Technology Explained

Avoid These 7 Common Mistakes When Buying A New Computer

Joel Lee 11-01-2013

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.

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.


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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  1. Farzan Ekram
    August 24, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    Your effort are good. Keep it high.

  2. John
    December 29, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    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.

  3. Anonymous
    March 6, 2013 at 1:00 am

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

  4. Charles Orlando
    February 1, 2013 at 8:04 pm

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

  5. Charles Orlando
    February 1, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    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
      February 1, 2013 at 8:54 pm

      Hey Charles,

      Well stated!

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

    • Joel Lee
      February 4, 2013 at 5:04 am

      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. :)

  6. Thumelen Chandrasegaran
    January 19, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    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

  7. kadek pranata surya
    January 18, 2013 at 4:24 am

    now it's clear on me... thanks...

  8. Jorge Bascur
    January 18, 2013 at 1:08 am

    Well, at January 4th I bought the first two steps towards my new rig: an AMD FX-4100 (Quad-core, 3,3 GHz) CPU and a motherboard MSI 970A-G46 (4 DIMM, 32 GB max RAM and 2 PCI Express modules, with both Nvidia SLI and AMD Crossfire, more than enough room for further improvement). I'm more than content with my choice, considering i'm making a full switch from Intel to AMD, so the transition will be a bit of a shock to me. Next month I'll buy RAM and GPU, possibly a hard drive.

  9. Victor Ong
    January 17, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    Thanks for the great information! I just built my computer, and it works fine.

    Overall I've noticed that AMD can shoot for higher clock speeds, but intel is more efficient. AMD is much cheaper though.

    Just a quick Q though, windows detects my ram as 1600, even though I bought 1866 ram. When I increase the clock speed in my UEFI bios, the computer refuses the start.

  10. Asad Maqsood
    January 17, 2013 at 6:09 am

    Sales Are Not Always Worth It
    Agreed have bad experience twice

  11. Biobaku Collins
    January 16, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Great. Thanks for the post

  12. Brenden Barlow
    January 16, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    while i think many of these are helpful, i think its a bit too simplified. however, in each point you made mention of the most important thing a prospective computer buyer needs to know: do research on what you want and what you will need. its really no different than any other major purchase (you wouldnt blindly buy a car based solely on what a salesman told you about it without researching what you want first). overall, good article.

  13. Jamie Merlau
    January 16, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    An issue I've seen with hard drives more commonly now is being shipped unformatted. When I bought my WD Green drive a couple years ago, I read a lot of comments about the drive being DOA. Getting the device shipped, I found that it was simply not formatted and was not showing up as a valid drive. I encountered the same thing with a Samsung external hard drive that was returned to a Fry's.

    Device manager showed the devices as being connected, but they were not visible. I would imagine that most people would assume something is wrong with the device.

  14. Brahma Das
    January 16, 2013 at 11:20 am

    I must check all these things before I purchase any new computer

  15. Kcalpesh Ajugia
    January 16, 2013 at 7:05 am

    I was just looking for an insight on this topic. I will replacing my 6 year old PC with a new intel core i7 machine so this article is sure very useful. Thanks.

    The other thing is that I made a mistake of putting additional ram on my old pc and that did make the machine slower than what it was supposed to perform! No repeating the mistakes now for sure ;-)

  16. Yaswanth govind
    January 16, 2013 at 4:33 am

    Intel CPUs perform better than AMD...

    but only difference is ... Intel CPUs has niec power management than of AMD's..


    But when buying home edition, with 3-4 core processors, this won't make high differene..

    But, still high super computers OR high end systems still use... AMD than Intel, because of its cost..

  17. Joe Phillips
    January 16, 2013 at 4:31 am

    Your right also if you want more processing power it's probably better to go intel. If you want more graphics its probably better to go with one of amd's apu.

  18. Anonymous
    January 16, 2013 at 1:14 am

    This is great. I can use this when people are asking about buying computers

  19. Sarl
    January 15, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    Mechanical drives primary failure mechanism is bearing failure which is a function of temperature. One significant way to increase drive temperature is platter speed air friction which is a velocity squared function. Usually the bearing lub fails and or evaporates, just like cheap fan motors.

