Tips for buying the right computer

A friend of mine is looking into buying a new laptop and talking to him reminded me of how confusing it can be to sort through the tons of options out there. I worked as a system administrator for 4 years as an undergrad and Im a bit of a techno geek, so I thought it might be a good time to share a couple of my tips for finding the right computer:

Step 1

The first step is to identify what you plan to do with the new computer. Do you want to play 3D games (if so, you need a good graphics card)? Do you want to store tons of music/documents/photos (if so, youll want a large, fast hard drive or two)? Do you plan on taking it with you fairly frequently (if so, youll want to focus on the weight and battery life)? Do you plan on doing more serious tasks (e.g. using Photoshop to edit photos, running simulation software for class, etc. – if so, youll want to look at getting a dual core processor and/or plenty of RAM)? Are you handy with computers or do you have trouble keeping things in working condition (if so, you may want to look at protection plansmaycost benefit here)?

Step 2

Now, take this list of wants and answer this question: If you could have a computer that did all of this, how much would you be willing to pay? Dont worry about exact dollar amounts here, but you do need to decide where you will have to draw the line.

Step 3

Alright – not that you know what you want and what youd be willing to pay for itits time to shop! Look around at different places – online and off. Check out places like, Dell, HP, and Gateway – even if you dont like the company, you should at least know what they have to offer. Then go into your local CompUSA, Best Buy, Circuit City, etc. Youll probably get better financing deals at the stores (at least from what Ive seen – although you do have to be careful if you take them up on the offer). At this point, youre looking for a computer that comes as close as you can to the features youve identified while still being in the price range you decided upon. You may find that you simply cant get everything you want for the price you would like – thats finejust decide if its worth more than you thought or get as close as you can to what you wanted. After looking around a bit, you should have a pretty good idea of what is out there. Try to narrow it down to 2-3 computers to decide between.

Step 4

Once youre this far, it should be pretty easy to choose – decide on which store youd rather purchase from, what type of support you get after the purchase, reputation of the brand, etc – any one of them is probably a good choice at this point.

Congratulations! Youve just found the perfect (erclose to it at least) computer for yourself.

Thoughts on Extended Warranties

If anything breaks on the computer, itll generally be one of 5 things: hard drive, screen, battery, power (either the AC adapter or the plug on the back of the computer), or the keyboard. An extended warranty will usually cover the hard drive, power, and keyboard. Sometimes it can cover the screen. Rarely will it cover the battery. There isnt an easy way to tell if you should get the extended warranty – but here are some estimates for these parts if they should break – and this should be your guide as to whether the warranty is worth the cost:

Hard Drive: $60-$120 (this is probably going to be the most common problem people have – if you are rough with the computer, the more likely it is to be a problem)

Screen: $500-$1500 (possibly cheaper on eBay, but these are ridiculously expensive to have repaired)

Keyboard: Depends (sometimes this will only be replaced when the motherboard is changed outif thats the case, its a couple hundred dollarsbut it should be much less than that in most cases and its not terribly common for this to go bad other than keys popping off)

Battery: $75-$150 (can usually find cheaper on eBaybut beware – keep in mind that these are going to go bad after 1-2+ years for just about any brandthats just the way things are at the moment)

Power: Depends (if its the plug on the back of the computer, then they will probably replace the motherboardthats a few hundredif they are smart, they can fix it in 10 minutes without a new motherboard and itll cost $50-$100 – if its the AC adapter, thatll usually be in the $50-$100 range)

Save Money on Cell Service

If you live in the US and you dont have a problem with Sprint, you can get an awesome deal on a great cell phone plan by visiting a special URL: Youll need to know the e-mail address of a sprint employee (if you dont know anyone that works for sprint, you can try looking for them onlinee.g. google for Thats all that you have to do though other than give them your zipcode (to locate the plans and phones you can get). I dont have service with Sprint at the moment (I use Cingular since everyone I know has it – thus its free mobile-to-mobile), but I know someone that has a plan through this service and its quite a great deal. My plan with Cingular (450 regular minutes, free nights weekends, and unlimited web/data) costs me right at $60/mo. The same plan with Sprint (only via the link above) costs $30/mo (not including tax etc.)! And the Sprint plan has 500 minutes instead of 450. To top it off, the phones on Sprints site are even cheaper with that link (although you wont have as many to select from). If youre in the market for a new cellphone or unhappy with your current plan, you should check this out and see if itll work. Im thinking about switching since it save so much money every month – just an awesome deal. (The only catch is if you are a current sprint customeryou can get the deal via the link, but you WILL NOT be able to keep your current phone numberapparently it has to do with how they associate phone numebrs with accounts. If you transfer to sprint from another carrier, this isnt a problem, but be ready for a new number if you try this and have an active sprint plan.)

The Storm Nears

I havent been writing much for the last week or two because Ive been trying to get all of my finances worked out. I set several goals I have for financial year 2006 and Im happy to say that Im going to be able to reach almost all of them. Ill post them in a day or twoId like to track high level goals on this blog since that helps keep me accountable for them (or at least it feels like it) and maybe theyll help you figure out your goals if you havent already done so. The reason Im focusing on my goals so much at the moment (and the reason for the posts title) is that the company I work for is starting to announce more about our downsizing plan. I wont mention the company – the downsizing is public knowledge, but the company is a publicly traded one so I dont want to say anything I shouldnt on this blog. But I will say that the downsizing plan isnt anything we (as employees) havent known aboutits just one of those things that are becoming more real these days. Change is always hard for everyone and going through this experience so early in my career is certainly valuable from several perspectives – but its also pretty hard not knowing if you have a job next year, for how long (if you have one), and where itll be (in case relocation is required). It seems like this is just something we as 20-somethings have to accept as commonplace. Times like these do remind me how important it is to manage ones own career and that life is going to be full of difficult choices – with each challenge we can choose to learn from it and grow stronger or decide that we arent in control and let the world decide our path. Even at this point in my life, the business of life is already quite an interesting journey.