In buying a new computer, the first decision is whether you want a desktop, laptop, or tablet, or 2-in-1 laptop.
- The old reliable desktop models are far less common than they once were, but are still a good value if you want to do all your computer work in a single location.
- Most computers these days are laptops (also known as notebooks). They offer a good balance of portability and power.
- Tablets, like the Apple iPad, Microsoft Surface, and Samsung Galaxy, have touch screens and usually don’t have keypads. They are great for browsing the internet and taking and storing photos. They operate on the mobile iOS and Android, the operating systems used in mobile phones.
- A 2-in-1, basically a foldable laptop with a touch screen, lets you use your machine as a laptop or a tablet. For the extra cost, you get extra versatility.
The Operating System
In addition to deciding desktop vs. laptop you need to decide on an operating system. Naturally, different operating systems operate differently, although they achieve mainly the same results.
- Windows, the traditional operating system, is also the most popular, and works with the widest variety of apps.
- MacOS (the Apple operating system), while more expensive than Windows, is more reliable and easier to use. It is great for graphics, video editing, and other creative work.
- Chromebook is a newer operating system designed for lightweight computers that rely on the internet. Chromebook computers are less expensive and a good choice for kids.
Once you know the type of computer and operating system you want, your next decisions concern the key specifications (or specs) of any computer: Processor, Memory, and Storage.
- Processor, sometimes called the Central Processing Unit or CPU, is the brains of the computer. The market leader, Intel and the main challenger Athlon are comparable, and both produce a range of processors from budget to cutting-edge. The Intel i5 and Athlon Ryzen 5 are good mid-range all-purpose processors.
- Memory (RAM) is the active memory that your computer uses for calculations and storing files that you are working with. If you run a lot of applications simultaneously or open a lot of browser tabs at the same time, you need a lot of RAM. 8 Gigabytes (GB) is the current norm. With only 4 GB, your computer is liable to slow way down, especially with today’s memory-heavy browsers.
- Storage is for the files you are not currently using – Word docs, Photos, whatever. 256 – 512 GB is ample for most needs. Storage is important if you keep a lot of photos or videos on your computer, play a lot of video games, or download big applications from the internet.
If your new computer is at or above the average, it will stay up-to-date as applications require more speed and memory, and files require more storage. Some experts recommend purchasing the most advanced computer you can; others recommend balancing your needs against your budget.
You can check the specs for your current computer to see how it stacks up. This will also help you decide when is the right time to replace your computer.
- Windows: Click the Settings icon (gear). Select System, then About to view the speed and memory. Select Storage to view the amount of total storage and available storage.
- Apple: Click the Apple icon at the top left of your screen, then click About this Mac. You will see the Processor speed and Memory on the Overview tab, and the total and available storage on the Storage tab.
To give you an idea of the specs for some highly regarded new computers, here are 3 “best in class” 2020 computers (Other reliable brand names include HP and Lenovo):
- Dell XPS 13” – 16 GB RAM, 512 GB Storage, Intel i5
- Apple MacBook Pro 16” – 32 GB RAM, 512 GB Storage, Intel i9 processor
- Asus Chromebook C434 – RAM 4 GB, 64 GB Storage, Intel m3 processor
You can research the top computers at sites such as C|Net, PC Magazine, Tech Radar, and Tom’s Guide. The rankings change from year to year and vary depending on what you will use your computer for. Here are some additional resources you can use to research your computer purchase:
- How to Choose a Computer
- Laptop buying guide: 8 essential tips to know before you buy
- The best laptops: Premium laptops, budget laptops, 2-in-1s, and more
- How to Buy the Right CPU: A Guide for 2020
On a personal note, I own a three-year-old MacBook Pro 13″ that I am very happy with. It has 8 GB RAM, 256 GB storage, and an Intel dual core i5 processor. Even with all my website creation tools, I am not running at anything near full capacity, and I expect it will give me 4-5 more good years of service.