    Keep the drives cool 10 degrees C cooler will double the expected life, although this doesn't hold for ball bearings with a lub.

    As stated I have many years in hardware reliability. I can state that consumer HD today are not as reliable as they used to be, not that they can't be. Vendors have chosen to have the manufacturing done for 10c/hour in sweat shops where quality & reliability are not in anyone's dictionary.

    I have purchased multiple drives from all major vendors in the past 4 years and not one out of 12 drives has lasted 60k hours, not one. I monitor the temperatures throughr S.M.A.R.T. software and none get hotter than 45C.

    As for SSD firmware, firmware itself doesn't fail, hardware fails. Firmware can have a situation that it can't be read which could disable the drive. The firmware can be re-flashed, been there done that, then the drive is good to go.

    As I mentioned NAND has a limited number of write cycles, white cycles. I didn't mention anything about read.

    Evernote knows to back data up, no need to tell them 500 times. They will loose it once learn their lesson, then they get it, not 500 times.

    Don't get you started, no one ask for you opininio to begin with, and likely no one cares either!

  20. Josh VanMeter
    January 15, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Great article, especially for the less-tech-savvy family members that I have.

  21. Anonymous
    January 15, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    Excellent for a simplistic article. Don't buy more than what you need, or not enough.

    You could always buy a Mac, then you would get most of what you need, without all the crapware that usually comes on most PCs.

  22. Rob Nadin
    January 15, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    You just know at least someone you know will take absolutely no notice of the information given here due to sales patter.

  23. Petey Pabler
    January 14, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    I think people need to relax about the content. Nowadays, most people don't even know the simplest stuff in this article, let alone anything most of these commenters are discussing. Good, short, and to the point. Just trying to help the less than novice people on buying something they do or don't need. Kudos.

  24. Ernest Klein
    January 13, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    The mesage was do your research. But beginners won't know where to start.
    It would have been more helpful to list specifics and where to research the things.

  25. Alan Wade
    January 13, 2013 at 12:45 am

    I always build my own and my family's machines. The advice you offer is solid and more people should take the time to learn a few basic pointers!

  26. Wayne Nefdt
    January 12, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    7 common mistakes or 6 common mistakes??

  27. Kimberley Matthews
    January 12, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    Good advice.
    Also remember, gamers need to consider that the video card needs to support the games they want to play. Video integrated into the motherboard can't play many retail games.
    If buying a desktop, buy one with extra slots for memory and harddrives should you want to upgrade later.
    Unless you know for sure that the software you will run requires a specific processor's instruction set, a cheaper one at the same or higher speed may well be enough for normal use.

  28. Arun
    January 12, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    And you consider yourself above average on tech?

  29. Rob Hindle
    January 12, 2013 at 11:20 am

    The sum total of the article and comments is that specifying components for a PC involves dozens of choices.

    For a non-geek it's just scary.
    For a wannabe geek it's "fastest of everything".
    For an expert it comes down to "what's your budget and what do you expect to use the PC for".

    It's no wonder many non tech-savvy folk are choosing Apple kit - there's so little choice the issue of deciding what's best barely exists, no risk of making a "wrong" decision (apart from the fact that many tech-savvy would regard buying anything Apple as a wrong decision).

    I guess the best PC decision for most non-tech guys is to use one of the off the shelf boxes from a reputable provider - they often offer choices of models optimised for specific markets like: business, SOHO, games, video editing. For a reputable provider delivering a good solution is important, that's how they earn a good reputation.

    So the next question is how do you find a good PC provider? Almost certainly mail order. They have the advantage over high street of build to order, no old stock to shift, always on the look out for the best value for money CPU, motherboard, HDD, Optical disk, PSU, cooling, case, RAM, video, audio etc and with the expertise to match components to make the best overall system. And they can often offer more personal choice of specific components if you have a particular preference or special requirement.

    Comparative reviews in good PC magazines are a good place to find the mail order providers. Next phone or email the provider for advice. How do they treat you - purely as a sales opportunity or is it a dialogue with someone who gives the impression of being knowledgeable, is asking you relevant questions and basing advice on your requirements rather than which packaged deal earns him the largest sales commission.

