This is the third in a series of three blog posts on the subject of buying a new computer. If you would like to receive all of the information now and in one go, just drop me an email and I will send you a pdf file.

Price

Price tagIt is very difficult to give more than a very, very rough idea of price as there is so much variation depending on the exact specification. For any given specification, there isn’t very much difference between different manufacturers. We no longer have the situation, for instance, where Sony build high quality laptops and charge more for them (Sony having pulled out of computer manufacture some years ago).

A very, very, rough guide for laptops built around Intel processors might be as listed below. Desktop computers without monitors (but possibly with keyboard and mouse) might be a bit less:

i3 – £250-£400
i5 – £350-£800
i7 – £600-£3500

A good place to start to get a feel for what there is and how much it costs might be Laptops Direct. Despite the name, they also supply desktop computers. I have no experience of buying from Laptops Direct, but they seem to have a broad range of products on offer and you can narrow down the range of your search by selecting criteria from the column at the left of the web page.

For Apple Mac computers, the price is as defined by Apple themselves.

Where From?

Shopping trolley with computerJohn Lewis / Peter Jones are good because they include a two year warranty, they never quibble, and are always helpful if you have a problem.

PC World are OK as far as prices and products are concerned. However, I am wary of them as far as technical advice is concerned.

The advantages of seeing a machine before buying include being able to assess:

•The feel and size of the keyboard. Some people like a “clicky” feel: others a softer one.
• The screen. In particular, the amount of contrast and whether the finish is matte or shiny.
• Overall build and finish.
• Perceived speed to boot up and to use.
• The weight.

It would be nice to judge whether a computer seems loud or quiet in operation, but the ambient noise in a shop will drown out the noise from a single computer.

If you do not feel the need to see something in the flesh before buying it then Amazon and Laptops Direct are probably good on price.

Summary

SummaryThis is only a general guide, of course. It is prepared with my “typical” computer support client in mind.

If your computer use really is limited to internet browsing, email, and some light word processing, then an i3 machine might be enough. However, i3 machines, even when new, tend to be slow to start and can seem sluggish even with light use. After a year or two they can seem tediously slow.

More typical requirements might include all internet activity, Microsoft Office (the cost of which I have not included above – £119.99 at the moment for Home and Student 2019), “light to medium” photo editing, playing music, watching movies, and so forth. For these uses, a machine with an i5 processor is probably most suitable.

If you anticipate editing movies, playing games online, or a lot of sophisticated photo editing, then I would recommend focusing on i7 machines.

As for make/model, you pays your money and you takes your choice. I have listed links to the major manufacturers and suppliers below.

Further Information

Information icon

Acer
Amazon
AMD
Apple
Asus
Dell
Intel
John Lewis
Laptops Direct
Lenovo
Microsoft Office
PC World
Wikipaedia – Top Vendors Market Share 2018

Happy hunting!

This is the second in a series of three blog posts on the subject of buying a new computer. If you would like to receive all of the information now and in one go, just drop me an email and I will send you a pdf file.

Storage

Laptop Hard DriveSolid state drives (that work more like USB pen drives than traditional hard drives) are replacing hard drives, but the changeover is taking many years. They make a machine much faster to boot up, switch off, and operate, and are definitely a good thing. However, they are still more expensive than traditional drives. This means that you either get a smaller drive for the same money or a larger drive at a higher cost than a traditional drive.

This, in turn, means that if you buy a machine with an “average” size of SSD, it is likely to be 250-500gb. This is only a one eighth to one half the current standard size of traditional hard drives (1tb or 2tb – where 1tb = 1000gb). Now, 500gb is plenty big enough for a lot of people, but if you have large photo, music, or movie, collections then 500gb will almost certainly be totally inadequate.

To overcome this problem, some machines have a small SSD to store Windows and run the programs, and a large traditional drive to store large amounts of data. This is fine as long as you know how to access different hard drives. This is not difficult if you are reasonably comfortable using Windows/File Explorer, but it can be problematic otherwise – especially when the default behaviour of Windows and the programs you use is to try and store everything on the SSD and you don’t know how to address the hard drive instead.

There is also something called a “hybrid drive” that contains elements of both drives.

My recommendation is that if you are not sure of these complexities then opt for either an SSD or hard drive but, if it’s an SSD drive, then check that it will be large enough for your needs.

CD/DVD Drive

CD/DVD DriveLaptops often do not have these any more, although they are still fitted to new desktop computers. Their use is diminishing as more programs and content are downloaded or streamed direct from the internet. Also, removing them from laptops saves weight and allows the whole machine to be sleeker.

Their lack need not be a huge problem as external CD/DVD drives (that plug into USB ports) are widely available and only cost £15-£30. Search Amazon for “external DVD drive”.

USB Ports

USB3 portsMost standard USB ports are now “USB3”, but you may still find a machine with a mixture of USB2 and USB3. The difference is speed, but it will probably only really be noticeable when copying or streaming large amounts of data to/from an external drive. Nevertheless, USB3 is definitely preferable to USB2.

Possibly of more concern is that laptops (but not desktop computers) tend to have fewer USB ports than previously. Whereas 3-4 USB ports used to be the norm, 2 is now more likely on laptops. If you buy a machine with the new “USB C” connector, an adaptor can be fitted, if necessary, to connect devices with the earlier (standard) USB plugs. Search Amazon for “usb c adaptors”.

