Processor: The brains of the PC
Both of the major PC processor manufacturers, Intel and AMD, have continued to introduce newer and faster versions of their PC processors and rankings have become a bit muddled.
For the most part, I recommend that you avoid weak processors such as Intel's Celeron, and Pentium, and AMD's E-series and low-end A-series processors (A-9 and higher are still barely acceptable). Tasks that PC processors are expected to perform without hiccups and slowdowns are growing more complex daily as are many websites on the internet. Weaker processors will tend to make your new computer nearly obsolete out of the box. When you look at PC specifications look for commputers with Intel core i3 or higher (i5, i7) or AMD A-10 or higher (Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7)
Top of the line PCs usually have an Intel Core i7 (or occasionally an AMD Ryzen 7 series) processor installed. These processors, especially the i7, are expensive, when compared to the others above. A PC containing one of these will usually be priced at least $200 above those with a less powerful processor. However both processors will normally provide upscale performance, even in a laptop PC.
Hard Drive - Your PC's File Cabinet
Your PC's hard drive holds the Windows OS (operating system) files as well as all of your data.
It is preferable to get a PC with the largest capacity and fastest hard drive you can afford.
Don't even think about getting a Windows PC with a tiny 32GB hard drive, you will regret it.
A 500GB hard drive running at 5400rpm is now a common size and speed for a low-end laptop PC. But it is rather slow. You may not need a larger hard drive but if you can afford a PC with a faster one running at 7200rpm, (in your desktop PC) or with an 128GB (or larger) SSD in your laptop, get one.
A 7200rpm hard drive will load the OS faster, which allows your PC to start rapidly, and access your data quicker.
If your finances allow, installing a Solid State Harddrive (SSD) will energize and speed up your new or late model PC. As a matter of fact, an SSD is the one component that will speed up your PC faster than any other as well as being more durable (shock-resistant) and more long lasting than any old-style spinning hard drive.
You can usually get a 250GB (or 256GB) SSD for less than $50 to $75 if you install it yourself. I recommend Samsung, WD or a Crucial branded SSDs. See my SSD page for more information.
What's the point?
A computer with higher-end components will usually boot and start programs faster. It will also be far less likely to choke even when you load the PC with software that may add numerous startup items or try to run more than one or two programs at the same time.
Assuming software congestion, a hardware fault, or PC virus/malware is not the cause, even a brand new PC can run sluggishly if it has insufficient RAM memory, a weak processor, and/or a slow hard drive.
Additionally, the higher end PC will continue to perform at higher levels as it ages. That means your higher-end cheap PC will not become obsolete quite as fast as a really cheapo PC.
If you're not careful and you opt always for the cheapest options you could end up with a PC that's practically obsolete even before you boot it up for the first time!
You usually get what you pay for.
Do you really need to purchase an extended warranty?
No matter where you buy your new computer you will be faced with the choice to purchase an extension to the standard one-year in-home warranty that comes with nearly all new PCs. If you are buying online it will be easy to ignore the offers for extended warranties but if you are in a local store the salesperson may strongly suggest that you really need one.
My advice is to firmly decline. Why? Because if there is a manufacturing defect with with the computer you buy it will almost always show up sometime in the first few months of use then the standard warranty will take care of it. You will either get your computer repaired or get a replacement for it straight from the manufacturer.
Extended warranties are big money makers for those who sell them since it's rare when a manufacturing defect waits more than a year to make itself evident. If there's something mechanically wrong with your new PC it won't take long for it to go belly up!
You were trying to get a cheap PC anyway, right? So why pay more than you really need to pay?
Be aware that manufacturer's warranties do not normally cover software problems.
Also, if you bought your new PC from a place such as Amazon, which has a firm 30-day return policy for damaged or DOA electronics then the best thing to do is to return it for a full refund or replacement with another new PC. That way you won't even need to provide evidence (such as proof or purchase) for warranty purposes.
What about a Mac?
Apple makes quality computers, but Mac PCs are not cheap. The least expensive iMac you can get is around $1100. It comes with a 21.5-inch screen, an Intel i5 processer, 8GB RAM, and a 1TB hard drive.
The Mac Mini is the the least expensive Apple PC you can get right now at around $800.
It comes with the excellent MacOS, an i3 Intel processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD hard drive - but no standard DVD drive, mouse or keyboard.
Take note that Apple believes this is the least powerful computer you should get. I agree with them on this.