    • Audrey Johnson
      January 15, 2013 at 8:53 pm

      Robie this was so vey helpful to me. I have thinking about builing my own computer for many yearsnow, but just didn't know which provider to choose form. I do read Tech magazine, and PC Magazine every month and I get theonline news letters, but was just kind of leary about venturingout on my own. I am so very glad foryour post, because this really helps me to know that their are companines out there that I can go to for help and not be taken advantage of, or to be looked at at jsut another sale.

      Thanks, Robie, so very much for your post.

  30. kresimirn
    January 12, 2013 at 8:56 am

    quick thought from a tech with 10+ years of exp.

    when you buy a comp for general use (youll never get wrong with this confg):
    Intel proc with min.4 mb cache
    RAM with min. 1333mhz
    NVIDIA with min. core clock speed 800mhz
    WD or 7200rpm hdd
    with this, you can play almost every game, work all what you can think of

    • Audrey Johnson
      January 15, 2013 at 8:54 pm

      Thnaks fo rhte great information. Now I know just what to buy for my son. I just don't want to pay for more than what I need

  31. bee
    January 12, 2013 at 5:05 am

    see Mark Alsisto comment:

    Are you sure you wrote
    “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.”
    Which one are you actually comparing 8GB vs 16GB or 1000MHz vs 1333MHz?

  32. Jim Spencer
    January 12, 2013 at 3:32 am

    Pretty good article, as I have been doing computer builds for a number of years. While you are right about the sales price not necessarily being worth the future headache, something I would add is about the actual size of the computer unit. I have found over the years that the cases seem to fluctuate in size pretty drastically and the tendency for a lot of people is to choose the sleek, small, cramped little cases because they are either "cute" or space savers. Anyone trying to buy a computer should also be aware that the case should allow some "breathing room" as heat is your number one enemy for everything that is on the inside. More computers have failed because of improper ventilation than I can enumerate on.

    • kresimirn
      January 12, 2013 at 9:03 am


      one time, one man had a comp imported from switzerland, and when i opened it

      OMG, it was so tight, 10min only for unscrewing

  33. salvador hernandez
    January 11, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    Good info. as a builder myself some of these tips would've come in handy a few years ago. well heck even a good reminder today.

  34. Jack Cola
    January 11, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    Along with the tips of what to avoid, you also need to know what you are going to use the computer for.

    There's no point spending $4000 on a computer when you are going to spend most of your time on Facebook. If you are looking to get a laptop, first understand it's purpose. Here are some tips:

  35. Brandon Lockaby
    January 11, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    I prefer to build my own. It's cheaper, (sometimes it's not), it's fun, you do not get bloat ware.

  36. Brian H
    January 11, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    Short, to the point and reasonably accurate.

    For monitors I would add - make sure you get 1080P resolution. Many of the inexpensive monitors are providing 720P.

    For Hard Drives I would say - For the very technical - have 2 hard drives. A small, 128GB solid state hard drive for your OS and applications. A larger drive, 1TB or so, for all of your files, pictures, etc. Many computers will allow multiple data drives.


    • Audrey Johnson
      January 15, 2013 at 8:56 pm

      Great information, Thanks.

  37. Jesse
    January 11, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    "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."

    That's pretty much BS. If AMD is slower, it is in nano seconds at worst and the prices point that AMD holds over Intel is so large that getting to that website a couple of nanoseconds later is well worth it. We are talking hundreds of dollars sometimes in one chip over the other. It's good to have competition in the marketplace and to generalize that Intel is better just shows that the author and commenter have not done their homework regarding facts. AMD had been a thorn in Intel's side for a very long time and is, in my opinion, one of the reasons that Intel is not charging more on each system today. AMD is an excellent chip maker and a great choice to include in a Winbox 7 or 8.

    If you are buying new computer, the biggest guideline is to get at least a quad core 64 bit cpu with as much memory as you can get. In today's typical box, that is about 8 gigs and up depending on your purpose for the computer. If you are looking for a basic, all around good system, then big box stores like Sams, Costco are great places to shop because HP and Dell have special product lines specific to this market.


