2017 New System Shopping Guide

This guide is designed to help you purchase a new Windows computer for basic uses like Web browsing, email, and word processing. The price range for this sort of basic system is roughly $500-700.  If you are shopping for a gaming or high power system, call me for more information before spending several thousand dollars.

Overall, this is a great time to buy a system!  Computers nowadays are overpowered for what they need to do and even the inexpensive systems are very fast.  My favorite brands are Dell and Asus.  I like Dells because they have onsite service and don’t come with as much junk software as other brands.  Asus systems are relatively new to retail stores but they have been making parts in Dell/HP computers for many years.  All large companies have horrible phone support.  The following is a summary of the individual components in a computer system and current recommendations. A few laptop and Dell-specific tips are listed at the end of the guide.

Backup – Let’s start with the most important aspect of the new system: you need a place to store your automatic backups of important data such as documents, pictures, and music.  If you do not already own one, purchase an “external hard drive,” which is a hard drive in a box.  It’s the size of a paperback book and should store at least 2 terabytes of data (a huge amount!) for about $90.  I like two brands: Seagate and Western Digital.  You can purchase this from any electronics or office supply store.  If you only have a small amount of data, you could use a 64gb USB “flash drive,” also called a thumb drive. “Gb” stands for gigabytes and 64 gigabytes is quite a large amount of storage these days if you don’t have a huge music collection.  Note: if you have no data to back up, don’t worry about backup!

Processor (CPU) – The processor is the brain of the computer.  For example, you may have heard of Intel’s “Pentium” processors over the years.  The latest family of Intel processors is called the Core i3, i5, and i7.  They are very fast!  You can find a $450-500 system running the Core i3 processor and you will be very happy with it.  If you want a little extra power, get a Core i5.  If you see “Core i5 6G,” this means 6th generation.  4th or 5th generation are both powerful, but obviously, newer is better, so we prefer 6th generation if it’s available.  Another indicator of a 6th generation processor is a number in the 6xxx range after the chip label, for example “Core i5-6400.”

Operating System – Windows 10 is an excellent operating system and it’s very similar to all the older versions of Windows.  For business users, we can still get Windows 7 for compatibility with older software, but I still recommend Windows 10 because Windows 7 will not be supported past 2020.

Monitor – You can oftentimes buy a computer with a monitor in a package deal.  The smallest monitor size to consider is 20” and you can often find 21-24” ones inexpensively bundled with a system these days.

Memory (RAM) – Memory allows you to run multiple programs at the same time.  If you are only doing web browsing and word processing, 8 GB (gigabytes) is fine – if you have any plans to do anything else such as photo/video editing, get 12 GB or more.  It is an inexpensive upgrade if needed.

Hard Drive – Imagine hard drive size as similar to trunk space in your car. The more you have, the more stuff you can store. Hard drive size is measured in gigabytes just like memory.  To give you an idea of how much storage this gives you, 250 GB can hold entire libraries of text, or over 100,000 pictures, or 50,000 songs, or 50 DVD movies.   Notice that movies are the only things that really fill up large amounts of space.  Most new systems come with 500 GB or more, which is plenty of room.

Special Note – There is a new type of hard drive called a “solid state drive” (SSD).  These drives are more expensive ($100 more than a normal drive, roughly) and do not hold nearly as much data (250 GB is the normal size).  However, they are twice as fast as normal drives in every aspect.  Booting up the computer is twice as fast, opening programs is twice as fast, etc. They are a joy to work with and if you can afford it and you don’t need a lot of storage space, I highly recommend one.  We can even add a solid state drive to an older system and see a massive speed boost.  An indicator of an SSD on new system specs is if you see “250gb flash storage” or similar.

CDROM / DVDROM  –   We will see less and less of these drives as more apps are distributed over the Internet as downloads. For systems with a drive, a DVD/CD reader and writer is standard. Only serious movie fans will bother with a Blu-Ray drive.  If you watch DVD movies or listen to audio CDs, be sure your system has a drive.  For most users, this is not important.  You can work around the lack of a CD/DVD drive if needed by either using a system with a CD drive to move the data to a USB memory stick or purchasing a USB CD/DVD drive for $40 or so.

Video Card  –  For 99% of users, you can ignore this paragraph.  If you plan to edit videos or play graphically intense games, a “discrete” video card with at least 2 GB of video memory would be helpful.  If you would like to run three or more monitors, you need a discrete video card with three or more outputs.

Sound  –  Integrated sound or the default option is fine unless you are an audiophile.

Security Software – Two important software programs will be needed. The first is an antivirus program, the only needed security software.  Our highest recommendation for Windows 10 is Windows Defender, free to the world and baked into the operating system,  so you don’t even need to download or install it.  Simply remove your existing antivirus if you have one and then make sure Windows Defender is active.  You can check it in Control Panel, so right click on the Start Button and left click Control Panel.

You do not need any other type of security program, like a firewall or security suite such as Norton 360 or Spysweeper.  There is a firewall in Windows and in all routers and the most common computer problem, spyware, is not prevented by using a third party firewall, security suite, or Spysweeper type program.

