How to choose a computer (part 1)

Your first step when choosing your computer: what does it look like?

I bet you could choose between eating an omelette, salad or sushi. So why is it challenging to choose the right computer? A well-chosen machine should last you for 5 – 7 years. Making a good choice at the beginning will do much to minimise your frustrations later. So starting from basics, I would like to offer you some guidelines for choosing the right type of machine for you.

There are five choices when choosing your new computer before you get to all the gigahertz and gigabytes. These are: where you will use your computer; screen size (particularly for laptops); do you edit photos and create documents; Apple or Windows; and finally, your budget. Like a good story, your choices will naturally lead you towards the right kind of machine for you.

How much will you be moving your computer from place to place? If the answer is ‘never’ and you want lots of upgrade potential for the hidden techie in you then a desktop is your natural choice. Wanting even a smidgen of mobility will nudge you towards a laptop. At the other extreme, if your computer will live snugly in your bag then you will want to weigh the choice between a slim portable and a tablet. If this is you, take a look at one of the tablet / laptop hybrids such as the Lenovo Yoga which has the remarkable ability to swing the keyboard right around to become a stand while you tap on the screen.

Screen size is important when choosing a laptop, particularly if you frequently lug your computer around. While a large screen makes for a less crowded view, it also adds to the weight and tends to shorten the battery life.

Just as you would only choose slippers for smooth terrain, a tablet is often better for consuming information rather than creating new documents. This distinction can become blurred but for extended typing and demanding work, or simply more space to store your music and photos you will be looking towards a laptop.

Then we come to the question of Apple versus Windows. There is a significant price hike when choosing Apple. While I find that Apple computers are generally better integrated and make for sweat-free work, do check that they can run the software you want. Also note that while their ‘retina’ laptops have wonderful screens they have virtually no upgrade potential. Like an ipod, what you buy is what you have forevermore while the demands of software march ever onwards. Please note: should your darling ‘retina’ develop a hardware memory fault then it is painfully expensive to fix.

Windows is the charming companion we know with a wide range of hardware choices and a massive library of software to complement its large array of issues, viruses and malware.

Finally we reach budget. At the time of writing (October 2015), good generally purpose Windows machines start at £350. Those with superior components weigh-in at around £550. Bells, whistles and the better screens arrive at £850+. Apple laptops begin at £750 and run to £2000+. Second hand machines can be significantly cheaper but have a range of special considerations that demand an article to themselves.

In the next article, I will guide you in selecting your fresh computer from among the shoal of silvery choices as we turn to the inner world of gigabytes and gigahertz.