Sent to you by Chris Hunter via Google Reader:
I built a new computer a few years ago. I've always considered myself above average in the tech field, but looking back, I have a few regrets with the system I built – some of my decisions could've been much better. Even if you're thinking of buying a computer, not building one, you could be making the same mistakes as I did.
Most of these mistakes come down to a lack of knowledge. It's easy to make a sub-optimal purchase decision when you don't know all the facts. And even if you've read a lot of purchasing guides, you'll still make a few mistakes. So instead of telling you what you should look for when buying a new computer, here are some things you should avoid doing.
When Buying a Processor
The processor, also known as the CPU, is the brain of a computer system. It handles all of the calculations and operations that make software do what it does. A basic truth is that a faster CPU (meaning higher MHz/GHz) will result in a faster system. However, in recent years, CPU performance can't be determined by numbers alone anymore.
For example, an AMD CPU and Intel Core CPU might both be clocked at 2.5 GHz with 4 cores each, yet one may actually perform much better than the other. Why? Both CPUs may operate at 2.5 billion cycles per second, but the technology in the Intel Core CPU makes more use out of each cycle, so in reality it performs better.
Summary: Don't look only at the numbers. Learning which CPU is the best for you will take some research.
When Buying RAM
Like the CPU, people will often choose RAM by numbers. After all, 8 GB of RAM is 8 GB of RAM, isn't it? Not quite. It's true that having more RAM will boost your computer's performance, but you also have to know that RAM chips have an internal speed. 8 GB of RAM running at 1000 MHz will be slower than 16 GB of RAM running at 1333 MHz.
Summary: RAM is one of the cheapest components of a computer, yet it can boost performance by a noticeable amount. Don't look only at size, but also at speed, and buy the best you can afford.
When Buying Hard Drives
Like RAM, people often judge a hard drive's worth based on how much data it can hold. Nowadays, top-tier consumer hard drives have pushed into terabytes territory, and some people think that a 2 TB drive is automatically better than a 500 GB drive. Not exactly true.
Hard drives don't only have a size but a speed. Sounds familiar, right? Hard drives spinning at 5400 RPM are going to be quite a bit slower than hard drives spinning at 7200 or 11000 RPM, and that means that accessing the data on the hard drive will be that much slower. Hard drives are well known for being the bottleneck in a system's performance, so buying the fastest drive whenever possible is a good investment.
At the same time, hard drives are the computer component that is most prone to breaking down. A 1 TB drive is useless if it wears down in just 1 year, whereas a 500 GB drive that is built well and lasts 5 years is worth it.
Summary: Size is important, but so is speed and lifespan. If you need a fast system, faster hard drives may be better than larger ones. Also, read around for reviews and guides to gauge the lifespan of a particular hard drive model.
When Buying a Monitor
For the average person, monitors are all about size (I'm beginning to see a pattern here.) When you shop for monitors, you'll notice that there are a ton of specifications that you can choose from: screen size, screen type, contrast ratio, update frequency, color depth, power usage, etc. The problem with monitors is that most of those specifications can be confusing or meaningless.
Unless you are a videophile, you probably won't notice the difference between picture qualities, contrast ratios, LED vs. LCD, and all that jazz. However, you will regret buying a monitor that doesn't have the correct ports for your needs. You will regret buying a monitor that craps out in a year. You will regret buying a monitor that has a glare unless you look at it from a very specific angle.
Summary: Consider size, but also consider the facets of a monitor that will impact your daily use of it. Make sure it has the right connection ports. Read reviews and make sure it has a good lifespan. If possible, check it out in a store so you can see what it'll look like.
Sales Are Not Always Worth It
Whether you're buying a computer component or a full system, the sale price can be deceiving.
For example, let's say a website listing says you save 50% on a monitor. Sometimes, this price difference is between sale price and debut price rather than sale price and current market price. The monitor may have debuted at $300 and now you can buy it for $100, which seems like you're saving $200, but if that monitor has been around for a year and its current market price is $150, then you're only saving $50.
Another scenario is when two items are on sale. One is clearly better in all ways, but you can save more money by buying the one that is slighter worse. In this scenario, it might be better to shell out the extra money.
Summary: Cheaper is better for your wallet, but sometimes the performance hit isn't worth it. You really have to research your potential purchases in order to maximize your bang-for-its-buck.
Extended Warranties Are Not Always Worth It
Computer components – and electronic devices in general – are often bundled with extended warranties. These warranties will protect you if your purchase fails during a period of time starting from when you actually bought the item. Extended warranties are great for peace of mind, but depending on the item, it can be a big waste of money.
Most computer failures will occur long after the warranty expires. How many computer components fail within a year? A hard drive might warrant a warranty just because they're known for failing often, but components like monitors, keyboards, and CPUs will often outlive their warranty dates.
Summary: Warranty selection is really about juggling four considerations: the price of replacing the item, the expected lifespan of the item, the duration of the warranty, and the price of the warranty.
Like I said, most of these mistakes come down to a lack of knowledge, and that comes with good news and bad news. The good news is that lacking in knowledge can always be resolved by reading, researching, and learning. The bad news is that all of that takes times and effort – time and effort that you maybe can't afford.
If you can expand your knowledge and avoid these mistakes, great! If you can't, then you could consider outsourcing your computer-buying decisions to a friend or a colleague, although that solution might come with its own set of problems. Otherwise, the last option is to keep losing out on money and performance with every purchase.
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