What to look for when buying a computer

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Buying a computer!

Many people look at buying a new computer, and get confused. Not a hard thing to do, with the vast choices available. Using this guide will make it easier to make that choice, what to look out for, what to avoid, and what are good and bad deals.

(Please contact me if there is anything you feel i should add to this guide. Please rate the guide as well. Thanks)

1. What do you want from a computer?
Relatively simple question to answer, what are you intending on using the computer for? Are you going to use it, purely for the internet, just email, or are you looking to play high end games? The use of the computer can affect the price of the computer quite dramatically. For example, there is no point in buying the most powerful computer on the market, to use purely for email. You would be wasting a LOT of money doing this. Maybe you're not entirely sure of what use the computer will get, or maybe it is a family computer, and may get all sorts of use. In this situation, the top end computers are still not required, but instead, a computer in the middle to top end of the market would be suitable. (Read later to find out suitable specifications for various tasks)

2. Do you truely care what it looks like?
Don't buy a computer purely for how it looks! Many people will choose a less powerful, more expensive computer because it looks better, than a more powerful cheaper computer. Why? A computers performance is no way affected by the case that it is in. Just because it looks nice, doesn't make it brilliant. Obviously, some cases are more expensive than others, and offer a superior build quality, but just make sure that the case offers everything that you could make use of. Say for instance, you have a USB Memory stick that you carry all of your work around on. A large number of computer cases, have front access USB ports to plug devices such as that in, however, there are still cases (including the best looking ones) that do not have this. This would mean you would either have to buy a USB extension lead, or, crawl behind the computer everytime you wanted to use it. Is that what you really want?

3. Power
Check the power specifications of the computer. There probably wont be any problems if you don't, however, there are instances where you will have problems. Lets say you found a nice computer from an american dealer. It did everything you wanted it to, so you purchased it. Upon arrival, you plugged it in and switched it on, however, it made a loud bang noise and didn't work. Why? Well, the americans as you may know, use a much lower voltage than us. If the power supply in the computer, does not switch between 110 and 220 Volts, then it WILL NOT work in this country without the power supply being changed. If you try to use this, the system fails. So make sure, that the power supply used is able to handle the voltage (only applies if computer was built in forgeign country and uses forgeign components). The other reason for checking the power supply, is for performance. With computer power increasing rapidly, so does its requirement for power. If you buy a powerful computer, and the power supply doesn't supply enough power, the system will be unstable, and will not work as is supposed to. Make sure that the power supply is AT LEAST 450v preferably more, just to be safe. The system will run with less than 450v, however there may be problems after a while. Especially on high end machines.

4. Waranty
Does the supplier offer a waranty? The longer the better. Just as though you had bought the computer from a normal shop, you want to be able to know that you can simply return the computer if a problem should arise. If there is no waranty, you end up with a dudd computer, and if you have no computing knowledge, no way of solving it. You cannot return the components that are faulty as you don't know where they were purchased, and to arrange for a computer retailer to sort it out, will cost as much, if not more than you paid to buy it, So make sure they offer a waranty! Preferably around 12 months or more.

5. Software? With or without?
What software does it come with, if any? Sellers may wow you with their computer and tell you how much of a fantastic deal it really is, however, if there is no operating system, you will need to buy one. Without one, the computer is more or less useless, and the price of operating systems is not cheap. For example, a copy of Windows XP Pro will set you back anything up to another £100, Home edition up to around £70 depending on retailers. Just make sure that the price of the computer either includes the operating system, or has the value of the operating system taken off of it when compared to other offers. If it is included, then make sure it is legal. Many suppliers will install vast amounts of software, and none of it legal. To check for this, either look on the auction, or contact dealer. The auction may say that the operating system or other software comes 'OEM' This is fine. This means that it is legal software, but it won’t come in all the original boxes you would normally get. Instead, you will receive the disc of the operating system incase you need to reinstall, the instruction manual for doing this and the license for that operating system. Just look out to ensure that the software supplied is in fact legal, either by looking for OEM or retail box information on auction page, or directly contacting seller. (OEM is good for software only, not always good for hardware!)

