Computer Guides

How to Buy a New Computer – Pensacola Computers Computer Buyers Guide

There are so many things to consider when buying a new computer, and many things to beware of.

Pensacola Computers has compiled a list of things to consider when purchasing a new computer, along with some guidelines to help you find the best computer for you at the best price. If you are getting ready to buy a new computer, give us a call today BEFORE you buy at 850-390-4242! Our general advice is always free, and we offer services for those who want more comprehensive help, as well as new computer setup and configuration service. For a small fee, we will even come shopping with you at local Pensacola merchants to help you get the best out of your purchase and make sure you are not given bad advice or taken advantage of by salespeople!

Most new computers sold today come with Microsoft Windows, so we are going to focus on this type of computer.

The best computer deals here in Pensacola FL often come with rebates – make sure that you fill in all the rebate info exactly as required, and mail in by the date indicated. If you are looking for an online purchase from a major manufacturer such as HP, or Dell, take time and wait for the special deals which come around every couple of months – you can save as much as 25 – 30% or more by waiting for the specials!

**One very important note when buying computers from local retailers: Most computer salespeople in large retail stores have little computer knowledge, and although they may sound like they know what they are talking about, many times they are wrong and misleading. Think about it – if they really knew that much about computers, why would they be working as a salesperson making low wages? In addition, many stores that offer special computer services by a ‘squad’ of so called experts, often charge excessive rates and install overpriced and bloated software that actually slows your computer down. Pensacola Computers does not recommend using pre-installed security products as there are often much better and less expensive products available. Another thing to consider before you spend a lot of money on expensive security products is the Microsoft Windows 8 comes with both a built-in firewall, and antispyware software and there are quite a few very good free security products out there which you can download from the web – see our Tech Support Page for Download Links. The best computer buyer is an informed buyer, and you should never trust what you are told by a salesperson – research before you buy, and give us a call with any questions – our general advice is always free!

Things to consider before making a purchase:

1.) What are you going to use the computer for? Business, home use, computer gaming, photo and video editing? What kind of computer hardware you need will be dependent upon these factors.

2.) Will you want to easily upgrade the computer in the future? To increase the life of your computer, and your investment, it is important to know how easy it is to upgrade certain components of your computer such as RAM (memory), Hard Drive (storage), Graphics Adapters (video), CPU (processor – or computer brain).

3.) What kind of accessories are you going to want or need with your new computer? With a new computer you may want or need a new monitor, printer, keyboard, mouse, and networking components such as a wireless card/router.

4.) What is your budget for your new computer? You need to take into account the additional charges often associated with a new computer purchase, such as: Accessories, extended warranty, security software, business/office software, and multimedia software.

What you need to know about Computer Hardware.

CPU (processor – or computer brain): Choosing the type of processor you want in your computer will depend upon what you want to do on the computer, and what your budget is. Most newer computers now come with 64 bit capable processors (this is important if you want to upgrade to a 64 bit version of Windows), and most of the newer high performance CPU’s are Dual Core or Quad Core processors (basically 2 or 4 CPU’s on top of each other). If possible, considering your budget, a 64 bit processor and operating system is recommended.

In the current computer market, there are two main manufacturers of CPU’s – Intel and AMD. Both of these manufacturers have a number of processor lines which we will explain in the table below. *Note: this is not a complete list of processors, just the one’s more common in desktop computers. (Note: ** denotes CPU’s that are older technology)

