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1. Introduction and Index

2. Computer Buying Considerations

3. Computer Hardware Options- CPUs and System RAM

4. Disk Drive Options

5. Video Cards, Monitors, Sound Cards, Modems, etc.

6. Additional Features - Printers, Digital Cameras, Scanners, Networks

7. Recommended Software

8. Recommended Computer Systems

Related Articles

Desktop Computer Hardware Requirements

College Computer Buying Guide

Laptop Buying Guide

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Computer Buying Primer

Recommended Computer Systems

General System Recommendations

1. You mainly want to play games. You like renting games at video stores. You care little for email, going online, or running business applications.

Recommendation: Buy a game console like XBox or Sony PlayStation 2.

2. You need a computer for you and the kids to go online, send E-mail, play games, and run business applications.

Recommendation: Buy a desktop computer with a printer.

3. You are mobile and you need to move your computer from place to place.

Recommendation: Buy a laptop/notebook computer or a handheld/PDA for light computing duties.

Desktop System Recommendations

Beginner's Desktop Computer

You want a computer for you and the kids to go online. You want the computer to be able to do spreadsheets, taxes or word processing. You don't want to spend a lot of money, but you want a computer that can keep up with new software.

Price: $450 and higher

CPU: Celeron 1.8 GHz or faster
RAM: 128 MB or more
Hard drive: 30 GB or more
Video Card: Graphics chip built into motherboard. May have up to 64 MB of Video RAM.
Sound Card: Sound chip built into motherboard. Sound is pretty good but not as good as an audio card.
Monitor: Usually a 15 inch CRT. Adequate but nothing special.
Modem: V90 or V92.
Software: Windows XP Home

Good Points: You saved money and finally got a new computer. You can adequately run new software except for graphics intensive games and business applications.

Bad Points: You have more or less invested in a throw away computer. It may not be possible to upgrade the video chip/card as you may not have an AGP port. The computer may only have 2, or less, unused PCI upgrade slots. Low-end computers typically do not have CD-RWs or DVD players.

Workhorse Desktop Computer

Most people will buy computers in this category. These computers have the best price to performance ratio.

Price: $800 and higher

CPU: Athlon XP or Pentium 4, 2 GHz or faster
RAM: 256-512 MB, more is better
Hard drive: 60 GB or more
Video Card: Business users - a video card with 16 MB - 64 MB of video RAM. Those that want to play 3D games or 3D business applications should have a video card with 128-256 MB of Video RAM.
Sound Card: A soundblaster Audigy or Live card. The less audio demanding can use cheaper solutions.
Monitor: Usually a 17 inch CRT. Some have flat panel LCD monitors.
Modem: V90 or V92 modem, or network card.
Software: Windows XP Home or Professional.

Good Points: Can run all new software and games adequately. Upgradeable with new video or sound cards, hard drives, and CPUs. Best price to performance ratio.

Bad Points. There are much faster systems out there. Cannot be upgraded to the fastest configurations.

High End Graphics Desktop Computer

Price: $1500 and higher

CPU: Athlon XP or Pentium 4, 3 GHz or faster
RAM: 512 -1000 MB or more of DDR or RDRAM
Hard drive: 80 GB or more
Video Card: Those that want to run 3D games or 3D business applications at the fastest speeds, ATI Radeon 9800 with 128-256 MB of DDR Video RAM or GeForce FX 5900 video card with 256 MB of DDR Video RAM.
Sound Card: A SoundBlaster Audigy or Live card.
Monitor: The bigger the better.
Modem: Network card.
Software: Windows XP Professional.

Good Points: You have one of the fastest computers around (until something faster is made in the next 2 weeks).

Bad Points. You pay big bucks to have the best. Your system depreciates rapidly in value as new CPUs, chipsets, motherboards, and graphics cards are announced.

Laptop Recommendations

Beginners Laptop

You want a computer for you and the kids to go online. You want the computer to be able to do spreadsheets, taxes or word processing. You don't want to spend a lot of money, but you want a computer that can keep up with new software.

Price: $800 and higher

CPU: Celeron or Athlon XP 1.8 GHz or faster
RAM: 256 MB
Hard drive: 30 GB or more
Video: Graphics chip built into motherboard. May have up to 64 MB of Video RAM.
Sound : Sound chip built into motherboard.
Monitor: Usually a 14 inch liquid crystal display. Adequate but nothing special.
Modem: V90 or V92.
Software: Windows XP Home
DVD/CD-RW drives: Basic notebooks should have combo DVD/CD-RW drives.

Good Points: You saved money and finally got a new laptop. You can adequately run new software except for many 3D games and 3D business applications.

Bad Points: Notebooks in general cannot be upgraded. Buy what you need.

Workhorse Laptop

These laptops have the best price to performance ratio as long as you stay away from the fastest available.

Price: $1150 and higher

CPU: Athlon XP, or Pentium 4 at 2 GHz or faster
RAM: 256-512 MB, more is better
Hard drive: 40 GB or more
Video A 3D video chip with 16 MB - 64 MB of video RAM
Sound Card: A good sound chip
Monitor: Usually a 15 inch or larger LCD
Modem: V90 or V92 modem, or network card
Software: Windows XP Home or Professional
DVD/CDRW drives: These notebooks should have combo DVD/CD-RW drives or DVD-RW drives.

Good Points: Can run new software and games adequately.

Bad Points. Cannot be upgraded. No matter how much you spend, will not be as fast as a similarly configured desktop.

Summary

We hope this guide has helped make your computer buying process more enjoyable. This is an introductory article and there are many other articles on this site to help you with your computer buying decisions. A complete index of all the computer articles on this site can be found on our Computer Buying Advice page.

If you have any computer buying questions, feel free to post them on our InfoHQ Help Board.

 

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