6. Components
What components are used in the computer. Make sure they are all brand names! (list of names to look out for further down) With computers, like everything else, there are brand name for products, which, needless to say are more expensive. However, in computing, this will make a big difference. If a computer is built from the cheapest components available, there is a good chance, it will not work at all, or how it is supposed to. By using branded components, there is a much greater chance of it working properly.

So, what should you be buying? Firstly, as mentioned earlier, the use of the computer. The following are what should be included for each type of use

Internet and email
Processor - Doesn't need to be hugely powerful. For a very stable system, around 3ghz but need only have a LOT less, around 2ghz maybe
Memory - Use at least 512mb of memory for a stable system that will have what you need
Graphics - Don't need powerful graphics. Around 64mb graphics card will be sufficient
Storage - The smallest now is around 80GB. For this computer use, 80GB should be plenty. (Either ATA or SATA connection type)
Optical media - A DVD drive can be useful, perhaps a CD-RW drive, but is not vital. Most are supplied with DVD-RW however.
Floppy drive - Useful to have around, however, outdated technology, and not required
Monitor - Flat screens are nice, but more expensive. Base this on the storage space you have more than anything. If limited, then choose flat screen.
Keyboard + Mouse - Any will do, no requirements here
Speakers - Nice to have but not required, however would recommend. Simple set of 2 is satisfactory

For a high end games machine, the following should be used

Processor - A dual core will provide superior power (more details later)
Memory - For gaming, 1GB should be the least, but 2GB will give much better performance
Graphics - Either a 256mb card, 512mb card, OR SLI (2 graphics cards joined) at 256mb or 512mb each. (more details later)
Storage - A lot of storage will be needed. Look for around 250gb as a suitable storage amount
Optical media - A DVD-RW would be good, and a second DVD drive would be ideal
Floppy - Again, not required however, can be useful
Monitor - Flat screen give best quality and larger sizes. Ensure at least 1 17 inch TFT monitor (more details later)
Keyboard + Mouse - Wireless and optical are good, however, any can be used. No requirements.
Speakers - For best sound, 5.1 surround speakers are brilliant, however ensure sound card will accept it (more details later)

Details and names to look out for.

As you probably noticed above, i mentioned more details would follow, and here they are

Brand Names
Processors will generally only come from 2 manufacturers. Intel, and AMD, both offering a range of different processors. If they are said to be made by any other company, simply ignore them (Unless the computer is an Apple mac. They then may be IBM processors. This is normal)

Memory has many manufacturers, however some are better. The most commonly known, and best manufacturers are
Viking Components
Try and look out for those manufacturers as they will provide the best quality

The Motherboard is the most important part of the computer, so, as you should expect, should be the best quality component. The following are some of the best manufacturers of motherboards to look out for
MSI (Micro-Star International)
These the the best known manufacturers of motherboards, so try and look for these. Avoid companies such as PC Chips, as they are budget motherboards and may not provide stability in the computer.

Hard Drives come in all different storage sizes, the following offering the best quality drives
Western Digital
These will offer the best quality drives with large storage, and quiet running.

The Optical Media has fewer manufacturers but try to look out for
When buying a DVD or CD RW look out for its copying speeds and what formats it copies in. The higher the better.

The floppy drive isn't made by many companies so maufacturers of this aren't quite as vital, but companies such as Sony produce the best.

Graphics cards are produced by many different companies, but the actual graphics chip is produced by just two companies. ATi and NVidia. Look out for these cards. If they are made by just ATi or NVidia they will be of a higher quality.

The monitor has many manufacturers. The best are made by
Apple Mac
All the other manufacturers offer good quality monitors at lower costs, but for the best quality, stick to these brand names or others you know to be reliable and good.

Keyboards and mice generall come in bundle packs of the two. The most popular sets are made by Logitech. You can't go far wrong if you get a set made by them. If the keyboard and mouse are wireless and optical then make sure they are a branded name. If they are wired, then don't be too worried.

