Avoid These 7 Common Mistakes When Buying A New Computer

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buying a computerI built a new computer a few years ago. I’ve always considered myself above average in the tech field, but looking back, I have a few regrets with the system I built – some of my decisions could’ve been much better. Even if you’re thinking of buying a computer, not building one, you could be making the same mistakes as I did.

Most of these mistakes come down to a lack of knowledge. It’s easy to make a sub-optimal purchase decision when you don’t know all the facts. And even if you’ve read a lot of purchasing guides, you’ll still make a few mistakes. So instead of telling you what you should look for when buying a computer, here are some things you should avoid doing.

When Buying a Computer Processor

The processor, also known as the CPU, is the brain of a computer system. It handles all of the calculations and operations that make software do what it does. A basic truth is that a faster CPU (meaning higher MHz/GHz) will result in a faster system. However, in recent years, CPU performance can’t be determined by numbers alone anymore.

For example, an AMD CPU and Intel Core CPU might both be clocked at 2.5 GHz with 4 cores each, yet one may actually perform much better than the other. Why? Both CPUs may operate at 2.5 billion cycles per second, but the technology in the Intel Core CPU makes more use out of each cycle, so in reality it performs better.

Summary: Don’t look only at the numbers. Learning which CPU is the best for you will take some research.

buying a computer

When Buying RAM

Like the CPU, people will often choose RAM by numbers. After all, 8 GB of RAM is 8 GB of RAM, isn’t it? Not quite. It’s true that having more RAM will boost your computer’s performance, but you also have to know that RAM chips have an internal speed. 8 GB of RAM running at 1000 MHz will be slower than 16 GB of RAM running at 1333 MHz.

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Summary: RAM is one of the cheapest components of a computer, yet it can boost performance by a noticeable amount. Don’t look only at size, but also at speed, and buy the best you can afford.

When Buying Computer Hard Drives

Like RAM, people often judge a hard drive’s worth based on how much data it can hold. Nowadays, top-tier consumer hard drives have pushed into terabytes territory, and some people think that a 2 TB drive is automatically better than a 500 GB drive. Not exactly true.

Hard drives don’t only have a size but a speed. Sounds familiar, right? Hard drives spinning at 5400 RPM are going to be quite a bit slower than hard drives spinning at 7200 or 11000 RPM, and that means that accessing the data on the hard drive will be that much slower. Hard drives are well known for being the bottleneck in a system’s performance, so buying the fastest drive whenever possible is a good investment.

At the same time, hard drives are the computer component that is most prone to breaking down. A 1 TB drive is useless if it wears down in just 1 year, whereas a 500 GB drive that is built well and lasts 5 years is worth it.

Summary: Size is important, but so is speed and lifespan. If you need a fast system, faster hard drives may be better than larger ones. Also, read around for reviews and guides to gauge the lifespan of a particular hard drive model.

buying a desktop computer

When Buying a Monitor

For the average person, monitors are all about size (I’m beginning to see a pattern here.) When you shop for monitors, you’ll notice that there are a ton of specifications that you can choose from: screen size, screen type, contrast ratio, update frequency, color depth, power usage, etc. The problem with monitors is that most of those specifications can be confusing or meaningless.

Unless you are a videophile, you probably won’t notice the difference between picture qualities, contrast ratios, LED vs. LCD, and all that jazz. However, you will regret buying a monitor that doesn’t have the correct ports for your needs. You will regret buying a monitor that craps out in a year. You will regret buying a monitor that has a glare unless you look at it from a very specific angle.

Summary: Consider size, but also consider the facets of a monitor that will impact your daily use of it. Make sure it has the right connection ports. Read reviews and make sure it has a good lifespan. If possible, check it out in a store so you can see what it’ll look like.

buying a computer

Sales Are Not Always Worth It

Whether you’re buying a computer component or a full system, the sale price can be deceiving.

For example, let’s say a website listing says you save 50% on a monitor. Sometimes, this price difference is between sale price and debut price rather than sale price and current market price. The monitor may have debuted at $300 and now you can buy it for $100, which seems like you’re saving $200, but if that monitor has been around for a year and its current market price is $150, then you’re only saving $50.

Another scenario is when two items are on sale. One is clearly better in all ways, but you can save more money by buying the one that is slighter worse. In this scenario, it might be better to shell out the extra money.

Summary: Cheaper is better for your wallet, but sometimes the performance hit isn’t worth it. You really have to research your potential purchases in order to maximize your bang-for-its-buck.

Extended Warranties Are Not Always Worth It

Computer components – and electronic devices in general – are often bundled with extended warranties. These warranties will protect you if your purchase fails during a period of time starting from when you actually bought the item. Extended warranties are great for peace of mind, but depending on the item, it can be a big waste of money.

Most computer failures will occur long after the warranty expires. How many computer components fail within a year? A hard drive might warrant a warranty just because they’re known for failing often, but components like monitors, keyboards, and CPUs will often outlive their warranty dates.

Summary: Warranty selection is really about juggling four considerations: the price of replacing the item, the expected lifespan of the item, the duration of the warranty, and the price of the warranty.

Conclusion

Like I said, most of these mistakes come down to a lack of knowledge, and that comes with good news and bad news. The good news is that lacking in knowledge can always be resolved by reading, researching, and learning. The bad news is that all of that takes times and effort – time and effort that you maybe can’t afford.

If you can expand your knowledge and avoid these mistakes, great! If you can’t, then you could consider outsourcing your computer-buying decisions to a friend or a colleague, although that solution might come with its own set of problems. Otherwise, the last option is to keep losing out on money and performance with every purchase.

Image Credits: Desktop Computer Via Shutterstock, RAM Via Shutterstock, Monitor Via Shutterstock, Sale Tags Via Shutterstock

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Comments (99)
  • John

    Possibly 8th common mistake?

