Purchasing A Computer System

If you do not yet own a computer, are considering upgrading, or are looking for an additional system, there are certain things you should be aware of in order to get the best possible configuration for your money. The following list some of the most important items to consider when purchasing a new computer system. Use these items to make the best buying decision possible. While we concentrate in this report on purchasing a new desktop computer system, the information given also pertains to purchasing a laptop, computer parts, upgrades, or any of the many extras.

1. Pick A Reliable Place To Shop

One item to weigh VERY heavily into the equation when purchasing a new computer or upgrading is where to shop. There are now many places to buy computers and computer parts, however, not all stores and vendors are the same. Be sure to look around for a place you are comfortable with and take your time shopping. The worst thing you can ever do is walk into a place that sells computers and make a rushed purchase based on what looks like to be a great deal on the surface.

Electronics Stores

The problem with purchasing a computer at an electronic store is that they are thrown in along with a retail mixture of televisions, cameras, camcorders, appliances, CD players, and other high end electronic toys. You may get lucky and find a salesperson with a good grasp of computer terminology and knowledge. However, if you are purchasing a computer for a business or power use, most of these salespeople lack the knowledge that most entrepreneurs require to properly setup their company and that most power uses need to get the best system for their money. Often they do not offer much help in differentiating one setup from another.

Many electronic store salespeople are well informed about the latest computer entertainment software packages and what it takes to run them, but, most know little to nothing about business and higher end productive software. When you ask them which computer software is best to help you run your business, many electronic salespeople do no more than make you confused.

Department Stores

A department store is among the worst places you can go to purchase a computer. You will encounter many salespeople who do not have the necessary technical knowledge concerning the computers, parts, and software they are selling to help you make a good buying decision. In addition, if a physical problem is encountered with your system, you will have to send it back to the manufacturer for repairs or take it to a certified technician approved by the store or under the warranty. Although any out of pocket repair expenses are most likely covered under the warranty, this can be a huge inconvenience and result in much lost time. For many people using their computer for business, time is money!

Computer Super Stores

Computer super stores have become less common place since the recession caused many to go under or solely sell their products online. Some have also merged with other electronic stores. Computer super stores are great for those who are experienced with computers and know exactly what they are looking for. Many of the prices found on individual components and software packages cannot be beaten without buying wholesale directly from the manufacturer or going to a computer fair.

For the computer novice, a computer super store can be a very intimidating and frightening place. You will encounter endless rows of different computer systems, components, printers, and software. Finding a qualified salesperson to sort it all out can too often be a major chore! Many cash register clerks or shelf stockers, as sincere as most of them are, know very little of anything significant about the computers and software they sell to be of any major help. Those who are well qualified and most knowledgeable are usually inundated by the large crowds or are working on a system in the back.

Small Computer Dealers

Due to the blanket of wide spread advertisement, much attention is centered on the big online mail-order houses and the large electronic stores. Often, the small "mom and pop" computer dealer is overlooked as a reliable place to purchase a computer.

A reputable small computer dealer tends to have salespeople and technicians who are very knowledgeable and experienced. In fact, many of the technicians double as salespeople. Nothing like talking to the person who is actually going to put your computer together and test it! Many independent sellers will also go the extra mile to help you out since they have much more at stake with you being satisfied than does a large computer dealer salesperson.

Most small computer stores also tend to give much better service than the large super store chains. They are not as crowded and are able to give most customers quick and competent service. Though their computer systems may be limited to the house-brand clone, the price you will pay for an entire computer system is not that much different from the super stores. You may not get all the bundled software (much of which is usually not too productive and useless anyway) that comes with big-name computer systems like Compaq, however, you do get better service that can result in bigger time and money savings in the long run.

A small computer dealer can usually save you money by recommending a system that is perfect for your current needs and can easily be upgraded in the future when the need arises. Another major savings is that most small computer dealers usually give no pressure to purchase an extended warranty. Remember, computer technology is moving quickly (more than doubling every 12- 18 months) and, for the most part, getting an extended warranty beyond the standard 1-2 years on a product that will soon be outdated is more than likely a waste of money. Small computer dealers also offer you quick service on any problems covered under their warranty, often fixing it on the spot as you wait. Thus, eliminating the need for you to wait 3 to 14 days to get your computer back. Finally, since most small computer dealers are most likely both home users and entrepreneurs, they are more familiar with hardware and software that is geared toward your personal and business needs. Thus, they can give you much better guidance in selecting the best hardware for your needs.