    • Capt.McSmellyPants
      January 11, 2013 at 7:41 pm

      I agree completely. Flexibility in AMD is also a definite plus. Overclocking abilities on Intel CPU's don't have anything on AMD.

  38. Ivan Vojt
    January 11, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Make sure the CPU is an Intel, yes they do perform better and make sure it's a ix-3xxx, the first x is either a i3, i5, or i7, I generally go with at least an i5 & the second group of numbers is the first number is the generation 3 is the latest followed by the xxx = model. A 3rd generation Intel USB also usually has USB 3.0 ports which makes a noticeable difference when used with a USB 3.0 hard drive. Memory, get the lowest. You can always get memory cheaper on sites like Newegg. I use G-Skill. Pull a memory module out, it will be DDR3 memory, buy memory that is at least the same speed PC3-12800 for example & it's good to match up the CAS rating as well. 9, 10, 11. Buy in pairs & if you stick with a major memory brand you also get a lifetime warranty. LCD monitors, make sure it's LED back-lit. If the Hard Drive is 5400RPM it WILL slow down the entire system. If it doesn't say what it is, don't buy it.

  39. Aaron
    January 11, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    Great article but I have to disagree with you about the RAM. it's true that voltage, timing, and latency all have a great impact on how fast RAM runs but the most important piece of knowledge when buying a new computer is "What will you use it for?" If I'm working in the Adobe suite, or I love to have 30 tabs open in Chrome then I would happily take 16GB of 800Mhz RAM over 8GB of 2100Mhz RAM. Quantity does matter for many applications especially when looking at your example of 1000Mhz vs 1333Mhz. The noticeable difference there is very slim. You make many good points but people need to realize that none of these can be taken as universal maxims.

  40. Bryan Price
    January 11, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    The big problem with monitors is that a huge percentage are the same resolution: 1920x1080

    I currently have a 1920x1200, which isn't exactly a huge difference, but it was the best I could find when my old one decided to have the backlight crap out on me. And the old one was 1600x1200.

    But still, unless you know where to look for them and are prepared to pay the price, the only real choice for most users is an X" 1920x1080 monitor.

  41. Bill Gilbert
    January 11, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    Most hard drive failures that I have had occurred within the first 2 months. If they didn't fail by then they, generally, lasted for several years, most out living any possible extended warranty. And two months is well within the manufactures warranty.

  42. juan david gil
    January 11, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    dont forget graphic cards! they are also something to buy using your knowledge not just your wallet or amazing numbers

    • Ken E Baker
      January 12, 2013 at 9:07 am

      And if you have an available PCIe slot

  43. AP
    January 11, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    One very common mistake which people makes is not mentioned, is that one should check whether these parts are compatible with mother board are not.

  44. Bill
    January 11, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Good article. Good advice for buying a desktop. However portables (laptops, tablets, etc) are outselling desktops. Yes I know everyone is careful but accident insurance may be something to consider. Also check homeowners, or corporate insurance insurance for lost or stolen portables. (If you think portables are not lost check with the airports)

  45. AriesWarlock
    January 11, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    And when buying a power supply unit?

  46. Rob Hindle
    January 11, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    RAM - faster is only better if the processor/motherboard can use it at that speed.

    Hard disk - Look for manufacturer's warranty, some offer what are nominally the same capacity disks with 1, 2, 3 or 5 year warranty. (Example Western Digital Green=2 year, red=3 year, black=5 year). It is probable that one with 5 year warranty is "grade 1" and there's a price premium and now that people are keeping desktop PCs longer I'd be happy to pay that premium. Also be aware that speed isn't just rotational speed. Higher capacity disks have the tracks spaced closer so track to track seek times are better on higher capacity disks. Larger cache memory on the disk's integral controller makes a speed improvement too.
    Having said all that there is the question of how important disk speed is for your mix of applications. It's a waste of money to buy a sports car if all you ever use it for is going to the local shops.

  47. Scott Macmillan
    January 11, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    This is a great article for someone setting up system for the first time.