    Good article however there is something else I think you should also consider.

    When buying a budget desktop PC you may think it’s a simple matter of upgrading the hardware at a later time, such as a new graphics card or maybe another hard disk. Be warned – this is not always the case.

    I’m in the UK and a friend of mine gave me his old desktop PC base unit, a Compaq which he bought from PC World a few years ago as he now has a laptop. The desktop PC has Windows 7, AMD dual core CPU, 500GB hard disk, 2GB Ram and Radeon 3000 integrated graphics. Great, I thought, I will just plug in my old Geforce 7950GT graphics card and my old 250GB hard drive for extra storage and away I go.

    When I opened the case I was surprised to find that there was no PCI Express X16 slot for the graphics card and no extra power cable from the power supply for an extra hard disk. On closer inspection I noticed there were only two pci express X1 slots, and the PSU was only 180W. It’s not possible to get even a half decent graphics card that plugs into an X1 slot.

    So if you are thinking of getting a budget desktop PC with integrated graphics there are a few things you need to find out as well as those mentioned above.

    1. What is the power supply, PSU, rating? If it’s less than 300 Watts then be wary.
    2. Does the motherboard have a PCI express X16 slot for an additional graphics card?
    3. Does the PSU have any spare power leads?

    Surely one of the main reasons for having a desktop PC, budget or otherwise, is expandability? If you can’t upgrade it, is there any point in having one? Maybe you would be better off getting a laptop or tablet? Something I should have done a long time ago.

  • Anonymous

    i think sales rush people into bad deals. remember–it’s always on sale, never raffled, never a door prize.

  • Charles Orlando

    Oops, I should have said: I would love to see some of your fiction work. Contact if you can.

  • Charles Orlando

    Don’t want to troll, Joel (especially after getting to your article so late,… sorry) but after reading all of the comments, I need to throw my 2¢ in. I reviewed all of the comments, traced down a little about you (only what you’ve left for us to see on this site and Google+) skimmed a few of your past articles and I have to say: I think you’ve dropped the ball on this one. Unfortunately, a list of suggestions that would be appropriate for a comment section in an online article would be inappropriate for writing advice.

    Before I say anything further, I should disclaim that I have no idea if you already know about anything I’m going to say. None of your comments posted here address any of the complaints against the article (not your obligation), so I’m offering this as a ‘take it or leave’ item.

    Given the calibre of your previous submissions and the scope of the intended material of this article, indicated by the title, if I had to guess, I’d say you got distracted somehow. The complaints about the RAM comparison are valid but, more than that, the entire article fails to achieve what you forecasted. You said you’d tell the readers 7 things NOT to do, but you ultimately wind up leading the reader back into ‘a what TO do’ situation, almost at each of the article’s 7 areas (actually I counted 6. Props to Wayne – 1-12-13). Your history shows that you’re more talented and competent than that.

    And in regard to the article’s scope, some others may have hit upon this but I need to say it definitively: The medium doesn’t match the message. There isn’t and never was going to be a way to address what you’re talking about within the limitations of an article like this. Even an MUO Guide would be timely and in danger of misleading readers without some temporal disclaimers and a more specific focus, ie: the ‘2011’ Laptop Buying Guide, How To Build a GAMING PC, ect..

    Yes, I know that the title and intro were supposed to let people understand the topical nature of the material, but you countered yourself by getting into technical examples and worse, you opened your self up to the type of criticism that kills the spirit of info sharing. You put your self exactly where you don’t want to be: knowledgeable enough to (not intentionally) mislead, ignorant (in the static moment of your written submission, not personal) enough to draw fire from those able and willing to show off their vast technical talents. I call it – “The Yellow Belt” (I know just enough karate to get my ass kicked) Notice the extreme differences in the posts. Many of the proficient didn’t even bother with those who were obviously not. There are a myriad different scope and level of expertise in this vast area. As an MUO contributor, you should look to, as you have in the past, get those who aren’t in the know talking to those who are. Personally, I read and follow forums like this all over the internet and that is exactly the criteria I would use to judge any article that opens up the ‘how to’ exchange of communication. BTW, I ONLY belong to MUO, because it’s the only one that has the right balance of Beginner, Intermediate, Expert. Hope that last part is clear.

    On a brighter note, I’m also from Philly. In San Diego now. I was wondering – is that Dirty Frank’s or possibly Monk’s Café in the background of your Google+ pic?

    first time I tried using extra-ascii symbols. apologies if they don’t come through

    • Jordan Fishman

      Hey Charles,

      Well stated!

      Tempted to just delete my posts and paste this in! :)

    • Joel Lee

      Hey Charles. That was a massive comment and you said a lot of great things. I can’t really address all of them but I’ll try to respond as comprehensively as I can.

      First, having read all of the comments in this article, I do realize that the article is quite sub-par. I tried my best to handle the topic with a balance between being too-technical and newbie-friendly, but it seems that line is harder to walk than I thought it would be.

      A lot of the knowledgeable commenters have pointed out specific details that weren’t entirely correct, but I believe the spirit of the article is solid: here are 7 common mistakes that people make when buying new computers. Perhaps I was wrong in addressing how to OVERCOME those mistakes, but the mistakes were still there.

      I probably overstepped my expertise with this one, so that’s my fault. Thanks for looking through my history and I appreciate the kind words you have regarding the quality of my writing.

      P.S. My G+ picture is just a random Applebees nearby. :)

  • Thumelen Chandrasegaran

    Good points ,agree with you mostly except for the extended warranty. I got myself a extended warranty for my laptop when I bought it. It broke-down after the manufacture warranty period and the worst part was that it was a motherboard problem. If not for the extended warranty, I would have spent a good amount on replacing the motherboard

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.