Buying a computer

Ben Moore
Posted by: 
Ben Moore on 01/12/2009
An Apple Mac Pro computer with a widescreen monitor
Apple Mac Pro

Shop around when buying a computer. Image: courtesy of Apple

Have you ever felt computer envy? Ever felt that you are less because others have so much more, whether it is computing power, a bigger screen, or a slimmer notebook? Or perhaps you have computer anxiety? You survived the “Y2K” scare together, but now you feel like it’s time to upgrade and all the options look intimidating.

A computer can be a significant investment, so it’s important to ask some questions even before you start shopping around.

What are my needs?

I need a super-computer with a life-size Angelina Jolie screen-saver wired to a doughnut machine, someone says. But it’s actually hard to know what you really need until you get hands-on and assess the possibilities. Computer shops, university unions, short courses, and friends’ houses are all good places to meet new hardware and software. Many programs are also available on the web as free trial versions.

It’s important to expand our thinking about what is possible. A computer is not just a typewriter, a television, or a communications tool. A computer can really be anything it can be programmed to be. The power of computing is the power of information - getting it, creating it, and sharing it.

Here are some examples of people’s lives being enhanced by a computer:

  • Jane made 400 new friends on social networking sites and speaks to them for free using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology.
  • After advertising his skills online, Pete got some extra paid work and has raised his profile via a new website with photos and video.
  • Sandy orders her favourite mix of groceries, movies and chocolate online and all are home delivered each week.
  • Debra found a cheap online personal assistant that transcribes recorded interviews and even does research for her while she sleeps.
  • Dave has learned a new language using interactive software.
  • In online forums, Jacob found three other people who had already wired doughnut machines to super-computers.

There are countless other examples we could list. Some people use computers as their creative partners for music or video creation. Others as educational partners when completing online courses and studies. And countless people use the internet to obtain advice.

Does my computer fit my needs?

Will my motherboard look big in this? someone asks. But your computer’s appearance certainly isn’t as important as what it can do for you. Make sure you invest in an appropriate interface, hardware and software that meets your needs. 

The right interface

For a computer that you can really talk to, try voice recognition software. You can also use a screen reader to whisper sweet nothings to you in the night. And there are all manner of input devices that will ensure your computer responds to your touch rather than just the traditional keyboard and mouse combination.

The right hardware

Although most computers have components that are relatively easy to upgrade, it is often cheaper to get a new system if you are considering a major overhaul. Component prices are particularly cheap at online auctions and computer swap meets, but the service and support from a local store can be worth paying for.

The right software

Beyond its capabilities, a computer also has to feel right.

The competing Macintosh and Windows platforms do much the same things, but feature different interfaces with subtle strengths and weaknesses. It is a personal choice. But remember if you have avoided Macs in the past because you thought they couldn’t run Windows software, there are plenty of options available. You might pay more for the privilege, though.

Hopefully you can afford what you need and your computer partner can enrich your life. Just remember some advice I received from a soon-to-be-married couple who met on the internet: Use your computer to net the date, not to date the net.

What is your advice for people shopping for a new computer? Let us know in the comments section below.

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