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Believe it or not, it’s getting close to the biggest time of the year for people to buy new computers, and one of the most common questions I am asked is, “What kind of computer do I need?” With a little information, you should be able to decide pretty easily on what you need, and you may be surprised at what you can get by with.

Laptop, Desktop, or Tablet

Today, people have many options when it comes to devices to use when it comes to computing. What you are going to use the computer for will determine what kind of device you need in most cases.

Do you plan on doing lots of typing? It’s often difficult to type on a mobile device, such as a tablet. The keyboard takes up half the screen, and you can’t touch type, because there is no physical difference in feeling between keys, which slows many of us down. If you plan on writing lots of emails, using Facebook a lot, or writing your memoirs, you will likely be happier with a device that has a physical keyboard, such as a laptop or a desktop computer.

Do you need to be able to use your computer more than just at home? This seems like a no-brainer, but believe it or not, there are people that don’t know to even ask that question. If you do, then you need a laptop or a tablet.

Do you need to do processor intensive tasks, such as compressing video, or playing graphics-intensive video games? If so, you really can’t beat a desktop computer. You can always get a faster desktop than you can a laptop for the same money. You can buy high end “gaming laptops”, which I put in scare quotes because I can’t stand using a laptop for gaming, and I think that doing so effectively is tantamount to practicing witchcraft.

Do you want to just play games, such as the ones found on Facebook, or the games on your phone? Almost all of those games are playable on a tablet. If you just need something to play those kinds of games on, and not much else, you can probably find a tablet in just about any price range that will accomplish that goal.

If you are certain you need a laptop or a desktop but are having trouble deciding, that might not be necessary. You can hook up an external mouse, keyboard, and monitor to a laptop and it will act exactly like a desktop. Keep in mind though, you will likely have a slightly slower computer than you would if you bought a comparably priced desktop computer.

Processor Speed

The speed of your processor is much less an issue for most people than it was 10 or 20 years ago. In fact, there are people still using 10-year-old computers with the most current operating system, and software, and are having no trouble whatsoever. Some of my computers are actually close to that.

One thing that used to be very cut and dried, when it comes to computers, is processor speed. Once upon a time, you could get a very good idea how fast a processor was, and by extension how fast the computer was, by its clock speed. This is the “megahertz” or “gigahertz” that you may have heard about. With modern computers, this is something that means much less, although it does still tell you information about the speed of your processor.

The clock speed of the processor is something that you can use to compare processors made by the same manufacturer. The bigger the number the better, as long as you are looking at the same family and manufacturer of the processor. For instance, a 3 GHz Intel i3 processor is faster than a 2 GHz Intel i3 processor, but it is much slower than a 3 GHz Intel i5 or i7 processor. This might be a little confusing, so just remember that the processor with the bigger numbers is faster, as a rule of thumb.

Now, we need to decide how fast of a processor you need. This is something that people still go nuts about, and for most people, it shouldn’t be a big concern like it used to be. I am currently working on a computer that has a processor that was top of the line about 9 years ago. It works great, and this computer is faster for what I use it for than most computers that you can buy off the shelf that have much faster processors. The reason is, I am not using processor-intensive applications. I don’t play games, although this would still be a capable gaming machine for most games. I don’t compress video, although I could do so in a pinch. I just use it for writing code, doing research, keeping my finances up to date, printing invoices, writing emails, and other general business type things. None of these things take much in processing power, so if I were to go buy a computer today, I would be able to get by with the slowest processor you can buy at Walmart or Best Buy. My home computer isn’t much better. I have a bit faster processor, and it is a couple years newer, but most of the time I don’t notice any difference in speed, because I rarely play video games anymore.

If you are reading this though, we can assume some things. You aren’t likely going to be using a computer for gaming. People that use computers for gaming will usually know what kind of processor they need. You are most likely going to be much better off concentrating on RAM and storage than on a processor.


The next thing we need to look at is RAM. RAM stands for Random Access Memory and is where your computer stores programs and information it is actively working with. This is the second biggest bang for the buck upgrade you can give a computer, but it is very easy to explain in terms of amount needed.

If you are buying a computer today, it should not have less than 4 gigabytes of ram. I would say that 4 gigabytes is okay for most people, but it is to the point that I would suggest getting a computer with 8 gigabytes of RAM or more. Just as with processor speed, those that need more than 8 gigabytes know who they are, so I won’t address them here. If you are flat broke, 4 gigs is okay. If you can spare the money though, go with 8 gigs.

That’s it. How painless is that?

Hard Disk

Another thing that has numbers, and people get freaked out about is hard drive space. The biggest thing to think about now days is wither or not to get an SSD (Solid State Device) drive. Remember how I said that RAM was the second biggest bang for your buck when it comes to upgrading your computer. An SSD drive is the first biggest. I have an SSD drive and 8 gigs of ram on both my home and work computers. Both of them boot to the desktop in about 8 seconds. If you have never seen such a thing, it is simply beautiful. When I open a program, it comes up almost instantly. Larger programs, like Photoshop, might take 3 to 5 seconds. This speed is due to the SSD drive. The average computer without an SSD drive will take a minimum of 20 seconds to boot but usually takes 30 seconds to a minute. Then programs can sometimes take up to a couple minutes to open after you first see your desktop. An SSD drive improves your computer’s performance so much you will never be able to go back to a regular hard drive.

