Prices continue to drop and a good PC can be purchased for around $500. A decent laptop for around $750.
When purchasing a new (or used) computer, you need to understand these 4 things:
1. Processor. Think of it as the brain of the computer. Usually the larger numbers like 2.8, 3.0+ mean faster, “smarter brain”
2. RAM. The adrenaline of the computer. Think Red Bull. Think caffeine. More RAM equals faster computer. Get 2GB or more if you can afford it.
3. Hard Disk (or hard drive). The storage unit of your computer. My Documents, My Pictures, etc. 80GB is the default size on my most new computers, but usually $25 will get you an upgrade to a 160GB drive.
4. Video. I usually upgrade the video card when buying new. Read some online reviews about the cards that are offered and choose one you like. If you want two monitors, make sure you get dual VGA or DVI outputs.
So how do you get the biggest bang for the buck?
You’ll need to balance your mix of ‘body parts’, but RAM is usually your best investment. Try to get 3GB if you can afford it. Your computer or laptop will simply perform better.
As far as the processor, you really aren’t going to go wrong with many CPU’s out right now. Most are so fast they are going to run your Office apps, Internet Explorer, email, and media player without breaking a sweat. If you plan on purchasing a video camera and want to make home movies on your computer, go for the fastest CPU you can afford.
As far as peripherals like mice, keyboards, and monitors some name brands are better than others. When purchasing a new computer, I usually upgrade the keyboard/mouse to a nicer Logitech wireless combo. More expensive keyboards are usually nicer to type on and nicer wireless mice have better ergonomics and “feel better”.
Should I buy online or at an electronics store? Typically the prices online are usually cheaper, but you may have to wait up to a week to get your computer. Dell and HP have the strongest offering and you may even get a free monitor with some PC specials. Electronic stores typically try to bundle printers and other peripherals to increase the price by a couple hundred bucks.
If you know what you want you can save money by buying a refurbished model from Dell or HP for sometimes hundreds of dollars cheaper than a new price. I have had really good luck buying these type of systems. Typically they are unopened returns from incorrect orders and most refurbished models carry the original warranties. Read the fine print!