Monday, June 06, 2011

How To Pick A Computer

Since I work for a technology company (read computers & printers), I get asked 2 questions all the time.

1) "My printer is broken, how do I fix it?" OK. Yes, I do happen to work in the printer division, but I'm in the laserjet toner group. Furthermore, I'm an analyst which means I never actually work with any physical printers. So my typical advice is to suggest a couple search terms like "[printer model #] is't working" or "[printer model #] is broken". Those always seem to point me in the right direction to searching for the correct type of "broken-ness". This must be how Apple Store employees feel all them time: yes, they work for Apple, but no they don't have any insider secrets.

So, I have little advice on fixing printers. Next.

2) "I'm thinking about getting a new computer, do you have any suggestions?" OK. This question I actually have an opinion on. Furthermore, I actually think they're asking me because I seem to understand, and like technology, not just because I work for a tech company. Usually I give a flippant answer like "Get an HP computer." Laugh, and then actually answer their question with a few questions.
  1. What kinds of things do you currently do, or want to do, on your computer?
    1. Surf the web? Check email? Check Facebook?
    2. What about games?
    3. Will you be writing a lot? Using spreadsheets? What type of spreadsheet work?
    4. Will you be watching movies (DVDs, streaming, etc)? What about Music?
    5. As a general rule, if someone is asking me, they're a casual computer user, but it's good to get them thinking about activities instead of features.
  2. Do you think you'll be taking it with you places, or keeping it at home on a desk?
    1. No need to spend extra money on a laptop if it's stationary. Most people think they want the flexibility to take it places.
  3. Have you considered getting a Mac?
    1. This is a fun question because people tend to be Windows users and tend to have strong feelings about Apple (ie. too confusing and/or too expensive).
It's at this point in time I share the decisions Jessi and I made:
We both got macs. I got an iMac because I wanted the extra memory, speed and larger screen. My last laptop sat on my desk 99% of the time (and was hooked up to an external screen, keyboard, mouse & hard drive). Plus, I have my work laptop just in case I need to be mobile.

Jessi got a MacBook, and almost went for an iPad, because she wanted to be mobile, and does mostly casual things (email, facebook, movies, music). Of course, we don't have a TV, so being able to play DVDs was necessary. She also has to take online classes and write documents every once in a while.

Now, given their answers, I usually reassure them that any computer they choose will generally work for their purposes (remember, most of the time these are people who are not power users). I tell them to look at 4 things first:
  1. You want as much RAM as possible. At least 2 gigs, probably 4 if you can afford it.
  2. You want at least 300 gigs of hard drive space. That's enough where you'll never have to worry about storage.
  3. Look for something cool, which you'll be proud to have around. This might sound crazy, but if you like the way it looks, you'll enjoy using it more.
  4. If it's a laptop, it must have a camera. Given today's communication trends this is essential. Almost all laptop have cameras, so this isn't that big of a deal.
I do often suggest checking out HP. Well, Compaq actually. The internal guts tend to be the same, but "Compaqs" are always a little cheaper than "HP".

I also set their price expectations: You can find computers under $500; however, you'll thank yourself in the long-run for not being completely cheap. Think about how much time you're going to spend on the machine and invest accordingly. For $1,000 you can get a good computer that will run great for 5-7 years. If you only spend $500, it'll probably conk out after 3 years, and the last 6 months won't be any fun.

Finally, I suggest they go visit a couple stores and play with some laptops. Once they narrow it down to a few models, I offer to look more in-depth and make a more concrete suggestion.

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