But for $500 to $700, you can easily find a Windows 10 Desktop PC with an Intel i5 quad-core processor, 8GB of RAM and a 1 Terrabyte 7200rpm hard drive - with a DVD burner, keyboard, and a mouse included. (Add $40 to $70 for a 250GB SSD Hard Drive, if you buy it and install it yourself)
Think about it!
Laptop (notebook PCs) vs Desktop PCs
The benefits of a laptop PC are: Display included - no need to buy a separate monitor. Compact and portable - use it almost anywhere. Touch screen models are available at a higher price.
On the other hand Laptops are usually a bit more expensive than desktops with comparable specifications. Laptops use lower-power mobile processors that are generally less powerful (and cooler running) than comparable desktop processors. Batteries generally do not last that long before requiring recharge, especially in low-end PCs.
If you don't absolutely need a portable PC you may be better off with a traditional desktop or an All-in-One PC. You will get more PC for the money. Expect to spend at least $500 to $600 for a good, 15.6 inch, well-equipped laptop PC. Again, if you want to spend less for a good laptop PC, WAIT FOR A SALE!
Concerning touch sceens on Laptop PCs
Do you really need a touch screen on your new laptop PC?
This depends on whether you really want a touch screen, not whether you need it.
In my opinion, no one really needs a touch screen on any PC, except a tablet PC that does not ship with a keyboard/mouse or a touchpad.
A laptop PC with a touch screen will normally cost at least $50 to $100 more than one without a touch screen.
As an example, I found two laptop PCs for sale online. One had a touch screen with 4GB of RAM and the other had no touch screen but had 6GB of RAM. The PCs were priced the same.
Personally, I would rather have the extra RAM than a touch screen on my new PC.
In the last few years computer manufacturers, such as Dell, Hewlett Packard, and others, have introduced Microsoft Windows based computers with all PC components tucked into the case behind the display, very similar to Apple's popular iMac. Lower end computers of this type are similar to Laptops in that they sometimes contain low-power processors, less RAM, and slower hard drives than comparable priced desktop PCs.
Not all All-in-Ones are handicapped in this manner so it is wise to look closely at the PC specifications before buying an All-in-One PC. Be wary, if it's priced too low you should be suspicious. As with Laptops, touch screen equipped models will be more expensive.
What about an inexpensive tablet?
By now everyone has either seen or heard about the iPad and its lower cost Android copycats. Most electronic tablets are great for reading books (or any kind of reading). Cloud computing and surfing the internet is also relatively simple, albeit on a small screen, but only if you have either a wireless router or cellular. Taking and viewing photos with a tablet is usually simple.
However if you really need a computer (to get real work done) then buy a real PC. You will have a physical keyboard to do your typing, a large hard drive to store your files which will be easily transferable by means of USB flash drive or disk, as well as internet downloads.
A tablet's main drawback is its dependence on wireless communications and, with the possible exception of photos, its poor and clunky data transfer capability, especially without wireless availability. Memory space for tablets is usually very restricted and low compared to laptop or desktop PCs.
Another glaring weakness of many tablets is that the battery is usually non-replacable or not easily replaceable. If the battery fails your tablet is bricked unless you pay a substantial fee for replacement. Occasionally the cost is prohibitive - possibly as much as a new tablet in some instances.
Be sure you do your research before purchasing a tablet PC!
If you want a graphical representation of what a PC can do as opposed to a tablet take a look at this slide show article from PC World Magazine.
Bottom Line - Recommendations
For a Desktop PC with a late-generation Intel i3 or AMD A-9 dual-core processor, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive is my least recommendation, even if you are strapped for cash.
But if you can afford a little more then choose a PC with a late Intel i5 Quad-core or AMD Ryzen 5 Quad-core processor, 6 to 8GB of RAM, and a faster hard drive running at 7200rpm or an SSD.
As I have implied above, the least powerful PC I believe you should get is one with an Intel i5 quad-core processor (or an AMD A-12 processor), 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB 7200rpm hard drive (in a Desktop PC.
For a Laptop PC my least recommendation is a PC with an Intel Core i3 processor, 4-6 GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive or 128GB SSD.
Software - Download free software to save money
If you want to get any real use out of your new PC you will need software for it. You will need a decent word-processing program and a good anti-virus program at minimum.
