Listen weekdays from 1-3pm ET
(No audio? Try our help)
Recent shows | More media

Listen Live: Mon-Fri 1-3pm ET

Posted: 10:51 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013

Computer buying guide



Related

By Clark Howard

ClarkHoward.com


I used to take so many phone calls from people buying a computer, often several each week. Now it's just a few calls a year. There are a few reasons for that. First, sales of computers are dropping. And second, the price of computers has dropped so low that people don't see it as a major consumer purchase anymore.

The truth is you can buy a very capable computer from the sales flyers most any weekend if you stick with a PC at around $250. (Be sure to comparison shop whatever you want to buy on these sites.)

When you look at buying a computer, today there are several ways you can go, no matter whether you want to stay in the Mac or PC orbit.

With both Mac and PC, you can buy ultralights like the Mac Book Air, which is an exceptional device, or an Ultrabook that runs on Windows 8. The Ultrabooks street price out at $400 and change. MacBook Airs are $700 and change for the cheapest you'll find.  

If you're looking for just a functional laptop, I use a laptop with a 15.6 inch screen that I bought for $229. I don't even remember the brand, just the price! I use it at my treadmill desk.

For premium laptops to be used a desktop replacement, the prices you'll pay for a PC are around $600 with a 17.3 inch screen. If you do video and audio editing or photography work, this is the price range you should expect to look at. If you want to stay in the Apple orbit, you can get a machine that will do everything you need for about $1,000. But you'll pay a lot more for the software.

Processor

When it comes to deciding how good of a process you need to spring for, let the acitivities you plan do on your computer drive that decision. If you're into gaming or watching a lot of video, Consumer Reports recommends a faster processor like the Intel Core i5 or AMD Phenom II or A6. If you're doing heavy duty stuff like editing HD video, they recommend computers with premium processor like the Intel Core i7 or AMD A Series. And for the basic user who just wants to check email, surf the web, and run office productivity program, you can get away with something downmarket like the Intel Core i3.

Memory

8GB of memory is practically standard on most desktops, though not so much on laptops. But Consumer Reports says that 4GB is enough for most basic computing tasks. On a netbook, 1GB of memory is sufficient.

Showrooming


Showrooming is a term for using your smartphone while out at a store to comparison shop right then and there for whatever it is you're thinking of buying. It's a booming trend in the world of retailing and one that can save you big bucks. Here are some sites you might want to comparison shop at while you're out and about:




General info



   Should you buy an extended warranty?



   Clark's favorite website for online electronics deals



   An introduction to "showrooming"