One draw back of shopping with a small computer dealer store is that there are many "FLY BY NIGHT" operations out there. They are here today, but when you need them tomorrow, they are gone! In addition, there are a small number who use inferior or used components when building your supposedly new system. Therefore, be sure to use a small computer dealer that has been around for a while and has a good sound reputation.

Mail Order (Online)

Mail order consists of purchases that are delivered by UPS, Fed Ex, etc. This includes purchase made through the Internet or catalogs.  You can get many good buys through mail order if you know exactly what you are looking for. Keep in mind that you will most likely have to pay for shipping and handling which can sometimes offset any savings you may be counting on. Those that offer "free shipping" usually incorporate the cost into the price. The salespeople who handle mail order calls or online chats are usually polite, friendly, and extremely knowledgeable.

The big draw back of mail order is that you do not physically see nor test the item you are purchasing. In addition, shipping can sometimes result in damaged merchandise. One frustrating thing that can happen when purchasing a new computer system by mail is to receive this new toy with a QC certificate and find out that it does not work.

Trying to get technical support for or returning a damaged system purchased through mail order can sometimes be a nightmare. You can expect to spend a long time on the telephone, usually 45 minutes or more. In short, if you do not need to ask questions and do not need technical support nor advice, mail order is a great option.

There are many sources where you can locate a reputable computer mail order house. You can easily find computer mail order house information on the Internet. An even better source is one of the leading computer magazines. All the major computer manufactures (Dell, HP, etc.) also sell directly to the public via the Internet.

2. Find Yourself A Good Salesperson

No matter where you shop, a large part of your computer shopping experience success will hinge on your salesperson's experience, knowledge, training, and desire to help you. Most salespeople are very courteous and aggressive, however, most are also not particularly computer knowledgeable. Much too often, they do not volunteer substantial information and have to be pumped for details.

If you are a novice computer user, beware of the salesperson who attempts to sell you a computer and have you believe that once you purchase it for your home or business, you will live happily ever after. Some salespeople claim that the computer is very easy to use and will make your life much easier than it currently is. You will have more free time to enjoy life and spend with your family. Not too mention that it will give your kids a BIG academic edge! Eventually this can be true. Unfortunately, for the novice user this is not the case at the beginning. Keep in mind that like everything else worth while in life, you will have to pay your dues. It will take time and effort at the beginning for you to get up to a reasonable computer speed before you can start to reap its full benefits, and a trustworthy salesperson will convey this.

When a salesperson pushes a particular computer system, rebate, or an addition for no apparent reason be sure to question his motivation. Be very wary of any add-on or deal the salesperson tries hard to talk you into that does not make sense. Beware of the salesperson who uses confusing computer lingo. A good salesperson will always put it all into layman's terms. Do not be embarrassed to ask questions, no matter how silly you think they are.

If something rubs you the wrong way about the salesperson, grab someone else or simply walk out the door. Remember you, the customer, are the boss! Never be shy nor intimidated when purchasing a computer system or parts and spending your hard earned money.

3. Learn All You Can Before Going Shopping

Being well informed is your best buying resource and protection! Before you go shopping for a computer, learn all you can about computer basics. While you do not have to become a computer guru, learn what you can about common computer jargon. Knowing what is meant by such standard terms as RAM, Megabytes, Gigabytes, Megahertz, or DPI can be a great help to you.

Canvass magazine advertisements and the local newspapers before hitting the stores. Get a feel for what configurations are being offered and at what prices. Get a computer quote for a particular configuration from at least three different sources. This will give you a good idea if what you are looking to buy is truly a good deal. Capitalizing on basic computer knowledge and current prices can be your best money saving tactic.

4. PC System To Purchase

Picking a computer system to purchase is a personal decision that will vary from person to person. You must carefully evaluate your needs, your knowledge, and present money resources before you begin searching for a system. Keep in mind that computer technology is advancing quickly. Even if you buy the latest and greatest system on the market today with all the bells and whistles, it will either soon be outdated or drop greatly in price. Thus, purchase a computer system that meets your current needs and will allow you to easily upgrade. Usually a "mid price" system is the best buy for your money! A higher end system is just not worse the cost and a low end system will be outdated much too soon. The following lists some suggestions of key items to consider when purchasing your computer system.

