Byte Me Article 154 – Top tips for festive computer shopping

Top Tips for Festive Computer Shopping

The year is now racing toward completion and when I look through my office window I see Musgrave Street traffic at far busier levels than normal. Christmas shopping brings a lot of extra activity and retailers go to great lengths to ‘windows dress’ their latest wares. No retail sector tries harder at this than the technology industry – pushing the latest techno terms as ‘must haves’ and offering free this and that to help sway your decision.

When it comes to car sales, offers such as fixed price servicing or free window tinting etc etc has a value which is real and tangible however how do you evaluate free Norton or free upgrade to Windows 8.1 or double your ram for $1 extra? That last one is certainly worthwhile although I wouldn’t consider the Norton or the 8.1 to be worth 2 cents! So what do we look for when deciding on a laptop or desktop for Christmas? This is the question that many readers have written in about.

The trouble is, a PC is so many things to so many people. For business it is a tool, for gamers it is a toy, for home users an entertainment device, for everyone a gateway to the world and for too many a darned annoyance. There is no such thing as a PC that will suit everyone – although manufacturers seem to try to suggest that this is the case by bundling dozens of software applications with their offerings – which mostly conspire to complicate and SLOW the use of the same PC.

2013-12-07 Byte Me Article 154 - X-Mas Tips

When shopping for a new PC, I would take little notice of the included software as mostly anything really worthwhile (such as Microsoft Office) will be in trial mode only and still require you to pay full price to activate. What you are looking for is performance, reliability, screen size, capacity and (for some) features. I say (for some) as most modern PC’s have similar feature sets (network cards, DVD burners, sound cards) but video cards still offer the biggest differences (for gamers).

If you want to play fast paced and realistic computer games then you will need an expensive ‘dedicated’ video card – however for everyone else ANY of the standard ‘integrated’ video cards in either desktops or laptops will offer EXACTLY the same performance for their different uses. I also mentioned screen size because when shopping for a desktop bigger is better however portables are normally the opposite and these need to be carefully evaluated by seeing if you can easily read a text document on the screen and also by carrying the device around (even one handed) before fronting up to the sales counter.

As for specifications, 8GB of ram is ideal in either a desktop or a laptop and there is little to be gained by having 16GB besides a lighter wallet. Some portable devices such as netbooks are limited by design to a maximum of 2GB or 4GB which is unfortunate but has to be lived with. 500GB hard drives in laptops have also become the standard and double this size (1TB) is now also the standard in desktops. If you are an avid photographer then I would be hunting for a 2TB or even a 3TB hard drive for your desktop PC – and a similar sized external backup drive as you never want to store anything important on just one hard drive whether it is internal or external.

The CPU which is the brain of the PC is the hardest thing to compare as manufacturers hide their power ratings however this site doesn’t so never buy the first time you look but rather write down the CPU name/model and look it up to see exactly how powerful it is compared to another PC that you’re considering. As an example I looked online at a major retailer and saw two similar looking laptops from the same manufacturer – one was $649 and one $684. The cheaper had an AMD A6-1450 CPU with a power rating of 1665 but for $35 extra the dearer one had an Intel i3-3110 CPU with a power rating of 3076 – nearly twice as powerful!!! Both had 4GB of ram and Windows 8 however their performance would be considerably different.

Keep in mind that (especially in laptops) the CPU can never be upgraded, so in this case for $35 less I would call this one a lemon. One of our readers has asked about overclocking a CPU and I guess this is similar to supercharging an engine. Very few CPU’s lend themselves to this, it can reduce the life span and reliability and you need to be an expert and know what you are doing. Best to buy the right sized CPU/motor right from the start!

Future Byte Me topics can be emailed to [email protected] and Bruce is contactable at Kerr Solutions, 205 Musgrave Street or on 49 222 400.

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