The good news is that you don't need to spend a lot of money on computer programs if you have internet access. You can download a free office suite - Libre Office or Open Office - that has much of the functionality of Microsoft Office. You can get Libre Office from Ninite.com
Also, you really need and can also get a free antivirus program. Activate Microsoft's Windows Defender (it's already installed on your new PC) or choose from Avast or AVG. Just be sure to always choose the free option when installing or updating the latter two programs! Take the free stuff and run!
If you activate or install another (free) antivirus program you should first uninstall any paid (subscription based) antivirus software that came with your PC. Running two active antivirus programs at the same time is not recommended - you will likely not be protected.
Always restart your PC after uninstalling security software!
For more information about free software, tips about downloading it, and advice for avoiding the pitfalls - see my page Freeware for specific recommendations.
The main point here is that by choosing to use free software you may save enough cash to get a better and faster PC when you need to replace your old one. Just saving the on-going cost of antivirus software over the life of your PC can accomplish this.
Do some online shopping around before you buy
If you happen to have access to an internet-connected computer look at the offerings from the major computer manufacturers. Especially the ones with online stores:
Dell Computers, HP Computers - also check Walmart and Best Buy online. Don't forget Amazon.com.
Note: If you decide to buy directly from a computer maker's online site be aware that you may have to wait a week or more for your new custom configured PC to be delivered.
Shop by brand?
Everyone has their favorite brands and this applies to PCs as well. But all PC makers get their components from the same suppliers. And their products have to be in good working order when shipped to the consumer. If not they wouldn't be in business very long.
However if you are planning to get the lowest-cost PC you can find you should remember one thing. Low-cost PCs are built with lower-cost and less capable components. Quality costs just a bit more.
Get coupons to save money
Everyone loves sales. And the PC makers know this also. They are almost always running some type of price promotion to get you to buy, especially during holidays. Look for these promotions when viewing their sites.
In addition you may want to check the Tech Bargains to look for brand specific discount coupons that may enable you to save money when purchasing a PC directly from a PC maker's site.
Another excellent place to look for coupon deals is PC Magazine's Deal Page. You'll find some excellent prices for both laptops and desktops on this page.
Coupon deals on these pages can be worth anywhere from $50 up to 40% off of the normally advertised price!
Be aware that many of these coupons are usually very specifically targeted. They do not apply to all PC configuations available on a PC maker's site unless expressly stated.
However it is possible to find a $50 off coupon that can be applied in the shopping cart to lower the price of nearly any PC offered by that maker.
These savings and free shipping may make it worthwhile to order directly from the manufacturer even if you must wait a week or two for your new PC to be delivered.
For a number of reasons some of these specials and coupons are not highly advertised. You must actively search them out. So if you do not urgently need a new PC take some time to view the specials & sales and look for discount coupons at LogicBuy and other discount sites.
Find the best prices - anytime
Another site to peruse for special deals is DealNews which publicizes the sales and best prices from stores like Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg, Tiger Direct, Walmart and many others.
Computer Monitors (Display)
Think about your computer monitor. You will be looking at it a lot. If you have a bad or worse yet, an old, bad display, eventually your eyes will pay for it.
You can now get a good 20inch flat panel PC LCD display for less than $150, or even less than $100 if you look hard enough. Most lower-cost LCD monitors are usually standard HD (1366x768), sometimes referred to as 720p. But for a bit more money you can get a full HD LCD monitor (1920X1080). Your eyes will thank you! (If you are picky about color reproduction and wide viewing angles, you should look for a monitor with an IPS screen as well as Full High Definition)
You don't always get the best price for a monitor simply because it's bundled with the PC when you buy it. Get the best computer display you can possibly afford! This also applies to laptop displays.
Use your HD TV as a computer monitor
Alternatively, if you have a late model 4K or full HD 1080p 40 inch or smaller LCD TV you can connect your PC to it with a HDMI cable which will give you both video and sound. Use your TV for double duty and surf the net on your TV! Get a wireless keyboard and mouse so you can back up a bit for comfortable viewing.
Note: A really large TV (46 inch or larger) may be overwhelming for a computer, but it's really a matter of choice. You'll almost certainly need a wireless keyboard and mouse to enable you to back away from a large TV for comfortable viewing.
If you already have a good flat panel monitor look around to see if you have an adaptor for it for the newer video connections that come with new PCs. Most older PCs use a VGA connection. Many newer PCs use a connection called DVI. Some even use HDMI. Some have multiple video connections.
Be sure you have the correct connector or adapter so you won't have to make another trip to the store before you can use your new PC. Either a DVI or HDMI connection is full digital and necessary for full HD (1920X1080) resolution.