When looking for speakers you need to know the type of quality you are looking for and the type of speakers you are able to have. For the best quality sound, 5.1 surround sound is ideal. Companies such as Creative produce brilliant speakers at lower costs. If you are not bothered about the quality of sound you get, then it's not a problem who they're made by.

Above are the main manufacturers to look out for. Below is a breakdown of each component and what you should look for in them.

Processor - Don't think that the number is everything. One processor at 3.0Ghz may not actually be faster than one at say 1.86Ghz. It is down to the type. Now that there are dual core processors, things have changed. For example, if you bought an Intel Dual Core 2 Duo, at 1.86Ghz, and compared it to a Pentium D 3.0Ghz, the Core 2 Duo would out perform the pentium. This shows not to rely on what they tell you. When looking for a powerful computer, a Dual Core processor is ideal. For a lower end computer, it is not. When looking at dual core's, there are a few different kinds. AMD don't offer many kinds, however, Intel off 3 or 4 types. The Core Duo, Core 2 Duo, Pentium D, and Xeon. The pentium D may offer a faster speed on paper, yet in practice, the Core 2 Duo and the Xeon will offer superior performance, the xeon in paticular. If a seller is offering a processor at anything about 4 Ghz, it isn't real, or they don't fully understand the concept. A dual core processor doesn't double the speed of the processor, so don't also get misled by the "dual" part. It simply means that the processor can calculate 2 things at once at the same speed, rather than 2 things at once and half its normal speed.

Graphics - High end machines can now have 2, or anything up to 4 graphics cards running simaltaneously. But do you really need this? Probably not. Most gamers can easily get away with just 1 graphics card, so unless you truely need it, there isn't much point in getting dual graphics (SLI) When looking at graphics cards, there are two numbers that apply. The graphics card memory, and the number of bits. The higher of both, the better performance you will get with graphics. A lot of sellers will only state the memory of the card, so do your own research of ask the seller of the number of bits it can handle. For example, high end games require 256 bit graphics performance, however this is not the same as 256mb. Most 256mb graphics cards are only capable of 128 bit graphics, so make sure you can get the highest of both bit and mb performance from the card.

Monitor - When looking at the monitor, there are a number of things to look for. The most important of which, being its resolution. Most monitors come at aroun 17 inches, and at this size, will have a native resolution of 1280 x 1024 which is good. A lot of sellers will say they are selling with a 19 inch or larger monitor, however, stupidly, these normally have the same resolution as a 17 inch, so although physically, it is much bigger, you wont see any more on the screen. More expensive monitors do however offer a much higher resolution. A few of the top spec Dell monitors offer this, and the Apple mac Cinema displays offer very high resolutions (probably the best on the market)


Many of the components have certain connection types, some faster than others which will dramatically affect the performance.

Memory - DDR, DDR 2 are the most common. DDR 2 is faster, and then in different kinds. You will see something similar to DDR II 3700. The higher the number is, the better it is, and if it id DDR 2 it is better than just DDR. If it is SDRam then it is much slower and a lot worse than DDR so stay clear if you can.

Hard drive - The hard drives have 3 common types of connection. ATA, SATA and SATA 2. ATA is the slowest of the connections, followed by SATA, however most computers will now use SATA as it is a lot faster than ATA. SATA 2 is twice the speed of ATA. If you can get one with SATA 2 then brilliant, otherwise SATA is perfect. If you can avoid standard ATA it would be better. These connection types determine the speed at which data can be transferred to and from the drive. The faster the better.

Graphics - Graphics connections come in two kinds; AGP and PCI-Express. Try and go for the latter. Graphics will run more smoothly, faster, and wont be glitchy.

Monitor - The monitor can connect to the graphics card through 2 interfaces; VGA or DVI. DVI is the best connection type, so if possible, get the monitor with this connection. The image will be more stable and faster, giving better quality. Apple mac sometimes use a different type of connection so check that if purchasing one.

Also, make sure you look out for normal ebay problems, such as feedback scores and such like.

Hopefully this guide will help you decide which computer to buy, and what to look out for. If you have any other questions then feel free to contact me, i'll be happy to help, whether computer related in any way, or ebay related in general.


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