Intel Best for:
Celeron General applications – budget CPU – Celeron D supports 64 bit – Celeron M is for Laptops
Pentium 4 General and Business applications – models with HT have better performance with some applications – some support 64 bit
Pentium EE Demanding business applications, graphics, and general gaming – High Performance CPU – some support 64 bit
Pentium D ** Business and general applications – Higher performance CPU with dual cores – support 64 bit. The 900 series are better than the 800 series for the same speeds – ie: 920 vs 820
Core 2 Duo **Higher Performance Desktop and Laptop Processor, at the upper end in terms of speed and lower power consumption – support 64 bit
Core 2 Quad **Higher Performance Desktop and Laptop Processor, at the upper end in terms of speed and lower power consumption – support 64 bit
Centrino These are the ‘Class’ of Mobile Processors
Core Solo **Single core mobile processors
Core Duo **Dual core mobile processors  – these are the older type of dual core processors for laptops and are not quite as fast as the newer Core 2 Duo’s and i series processors for laptops – however, they are still great processors. – support 64 bit
Intel i series
i3, i5, i7
Dual and Quad core processors introduced in late 2009. These processors feature lower power consumption, better performance, hyperthreading, and turbo-boost performance. They are replacing the Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad processors as the latest offering from Intel. These processors support 64 bit and Virtualization**Note, the core i series is now on its 9th cycle, the first series were named in the hundreds, ie: i7 975, the next series were in the 2000’s, ie:i3 3220,  i7 2600 etc.,  the latest series is named in the 8000, ie: i7 8770 – generally, the later series have lower power consumption (which means much better laptop battery life) and better performance.
AMD
Sempron General applications – budget CPU – some support 64 bit
Athlon XP **General applications – an older processor type
Athlon 64 **General gaming and applications – support 64 bit
Athlon FX Gaming, Graphics and demanding  applications – Extreme High Performance CPU – support 64 bit
Athlon X2 Gaming and general applications – High performance CPU with dual cores – support 64 bit
Phenom – X3, X4, FX The latest consumer performance chip from AMD – supports 64 bit
Turion 64 AMD mobile processor – supports 64 bit

Bottom Line on Processors: The new i3, i5 and i7 processors are best in terms of performance and power usage, however they are still a bit pricier than the other models, though that should change in the near future. Intel Core i3, 15, and i7s are best in terms of Price/Performance/Power usage  for both business and gaming .However, for gaming, AMD 64 and X2 and Phenom processors do have an advantage over the older Pentium processors and are generally cheaper. For business applications, Intel processors generally perform better. Both Intel and AMD have recently slashed many of their processor prices, and the desktop packages offered by many manufacturers should drop soon as well.

RAM (memory): There are many different types of RAM, and at times, all of the different types and numbers seem confusing. The amount of memory in a computer is usually referred to in GB (Gibgabytes). For new computers running average applications, we recommend a minimum of 4 GB. For more intense use such as in gaming, running multiple applications, multimedia, or business applications, we recommend 8  – 16GB (8192 – 16384 MB). For the ultra gamer or super user, you may want to consider up to 32 GB (32768 MB) or more. The size and number of memory sticks in a computer, as well as the number of memory slots, will be a factor for upgrades. Most mid to high range computer systems come with 4 memory slots, and it is important to find out how many of the slots are used. For example, the computer may come with 4096 MB (4 GB), but it could be one 4096 MB memory stick, or 2×2048, or even 4×1024 MB memory sticks. For future upgrades, the more open slots you have available, the easier it will be to upgrade. When upgrading RAM, check to see if your computer uses ‘Dual Channel or ‘Triple Channel’ RAM – if it does, you will need to have the identical type of RAM, and preferably RAM made by the same manufacturer in order for the RAM to function properly in Dual or Triple Channel mode. Depending upon your computer, the most common older memory types are PC2700/PC3200 (also called DDR 333/400),  PC 4200 (also called DDR2 533),  PC 5400, 6400 (also called DDR2 667 or DDR2 800), and the newer DDR3-800, 1066, 1333, and 1600 (also called PC3-6400, PC3-8500, PC3-10600, and PC3-12800) – and now DDR-4 memory as well. The type of memory you need is specific to your system, so always check before you buy! High end gamer systems and custom built systems come with new DDR3 memory, and that is also working its way into the higher end consumer systems. Generally, the newer memory is cheaper as it is currently being mass produced.