  48. Ken E Baker
    January 11, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Great article - although I think you missed an important point - upgradability. I was caught out with my first computer - couldn't upgrade the processor without buying a new motherboard (I bought old stock, as you could say).

    Then caught out again with my Asus Zenbook - they have soldered the RAM onto the motherboard - I am still livid about that.

    If you really want to maximize the value of your new PC, you need to be able to extend its lifetime.

    • Ken E Baker
      January 12, 2013 at 9:06 am

      Ah, and if you buy a nice graphics card, make sure you have space in the tower.

    • Joel Lee
      January 13, 2013 at 7:06 am

      Great point. Upgradability is really where PC shines over Mac: gradually updating an out-of-times computer to something on the cutting edge, buying parts piece by piece. Thanks for reminding me.

  49. Rudi Niemand
    January 11, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    What about covering one of the important bits, like motherboards, for instance?

    • Rudi Niemand
      January 11, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      *I meant 'more' of the important bits, not 'one'.

      • Joel Lee
        January 13, 2013 at 7:05 am

        A guide to buying the right motherboard would be an article in and of itself! I'm not sure what the most common mistakes would be when purchasing a motherboard as most users (think of tech-illiterate mom and dad) probably wouldn't be buying motherboards as a separate piece.

  50. Ashwin Divakaran
    January 11, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Really very nice information !! .. I gotta change my slow performing RAM to a faster one ..thanks to you!

  51. Nikhil Chandak
    January 11, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    good tips !

  52. Pilgrim57
    January 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    Here in UK extended warranties have been proven to be v bad value for money. They are sold by fear. You have a 1 year guarantee to claim under & after that things are still supposed to be reliable.
    A good monitor is often underestimated. This is a major way of interacting with the computer. Poor monitor = poor experience.
    Over the years I have realised that a premium CPU is often money wasted & its lifespan for power users/gamers is only a matter of months longer than a middle of the road one. Save your money for the next upgrade/PC
    The average user will notice little if any difference in buying faster DDR3 ram. I would say more is better than faster.
    Regarding hard drives SSD's are great but also consider that you have plenty of space for backups on HDD's. Ideally 1 x SSD + 2x HDD. For the most important files/photos think cloud storage. What happens if your house burns down/floods & it takes all of your backups with it?
    Buy a computer is a bit like buying a car i.e a 4x4 is pointless in town & a 2 seaters sportscar is no use to a family. Think what you want it to do.

    • João Pedro SOCORSAN
      January 11, 2013 at 7:39 pm

      great tips, mate

    • Joel Lee
      January 13, 2013 at 7:03 am

      Very good tips written in a concise manner. Nice!

  53. Marko D
    January 11, 2013 at 9:54 am

    It all comes down to researching, reading reviews and benchmarks over Internet, then buying it.

  54. Tony
    January 11, 2013 at 9:13 am

    "8 GB of RAM running at 1000 MHz will be slower than 16 GB of RAM running at 1333 MHz"?! :)
    Maybe... 16GB at 1000 MHz will be slower than 8GB at 1333 MHz ?

    • Sukanya Sadhu
      January 20, 2013 at 7:33 am

      yeah.....i also thought it same

  55. Vishal Makkar
    January 11, 2013 at 8:26 am

    When Buying Hard Drives >> Consider Solid-State Drives

  56. Vipul Jain
    January 11, 2013 at 7:26 am

    When did HDD's start working @11000RPM :o
    Technology sure is running way too fast! :/

    • Barrie McNaught
      January 11, 2013 at 10:14 am

      Server hard drives have been running @15000 RPM for a while now.

      • Vipul Jain
        January 12, 2013 at 10:12 am

        Servers, right? The article considers the everyday use workstations.

        • Barrie McNaught
          January 12, 2013 at 10:22 am

          Sorry your comment made it seem like 11k RPM drives were not plausible. I was just clarifying that 15k RPM drives existed.

  57. Bailey Pasker
    January 11, 2013 at 7:05 am

    I love this article! Good stuff =]

  58. website design india
    January 11, 2013 at 6:55 am

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  59. Roehl Curioso
    January 11, 2013 at 6:24 am

    Very useful info especially if you really want to get the best out of your hard earned money!!

