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2019 Computer Buying Guide

Friends-Romans-Countrymen, Technology No Comment

Christmas isn’t that far off, and that idiocy that is the Canadian version of the US idiosyncracy that is “Black Friday” is even closer.  This means that prices are starting to creep up so that sales look better on on the greed fests at the end of November and December.

It also means that people will be buying computers, and by January be complaining that they’re slow, whining about Microsoft, etc.  So in order to, hopefully, save some people some grief, I’ve decided to write a little buying guide.  This information, if taken to heart and followed, should not only get you the computer you need, but also save me and those like me the hassle of trying to explain to you why your computer is slow without making you look like a cheapskate.

Step 1: Determine what you want to use the computer for

I can’t stress this enough. All computers are not created equal. They are tools, and they’re intended for specific purposes. A hardcore gamer needs different equipment than a photographer or your grandmother.

If all you want to do is watch netflix and youtube, buy an AppleTV. Seriously. In fact, a modern smart-TV probably costs less than any computer and may even have netflix and youtube built-in.

If you just want to do email and browse the web, rarely doing much else of note, then you need a tablet, not a laptop or desktop. Buy a bluetooth keyboard with it for those times when you need to do slightly more business-like work. Always buy the newest, largest tablet you can afford because if you skimp, you will be unhappy, guaranteed. Planned obsolescence is bad enough in this part of the market without cutting off your own legs cheaping out. However, if you don’t mind moving your data from device to device, money can be saved buying older versions more often. You’re trading price for inconvenience and environmental damage, but it could be workable. Also, if you’re not technically inclined, buy an iPad. This is not because Apple itself is anything special – indeed, they’re overpriced and have less functionality than an Android tablet… but they do have AppleCare. Unless you’re a computer geek, you (and your computer geek friends) really will want AppleCare on your tablet.

If you do actual work, think hard about whether you really need a laptop. The determining factor should be: Does my work require that I need my whole computer with me when I move around? Odds are, the answer is no, but it’s a personal decision. Just recognize that in terms of bang-for-the-buck, laptops are crazy expensive and inflexible.

Step 2: Pay for the correct specifications

Desktop or laptop, the important thing is not to cheap-out on what is important. And that means: DO NOT CHEAP OUT ON MEMORY. I cannot stress that enough, particularly if you plan to run Windows. Yes, the minimum specs for Windows 10 is a 1 GHz CPU and 2 GB of RAM. That’s fine if you’re going to time-travel back to 1998. A machine acquired in 2019 should have 8 GB or more memory. If it doesn’t, you’re going to hate it and be whining about a slow computer on Facebook in less than 2 years. If you are on a limited budget and need to sacrifice something to get more memory, then reduce, in order: graphics card, internal storage (hard drive), screen size.

The logic there is that if you’re not doing a lot of gaming, you probably don’t need a high-end graphics card. Internal storage doesn’t matter much after 256 GB because external storage is cheap and easily available (USB drive or cloud). Screen size may be less important because you can always attach an external screen. If any sales drone tells you that 2, 4, or 6 GB memory is fine, they are flat-out wrong. You will be sorry if you purchase such a machine, guaranteed.

Also, and this is a bit hardcore for people not technically inclined: Do not, under any circumstances, run a 32-bit operating environment on any computer purchased since 2011. Why? Because CPUs have been 64-bit since 2011 (mostly before that, but 32-bit CPUs were still being produced in small batches until 2011). Companies try to sell underpowered laptops with low memory by running 32-bit Windows. It’s unnecessary, it’s slow, it will make Jesus cry. It will also make your techy friends cry when you keep calling them to complain that this or that device isn’t supported, that your computer is slow, and so on.

Think about how long you plan to keep the thing. If it’s intended to be used for a couple of years, then tossed, you can probably cheap out and buy whatever junk you want. If you plan to hold on to it for 6-10 years, then you definitely want whatever you buy to be upgradeable. That usually means buying a desktop, and pretty much requires that if you aren’t capable of building your own computer, you enlist the advice and assistance of someone who is… and most importantly, listen to what they have to say. Do not trust a computer salesman to do this for you. Much better to hit up your kids now with your “mom needs help buying a computer” call than with years of “can you speed up my computer?” calls. You and your computer-geek kids will be happier.

Step 3: Mac or PC or Linux

Ahhh… the age-old debate.

If you are not a computer nerd and don’t have ready access to compliant, tolerant computer nerd friends and relatives, buy an Apple product (Mac, iCrap), and pay for AppleCare. There is absolutely no wiggle room on this.

Yes, you’ll be stuck with regular planned obsolescence. Yes, it will cost more than a Windows machine. However, you will save your sanity, and likely the sanity of everyone around you.

MacOS will run business applications that are standard everywhere. You can even run Reflections and slide a Windows environment on there if you need some special application. The Genius Bar, via AppleCare will support you. It is a win all-round.

If you are a mid-level computer nerd, or really just can’t afford an Apple, then PC+Windows is your next bet. They’re ubiquitous, compatible with nearly everything, and if you’ve bought something upgradable, they’re more immune to the industry’s planned obsolescence. You will, however, have to be capable of figuring computer stuff out on your own.

A modern business-quality machine would be something like an Intel i5 or higher CPU (or AMD equivalent), 1.8 GHz or better clock, 8 GB or more RAM, and a 256 GB SSD. You can save a bit of money by getting a hard drive instead of an SSD, but your computer will seem slow. Nobody has ever regretted getting an SSD.

If you are a power nerd, you’re probably not even reading this because you already know it. However, Linux is for people who really know what they are doing. If you’re someone’s dad and not a lifelong computer geek, and someone tells you “you should run Linux”, that person needs to be told to do something sexually challenging with their own body because they clearly hate you. If you are that nerd, and don’t have a lot of direct business application interaction with the real world, Linux certainly has the right price point, and Libre Office will get you far enough.

If you’re a gamer, you need a high-end desktop PC running Windows. It will be expensive. Enough said on that.

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