Choosing a Computer

Home & Family, Technology
on August 5, 2010

What computer should I buy?

Computer expert Mark Kyrnin says thats the most common question he receives from readers of his online column and newsletter at Because there isnt a one-size-fits-all computer, answering the question can be tricky.

The most typical computer user is the casual user, Kyrnin says. This is someone who intends to use the computer primarily for the Web and e-mail. Such users dont require much in the way of computer power and can get by with almost any of todays modern computers, he explains.

List your needs
If youre in the market for a computer, Kyrnin suggests starting your search by answering these questions:

  • Whats my budget? Good starter computers are available at well under $1,000.
  • What will I do with my computer? Check e-mail? Keep the household books? Browse the Internet? Write a letter?
  • Will I use my computer only at my desk, or will I want to use it at various locations?
  • Will I want to save music or data onto a CD?
  • Will I watch DVD movies on my computer?
  • Will I want to connect to wireless networks? In other words, will I want to read and send e-mail while sitting in a coffee shop, on a park bench or at the airport?

Your answers to these questions will help a salesperson identify the hardware you need, and some of the software, too.

Bytes and hertz
Buying a computer can be daunting, especially if you dont understand some basic computer hardware terminology.

Bill Detwiler, head technology editor for, says one source of confusion is the difference between random access memory, called RAM, and hard disk space. Today, both usually are measured in gigabytes (GB).

Detwiler likens hard disk space to the storage in an offices filing cabinets. The more gigabytes, the more information your computer can hold. RAM, on the other hand, can be compared to the space on top of the desk. The larger your desk is, the more things you can have open and be working on at the same time, he says. A basic laptop computer might have 2 GB of RAM.

Gigahertz (GHz) is another term to know. The higher your computers gigahertz rating, the faster it operates. Laptops, for example, are available with speeds ranging from around 1.3 to 2.8 GHz, Kyrnin notes.

Putting it all together
Computers allow you to mix and match in ways that other consumer products and devices dont, Detwiler says. Its like buying a Chevrolet, then choosing a stereo system from Mercedes-Benz, an acceleration system from Chrysler and a Saab dashboard.

Nearly all computer consumers choose from two models: an Apple product or a Microsoft Windows-compatible product. Apple makes the Macintosh computers, and their operating systemthe software that makes the computer runis the Mac OS X. Many manufacturers, such as Dell, HP and Gateway, design computers that use Microsoft Windows as their operating system. Yet much of the software available today, and much of it made by Microsoft, works on either an Apple or a Windows-based machine.

Detwiler advises not to sweat too much about the details. There are still millions of baby boomers who dont know exactly how fuel injection works, and they dont want to know, he says. Nonetheless, they still drive their cars.