The second thing about hard drives is space. I remember once buying a 420-megabyte hard drive and thinking, “How could anyone ever use that much space?” About a year later, I was wondering how anyone could get by with only 420 megabytes of hard drive space. Luckily things aren’t that bad nowadays.

Most laptop computers come with a 500Gb hard drive or bigger. Most desktops come with a 1Tb (1000Gb) or better hard drive. With this, the bigger the better, but it also depends on what you are doing with your computer.

If you keep in mind that you will need around 100Gb for Windows or MacOS alone, since they tend to bloat after updates and such, and then maybe another 100Gb for programs, everything else above that is just space for you to store documents, pictures, and cat videos. No matter what size hard drive you have, you would be hard pressed to fill it up with documents. You would still find it difficult to fill up with pictures. In order to fill up the average hard drive, you need to be downloading all sorts of videos, music, software, and other things. So, think about how much you will want to store videos, audio, or other things, and decide if you need to err on the side of bigger or not. If you aren’t sure, you’ll most likely be just fine with 1 Tb of space. If you are only going to do things on the internet, like Facebook, YouTube, and online games such as Candy Crush, then you don’t need to concern yourself with hard drive space at all.

Windows, Mac, Android, or iOS

If you decide to get a laptop or desktop, you are going to be presented with choices regarding what is called the operating system. This is the interface you use to do all the things your device will do. It determines what kind of software you can use, and how you use it. It also has a big impact on prices. Not just the price of the device, but the price of the repair.

If you are the average person, you will likely want a Windows PC. These are the most common computers, and they come in more shapes and sizes than you can shake a stick at. They are also the cheapest to buy and get repaired in most cases. It is very rare that you will find any software that doesn’t have a PC version, and you can easily find someone that can fix them. That makes them cheaper to repair also.

Some people, for various reasons, love Apple products. They are very common for people to use when editing photos, designing graphics, editing video, and editing audio. They have very good tools that work better on Macs than on PCs for some reason, although most tools have a PC version. One of the major reasons for this preference is uniformity. When you buy a Mac, while you do get options, they are quite limited. You are forced to choose options that Apple has approved, and this is even more true with modern Macs. Where you were once able to change out hard drives, and upgrade ram, the newest Macbooks have those things soldered to the board. That means that you are stuck with whatever you buy. This may seem like a huge drawback, but it has its benefits too.

The lack of choices when it comes to Macs brings with it stability. Apple is intimately familiar with the hardware in your computer, so they are able to make their operating system very stable with all the hardware they produce.

If you don’t know for sure which type of computer to get, I would suggest a PC in most cases. Apples are very good computers though, and if you can afford it, and you want one, there really isn’t a huge reason to go with PC other than the prices.

iPad or Android

If you have decided on a tablet, you need to choose between iPad or Android. Both have their pros and cons. Apple devices are very good, and you will enjoy it if you get one. Your wallet might not be so happy with you though since they are quite expensive compared to their Android counterparts.

Android devices have a benefit that is also a detriment. You are allowed to install software that isn’t in Google’s play store, where if something isn’t in the Apple store, you will really have trouble doing that. Apple restricts this in order to help prevent large-scale virus attacks. If an app is in their store, they can disable its propagation in a central location. Android devices warn you of possible problems from installing software that isn’t in the play store, but they let you continue as long as you click to accept the consequences. Usually, this isn’t an issue, but it just takes one virus to cause lots of problems.

Screen Size and Resolution

One thing people often overlook when they are looking for a computer is the screen size and resolution. The fact is, this can be the most important consideration.

The people that ask me for tips on buying computers the most are those who are a bit older and have little experience in buying their own computers. Maybe they are living with one they were given by one of their children, but it’s getting a bit long in the tooth and needs a replacement. These are the people where screen size is most important since everyone gets a bit farsighted with age, and looking at a small screen is often infuriating, especially when we have to pull out the spectacles.

Whether you are buying a laptop or a desktop, your screen size can determine multiple things. If you use the same resolution on a small screen as a big screen, you will notice that things appear bigger and easier to read on the larger monitor. This is a big concern for those with farsightedness. The size of the screen for a farsighted person can make the difference between needing glasses or not while using the computer, or even whether you can read the text at all.

The other consideration, when it comes to screen size, is the resolution. Resolution is how many dots make up the picture. Larger monitors can be readable at higher resolutions, which makes it so that you can have more on the screen at once. Scrolling can be frustrating when using a computer, and the less you need to scroll the better. That is a big reason for a larger monitor.

On laptop computers, you don’t have a lot of choices when it comes to monitor sizes. I would suggest looking at the screen and determine if things look good for you, while you are at the store.

Overall Suggestion

If you have read through to this point, and you still don’t know what you should get, I’ll just make a suggestion that is for the average person. Go find a PC with at least 8 gigabytes of ram, and a 1 terabyte hard drive. If you want to go with an SSD drive for the faster performance, you’ll likely have to settle for a smaller hard drive, like 500 gigabytes. The final thing to do is find a screen with a size you can be comfortable with. That’s pretty much it.

If you want a tablet, go with an Android tablet over an iPad, simply for the price. If you want an iPad, and the price isn’t a problem, there is no reason to not go with an iPad.

I hope this has helped you determine what you might need and made sense of some of the things that confuse people when they are hunting for a new computer.


Timm Simpkins is the owner of Talova Communications, a Peru company that specializes in fixing today’s technology such as phones, tablets, and laptop computers. They repair what others can’t. 765-319-3455.