Computer Buying Guide

The following post is from Michelle of Mommy Misadventures:

source: Tom Hamilton

If you are thinking about upgrading your computer, this is a great time to start exploring your options. July and August are two of the best months to go computer shopping. Keep an eye out for Fourth of July sales as well as back to school sales, which generally start in late July and run through August.

Basic Buying Tips

Before you even begin to look at all the choices out there, consider these buying tips:

Evaluate your needs.

Figure out what your computing needs are before you even begin to look. Determining your needs first will help keep you from being swayed into purchasing something that will not work for you.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Who will be using this computer? (Just me, the kids, the entire family)
  • What is this computer for? (General use, graphics/video editing, gaming, media center)
  • Do I want this computer to be portable? (How portable? From room to room or always on the go?)

Set a budget.

You are the best judge on how much you have to spend. Set a realistic budget and keep to it. When setting your budget, remember to include things like accessories and warranties. (For example, even if your desktop computer package comes with a printer, it may not include the USB cord to connect it to a computer!) These necessary options can really ding your wallet if you are not prepared.

Invest in the extended warranty.

If the retailer offers an extended warranty – buy it! This will give you extra peace of mind and insurance on your investment against hardware failure. It is far better to have it and never need it than to need it and not have it. This is especially true for laptops and tablet devices which are more tricky to repair than a desktop.

Try before you buy.

Online only deals can sometimes be very tempting but whenever possible, try out a computer before you buy it. You can’t always tell by looking at a computer or reading its spec sheet that it will be a good fit for you.

I have a confession: I once bought a laptop without trying it out first. It was a closeout so I could not return it. I was not worried because I figured that all laptops were the same, right? Nope! This turned out to be a pretty big mistake because I didn’t realize until I actually started to use it that the key placement and overall design did not work well for me. (Since I could not return it, I kept it and complain, loudly, every time I use it. Ugh.)


Understanding Your Choices

The computer market is absolutely crowded with different computer choices. Which one best suits what you’re looking for? Here’s a breakdown of the choices to help you decide.


Desktop computers are the classic home computer and are great, economical option for a shared family computer or media center.

Full Size Towers

These are the large towers that are traditionally associated with desktop computing. Full towers tend to be affordable, general use computers though more expensive, higher end computers may also use a full sized tower.

Slim Tower

Slim towers have a similar design as full size towers but in a smaller, more compact size. These are good for when you may need a computer but do not what the bulkiness of a full sized tower. Slim towers tend to be more expensive than full sized towers.

Mini Towers or Shuttle PCs

Mini Towers or micro computers are very small computers, sometimes as small as a 6” cube. These computers are great for anywhere you may need a computer but do not want the eyesore of a tower. Mini computers tend to be less powerful than their larger cousins and are comparably price to slim towers.


These are relative newcomers to the computing market. These desktop computers house the computer and monitor in one sleek design. Some all-in-one computers offer a touch screen interface.


Thanks to their inherent portability and WiFi Internet access, laptops have overtaken desktops as the computer of choice for most people.


Traditional laptops are the rough equivalent of a full sized desktop computer. They tend to be workhorses and great for all purpose use. Some laptops pack a lot of processing power can easily be used as a desktop replacement though their size and weight may make them less portable than other types of laptops.


Netbooks are generally 11” or smaller, making them a popular choice for students and other people on the go. Their smaller size makes them highly portable but these machines often sacrifice power for size, making them great for casual use but not always suited for more processor heavy applications.

Ultra Portable

Ultra portable laptops strike a balance between portability and power. They are usually weigh less than traditional laptops, have bigger screens than netbooks but pack a lot of processing power. These are generally the most expensive type of laptop.


Tablets have less processing power, less storage capacity and most lack an external keyboard, making them poor choices for a primary computing device but these same attributes make them great as secondary or specialized device computing. Table touchscreens are gaining wildly in popularity for all kinds of purposes, from entertainment to business.


While optional, there are some accessories and peripherals that are more “essential” options than truly optional. By keeping this in mind when setting your new computer budget, you can avoid any unwanted “surprises” as you check out at the register.

When it comes to desktops, you usually have the option between purchasing just the tower or the full computer (desktop, monitor, keyboard, mouse.) If you already have a monitor or printer that you love, buying just the desktop can save you some money.

Laptop essentials varies depending on your work style If you’re planning on taking your laptop out and about, you owe it to yourself to invest in some protection. A good laptop bag is worth its weight in gold. Other things to consider are laptop mice and extra power cords.

Are you planning on buying a new computer soon? What are you looking for? Need some help? Comment away!

Michelle Mista is a former IT professional turned work-at-home mom. She muses about motherhood at Mommy Misadventures. A geek of all trades, she loves computers, video games, photography and coffee and is on the constant quest to balance life, work and geekery.