Question: I’d like to buy a new Windows-based computer. What would be the difference between buying a low-cost PC versus buying a top-end model? I want to work with a digital camera eventually, do business functions, surf the Internet. My kids also want to play games. —B.H.
Answer: You’re on the right track. When evaluating a computer, think about tasks you’ll want it to perform. There’s also the issue of how long the computer will last before you get fed up with its inability to work with newer software packages as they are released. How are you at predicting the future? Presuming you don’t have that particular gift, let’s press on.
The following items should help you get an idea of what kind of package you should look for. The mid-range computer is perhaps ideal for your family. In fact, this is what I recommend most to any family that doesn’t want to break the bank, but is willing to pay a little more for a machine that will please everyone.
(Pricing is estimated with the assumption that a monitor is included in the package.)
Budget Computer: This kind of computer is good if you are price-conscious and want basic functions from your machine. That includes word processing, spreadsheet editing, and other basic business tasks. This computer will also manage basic Internet usage, including Web browsing, e-mail, and chat. It won’t perform as well with streaming video and audio from the Internet.
A budget computer, because of its lower processing power, will allow you to run one or two programs at the same time, but if you like to do lots of multi-tasking, this machine will frustrate you. Graphics editors and other memory-demanding software will work, but they will have to be run solo because they’ll need most of the system’s resources to run themselves. You can also use a digital camera to store and edit photos with this kind of machine, but the process will be slow.
What to buy: Look at computers that contain the Intel Celeron D or AMD Sempron microprocessor chip. These computers come with a minimum of about 512 MB of memory and a 80 GB hard drive. They will do most common computer tasks, but if you can, get a system with extra memory: you will find the system easier to use.
The upside to all of this is that you’ll probably be able to get away with spending about $700 US or $800 Cdn, but the downside is that this computer will age quickly. It has budget parts that will become overwhelmed by the demands of new programs as they come out. Within a year or so, you’ll almost certainly be frustrated with its performance with newer software.
Mid-Range Computer: This computer will allow you to do all the tasks a budget computer does, and also allow you to work comfortably with graphics-rich business presentations. Internet usage with audio and video functions will be comfortable as long as you have a fast Internet connection through your cable or phone company.
It will allow your kids to play many of the current computer games, and you’ll also be able to create CDs and DVDs without any performance issues. It will be easy to run several programs at the same time. Digital camera connectivity is possible and editing photos from it will be a snap from a system resource perspective.
So what should you buy? Look for a Pentium D (2 onboard Pentium 4 brains) computer that has a 3 MHz processor or faster. Or an AMD 64 processor. Choose a computer with 1 GB of RAM (memory) or more, and a 80-160 gigabyte or larger hard drive.
The upside to this system is that it will serve you well for about two to two and a half years before you get frustrated with its performance with newer programs. The downside? It’s priced around $1,000 US or $1,200 Cdn. It won’t run new computer games efficiently towards the end of its life, because by then those games will be demanding more than it has to give.
It will also crunch through graphics creation programs and perhaps do some video editing, but won’t wow you with performance on those.
Cutting-Edge Computer: This system will handle all the tasks budget and mid-range computers are able to perform, plus it will handle video and graphics editing, including photos from a digital camera. Newsletter and professional Web site publishing will be a snap and it will certainly play the latest video games.
Video conferencing will also run well if you have a high-speed Internet connection. This machine is also a multitasker’s dream. It will run a lot of programs all at once, especially if you stack it with computer memory.
What to buy? Look at a Pentium Core 2 Duo that runs around 2 GHz. Choose a computer with a minimum of 2 GB of RAM (memory), but aim for 3 or 4. These computers will come with 250 GB hard drives, sometimes more than one.
The upsides to this kind of very fast system are that you will get a long life from it. It will please you with performance on new programs for at least three years. The downside? This type of computer is going to cost you $2,000 US or $2200 Cdn and sometimes more, once all is said and done. Hardcore gamers will pay even more than that for fully decked out systems.
Recommended places to shop: At TechnologyTips, we like and buy Dell desktops, so check them out when you go shopping Dell.com.
We also have been keeping an eye on these guys who are quite impressive: TigerDirect.com.