I recommend a PC with an HDMI connection if you can get it.
Be ready for disaster
Just because you have a new PC there is no guarantee that you will have no problems. If your hard drive fails or you should happen to get a bad PC virus, requiring a re-install of Windows, you may end up losing all your irreplaceable files, photos, and music that you have accumulated.
To guard against this possibility, I recommend that when you get your new computer also spend a few extra dollars on a USB flash drive to back up your personal files on. All you will need to do is drag your files to the flash drive and they will be saved - ready to be reloaded onto your PC if disaster should strike.
I recommend a USB 3.0 drive, at least 16GB - 32GB would be better. A 32GB flash drive is inexpensive yet plenty large enough to hold your common files. Cost is usually less than $20 or possibly even less than $10 if you can find one on sale!
In addition, a USB 3.0 device is much faster than the older, and more common, USB 2.0. Most new PCs have at least one USB 3.0 port.
Keep your backups current and you will never need to worry about losing your personal data. When you eliminate the malware or replace your hard drive simply reload your data from the flash drive!
For more information (especially about creating recovery disks) see my file How to Backup your PC.
About Chromebooks (and other non-Windows devices)
As I mentioned earlier on this page, Chromebooks, Android devices and Apple iOS tablets (iPads) are well suited to surf the internet and run their own (often cloud-based) versions of productivity programs. Most Chrome and Android devices can be considered cheap internet appliances. Even though iPads have come down in price in the last few years, they cannot be considered cheap.
Some Chromebooks cannot be considered cheap either!
Chromebooks seem to be overtaking Apple's iPad in educational settings since they are less expensive, normally have a keyboard, and surf the internet just as well as any other PC-like device.
The caveat, is that all of these devices require a robust internet connection to perform their basic functions. A Chromebook without an internet connection and a wireless router is severely limited in use compared to a traditional Windows PC.
With all of that said, if you have no need to use Windows software and have a good internet connection along with a decent wireless router then a Chromebook may be exactly what you are looking for.
Before you buy
Before buying a Chromebook to replace your old Windows PC I urge you to do some research first. See the Google Chromebook page and see if a Chromebook will fully serve your needs.
Also see the Microsoft page describing the differences between Windows PCs and Chromebooks.
Finally, here is a slightly biased independent comparison of Windows PCs and Chromebooks. The writer is irritated because of Microsoft's add campaign concerning Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, however his facts are accurate.
Refurbished Computers and Monitors
There are some very good deals to be had for refurbished Desktop PCs and also older flat-panel monitors. I would hesitate to recommend to anyone to go out to buy someone's old computer and monitor, unless you know the person selling it very well. Generally all you're doing is buying someone's problems and paying to make them your own.
Having said that I've noticed that there are a few acceptable places to shop for refurbished electronic equipment, especially PCs.
Where to look for refurbished PCs
I recommend Amazon.com,
Ebay.com, Newegg, or Tiger Direct since these places will offer some sort of guarantee that you will receive exactly what you ordered. Even refurbished PCs should come with at least a 90-day warranty.
What to look for
Do not accept a PC with an obsolete operating system that may no longer be supported. Avoid Windows 95, Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7!
The computer should start and run without hesitation or any password. There should be no other files or programs on the hard drive except the operating system. In addition, the Windows 10 OS should be valid and genuine.
Installed RAM(random access memory): At least 4GB or more is desirable.
Processor (CPU): Look for at least an Intel i3 or AMD A-9 or higher> processor.
Hard Drive size: An 80GB hard drive is barely enough space to hold the Windows operating system as well as any of your data you will accumulate. I recommend at least a 250GB hard drive. A 500GB would be even better if you can afford it.
Check all other peripheral equipment when you receive your PC: Even a refurbished PC should ship with a decent USB keyboard and a USB mouse. The DVD player should be in working order as well as all of the ports - USB, VGA, ethernet port, audio port etc. Check them all by plugging a device into them upon receipt of your PC - attach a monitor and insert a DVD. All components should be in working order. If not, a return for your money back is very appropiate.
If everything is not working properly the seller did not refurbish the PC very well, or at all. If you find even one thing wrong also look inside the case to see if it has been cleaned. (you should probably do this in any case) If you got the refurbished PC through one of the above named dealers they will likely require that the seller pay for the return shipping if you did not receive what you paid for (a working PC). It never hurts to ask about these things before you buy!