Graphics Adapters (Video): Video cards come from a variety of manufacturers, with varying specifications and types. There 4 main types of Graphics Adapters: Integrated (part of the motherboard), PCI cards (an older specifications), AGP cards (another older specification), and PCI-Express or PCI-E cards (the newest specifications). Many computers with Integrated graphics come with an open graphic slot for upgrades, and these can be either PCI, AGP, or PCI-E. For the Windows 7 and 8 and 10, if you want full graphics support, you need a DirectX 11 or 12 with Windows 10 to fully take advantage of all the latest features – make sure to check if the card is Windows 10 Ready before you buy! For the hard core gamer, the new DirectX 12 Windows 10 graphics cards are becoming available, and these are the cards to get for the future. Memory size is not a good indication of a graphic card’s performance however, as there are a number of cards with lower memory amounts that perform much better due to the technology. Generally with video cards, the last 2, or 3 numbers in the card number are what tells you about the speed ie: a 8800 card is faster than an 8600 card. The first digit indicates the level of technology in the card – ie a 9000 series card has newer technology than an 8000 series card. *Note: nVidia has recently changed their numbering structure again, so the best thing to do is read the reviews and performance specs before buying – or give us a call!

What kind of graphics adapter you will need will depend on what you want to use the computer for. Many low and mid range computers come with integrated graphic adapters (part of the motherboard, not a separate card). Unfortunately, to keep prices down, most new computer systems now come with integrated graphics. Integrated graphics are best for general applications and light graphic demands. A major factor when considering a computer with Integrated graphics is whether it will accept an add-in card, and what type. Almost all consumer general PC’s come with built in (on motherboard or CPU graphics). Most of these systems are good for general and business applications, and general gaming. Most mid range and high end computer systems now come with PCI-E graphics slots for add in cards – a few come with the cards themselves. These cards are generally much higher performing than other cards and are good for all general and business applications, and most games. For extreme gamers  a high performance PCI-E card is recommended.

One important note about graphics adaptors: When deciding upon graphics card performance, the amount of memory they have, ie 512MB, 1 GB or 2 GB and higher, is not always the most important factor. There are a number of 1 GB cards that will outperform some 2 GB cards. The best thing to do, especially if buying a computer for gaming, is to do some research on the web concerning different makes and models of graphics cards.

**NOTE: If you are thinking about buying a graphics card for your computer, make SURE to check the power requirements (both the wattage and the connectors needed). Many add-in graphics cards need more power than is provided by stock power supply’s and overloading your power supply can cause serious damage to your system. Often you will need to upgrade your power supply when adding in a better graphic card.

Hard Drives (storage): There are two major types of hard drives in modern computers: ATA (IDE) or Serial ATA (SATA). Most mid to high end systems come with SATA drives, which are faster and better performing than ATA drives. SATA drives are available as SATA 150 or SATA 300 (also called SATA II.) – there is also a new SATA III which is available on some higher end systems.  The size of drive(s) you need will depend on what you are going to use the computer for. Computer programs, and operating systems (Windows) are getting larger and larger, so more space is needed. An 500GB – 1 TB Hard Drive should be enough for most casual users who use general and business applications. For multimedia computers, or users who want to store a lot of photos, music, videos etc, a 1 TB – 4 TB drive, or multiple drives are recommended. For Gamers and Power Users, large multiple drives are recommended for better performance and storage. Some computers also advertise a feature called RAID (Redundant Array of Independent (or Inexpensive) Disks). RAID is a way to use multiple drives for either performance (RAID 0) or for Data Integrity (RAID 1). In RAID 0, the data is split across two disks with the data being written and read from both at the same time which increases performance. In RAID 1, identical data is written to both disks so that if one drive fails, the other will still contain all of your data. There are also other types of RAID, but these two are the most commonly used. New to the market are SSD (solid state) drives which offer much faster read times and have no moving parts. The SSD drives are still rather pricey though, and do not have the huge storage capacity (yet) of conventional hard drives. SSD Drives are now being seen in a lot of new Windows 10 Ultra-books, and one huge advantage is they offer stellar boot up times and are less prone to accidental damage that can often occur in laptop usage. Also there are the PCI-E based SSD drives with many high end motherboard now having direct slots for them on the motherboard – these are some of the fastest drives out right now.

