What’s the best deal on a computer?

I’m often asked by both students and staff “I need a new computer, where can I get a great deal?”.

The first thing to understand about a computer is the average life cycle. Typically, a laptop computer is “out of date” after three years where as a desktop is closer to four to five years. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get a much longer use out of them, but this is typical. A major factor in this is how robust the computer is when you purchase it and what your intent is. One example is my current laptop. I purchased it approximately five to six years ago to use for design, and it’s still perfectly functional for the internet and the office suite.

So the question remains, “what’s the best deal?”. This is such a loaded question, I can’t answer it simply. I will always default to saying that I like the Dell business line (Latitudes for laptops, and Optiplex for Desktop) and I only buy them from their outlet site found here. If you keep an eye on that site you can often find coupons for an additional 10-20% off pop up. Keep in mind that I’m in no way affiliated with them, but I simply like the value. I feel they have a quality product and a good warranty.

I still haven’t answered the question of the best deal. Here’s what you need to ask yourself prior to purchase:

What’s the intent for the product?

If you really just need the internet then get a chromebook, don’t waste money on an actual computer. Heck, for that matter, get a tablet or just use your phone. Frankly, it’s only a matter of time until your phone will dock into a computer and become your primary device. Check out Project Linda by Razer. If you need something more robust (let’s say for video/graphics editing) you will need to consider four main things. Processor, RAM, Hard Drive, and Graphics Card.

Processor – I always recommend Intel Processors. I don’t have anything against AMD, I just think Intel benchmarks a little better. (BTW, for those of you that believe Apple is the only option for graphics, this all changed when they started using intel processors. At this point, it’s simply user preference. Do your own research and educate yourself). You have your choice of an i3 processor, and i5, or an i7. Then there are other things to consider (CPU speed, Cache, number of threads/cores, etc). Long story short, bigger numbers are better processors. If you’re budget conscience get an i3. Otherwise, I always recommend an i5 or better. For heavy use such as graphics an i7 is a must.

RAM – Windows is a memory hog, and if you buy a computer at a store instead of a business computer from the link above, congrats, you just got a ton of software you’ll never use eating up resources. Do not get any less than 8 Gigs of Ram. It’s just too cheap and Windows will use most of that. Opt for 16 or more if possible. The RAM is what allows you to have multiple things running at once. Yes, I caught you multitasking. We all do it, and you’re as guilty as the rest of us.

Hard Drive – Size does matter… but not as much as speed. You have two main types. SSD (solid state drive) and Standard 7200 or 5400 RPM drives. Here’s the down and dirty of HD’s. An SSD is like a flash drive in your computer. It’s really fast as there are no moving parts. It’s also why RAM is so fast and used to allow you to run multiple things at once. The down side is they are more expensive, and thus typically smaller. If you typically store your work online such as google drive, a 128 Gig drive may be ok (you’re going to lose about half of that to windows and other programs using it up). Shoot for a 256 Gig or larger if you can. If you’re doing video or graphics you need an SSD because your application will need quick access to your hard drive because it is constantly writing and reading large files. If you aren’t worried about speed, you can save money and get a larger HD by going with a standard drive. These drives literally have spinning discs inside them (thus the RPM’s). Typically a desktop will have a 7200 RPM drive and a laptop will have a slower 5400 RPM drive. By the way, as a former IT worker in a school district, for the love of God, Please Teachers your computer isn’t a fridge. Don’t put magnets on them!. You want to erase your hard drive (which is also magnetic) go right ahead. Ha. Yeah, it doesn’t happen much anymore, but I’ve seen it in the past. Also, if you’re not a teacher, but you just don’t know much about computers. Please don’t ever call support and tell them your cup holder is broken. Yes, I worked support for a few years in college. Yes, I had this happen… more than once. (For those of you confused, they thought the CD drive was a retractable cup holder).

Graphics Card – I’m assuming if you need a graphics card you already know it. Most applications will tell you what cards are supported, just check out their website. Here’s what you need to know if you don’t know much about cards. An integrated card, meaning it’s built onto the mother board,will use your system memory (RAM) to power any graphics. So, if you decide to use a graphics heavy application such as Adobe After Effects, on an integrated card, you may have half of your RAM used to support graphics. So that 16 Gigs was just cut to 8, and now with windows using most of that, there just isn’t much left for the rest of the system to utilize. Welcome to your bottle neck.

With all this in mind, your next question is:

How much do I want to spend?

Look, if your budget is $300 and you want to do graphics, and/or have a computer that will last five years, that just isn’t going to happen. Make sure you’re realistic about what you actually need vs what you just want. Again, I buy computers above the current need because I want something to last longer than average. This doesn’t mean I buy incredibly expensive computers.That’s why I buy from the outlet site. I can get a great computer at a significant discount.

I hope this post helps you understand how to search for a new computer just a bit more. More importantly, if you’re a teacher and you are asked what kind of computer you need for your kids, do them a favor and make sure you’re asking for something that will meet their needs for many years to come. If you’re new to this and still a little confused, you can always contact me and I’ll do my best to help you out… at a discounted rate. HA. Kidding about that one. I’ll do what I can to help you, or more importantly, your kids. I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrating it is to see kids suffer because an IT department buys what they want and not what the kids need.