    January 11, 2013 at 5:58 am


  61. Damian A
    January 11, 2013 at 5:31 am

    Good article for beginners and it's even a good idea for more computer savvy folk to go over this stuff once in a while. A few mistakes though. When you search for "11000 rpm drive" you get air impact wrench. I've only ever seen 10k rpm hard disk drives. Also the RAM part, "8 GB of RAM running at 1000 MHz will be slower than 16 GB of RAM running at 1333 MHz." I think the 8 and 16 should switch places to go with your "bigger is not always better" thing that's going on here even though technically it's still correct... theoretically.

  62. Robbie Blowe
    January 11, 2013 at 5:31 am

    a nice article , short and brief explanation of fundamental things related to computers
    it helps those who are looking to either bulit or buy a computer ,and helps readers to make better choice, thanks for the article

  63. Keith Olson
    January 11, 2013 at 5:18 am

    A few notes:

    1. When buying RAM, a) buy pairs of the fastest sticks that the motherboard will support (Pairs are twice as fast as singles), and b) fill each slot's capacity (if each slot can hold 2GB, don't put in 1GB; if you want to upgrade to the maximum memory later, you won't be stuck with extra sticks of RAM.)

    2. Monitors, keyboards, mice, printers, etc. are all independent of the computer itself, and can be re-used if you upgrade, so buy the best quality you can afford, no matter how much you spend on your computer itself.

    3. Buy a proper desk and chair, sized to you. The money you save using that old end table and footstool will inevitably end up going to your chiropractor.

    4. Unless you know that you will be printing more than once a week, and you need photo-quality output, avoid getting an inkjet printer. Instead, get a colour laser printer. Staples recently had an HP which got good reviews for $130. The total cost to print is lower, especially if the inkjet head dries up because you haven't printed anything for a couple of weeks, and you have to replace that $30 cartridge that only printed 3 sheets. (FYI, laser printers use a powdered plastic toner that lasts forever.) Also, laser prints won't fade or smear if they get wet.

    Hope this helps!

  64. Craig Friday
    January 11, 2013 at 4:59 am

    left off SSD drives
    didn't touch on RAM channels
    monitors with poor contrast rations don't look good (<500:1)
    I think it was suppose to be 8 GB at 1333 MHz is faster than 16 GB at 1000 MHz

  65. Mark Alsisto
    January 11, 2013 at 4:31 am

    Are you sure you wrote

    "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."

    Which one are you actually comparing 8GB vs 16GB or 1000MHz vs 1333MHz?

    • DA
      January 11, 2013 at 4:42 am

      Yes I also thought that was kinda funny.. I think it's the other way around.

  66. Ivan Biolango
    January 11, 2013 at 4:23 am

    This is of big help to those who are newbies and sometimes to some who knew not the proper plan in buying computer parts.

  67. Doc
    January 11, 2013 at 4:13 am

    What the heck is "11000 RPM"? AFAIK, the mechanical hard disk speeds are 5400 RPM, 7200 RPM, and 10,000 RPM even, not 11,000.

    • Daniel Huss
      January 11, 2013 at 1:47 pm

      Probably just a typo. They do go up to 15k drives as well, although in most cases the cost difference between 10k and 15k doesn't justify the additional speed. At that point I would imagine you start thinking about using an SSD, which I'm surprised wasn't mentioned in the article just to make storage even more confusing. :-)

  68. Ishan Gunawardana
    January 11, 2013 at 3:52 am

    Seriously this one is good for beginners... Because most of them adding a new ram without thinking about its bus speed.. One might buy a new ram of 8 GB with 1333MHz ram because he has 8 GB ram already installed and its bus speed is 1000MHz or 800MHz.. But he never knows that his older ram doesn't match for the new one.. And he has to experience less than 8Gb hereafter..

    • Doc
      January 11, 2013 at 4:14 am

      It's also true that when mixing RAM speeds, all of it will perform at the speed of the *slowest* chip, so it may make more sense to buy enough RAM of a higher speed and replace the older RAM.

