Four things to consider when buying a new computer
By Adam Turner | March 7, 2014
Time to invest in a new computer? Make sure it ticks all the boxes, including size, grunt, battery life and connectivity.
Your business computer is probably the most important technology at your disposal, so it's important to shop with care.
Keep in mind that you'll almost certainly hang on to your new computer longer than you kept your last one. There was a time when a two-year-old computer struggled to keep pace, but these days a three or even four year-old computer should still make the grade - unless you're pushing it to the limit with the latest video editing and computer-aided design tools.
If your new computer is going to be your daily workhorse for a long time then it's important to think ahead. Don't just shop on price - grab something off the shelf and hope for the best. Instead you should read the fine print and customise your new computer to best suit your needs for today and tomorrow.
If you're buying a notebook PC then the first decision is to settle on a screen size and rough weight range. The sweet spot between portability and usability is an 11.6 or 13.3-inch screen. If your notebook will spend more time on your shoulder than at your fingertips then focus on keeping the weight down near 1kg. Perhaps consider the extra expense of a super-thin but powerful Ultrabook designed to offer the best of both worlds.
If you're buying a desktop computer, look for the option to upgrade to a larger monitor. A 24-inch screen is large enough to view two A4 documents side by side, or have several applications visible at once, which can offer a productivity boost.
Intel's Core i3 processors might keep the price down, but they groan if you open a few applications at once. Consider the Core i5 processor as your starting point, but upgrade to a Core i7 if you tend to push your computer with any kind of multimedia work or after-hours gaming.
Do yourself a favour and consider upgrading to at least 4GB of RAM. Upping the RAM is one of the easiest and most effective ways to boost your computer's performance. It might be possible to upgrade the RAM yourself later, but ordering extra RAM when you purchase ensures it's covered by the same warranty as the rest of the computer.
If you're running a 64-bit operating system you might consider going beyond 4GB of RAM, especially if you're working with something demanding like video editing. At this point you should also consider a standalone or 'discrete' graphics card, rather than 'onboard' graphics, which is built into the main processor and is enough to handle day-to-day tasks.
If you're looking for a travel companion then battery life might be more important than raw grunt, especially if you only rely on email and Microsoft Office.
The battery in your average notebook is good for around three hours, but those running Intel's ULV (ultra-low voltage) processors can push this up past six, although often at the expense of power. Opting for a smaller display with a lower screen resolution can reduce the power drain and you'll also find other power-management options such as dimming the screen and spinning down the hard drives when not in use.
Solid-state hard drives also help extend the battery life because they have no moving parts and keep the weight down. The trade-off is that they're more expensive than traditional hard drives and tend to offer less storage space.
Tiny notebooks tend to skimp on connectors, so consider whether you'll need to invest in a handful of adaptors.
Look for at least one USB 3.0 port to support the faster transfer speeds of new storage devices. If you're running short on USB ports, grab a USB travel hub to slip in your carry bag. Also consider whether you'd benefit from a built-in SD card slot, or whether a USB-to-SD adaptor will suffice. Most lightweight notebooks expect you to forgo an optical drive but there's always the option to grab an external DVD/Blu-ray drive.
In terms of wireless connectivity, if 802.11ac Wi-Fi isn't on offer then look for 802.11n supporting 5GHz networks as well as 2.4GHz. If your notebook will spend time on your desk you might also want a gigabit ethernet port, or a USB-to-ethernet adaptor.
If this computer is going to serve as your faithful companion for the next few years it's important to think long and hard about your requirements. Don't just blindly accept the package deals on offer. Instead weigh up each option to determine where you'll get the most bang for your buck.