Dan the Computer Man

Your Computer's Best Friend
In-home computer repair in the San Antonio area

Shop for a new computer

Are you debating whether you should repair or replace your computer? Read my article to help you decide.

You need a solid state drive!

If you have basic needs and you just want a computer, this is all you need to know to shop for one:

  • Get a solid state drive! Avoid a computer with only a hard drive and buy one with an SSD (see below). (Minimum 240 GB SSD)
  • $500-800 for a regular Windows desktop (without screen) or $600-900 for a regular Windows laptop
  • 8 GB Memory (RAM) minimum
  • 5 or 7 series processor (i5/i7 or Ryzen 5/7)

You need a solid state drive!

Special features mean higher cost! A laptop with a touchscreen (or a screen that detaches or twists around) will cost more, or be slower for the same price. An All-in-One should cost more or it will be less powerful. The above price suggestions are for regular computers without these special features. If you want something with extra features, remember they cost more.

You need a solid state drive!


Confusing? Give me a call.

Please also read the following points.

If you have above-average needs or are curious, please see technical information at the end.

Manufacturers. I don't care who made the computer as long as it meets the other criteria. Choose a major manufacturer because it's less expensive than paying someone to build one for you. FYI, Lenovo took over IBM's personal computer division, and Asus has been making motherboards longer than they've been selling complete computers. Dell is good. Toshiba has been making laptops forever. Others are also good, including HP and Acer.

Where to buy. Wherever you want. Best Buy is the only specialty electronics store in town. Costco, Office Max, Office Depot, Base Exchange have very few models to choose from. I recommend shopping online to get the specs I suggest, especially for an SSD. The websites below are listed because they offer filtering for specs.
The following links should limit results to computers with SSDs.
If a link doesn't work, try a more general-purpose link in the second table.
HP desktops
Dell desktops
Best Buy desktops
HP laptops
Dell laptops
Best Buy laptops
The following links are not limited to SSDs. (Remember to look for SSD yourself.)
HP desktops
Dell desktops
Acer desktops
Lenovo desktops
HP laptops
Dell laptops
Acer laptops
Lenovo laptops
Dynabook/Toshiba laptops

Price range. I cannot recommend a bargain-priced computer, but at the same time, you need not overbuy. If you get something in the price range above, it's hard to go wrong.

Memory or RAM. This is the workspace for actively running tasks on the computer. Although you might not need tons of memory, the better computers come with more memory right from the factory. Do not get a computer with less, thinking you will upgrade the memory. Just get the computer with more memory because it is a better computer overall.

Storage Drives

Hard drive. You do not need the high storage capacity of a desperately slow hard drive; you need a faster device than that: an SSD.

Solid State Drive (SSD). This storage device is similar to a hard drive, but is far superior in its speed. It contains no spinning disks. Generally, for the same price as a hard drive, you get less storage capacity and an astronomical boost in speed. The speed makes all the difference! And very few people ever need the high storage capacity of a terabyte-plus hard drive anyway.
I recommend a minimum 256 GB. Most people don't need more.
Everyone needs a solid state drive. See my article on Solid State Drives.

SSD vs. Hard drive in desktops. There is often room for 2 drives in a desktop computer. The primary drive must be a solid state drive. If there is also a hard drive for extra storage, that's okay.
Minimum total storage must exceed 240 GB. For example, 128 GB SSD + 1 TB HDD. But it's easier to have a single drive, e.g. 256 GB SSD.

Types of Computers

All-in-One Desktop. This is the most expensive way to buy a computer. An All-in-One computer is a desktop computer with all components inside the monitor, rather than inside a separate box or tower. Expect to pay around 50% more for the same amount of computing power relative to a standard desktop computer.

Desktop computer. (AKA "desktop tower".) These give you the most muscle for least money. The computer components are inside a box separate from the screen, usually with wires between the box and components.
Do not get a narrow desktop computer. They are about 4 inches wide rather than the regular 7 inches. They tend to die faster because of less breathing room; also, since certain standard-sized parts don't fit in them, these would be special-order items if a replacement part were needed.

Laptop computer. Portable, opens like a clamshell. In choosing a size, you need to make a tradeoff between visibility and portability. In other words, a large, easy-to-see screen makes a heavy computer, and a small screen makes a light one. Generally the 15" laptops are about right for most people.

Special Form-Factor Laptop, or 2-in-1. Some laptops have detachable keyboards or twistable screens, allowing them to convert to a tablet in some way. These features will add to the cost.

Tablet. These handheld computers are incredibly convenient for consuming media, e.g. web surfing, reading, and playing. However, they are not full-blown computers, and are not good for work. For example, you can use email, but may have difficulty opening many attachments. They don't have physical keyboards, so you won't want to type more than a bit on the touchscreen.

Apple Macintosh. Apple makes great computers, but they are significantly more expensive than most Windows computers. Also, they don't run Windows, so the transition can be difficult for some people. Don't buy one until you've sat down to use it for 20 or 30 minutes. If you've been considering an Apple computer, you must first decide between Apple and Windows before you do anything else. (If you go with Apple, don't worry about the rest of this page.)

Chromebook. A light-duty, internet-only laptop. It does not run Windows, so it cannot run Windows programs. Instead it runs Google's more lightweight Chrome OS, which works well for internet access. Since Chrome OS demands less work of computer equipment than Windows does, the price is lower because beefy equipment is not needed.

Touch screen. This option makes perfect sense on a handheld computer (tablet), but you may not really use it on an all-in-one computer or a laptop sitting across from you on a table. It can cost an extra hundred or so, so be sure you really want it.

CDROM drive. Many laptops now come without a CDROM (or optical) drive. You may not need one anymore, but if you want one, you can get an external USB CDROM drive for about $40. Also, desktop computers are now coming with CDROM drives that are thinner, flimsier, and designed for laptop computers, often mounted vertically.

Windows versions. A new version of Windows will come on a new computer. If you are not looking forward to a change, remember that it's the same basic thing: you click on icons to open programs. It's not much different until you start digging around the settings, so don't worry.

Microsoft Office. This software package comes with Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and optionally, Outlook and Publisher. Microsoft Office is a separate paid product than Microsoft Windows. If you already have an old version on a computer that you will be retiring, the chances are good that you can reuse it on a new computer. If you wish to use a free alternative to Office, see my software article.
If you wish to buy a new Office product, that can be done at any time on the internet as an immediate download, so you need not buy it along with the computer. Microsoft sells Office in 2 ways: as an annual or monthly subscription; or as an outright purchase that you can keep using for many years. Ask me if you have questions about the particular packages.

Processor. Today's processors have multiple cores, or essentially multiple CPUs in one. A multi-core processor is like a head with multiple brains. That translates to more speed.
Both manufacturers Intel and AMD are fine.
Get a 5 or 7 (or even 9) series processor.
Examples:
Intel i5, i7; AMD Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7. The higher I-number, the faster the CPU.
Avoid 3-series CPUs; and avoid Celeron, Pentium, Atom CPUs; and avoid AMD's A series.
If you want to compare specific CPUs, try this website: CPU Benchmark or their CPU Mega List