How to find the computer of your dreams

Whether you are buying a netbook for checking e-mail or getting a small super computer for your next 3-D animation, this guide will help you find your perfect system.

Buying a computer can be a complicated and disappointing process for some, but with a little bit of research and know how you will be on your way to computing utopia.

Step one is to make a list of all the things you think you’ll be using your computer for.

It’s very important to make this list before visiting a sales floor or doing any research. You should be the one setting the criteria for your computer, not some sales guy at Best Buy or an online geeky computer reviewer.

If you know that you are going to be using specific software tools, find out what the recommended system requirements are and start a list.

Software will usually have two hardware requirements listed. One will be called “Minimum Requirements” and the other “Recommended Requirements”.

You always want to try to meet or beat the recommend requirements for a software package. Shooting for the minimum requirements will only lead you to a slow and frustrating computing experience.

Once you have your list of core computing activities, start researching other things you might want to do with your computer. Be wary of sales hype and always ask yourself twice before adding something to your list.

Hardware Requirements depend greatly on what you plan to do with the computer.

If writing papers, taking notes, doing research, and sending e-mail is your goal then don’t worry about hardware requirements. Almost anything on the market will do.

If you plan on playing games, some advanced photo editing and video editing, or making 3-D animations then you probably want to consider hardware requirements carefully.

When considering price, many people consider the Internet to be the best place to find a good deal. But in the last couple of years this hasn’t always been true.

The word is out on Internet prices; brick and mortar retailers are fighting to stay competitive.

Don’t be suckered in by cheap prices though. Look for the the laptop you want first, then find the cheapest price.

When looking for a new computer get in your zen zone and think minimalistic. With both laptops and desktops you don’t want extra hardware cluttering them up and bogging them down.

Nothing will make your computer obsolete faster than some odd ball piece of hardware that nobody uses anymore or that breaks.

Desktops should be plain and simple. A FireWire (IEEE1394), or USB port on the front is fine. Stay clear of the memory card readers or other crazy doodads that are built into the case.

When picking out a monitor choose one without speakers or a web cam built in. You want each device to be separate (not integrated), unless you are really trying to save space on your desk.

Web cams and speakers can be pretty cheap extras to purchase separately; when they break or you want to upgrade, you don’t have to think about replacing the whole monitor.

Laptops are a little bit more of a gray area because they’re not as easy to expand as desktops. Try to find a laptop that doesn’t have a lot of extras that you won’t use.

An exception to the rule is standard interfaces. I’m talking about FireWire, USB, External SATA, Ethernet, WiFi, and Bluetooth.

If you don’t know what these things are just know one thing: when buying a computer standard interface ports and devices are like Pokemon. When picking out your computer you want to try and “catch them all”.

Look for as many standard interfaces as you can even if you think you’re not going to use them. These interfaces make your computer more upgradeable down the road.

Desktop computers: The device that started the home computing movement. In many situations a desktop will still be your best choice.

The biggest question to ask yourself is if you really need your computer to be mobile. If your answer is no, then a desktop computer is probably the right choice.

In most cases desktops are cheap, powerful, and expandable. You can often pay half the price for a desktop machine then you would for the equivalent laptop computer.

With hardware listings (spec sheets) on a desktop, you should be cautious. Try to find out which features are built into the mother board and which features are expansion cards. Having items be expansion cards is preferred because they are upgradeable and generally better hardware.

Expansion cards come in four different flavors PCI, PCI-X, AGP, and PCI Express (abbreviated PCIe or PCI-E). For the most part you want your desktop to have at least two if not three PCI Express slots.

A few devices you want to have as expansion cards are the video and sound card.

If you are going to do any gaming at all with your desktop, do not settle for an on-board video card. Even if you are not going to be gaming on your desktop try to avoid on-board video. A bad PCI Express or AGP video card will, in most cases run, circles around the on-board equivalent. They are upgradable while on-board is not.

On-board audio has been horrible since it’s conception. It’s noisy, cheap, and can often make the best of speakers sound like a tin can. If you really enjoy music or even slightly consider yourself an audiophile, then stay away from on-board audio like the plague.

For a lot of students a laptop is going to be the right choice due to their portability.

When looking at laptops in person, give them a good squeeze. That’s right, a squeeze. Squeeze around the palm rests where your hands will sit, squeeze around the monitor, close the screen and try to squish the laptop with both hands.

What you should feel is something solid. You shouldn’t hear squeaking sounds and it shouldn’t feel like your going to break it.

If it doesn’t feel solid to you, move on.

Like desktops, you don’t want a bunch of extra hardware features built into your laptop. The more devices you have integrated the more likely one of them will break.

You may be given the option for a solid state hard drive. If you can afford the price tag then go for it. Solid State Drives are less likely to break down and will give you huge savings on battery power.

When looking at the battery life of a product keep in mind that they are all lies. It’s a good rule of thumb to subtract one to two hours from the advertised battery life.

Make sure you are comfortable typing on the laptop’s keyboard. Many laptop keyboards can be very awkward.

Remember a laptop should meet two primary goals; it should be portable and it should be rugged. There is little point in getting a laptop if these goals are not met.

Netbooks are taking the laptop market by storm. As manufacturers race to build smaller and cheaper devices, you save big.

Netbooks are great because they are very portable, they don’t cost a lot of money (generally around $200 to $500), and they are good at accomplishing simple tasks like writing papers, doing research or checking e-mail.

A word of caution. Netbooks are generally very small. If you don’t like smaller screens or are concerned about typing on a small keyboard then a netbook may not be right for you.

They are also slower then most full fledged laptops. If you plan to use power hungry applications then a netbook won’t work at all.

Many netbooks come with the option to be preloaded with Linux. This may be a really good choice if you want something simple that you are not going to break. For more advanced users, Windows is probably the better choice.

No matter what computer you eventually choose, you’ll feel happier about your selection if you’ve taken the time to make an informed decision.