2016 Computer Buying Guide

Can you believe it’s almost Christmas?

Time flies when you’re having fun, right? If you want time to slow down, should you complain more?

Probably not, but that’s the thought I just had. Ahhh…the inner workings of my mind. ¬†ūüôā

I wanted to take just a minute to address a question I’ve been asked a lot the past few weeks – what computer should I buy for my spouse/kid/parent this Christmas?

I know it can be pretty confusing when you go to shop for computers. There are many brands, all with different stuff inside. How do you know what’s good? How much is too much to spend? Where do you put the CD in this thing?

Most Computers Are the Same

When it comes down to it, most computers have the same parts from the same manufacturers inside. Sure, there may be some differences in speed, the amount of storage or memory, and case design. But underneath, they are very similar and perform the same basic functions.

So what sets apart one brand of computer from another? What causes someone to choose Dell over HP, Samsung over Toshiba, or Acer over ASUS?

From the conversations I’ve had, frankly it’s nothing substantive. Most people choose a laptop brand based on prior experience, or from a personal recommendation. Oh, and cost. That little detail can vary significantly, even in computers that look the same.

Things To Consider When Shopping

So how do we decide what computer to buy? What details are important for today’s average computer user? Well, that really depends on what the computer will be used for. Here are a few questions I ask before recommending a computer for someone.

First, how will you use the computer? Education? (writing papers, online courses) Business? (project management, email and Office applications) Personal? (photo management, keeping up with a household)

Second, what will you be doing with it? Browsing the Internet? Email and Facebook? Streaming video and playing games? What you do with your computer will determine the components you need inside.

Third, does it need to be portable? Does it need to stay on a desk, or will it get moved around? Do you prefer a large screen or something smaller? Your needs will determine the size screen you require, or if you should get a laptop or a desktop.

Processors, Memory and Hard Drives- Oh My!

Okay. We’ve decided on what kind of computer to purchase. Now we need to understand all the technical stuff going on inside. Well, understand may be a little strong. But I want to at least want to arm you with some knowledge when it comes to picking out the best computer for your needs.

There are only three things I look at when deciding on what computer to buy. The processor, the memory, and the hard drive. Each of those things has a number associated with it. That number tells you how fast or how much information can be accessed or stored.

The processor speed is rated in gigahertz (GHz). A rating, or speed, might look like this: 1.8GHz. This is the first thing I look at when I check under the hood of a computer. A general rule of thumb regarding this number is the lower the number, the cheaper the computer.

Memory, or RAM, is measured in gigabytes (GB). The amount of memory in a computer might look like this: 4GB. This is the second thing I look at when I shop for computers. Generally, the higher the number, the faster your computer will run.

The files of your computer are stored on your hard drive. Hard drives are measured in both gigabytes (GB) and terabytes (TB). The larger this number, the more pictures, music and documents you can store on your computer. This is the last item you should look at when deciding on a purchase.

Putting It All Together

All of the above items put together will give you a general picture of the computer you are looking at. None of these things alone should be a deal-breaker, but there are some minimums I suggest so you actually want to use the computer you buy and not throw it off a bridge. Here are my recommended specs when shopping:

Computers Under $400:
Processor speed: 1.8GHz
Memory (RAM):  4GB  (8GB would be better)
Hard Drive:  500GB

Computers $400-600:
Processor speed: 2.0GHz
Memory (RAM):  8GB
Hard Drive:  1TB (or 256GB if the computer has a solid-state hard drive*)

Computers Above $600:
Processor speed: 2.5GHz
Memory (RAM):  8GB+
Hard Drive: 1TB (or 256GB if the computer has a solid-state hard drive*)

*A solid-state hard drive is a storage drive/hard drive with no moving parts. It works kind of like a USB flash drive. They are very efficient, and could be the single, most important thing that makes your computer run much faster than other models. If you can afford a model with this feature, I highly recommend it. One caveat, the amount of storage on these devices is a lot less than a standard drive. What you lack in storage space, you more than make up for in performance.

Final Thoughts as You Shop

I wanted to leave you with a few¬†other things to consider as we wrap this up. In an effort to make laptops lighter, manufacturers have decided to eliminate the CD/DVD drive on most laptops. Don’t be too put off by that – a portable USB DVD drive can be had for around $25. And you probably will use it a lot less than you think. The benefit to this is a smaller, thinner case and more room for longer-lasting batteries.

Speaking of batteries, pay attention to the battery life of laptops. Less-expensive computers will have less-efficient parts. These will put more of a drain on the battery, making it less portable than you may require. A better computer is one that has a battery life of 3-4+ hours.

I mentioned solid-state hard drives above. While they store less information, they really are much faster. And with external hard drives being the cheapest they ever have been, it’s the one thing above all others that could make your computer really, really fast.

Ready to Buy?

I really think that the sweet spot for a laptop right now is the $450-600 range. With 8GB or more of RAM, and the addition of a solid-state hard drive, that price point will get you the best laptop bang for your buck. A list of models I would recommend are listed below. If you don’t want to do the research and just want a recommendation, buy one of these:

Budget Laptops:
Acer Aspire E15
Dell Inspiron i3558
HP 15

Best Laptops for the Money:
Dell Inspiron i7579 ($200 off at Best Buy as of publication)
HP 15

Computers are cheaper, faster, lighter and more versatile than ever. It really is a great time to buy. Hopefully the information above will help guide you as you are out shopping.

I’d love to answer any question you have. If you have something you’d like to ask, contact me and I’ll give you my honest opinion about what you’re looking at. And as always, thanks for reading!


**Disclaimer:¬†I really enjoy bringing you information like this. My goal is to educate and inform you about things you may have questions about. I have included links in this post to products that I would recommend for your purchase. I do earn a small referral commission if you click on the link and purchase the item. It doesn’t cost you anything, but it does go towards helping me bring you more content like this. Thanks for all you do to support this site…every little bit helps!

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