One of the most confusing and confounding questions that you can ask in the 21st century is how do I choose a new computer? If you have never bought a computer, or it has been a long time since you have bought one, you are going to have to start from scratch. My first experience was one of excitement and complete blindness. I went to the computer swap meet with a known budget of $1,500 and picked something that sounded great - after all, computers are all the same aren’t they? Later I realised that I didn’t get any value for money and had to buy a lot of extras in the coming months, some of which were not readily available for at least another 12 months.

PICTURE: Maria Luisa Menasche (www.sxc.hu)

I have since bought a few computers and have come up with a few steps that should result in you getting a decent computer that will last a few years.

Step One: Work out what you need it for. If all you want to do with the computer is connect it to the internet and run office applications like word processors and spreadsheets, you can get away with buying a very simple computer for a very low price. If you want a family computer so the kids can play games and want to play DVD’s, you are going to need a computer with grunt - gaming machines require a lot of processing power so you will need a video card and fairly new processor.

Step Two: Take your time, do your homework. Buy a few computer magazines to get a grasp of what technologies are old, what the current trends are, and readers' feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Reading the articles will help you start to get a good idea of how the components work and benefits. Two magazines that I suggest are PC User and PC Authority.

Step Three: Design a system yourself. By this point you should know enough to figure out what you want and don’t want for your PC. Write down the components in a list - one way of doing this is to copy a computer package that a store has put together to make sure all the parts match, especially processor and motherboard. Do not buy new technlogy - it always comes down in price, sometimes gets abandoned and you might be stuck with a dud. Do not buy old technology - this will lead to incompatibility and you will have to upgrade a lot sooner than you should have to.

Step Four: Leave room to grow. If you only get what you need and put it in a case that only just fits, down the track you might need more space - for example, you decide to put in a TV card, which requires an extra (pci) expansion slot but if there is none remianing unused in your system, then you can not have the TV card. The same applies with ports, you might buy a video camera which requires a firewire port - if your PC does not have it, you have to do a work around which can be expensive or very tricky.

Step Five: Shop around. Buy a Computer Trader (classifieds for PCs) from your local swapmeet or newsagent and compare systems. Go through the ads with prices for each item and write them down. Add up the component prices to chose the lowest price. You might even find a package that resembles your system for a cheaper price than buying individual components.


What's been your experience of buying a computer? Leave your tips and feedback below...