Office: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc – The second important software program is the Office suite, which includes Word and Excel.  Here are the different versions of Office 2016:

Microsoft Office Home and Student 2016: 1 license of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint for roughly $150

Microsoft Office Home and Business 2016: 1 license of the above plus Outlook for $230 – only needed if you use Outlook

Microsoft Office Professional 2016: above plus Publisher and Access for $350 – needed by very few users

Important note: If you are purchasing the computer for a college student, they can frequently obtain the latest Office software from school for free or as low as $30!  Call the IT department and stop by the bookstore.  If the student has an .edu email address, they can also obtain a 4-year subscription to Office 365 for $80 with a product called Office 365 University.

Microsoft also now offers a subscription model for Office for $100 per year for home users or $150 per year for business users.  Called “Office 365,” this is more expensive than the single license, but you are entitled to FIVE installations (of ALL programs, including Outlook, Access, Publisher, etc) for this price instead of ONE license for the $140 or $220 price.  This is a good deal if you have three or more computers.  Microsoft is also adding features to sweeten the deal, for example iPad/iPhone Office apps.

Warranty – Most computers come with a one year warranty.  With systems so inexpensive, I don’t think an extended warranty makes sense.  If you are spending $800+, I would  probably purchase the extended if it isn’t too expensive.

Laptop Info – Laptops are amazingly cheap nowadays, with prices comparable to desktops.  They are obviously mobile, but less upgradable and more difficult to repair than desktops.  They have a shorter lifespan than a desktop, as well as a smaller screen and keyboard.   If the screen or even an internal fan dies, they are usually not worth fixing.  Laptops last three years, on average, compared to a desktop’s four or five.

Screen and overall size – If you are carrying the laptop around regularly, do not get anything larger than 14”. If you are mainly staying in one place, get 15”-17”.

Wireless  –  Every single laptop built today has wireless capability built in. This allows you to connect to wireless hotspots in hotels, restaurants, libraries, etc, as well as connecting to a wireless network in your house if you have one.

Dell-Specific Information

  • The current desktop models running the Core i5 processor is the Inspiron 3000 or Optiplex 3000 series.
  • Be sure to select 3-5 day shipping, which is usually free.
  • Dell claims it will take 2-3 weeks to arrive and it’s usually 7-10 days.
  • Dell has a new “outrageous deal” every day; don’t feel pressured.
  • If you think your work or organization has some sort of arrangement with Dell for a discount, compare the price on the eDealinfo.com site I link below.  Most of these supposed discount arrangements are the same price as the lowest online price.
  • Don’t call Dell because their salespeople will lie to you repeatedly on many topics in order to sell you whatever they get the most commission from.   Order it online or buy it from Micro Center, Best Buy, Costco, etc.
  • Warning: Dell has very cheap, generally well-made systems and a good onsite warranty, but their phone support is horrible like all large companies. You will spend quite a while on hold and they will try to insist on you opening the computer case and removing components for troubleshooting.  Once you get past the phone experience, they will send a technician to your house to replace parts, which is very convenient and a definite advantage over bringing your computer in to Best Buy.
  • A great site to find Dell deals is http://www.edealinfo.com/dell  On the top tabs, click Desktop or Laptop, then on the left side under Processor, click Intel, then Core i5 6G.  Then under memory, select 8 GB RAM.  Select any other specs you like, such as screen size.

General Tips

Try to avoid buying a tiny DVD-player size computer, or a nonstandard size/shape, such as a machine with the computer built into the back of the screen. These unusual machines have a higher failure rate as well as more expensive proprietary parts. Get a standard “midtower” type case if possible.

Tablets 

There are now three main types of tablets.  Apple’s iPad Air and iPad Mini were the original popular tablets and a lot of fun.   There is an app for whatever you enjoy and I recommend the iPad as the best tablet for non-Windows use (web browsing, email, apps, NOT Office or Windows programs).  As an alternative, Google has a free phone/tablet operating system called Android.  Google Nexus 7 and 10 are excellent Android tablets and so is the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  In general, Android is an excellent cheaper alternative to Apple’s system, but has a few more bugs and problems.

Microsoft wants to get in on the fun and their Windows 10 operating system has a touch screen mode designed for tablet use.  The Microsoft Surface Pro is a good full power computer/tablet (it runs Windows and can run Office and any other Windows programs, unlike the Apple or Android systems), but it is expensive.   The Lenovo Yoga is an excellent Windows 10 tablet computer, though expensive.  Windows 10 tablets are a full power computer in a tablet or convertible form factor (the keyboard either detaches completely or flips under the screen).

Smartphones

There are two main types of smartphone these days, mirroring the tablet situation: Apple iPhones versus Android phones produced by various manufacturers, such as HTC or Samsung.  iPhones are fantastic devices with few problems, but they are expensive and do not have user-replaceable batteries.  While a bit buggier than an iPhone, Samsung makes the best Android phones.  For a normal sized phone, get the Samsung Galaxy S7.  For a “phablet” (larger screen phone), get the Galaxy Note 7.  They have good battery life and are very popular.

Of course, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call Scott at 847-962-4661, or email me at scott@arxcomputers.com. I would be happy to assist you further in shopping as well as help transfer data and get you on your feet.