Maximizing Value When Buying A Computer
When it comes to saving money, the cost of home computer equipment is one of the areas people think about least. Yet, with most people upgrading about every three years, it's a good place to look for cutting expenses. There are several different aspects to that effort. A great online resource is Cnet.com.
Most buyers shop around, but they are not very technically inclined. That means they are likely to buy a little more than they really need, investing dollars that bring very little return. Some specifics will prove the point.
Hard drives today are so large that only game addicts and people who love images and video are likely to fill them up, and only then if they're wasteful. When a standard hard drive may be as large as 320Gb, it sounds attractive. But people with average usage habits will never come close to filling more than 20% of that.
Here, it's better to concentrate on speed than size unless you have unusual requirements. A 7200rpm drive spins faster, making it more likely that the piece of data you want will be found sooner. There are other aspects that contribute to speed, too. That means overall performance gains that you can see when you use your computer. Trading off a higher speed for less capacity gets you more bang for your buck.
Memory versus CPU speed is another place where you can tradeoff wisely. A higher rated CPU (say, 3.2GHz rather than 2.8GHz) sounds better, and for gamers it is important in order to get maximum performance for graphics, and more. But the overwhelming majority of computer users will never notice the difference, and the price difference can be substantial.
Instead, get as much memory as you can afford by (if necessary) going with a somewhat slower CPU. But, there are limits. For most everyone, there is no value in getting 8Gb of RAM, rather than 3-4Gb for the next few years. That extra 4-5Gb will almost never be used. In fact, if the operating system is efficient (and Windows still lags in this area), it can actually be slower to manage more memory (though by a small percentage).
You can also save money by considering carefully whether you need certain extras, like an SD reader or other add-ons. Unless you feel a strong desire to pull the card out of your camera or camcorder and pop it into your computer, an SD reader won't be used often. A USB port and cable makes it possible (and simple) to transfer images, and your camera/camcorder almost certainly came with one.
Shopping around and comparing like-to-like specs is important. People have brand preferences and quality concerns, which is fine. But sometimes those are well-founded and sometimes they are mere prejudices or the result of bad one-time experiences. Look at the various brands and read lots of user comments, discounting the occasional rant. Beware no-name computers that are much cheaper, though. For computer experts they can be a great deal, since those people can handle any problems that crop up. For most people, it's not worth the risk.
The numbers used above on CPU, memory, and hard drive space will change over time as computers get faster and bigger. But the central point has been true for 20 years and will likely be true in the future. Compare, look at actual measurements, then consider your usage. You'll often find ways to tradeoff that do not reduce your satisfaction, but do save you big bucks when it comes to your computer purchase.