      You also have to know in advance how many DIMM slots there are, and plan accordingly.

    • Ishan Gunawardana
      January 12, 2013 at 4:12 am

      I think I should add these stuff too.. When someone needs to buy a new processor instead of his old one he need to know whether his mortarboard is supporting this new processor.. And if you are using a 64bit processor with more than 4gb ram, you must use a 64bit operating system too.. Otherwise you cannot experience you original performance.. When u buy a ram and video card will have that same problem once again.. Because of the DDR version and PCI express support of the VGA.. Once you'll buy a computer with all this compatibility, that computer will be young for at least 5 to 8 years..

  69. James Graham
    January 11, 2013 at 3:47 am

    Short but good!

  70. Mc
    January 11, 2013 at 3:42 am

    I agree with you, dude especially when buying processor. Intel CPUs performs better than AMD. Thanks for this post. I'm going to use this info to my class this afternoon. :)

    - TechiPacs

    • Jordan
      January 12, 2013 at 3:18 am

      I think this article is far to oversimplified, and lacks the details necessary for a personalized purchase decision. This does the uninformed reader a disservice.

      Are they buying for a teenage/child that would want to play graphically demanding video games? Now we have an entire conversation re. discreet vs integrated. In the low to mid-range where integrated graphics are the norm, I would argue that one is better off going AMD should gaming be a consideration. (This is not just a question of speed but also of driver support. Intel's graphics driver support is notoriously horrid.)

      More over, what is the equivalent AMD? An additional 100mhz? 200mhz? 300mhz? (Obviously architectural changes between generations will make it hard for a static article to nail this down.) How can one make a decision without being able to compare. ex: The AMD system of equiv. clock (or maybe even 100mhz faster) is $100 cheaper with no other difference. Which is the better buy? Obviously the Intel will have a faster CPU but how can the buyer determine if its $100 faster?

      I don't see this article answering any questions really re. the CPU selection.

      (Disclosure - I'm a CTO and primary architect of a large software suite. All of my systems are Intel due to high compilations requirements. The fam, on the other hand, have a mix of Intel and AMD.)

      Hats off to warning users away from 5400rpm drives, but to simplify the conversation - 7200rpm or SSD are the only two recommendable options. Its a shame that OEMs continue to shove 5400rpm drives into their low end systems.

      Given the audience, why even bring 10k (your 11k) drives into the conversation. VelociRaptors aren't exactly standard hardware in big box retail (more of a boutique realm with SSD's displacing it.) And as an aside, based on feedback from my users, 250GB drives are often far slower then say a 500GB or 750GB. Based on their anecdotal complaints, higher platter densities, or more platters can lead to a discernible difference. This is especially true in environments that are primarily IO bound. Far less of a concern, but a little extra soot to muddy the waters.

      And the discussion on 1TB vs 500GB and one may wear out faster? Was there no editor for this article? Aside from being completely misleading this says nothing. I won't even bother going into this one, but I will point out that after industry consolidation we're down to Seagate and Western Digital. Which 7200rpm (the recommended speed) products are prone to high failure rates and how would one determine what's installed? Right then.

      Maintain backups. That's all that should be said here.

      Moral of the story: All this article says is "There is a lot that you don't know."

      • earl
        January 14, 2013 at 3:43 am

        Hard drives:

        My experience with hard drives is that they fail way too soon. Usually what happens is not that the electronics fail, it's that the bearings wear out and the failure rate is directly related to temperature. Keep them cool they last. A 5500 RPM with the same bearings operating at the same temp, will last longer than the 7200 RPM, if all that is different is bearings. Consumer HD are crap these days, absolute crap. I can say that as having a background in reliability in computer systems.

        SSD are not the as reliable as one would think either. They are NAND devices and have limited write cycles. Most of the vendors have algorithms to sort of negate the effects, virtually none will guarantee a SSD for 5 years. Of course no consumer HD maker will guarantee a mechanical HD for even three years.

