How a SmartyPants Buys a Computer

Looking to get a new laptop this holiday?  Our technology correspondent, Drew Stewart, will tell you everything you need to know:

Buying a New ComputerI get asked a lot of times to help in purchasing a computer. Consider this the text version of my usual response.

It seems that the further into the future we go, the more everything is being based on the web. Save for organizing your pictures or music (which can be done online now), most people just use their computers to get on the internet. That means that any computer currently for sale is going to do pretty much anything you could need, you’d only be limited by the speed of your connection to the internet. This also means that for most people the “Mac vs PC” argument is purely personal opinion. In my opinion, Macs have all of the advantages of design, stability, and ease-of-use, but PCs have the advantage of being cheap. I’ll go forward assuming you’re buying a PC.

But if you still need help choosing a new laptop (because who buys desktops anymore?), remember that bigger numbers are usually better. First, find a screen size you really like. Some are too small to really use and others are too large to be portable. As for what’s inside, the higher the numbers, the better. Processors are no longer rated by speed so much as how many processor cores are inside; the more cores, the faster it does things. RAM or memory is how many things you can do at the same time; the more GBs, the more you can do. Hard drive space has gotten ridiculous. A lot of new computers will come with 1 TB (terabyte) of space. That’s one million MB (megabytes)! Unless you’re going to be editing mass quantities of video, I don’t think many people need that much space. Don’t pay too much more for more space unless you know you’ll need it. I would avoid Acers, eMachines, and Compaqs myself, as they are basically the store brand versions of HPs and Gateways.

Once you pick something out, don’t let the salesperson sell you things you don’t need. The antivirus programs they usually sell are a lot more powerful than you’ll need and might slow your computer down. Microsoft Security Essentials (http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/products/security-essentials) is free, fast, and automatically updates along with the rest of  your system. And before you buy Microsoft Office, first see if you can do what you need using Google Docs (http://docs.google.com) or download LibreOffice (http://www.libreoffice.org/). Google Docs is pretty basic, but you don’t have to worry about ever losing a document because its automatically saved on the internet. LibreOffice is very similar to Microsoft Office and may still be more than what you need.

Before you really start using your computer, download and run PCDecrapifier (http://pcdecrapifier.com/). It helps get rid of all of the junk programs most manufacturers put on your computer that are really just advertisements. Also run CCleaner (http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner) periodically to clean up temporary files your computer doesn’t need to have cluttering up its system. You might also consider leaving Internet Explorer for Google Chrome (http://www.google.com/chrome) or Mozilla Firefox (http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/). Both are faster, more customizable, and more secure than Internet Explorer.

Another helpful tool is Dropbox (http://db.tt/1r7445U). What Dropbox does is make a folder on your system that whatever you put in it is automatically saved to their website. It’s a quick and easy way to make backups of your files. What’s also neat is that if you have more than one computer, you can install Dropbox on each of them and whatever you put in the folder is not only copied to the internet, but to your other computer. I have not used a flash drive since installing Dropbox, and I used to use my flash drive all of the time. And the more people you invite to Dropbox, the more free space you get to use! (Fair warning, the link I posted is my referral link, but we both get more free space if you use it!)

If you really want to live on the cutting edge and already know that you do everything on the internet, consider buying a Google Chromebook (http://www.google.com/chromebook/). Especially useful as a second computer, it only has the internet on it. Since everything is on the internet, it never needs to be backed up. Since its only a web browser, it can’t get a virus. Since it doesn’t need much hard drive space, manufacturers use the fastest hard drives available, meaning it boots up in less than 10 seconds. You can’t sync your iPhone to it or anything like that, so I wouldn’t recommend it as a replacement to a full PC, but if you just need something to check your Facebook and update your blog from the couch, you might be interested.

You can follow me on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/doubleofive) or Google+ (http://gplus.to/doubleofive). This article was written on Google Docs from my Google Chromebook.

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