Let's face it, a new computer design is available nearly every week! Looking for one to fit your needs can be very confusing.

What is it you are looking for in a new computer?

Before you even step out your door to visit your favorite computer store, you should have a basic idea of what you want your new computer to be able to do for you. You will need to do some "wool gathering".

Do you want your programs to run faster? Do you want more storage space? Is a bigger monitor what you need? Do you want to take pictures and store them on your computer? Do you want to make movies? Or are you just looking for better speed on the internet? These questions are the start of your quest for finding out what system would be best for your needs.

A basic check list

Creating a check list of your wants and needs is a good place to start.

  • What type of programs do you run on a day-to-day basis?
  • What type of programs do you desire to have in the future?
  • Are you going to take lots of pictures and store them on computer?
  • Are you going to create and store movies on your computer?
  • Are you going to save lots of music files on your computer?
  • Do you need to scan paper documents for storage?
  • Are you going to play the latest games?

By answering basic questions like these, you will get an idea of what you should be looking for. By the way, your salesperson should be asking you these questions if they are worth anything.

OK, you have an idea on what your new computer should do for you. Now we come to comparing one system to another.

Here is a list of minimums you should look for in a new machine. Keep in mind this is a starting point, not a personalized list of shopping features for your particular system.

  • Flatscreen monitor - 20" widescreen monitor (with refresh rate of 8ms or less, a 500:1 contrast ratio or better, 1680 x 1050 native resolution)
  • A comfortable keyboard (something you like)
  • Quad microprocessors running at 2.4GHz
  • 8GB RAM
  • 64-bit Operating System 
  • 1TB Hard drive
  • 16x DVD±RW DL (Dual Layer) drive
  • 3D capable video card with 2GB RAM
  • 1Gbs Ethernet Networking capability (for broadband internet connection, networking)
  • 6 USB 2.0 ports
  • 2 USB 3.0 ports
  • Optical Mouse with Wheel (one that is comfortable)


  • Bluetooth 4 connectivity (for various bluetooth devices)
  • Wireless N (or AC) capability (for broadband internet connection through a wireless router/modem , networking)
  • IEEE 1394 (Firewire) connector (for video editing)

Of these features, the most important are the monitor and keyboard and mouse. As you will be in constant contact with the keyboard and mouse, they better be comfortable for you, and the monitor will be your window to the world, so it better be easy to read. Without these you will be cursing your purchase in the not too distant future.

Besides these standards of the past decade, there are more form-factors to consider when looking for a new computer system for your home/office.

Below is a short description of the types of computers and some of their advantages and disadvantages to help you decide what best suits your needs. Keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list and you might find that you need more than one type to do everything you want.

Desktop computer – the standard for computers for the past four decades.

Advantages:  They are relatively inexpensive, massively upgradable and their storage capacity is nearly unlimited. Most desktop computers can be kept for more than 5 years as you can continually upgrade their capabilities with newer components. This is the hobbyist’s dream computer.

Disadvantages:  They take up a lot of room either on the floor or on the desktop and are not very portable. (I know of some hard-core gamers that still do LAN parties and take their desktop computers to play on.)

Laptop or Notebook computers – the first truly portable computers were luggable systems weighing in at over 20 pounds. Now you can find a good laptop computer that weighs in at around two to four pounds. These are the replacements to the desktop computer system.

Advantages:  Their portability – have your computer on the go with you. Some offer the capability to upgrade their video processors and most will let you upgrade their memory and storage capacity (hard drive and/or solid-state drives). They can run on either AC power or on their internal batteries for at least a few hours.

Disadvantages:  These desktop replacement systems are on the heavy side. If you do want to take it with you, you will need to purchase a messenger bag/backpack to carry all the ancillary equipment that comes with owning a laptop (such as an AC power cord, cables, etc.) and finding an outlet to charge your laptop can be a drawback when the battery is low. In addition, these systems will not have the massive internal storage capacity that the desktop systems have – you will need to use an external hard drive or solid-state storage to increase your capacity.

Ultrabook – the latest edition of the laptop computer system. These were invented to replace the heavy portable computer systems.

Advantages:  Very slim and lightweight, these are the systems for people who need to create content (information, programs, text) on the go. Most of these computers use a solid-state drive so the computer is very rugged when compared to laptop computers. Their battery life is exceptional – some systems boast up to 6 hours on battery.

Disadvantages:  More expensive than the standard laptop computer. Also, you will need to carry additional components in a messenger bag/backpack. As these units usually don’t have large storage capacity, you will need external storage devices. These units usually have limited ports due to their size so you will likely need an additional powered USB hub, and/or an external Blu-ray/DVD/CD drive to play music or watch a movie. These units are usually not upgradeable due to their design limitations.

Tablet computers – The newest rage. A one-piece design that first made its debut in the mid-1990’s, these systems have hit a new reasonable price point and popularity. Available in various screen sizes from six to twelve inches.

Advantages:  Pricing for these units are very good. Some units allow you to use your cellular phone network for your internet connection. Eminently portable, lightweight, and with a long battery life – these computers are the ultimate content consuming devices.

Disadvantages:  Not for content creation as they have no physical keyboard (you can buy an external keyboard for these to mitigate this). They are non-upgradeable and have limited storage capacity – thus not to be used as your primary content creation platform.

Smartphone – For consuming content, this is the ultimate in portability.

Advantages:  It’s a phone, GPS, handles email, text messages, and web content, games, and other things – all in a form-factor that fits in your shirt pocket.

Disadvantages:  A major concern is the cost – have you realized that this all-in-one wonder costs the average consumer over $900.00 a year? Screen size is also rather small for web browsing and don’t even think of creating content on this.

Typically, most homes and small businesses will choose a desktop computer as their workhorse system and have either a laptop/ultrabook computer or a tablet for working on the go from home or the office and a smartphone for everyday use.