Case And Power Supply

The two general PC case types are desktop and tower. The desktop is the one that sits flat on your desk in a horizontal position. The tower is the one that sits on the floor in a vertical position. If future upgrading is a good possibility, purchase a tower system with as many full expansion bays as possible. This will make future upgrading much easier. Desktop systems can be very difficult to upgrade at times. Much too often you have to perform complicated computer surgery to move things out of the way to do what should be a simple upgrade.

The three standard tower types are mini, medium, and full. A medium tower is your best choice. It has more to offer you than the mini-tower and is not the over kill of a full-tower. Towers in general also have less problems than desktops. Since heat rises and parts have more room too breath, the way towers are designed means they tend to run a bit cooler. In addition, multi-part components such as hard drives and floppy drives usually lay horizontal instead of being placed on their side, as they are in many desktop machines in order to optimize space. Thus, multi-part components in a tower tend to last longer.

Be sure to get a power supply that meets all your needs, present and future. It should have all the connectors needed to compliment later internal peripheral additions. Get a minimum of a 350W power supply, 400W or more preferred. A cheap power supply can lead to some severe computer problems later on.

There are also all-in-one computers. These are desktop computers that combine the monitor and CPU unit into the same case. They are space savers since they take up not much more room than a standard LCD monitor. All-in-one PCs are much more portable than traditional desktop PCs and can be unplugged and transported to a new location as easily as moving a monitor. One major drawback to all-in-one computers is that they are not as easy to upgrade and repair as traditional desktop computers. All the hardware components are crammed into the area behind the display.


The microprocessor, most commonly called the Central Processing Unit (CPU), is the computer's brain. The CPU is one of the most expensive parts in the computer and is identified by a brand and/or number such as Pentium 4 or Core 2 Duo.  Each CPU has a number associated with it that is measured in megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz). A mega is million, while giga is a billion. These numbers represent the speed at which the chip cycles and are represented by a number such as 700 MHz or 2.4 GHz. The higher the CPU hertz number, the faster the chip can process information. The most popular of the newer chips are those manufactured by Intel or AMD.

System Board

The system board is often called the mother board. The system board acts as the communication highway of your computer. All the different components and devices in your system are some how linked to your system board. They use the system board to pass and receive information.

Generally, each system board is designed to host a particular type of CPU. For example, you cannot put a Pentium chip into an old 486 system board. That is why when you upgrade your system's CPU with a standard chip, you may also have to replace the system board - unless the system board was specifically designed to handle an upgrade. There are special upgrade chips specifically designed to take you to a hire processing level without replacing your system board, however, this will not be a true upgrade due to the system board's architectural limits.

Each system board has expansion slots built into it. It is in these slots that different cards plug into. These cards are computer devices that resemble mini-system boards. You have different kinds of cards that can plug into your system board (e.g., video card or sound card).

Make sure that your system board will allow you to easily upgrade. Many of the newer system boards now have the video and ethernet card built directly into the system board to reduce manufacturing costs and increase performance. Try to get a system board with as many PCI expansion slots as possible in order to accommodate future upgrades. Also be sure it has at least one AGP (AGP Pro proffered) slot for a video card if the video card is not built into the system board or if you would like to upgrade to a faster, more powerful video card later on for such things as gamming. Make sure that your system board has it expansion slots built into the board, not built into an expansion board that plugs into your system board.


The memory located inside your computer is usually called Random Access Memory (RAM). This is where your CPU temporally stores information that it needs to perform a function. The more memory your computer has, the more complicated functions it can perform.

Often people confuse memory with disk space since they can both be measured in megabytes (MBs) or gigabytes (GBs). Keep in mind that RAM is a temporary storage bin that empties when you turn off or reboot your computer. The disk is the location that programs and files are stored.

Be sure to get a system with at least 2 GBs (4 GBs preferred) of RAM. The amount of RAM your system can use most efficiently is limited by your operating system type. Windows 32-bit operating systems tend to have a 4 GB cap.  This means you will not see much difference by going over this amount. Windows 64-bit operating systems allow you to surpass the 4 GB cap. Depending on your CPU and system board, Windows 64-bit can take advantage of up to 128 GBs. Both Windows 7 and Windows 8 come in a 32- and 64-bit version. Software written for 32-bit can run on a 64-bit system, but the reverse is not true. If you are only planning to run only 32-bit software, then a 64-bit operating system will not benefit you much. Most Windows commercial software is still written for 32-bit systems. However, some of the newer high end games are written for 64-bit systems.

