Questions A New Computer
Buyer Should Ask
New to buying a computer and confused by all the terms? You aren't sure what you are looking at when you are at the computer store? Here are some basics about computers and what I look for when I buy a computer.
Basic warranty questions to ask:
1. What type of return policy do you have?
a. Some stores require a restocking fee on returns (normally around 10-15%). Make sure
you get what you want before you buy.
b. Some stores won't take a return after a short period (normally between 14-30 days).
After that it's yours.
2. If you do have to ship something back to the manufacturer, who pays the bill?
a. Some will require you to foot the bill for shipping it there and for shipping it back while
others will pay for it all.
b. Some will have what is called advance replacement. This is where you supply them
with a credit card number and they ship off a replacement right away. Once you receive
the replacement you send back the broken part. The credit card number is supplied to
the company in case you don't send back the bad part. If you send it back on time, you
aren't charged anything. If it's not received in the allotted time, you are charged for the
3. What type of support is there?
a. Some places have limited support. Check to see what days and times it is.
b. Some charge you per minute for support. If you are a new user, be careful. A simple fix
can end up being expensive.
c. You may want to search some of the manufactures on the internet. A lot of them have
what is called "bulletin boards". This is where buyers can post problems and hope for
solutions from other customers. If you see a lot of problems on the model you are
looking at……STAY AWAY FROM IT!
4. What type of warranty does it include?
a. Some warrantees only cover a short period. If an extended one is available, you may
want to purchase it. Remember, most shops charge at least $30 per hour for labor plus
parts (or more!).
b. If you buy a laptop, an extended warrantee is definitely going to be worth the extra
money. Especially if it is a replacement warranty. It's going to be a lot cheaper than
having to buy a new one.
Basic computer information and types of questions to ask:
Chip speed? When you see a computer advertised with say…an AMD Athalon 1.2GHZ chip, what exactly does that mean?
You will see a lot of different types and speed of chips on the market. Gigahertz or Megahertz (gig is faster) is how fast the processor or brain of the computer is. The higher the number, the faster the computer. Some typical ones are:
1. AMD. The computers manufactured with these chips are typically cheaper than the ones
manufactured with the Intell chip. You will get more for your money with these computers. I
prefer these computers myself. Some of chips they have out (lowest quality to highest
c. Athalon XP (newest and fastest ones out). These are typically faster than the Pentium 4
chips. Great chip if you are planning on playing mainly games.
2. Intell. Some people live and die by these chips. They have been around longer than
AMD. Some of chips they have out (lowest quality to highest quality chip):
a. Celeron (extremely slow processor). This processor was developed to compete with
the cheaper AMD Duron chips.
b. Pentium 3. These chips are getting increasingly harder to find since the introduction of
the P4 chip.
c. Pentium 4. This chip is one of the best if you are planning on working on programs that
are heavy with graphics.
d. Pentium 4m - This is a new chip that is coming out for notebooks. It's designed not only
for speed but also to save on power consumption. If you are thinking about buying a
notebook you may want to look into this chip.
How many slots for expansion? This means how many add in cards can you put into the computer. Some typical expansion cards are: TV tuners, better sound cards, better video cards, etc.
Typically, most new, off the shelf, computers are integrated. This means most of the parts are built onto the motherboard. If say the sound goes out on it, you have to replace the whole motherboard. Unless you get a custom made one or build one yourself, you won't be able to get away from integrated products. They are cheaper to build and less complicated. When buying a computer ask how many expansion slots it has. The more, the better. I recommend at a minimum, 3 extra slots. The expansion slots you may hear about are:
1. ASI. This is found only on older computers. It's a black long slot on the motherboard. The
newer computer motherboards don't come with these any more.
2. PCI. This is the most common expansion slot found in a computer. Most add on cards are
made in this format. This slot is a white expansion slot on the motherboard.
3. AGP. This is mainly for video cards. The newest video cards are 4X and the older ones
are 1X or 2X. If your motherboard is 4X compliant, buy a video card that is 4X. The
graphics will be better and smoother when playing games. This slot is a brown, short
expansion slot on the motherboard.
4. AMR. This slot is a very small slot. It's used for mainly for the new Modems.
Can the video and sound cards be disabled?
This is an important question to ask, especially if you plan on upgrading later to a better or faster card. Most can be disabled in the BIOS or by changing a jumper on the motherboard. Some can not. If you do plan on upgrading, make sure you are getting a computer with enough expansion slots for what you are planning on doing.
What type of memory should I get and how much in the computer?
