instinctual for many people. Some folks love the user experience and design of Mac OSX. They’re willing to pay the substantial premium.

Decision Point: If you’re one of those people who is willing to pay $$$ for an Apple Macintosh, STOP HERE. You’re done. Go to the Apple Store and buy whatever you can afford. If you won’t buy an Apple, I don’t blame you. Continue on.

Okay, you’re buying a PC with the Microsoft Windows operating system. There are like a thousand different models that are all different prices. This guide will help you make sense of that nonsense. First thing I want to say is stick with Intel processors. AMD processors may be cheaper, but Intel processors are quite a bit more powerful and use less energy for the same performance. You’ll get longer battery life and more years of use from the computer.

I categorize computers in three tiers: Low, Mid, and High.

Low-tier computers

Low tier computers are the cheapest laptops you can find. They’re cheap for a reason. If you buy one, just know that it isn’t worth trying to fix it. These computers typically have older generation hardware that is going to struggle running quickly as more program are installed and the operating system is continuously updated. Here are their basic specs:

Price: $400 or less Processor: AMD or economy Intel Pentium processors (NOT Intel i3, i5, or i7) Ram: 4 GB Storage: 500 GB HDD (hard disk drive), usually a slower model (5400 RPM). Screen: Any size, usually not touch. Special note: Chromebooks will be under $400 and still be really good computers.

Mid-tier computer

Here is where it starts to get interesting and you can find a decent buy that will last a while. These computers use current generation hardware that will last you a few years. As long as the processor remains speedy in the face of Windows updates, you can upgrade the RAM or change out your hard disk for a solid state drive after a while.

Price: $500-$800 Processor: Intel i3 or i5 Ram: 8 GB (upgradeable to 16GB) Storage: 500 GB SSD (Solid State Drive, super fast) or 1 TB HDD (hard disk drive) Screen: Any size, touch available.

High-tier computer

These computers will last you multiple years and are worth fixing. Intel i7 processors will remain speedy for years to come. If you plan to run multiple intensive applications with heavy graphics use like Adobe Creative Suite, Computer Aided Design software, advanced animation/3D rendering software, or several virtual machines, this might be the kind of system you want. I’d want one of these simply to run the best, fastest computing hardware available. A laptop like this should last you six or seven years. My work computer is a 3 year old HP with an Intel i7 and 16 GB of Ram. It still runs faster than a mid tier computer bought today.

Price: $1000+ Processor: Intel i7 Ram: 16 GB (upgradeable to 32 GB) Storage: 1 TB Solid State Drive (super speedy) Screen: Any size, probably touch.

My recommendation

I usually recommend a mid-tier laptop to folks. To ensure that you get a system that will last you a while and be worth an upgrade or two, try for these minimum specs:

Processor: Intel i5 Ram: 8 GB Storage: 500 GB SSD (Go with the SSD if you can live with less storage space) Screen: Any size you want. Touch is overrated. Don’t pay extra for it.

Try to get this computer for the lowest price possible. $600 should be easy to find, nothing special. $500 is a pretty good deal that you will not find often. If you can find it for less, contact me right away!

There are some laptops that advertise 2-in-1 features. They fold in weird ways or disconnect so that they can be used as a tablet. I’m not a fan. If you’re getting a laptop, you’re going to use the keyboard most of the time. Don’t pay extra unless you really see yourself using the fancy tablet feature often.


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