Input Devices

Input devices are used to feed information and send commands to your computer. The two most common computer input devices are a keyboard and mouse.

A 104 plus key Windows keyboard is the most common computer keyboard that comes with new computers. In the right-lower hand corner of these keyboards is a number keypad. Be sure to get a keyboard that you are very comfortable with! Some of the newer keyboards are designed to reduce physical stress on your hands and wrists by naturally lining up the keyboard keys with your hands. While these special stress reducing keyboards are much more expensive than the standard keyboards, they more than pay for themselves in the long run by greatly reducing physical damage that can be very painful and even last a lifetime.

The mouse is a pointing device which plays a major role in Windows. It is used to click onto a command or icon or bring up a shortcut menu. There is no real big advantage of having a three-button mouse over a two-button mouse. Some computer systems may have a pointing device other than a mouse such as a track ball or touch pad. Pick a pointing device that you are most comfortable working with.

Hard Drives

A hard drive is the physical location where programs and data are stored. It is located inside your computer system. The storage capacity of a drive is measured in megabytes (MBs) or gigabytes (GBs). One megabyte is equal to approximately 1,048,576 bytes. One gigabyte is equal to a billion bytes. One byte is equivalent to one character or one space. Thus, a document containing 10 characters, 5 spaces, and no formatting codes is roughly equal to 15 bytes in size.

The two standard hard drive types are Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) and Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE). For all new computers, SATA drives are now the standard. SATA drives cost anywhere from $30 to $50 less than an IDE of equal size since they are the newer technology and easier to find. SATA drives are easier to configure than IDE drives since no jumpers need to be set.

Which drive type your computer can handle is mother board dependent. Older mother boards only support IDE, while some newer mother boards support both or only SATA.

Be sure to get the biggest hard drive that you can afford. The cost of a hard drive is now under $100 for a 500 gigabyte drive. Be sure to get a minimum hard drive of 500 gigabytes, a larger one if possible. Computer software programs are always getting larger and more sophisticated. The newer software suites can now take up well over 300 megabytes of space. Not too mention if you plan on using a digital camera or download music, your hard disk can fill up quickly.

Video Display

A computer video display is composed of a monitor and a video card. Since your monitor only displays what your video card has sent to it, the two parts must be compatible to get the best video display possible. Many of the newer system boards have the video card built in. One problem with a built-in video card is that it does not have its own memory so it takes it from the RAM.

When purchasing a monitor, avoid the temptation to pick a model or brand solely on price. While you can find some monitors for under $100, ask yourself is it worth it in the long run. Remember, you will be spending hours in front of it. Thus, get one that will put as little stress as possible on your eyes.

Try to get at least a 17 inch monitor in order to take full advantage of the Windows environment. Often, a monitor greater than 17 inches is over kill unless you are creating drawings and doing design work on your computer. Make sure that the video card and monitor combination can support 32-bits or greater.

The standard video card that is not built into the mother board now displays well over a million colors and plugs into a PCI or AGP slot. They have their own memory chip and are often used for higher end graphics such as required by some games or computer aided design (CAD) programs.  It is possible to have two video cards for two different monitors.  You often see this type of setup at many offices.  For example, you can have one monitor that displays your Internet search page and another that displays your open word document. 

If getting a video card that is not built into the mother board, try to get one that is AGP, or AGP Pro if you mother board supports it. Be sure that your computer vendor gives you a CD-ROM that has the video drivers that complement your specific video card. You never know when you may have to reload your video drivers.


Multimedia is composed of a CD ROM drive, sound card, and speakers. This is now considered standard equipment for all new computer systems. Most system boards now have the sound card built-in.

Having a CD-ROM drive is a must since many of the software producers are now putting their software onto CD. Be sure the CD drive you are getting is also a burner, which is now standard. A burner will allow you to create your own data and music CDs. If possible, upgrade the drive to a DVD burner combo drive. This will allow you to read data CDs, play music CDs, watch DVD movies, and burn DVD or standard CDs. The cost to upgrade a standard CD drive to a DVD Burner combo is about $30, depending on the type of combo.

The speakers should not be permanently mounted to or built into your monitor or CPU case, unless you are trying to cut down on the amount of space being taken up. Attached speakers will restrict sound flow. Detachable or loose speakers allow you to move them in such a way that you can get the best sound possible.