        Though for absolute speed and SSd is absolute worth it. Mac MacBook Pro went from 90s to 11s to boot, (starting from the boot chime). So that is quite impressive. Also drive speeds are a mix bag because it depends on how much buffer it has, the buffer speed, what data is being written, or read, block size, sequential, random, on & on & on. So make it simple, get an SSd for the main use, get a standard HD for data and crap storage, all that stuff you think you need and never use.

        Years ago, Seagate made HDs that would and did last 5 years, I still have several 80MB HD from the early 90s that work.

        • Jordan
          January 14, 2013 at 7:32 am

          Ok, the quick and dirty:


          This has been covered numerous times over at anandtech.
          I'd be far more concerned with faulty firmware on an SSD then a NAND endurance issue. Check out the back of the napkin estimates on the linked page (there are better articles but it was a quick search). SDD's are no more likely to go than any other component in your box (a statement that doesn't mean much). If you're writing that much data to your drive, you need to reconsider your component selection. You're obviously in a specialized environment and not the target for this article (enterprise class SSD drive maybe?). And yes pairing an SSD with a mechanical is a great idea if you require additional, relatively static storage (home movies and mp3 collection?).

          And just for thoroughness, its the write volume that is a concern. Don't worry about reads on an SSD (I'm assuming you're joe-user, not editing the next blockbuster.)

          And many vendors are offering 5 years on their SSD's.
          Intel, OCZ (not my favorite, but still), Samsung (on the 840 Pro, 3yrs on the 840), need I continue?

          As for HDD's, don't even know where to start. 7.2k drives have motors spec'd for 7.2k operation. 5.4k drives, same. Realistically different models of the same speed drive will source spindles of varying MTBF. Its what differentiates near-line storage (or even WD "Balck" drives) from other variants. Slower drives do not = greater reliability (heck, just see NewEgg ratings on Green drives.). Controlling thermals are for more likely to have an affect (see how MTBF is calculated.) Maybe reconsider that poorly designed tower, or that SFF that is hitting its thermal ceiling. And don't get me started on those laptops that are to hot to sit on your lap.

          Back your data up.

          10 years ago I was in the middle of a 3k workstation deployment. We moved to P4's in an SFF chassis and the HDD failure rate increased to around 30% (from 5%!) And yes, we were actually tracking those metrics. (The hdd manufacturer and model mix was relatively constant. The only data point that stood out was the new configuration. Oh and they kept blowing out their PSU's too. Probably a result of the PSU exhaust fan being the only mechanism for evacuating an extra 100W of heat.)

          Back your data up.

          Thailand flood coincided with an apparent uptick in reliability issues.

          Back your data up.

          People need actionable information, and a lower rpm drive is not the answer (its not even accurate).

          Back your data up.

          Anecdotal information is not helpful. Aggregated information is marginally so, but short of manufacturers listing metrics, are the best we have to work with. So I'll offer my 8k system/10 year metrics, or even aggregated reviews (don't bother with the single entries - look at aggregates!) from a large retailer as more accurate than your Seagate experience.

          Back up your data.

          Its great that you want to add to the convo, but I'm not seeing the benefit of anecdotal information or a misunderstanding of write endurance.

          Here, I'll fix it for you:
          Back up your data.

          I don't know why I even bothered posting here . . . just sick of seeing FUD, ignorance, and otherwise bad info. The article was just irritating, but then this isn't the venue for well informed discussion.

        • Audrey Johnson
          January 15, 2013 at 9:04 pm

          GREAT POST!!!

        • Charles Orlando
          February 1, 2013 at 8:10 pm

          I feel your pain, Jordan. My brother is a controller for an insurance co. You can imagine his acid reflux when me and some of our other semi-advanced-novice-pro-amateur computer user-builder-gamer guys start talking tech. I'm on board with everything you said and, for those who get it, it was helpful - if for no other reason than to point readers to a more functional direction.

          I have a different issue with the writer, though. If you have a chance, see my post near the bottom of the same date.

        • Anonymous
          January 16, 2013 at 1:20 am

          I agree with you. I have computers and hard drives from way back and they work. I see people now going through hard drives like a breakfast menu.

      • Petey Pabler
        January 14, 2013 at 4:34 pm

        And for those people...they can buy a MAC.