More USB ports (eg 4) is definitely better than fewer (eg 2). You can buy USB hubs to extend the number, but these get unwieldy if you regularly move a laptop, and you shouldn’t try to connect an external hard drive via a USB hub as there might not be enough power. Search for “USB hubs”.

You can tell USB3 ports as they are partly blue inside. Alternatively, they may have “SS” written alongside. The ports in the illustration above are marked in both ways. USB2 ports are black inside.

Ethernet Port

Ethernet Port and CableSome laptops no longer offer an ethernet port (otherwise known as a LAN port or RJ45 port) for a wired internet connection. Without this, you can not connect your machine to the internet using a cable from your computer to your router. Instead, you have to rely on wifi. Actually, this is not strictly true as you can buy an adaptor that offers an ethernet connection via one of your USB ports, but this may not be desirable as it uses one of your precious USB ports (but USB hubs that include an ethernet port are available. Search for “USB hubs with ethernet”).

Screen Size

Screen Size MeasurementThe most popular screen size on laptops is still about 15.5 inches, but there is now an almost continuous range of sizes available from 10 inches to 17 inches. If you are buying a laptop as your “main” machine, be very wary of buying one with a screen size (and keyboard) that might prove too small for comfortable all-day use. Personally, I would probably consider 13 inches as the smallest screen that I would like to work on all day and every day. Screen size is always measured diagonally across the actual screen area (ie not including the surrounding bezel).

If you are buying a standalone monitor (for use either with a desktop computer or as an external monitor for a laptop) then the bigger the screen the more comfortable and convenient it is in use. Alternatively, there should be no problem re-using an existing monitor with a new computer.

Touch Screen

Touch ScreenMore and more screens are now “touch-enabled”. This applies both to standalone monitors and to laptop screens. Expect to pay just a bit more for touch screens. If you anticipate wanting to use a pen directly on a screen (eg for editing photographs, sketching, or handwriting notes direct to the screen) then you do need a touch screen.

2-in-1 Laptops

2-in-1 laptopThis refers to laptops that can also function as tablets either by removing the keyboard entirely (as with the Microsoft Surface) or by folding the laptop in a given way. I can not imagine a 2-in-1 not having a touch screen but have not investigated this.

To be continued…

Buying a ComputerThis is the first in a series of three blog posts on this subject. If you would like to receive all of the information now and in one go, just drop me an email and I will send you a pdf file. 

You may be thinking of changing your computer (laptop or desktop), but not be sure of what aspects of the specification are important at the moment. In fact, there have not been huge developments in hardware in the last few years, and you are unlikely to come across programs that definitely need a new computer (albeit they will run more slowly on your present computer than on a new, more powerful, one).

The main aspects of a computer’s specification are listed below. Instead of hyperlinks, I have sometimes included search terms that will probably show you relevant products in www.amazon.co.uk (at least, they did at the time of writing – January 2019). This is because hyperlinks can go out of date very quickly when linking to specific hardware. I have also listed some hyperlinks that may be useful at the end of the document.

I have listed the different aspects in approximate order of importance (with the most important aspects first). As with this guide as a whole, your own requirements and priorities may be different to what is only, after all, my own opinion.

Operating System

Operating SystemsThis should be the first decision to make as you have to get your hardware from Apple if you want to run their operating system (OSX).

If you want a Chromebook, then the specification of the hardware can be much lower than for a Windows computer as the programs being run will not put such high demands on the hardware. Consequently, Chromebooks are less expensive. Chromebooks run a version of the Android operating system to be found on many (non-Apple) mobile phones and tablets. The Chromebook runs “apps” but not full-blown “programs”. Chromebooks tend to be inexpensive, but make sure that they will do everything you need before committing to one. Most major manufacturers (as well as Google) now offer Chromebooks as well as Windows computers.

For most people, though, the logical decision will be for a Windows computer. This will come with Windows 10. Windows XP, Vista, 7,  and 8 are no longer generally available (but you might just find a Windows 7 computer if you look hard enough).

Processor

Processor

Most processors (which we can think of as doing the actual work) are from Intel and they come in three “families”. These are i3, i5, and i7. The higher the number, the more powerful and faster the processor. Other components are likely to be approximately matched with the processor so that, for instance, an i3 processor is likely to be found on a computer with a (slower) hard drive, whereas an i7 processor is more likely to be matched with a (faster) solid state drive. The price of the whole ensemble will also reflect the processor (and accompanying matched components) such that computers with i3 processors are the cheapest and i7 the most expensive (with i5 in the middle). There’s some overlap, but we could broadly classify computers (both laptops and desktop computers) as follows:

  • i3 – light use / “entry level”
  • i5 – average use and performance / “mid range”
  • i7 – gaming, or heavy use / “top end”

Other processors are made by AMD. It is more difficult to classify these along the above lines. We would need closely to analyse speeds of the processors, turbocharging, and other parameters that would send the average user running for the hills. If you are looking at an AMD based machine in a shop then it is worthwhile asking what the approximate equivalent type of Intel processor would be.

Memory

RAMAs always, the more memory the better Do not buy a computer with less than 4gb RAM. Personally, I would not recommend less than 8gb. 16gb is better – both for speed now and for ensuring that your machine will still be able to cope with the demands put on it in 3-5 years time. Again, i3 computers will have less memory than i5 or i7. The current “average” is probably 8gb but 16gb is definitely worth having if the budget will allow. A good “gaming machine” may currently have 32gb or more. Increasing the amount of memory can significantly increase the overall cost.

To be continued…

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Computer Support in London
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