Universal Serial Bus (USB)

Universal Serial Bus (USB) serves as a way to easily connect to a fast-growing list of new external computer peripherals with very little fuss. A USB connection is much quicker than traditional parallel port or communication port connections. This means you can expect productivity to increase when using devices designed for USB technology. Most of the newer cases have USB ports on the front of the PC case, as well as on the rear.

Our recommendation is to get a minimum of four USB ports with at least two located in the front of the computer case for easy access. If you can get more than four, the better! Many of the newer devices coming out now require a USB connection. It is an instant, no-hassle way to connect a new printer, joystick, scanner, digital speakers, digital camera, flash drive, or external drive. And there is no need to pry open your PC case or be concerned about accidentally destroying something you know little about to install an add-in card.


The modem is the device that allows your computer to access the Internet or communicate with another computer or fax machine via a phone line. It is no longer common for them to come packaged with your system (internal) since many users have gone to DSL or cable for a fast Internet connection. All DSL and cable companies will provide you with an external modem that is specific for their service. The standard internal modem is a Data/Fax/Voice type that runs at 56K. A Data/Fax/Voice modem allows you to send or receive data and faxes and set up a voice mail box system. The faster the modem, the quicker you will be able to send and receive data.

Network Card

Network interface cards are now standard equipment. They allow you to connect the different computers in your home or office to share resources. These resources are such things as hard drives, printers, CD ROMs, etc. A network card is also used to connect your computer to a cable or DSL modem for quick Internet access. Some systems come with the network card built into the system board. Others have the network card plugged into one of the expansion slots on the system board. Many systems also come with an additional WiFi option built in.

Backup System

The purchasing of a backup system cannot be over emphasized, especially for the computer used for business. First, it is your primary protection against accidental deletion or unintentional modification of important files. Second, it serves to preserve your data if something causes your system to crash, such as a hardware failure or virus. Third, if your backup is kept in a safe place, your data is preserved in case of theft, fire, or natural disaster.

The perks of having a backup system is that you can automate the process, it is relatively quick, you can leave the system while it is being backed-up, and your backup can be kept in a safe place. The cost of such a device and backup media more than pays for itself if something were to happen to your data or computer. This is one device that is not pushed hard enough by computer salespeople.

The backup system can be a CD burner or other removable drive system (e.g., external hard drive or flash drive).  The price of CD burners have come down so much that they are now common on newer systems.  A CD burner is much slower than a removable drive and has one major problem: the room on a CD.  Today's hard drives are much larger than a CD. An external drive can be the same size as or larger than your hard drive.

Carefully Read Those Rebates

To rebate or not to rebate? This is the question all computer buyers must ask! Everywhere you now go shopping you will see something about rebates. Rebates are money that you will get back after you make your purchase. Some rebates are immediate at time of purchase, others can take 8 to 12 weeks to receive. Some rebates are for a modest $10 to $20. Others can be as high as $400, but, they lock you into a long on-line or service contract for two to three years. Carefully read the fine print and consider if the rebate is worth it in your case. Do the math! If the rebate is for an on-line service you are sure you like and are planning to use anyway over the next two to three years, it can be a good deal. Otherwise, it can be an expensive mistake. For example, an on-line service costing you a modest $21.95 per month will add up to $790 over a three year period. A service costing 24.95 will add up to $898 over the same time period. Early termination of a rebate contract can mean a hefty penalty.

5. Computer Price Estimate Sheet


Computer Company Name:___________________________________________






CPU (e.g., Core 2 Dual 2.53 GHz):_________________________

RAM (e.g., 4 GB):_______________________________

Power Supply (e.g., 400W):__________________

Case Type (e.g., Desktop or Tower):____________________

Hard Drive Size (e.g., 500 GB):______________________

Keyboard Type (e.g., 104-Keys):_____________________

Video Card (e.g., AGP Pro, 8 MB):________________________

Monitor (Type, Size, and Resolution):______________________


CD-ROM (e.g., Burner/DVD Combo):_______________________

Sound Card:_______________________________

Speakers (Type):_________________________________

Modem (Speed and Type):__________________________________

Backup System (e.g., External Drive or CD Burner):_________________

Printer (Type, Brand, and Model):_______________________________

Operating System (e.g., Windows 7 or 8.1, 64-Bit):__________________

Loaded Software (e.g., Office 2013):______________________________





Price:_________________ Warranty:_________ year(s)



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