The more memory, the better. The newer the operating system, the more memory you need to operate it. If you plan on using it to play mainly games get a lot of memory. I recommend at least 256MB (MB stands for megabytes). Some motherboards can now use 2 different types of memory, but only one type at a time. Depending on how much money you have to spend will determine which one you should buy. Some of the typical memory that you may see with the new computers are (from slowest to fastest):
1. PC 100. This is the slowest one out (the old PC 66 used to be). You won't find many
computers out now with this type of memory unless you are looking at a used or
2. PC 133. A lot of computers on the market use this due to the price and availability of the
chip. It can also be used on the slower PC 100 computers. It's backwards compatible.
This means that it will slow itself down to work at a slower speed
3. PC 800 or RAMBUS RDRAM. This is typically used on Pentium motherboards.
4. PC 2100 or DDR. This is the fastest and most expensive. This is typically used on
How much memory can I upgrade to?
All computer motherboards are limited as to how much it can handle. Consult the manufacturer before buying more. If your motherboard is limited to say 512MB of memory and you try to install 640MB the computer will only recognize 512MB. You just wasted money. Memory comes in the following sizes:
1. 64MB (hard to find due to there lack of size).
5. 1 GIG
What do the numbers mean on the CD Recorders?
CD-R/RWs (R = recorder / RW = rewriter) will be listed with 3 different number. The first number is how fast it writes or records. The second number is how fast it re-writes or how fast it will write on a re-writable CD. The last number is how fast it will play a regular CD. The higher the number the faster it will record a CD. This is important if you are planning on recording a lot of CDs.
What is the difference between a rewritable CD (CDRW) and a recordable CD (CDR)?
A rewritable CD is one that you can use like a floppy disk. You put information on it. Once you decide you don't want the information anymore, you can delete it from the CD. Then you can put new information on it. It can be used over and over. A CD-RW can only be accessed on a CD-RW drive. It will not play or be readable in a regular CD player. A recordable CD can only be written or recoded on once. Once a file is on it, it's on there for good.
How many drive expansion slots do the computer have?
This is important if you plan on installing a second hard drive, internal Zip drive or CD/DVD drive later. I have worked on a lot of computers. Some of the Dells and Gateway computers will not accommodate another hard drive. You may see a computer listed as having 2 exposed expansion bays and 3 hidden. This means that there are 2 slots visible on the outside of the case and 3 inside. You may also see the computer listed with 3 ½" and 5 ¼" bays. The 3 ½" bays are typically for hard drives and the 5 ¼" ones are mainly for CD drives. However, a 3 ½" hard drive can be mounted or installed into a 5 ¼" drive bay with special mounting brackets.
What is the size of the power supply?
This is important if you plan on purchasing a fast computer and want to install a lot of accessories in the case. I recommend at least a 250 watt power supply. I have worked on some computers that have a measly 90 watt power supply. This is not good! It can greatly impact the performance of the computer.
How big of a hard drive should I get with the computer?
I recommend at least a 40GB hard drive. The larger the number, the more room you have to store information. If you plan on using it to store digital files from a digital camcorder I recommend one with at least an 80GB hard drive. These files are quiet large and take up room rather fast. There are two different types out right now.
1. 5400RPM. The most abundant and least expensive of the two drives. RPM means
revolutions per minute. This is how fast the disk on the hard drive spins.
2. 7200RPM. This one is faster of the two and more expensive. If you want speed, get a
computer with this type of hard drive. It transfers data faster than the older 5400RPM
I want to connect and download faster to the internet. Will more memory or a faster PC speed up my connection?
No. The only things that affect your dial up or download speeds are:
1. Your ISP (internet service provider). Some have peek times. This is when a lot of people
are on the net at one time and basically overload the system. Try to use the internet at the
times when it's less congested.
2. Phone lines. Some older houses have phone lines that limit the speed that you can
download information through it. Also, a lot of times, the farther you live from the ISP, the
slower your connection will be. That's because the information has to travel farther.
3. Modem speed. If you are using an old 28k modem upgrade to the newest 56K modem.
There are numerous modem types out there (too many to mention right now. Maybe I'll
make a page to discuss it later if requested).
What kind of software packages come with the computer?
Don't buy a lot of the additional computer software packages that come with the computers. They drive up the price and usually include the software the manufacturer is trying to get rid of because it's outdated. Wait and pick out the software you want, not the software they want you to get.
What kind of computer should you get?
That is up to you. Be a smart shopper and compare. Also, you can play the manufactures off of one another. When you work up a deal with one, call another and see what they can do to beat the other. Then call back the first and see if they can beat it. I did this for one friend and got him an additional $400 off, a free printer, a free camera, and free shipping. You'll be amazed at what they are willing to do to make a sell and to get a happy customer.
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