Accessories and special hardware considerations

TV Cards: Many people like to watch TV on their computers and there are a couple of considerations for this when it comes to TV cards. All new Windows 7 computers, have Windows Media Center included which allows you to watch and record tv with a TV Tuner. If you buy a computer, but it does not have one preinstalled, you MUST buy a TV card which is specifically made for Media Center (make sure to check that the TV card supports your version of Windows.

Monitors: There are two main kind of monitors which are sold for computers: CRT (similar looking to a TV – these are getting rarer all the time), or LCD or Flat Panel (which are not to be confused with Flat Screen). Generally, LCD monitors seem to be easier on the eyes, and take up less room on your desktop, however they are more expensive that CRT monitors. Either type of monitor will work for the majority of computer users, however gamers will want to check the specifications of LCD monitors closely as the response time on many are not as good as on CRT’s. Most newer large screen HD TV’s can also be used as computer monitors if they and your computer have compatibile graphics ports such as HDMI, or DVI.

Printers: There are a great number of printers which are available for different needs. For the most part, the average inkjet printer is good for general printing, and medium quality photos. For high quality photos, a good photo printer is needed. For large printing and frequent printing jobs, a laser printer is recommended for both speed and cost effectiveness. One of the most important factors for the average computer user to consider when choosing a printer is the cost of the printer ink. Most printer manufacturers make little if any money on selling printers; they depend on people buying the printer ink, which can be quite expensive!
*Note – be careful about wireless printers – while some of these work ok, many have reported issues with interference and printing/communication errors, especially in areas where there is a lot of wireless network traffic

What you need to know about Computer Software

Operating System (Windows):

The majority of Computers sold today come with Microsoft Windows, and while you can get Apple computers, they are such a small percentage of the market and more of a niche market. They are rarely used in business, and have a very limited amount of software available as compared to Windows computers.

Windows Version History:

On older computers there are 3 main versions : Windows XP Home, Windows XP Pro, and XP Media Center Edition 2005. The main difference between XP Home and XP Pro has to do with with XP Pro’s ability to join a network domain, and some advanced User and Security configuration features. For most home users, XP Home will do the job. XP Pro is for the advanced or business user. XP Media Center Edition basically replaced XP Home, and with a TV Tuner will allow you to watch and record live TV. The one cautionary warning about computers which were sold with Media Center 2005 is that if the computer description says “Software Only” this means that the computer does NOT come with a TV card, so if you want to watch TV on it you will have to buy a TV card. If you do buy a TV card make sure that it is compatible with Media Center 2005

Windows Vista was released in late 2006, and while it did get a lot of bad press, mostly because of incompatible hardware/software issues, there are still quite a lot of computers running it today. It came in 4 main versions: Home Basic – which did not include the Aero graphics interface, Home Premium – the most commonly used, Business – basically the same as XP – Pro in terms of usage, and Vista Ultimate – which was supposed to come with a bunch of Ultimate extra’s that never really happened.  It should be noted that most systems that came with Vista pre-installed should be able to easily upgrade to Windows 7.

Windows 7 was released in late 2009 and most new systems come with it now, with the mid and higher end systems running the 64 bit version.Currently the recommended hardware consists of a newer processor (preferably one that will run 64 bit applications), at least 2GB of RAM, and to run all of the new visual effects it is suggested to have a PCI-E graphics card with 256 MB of video memory.  Our best advice is to buy a computer which has a newer processor, at least 2 GB of RAM, and an available PCI-E graphics slot so if you want to run games or high end video, you can buy a compatible graphics card.  If you have questions about Windows 7 – give us a call, we have been working with Windows 7 throughout the Beta test cycle and its final realease.

Windows 8 was released in late 2012 and is now the operating system that is being sold on most new PC’s. Although some people have complaints about the new features in Windows 8, and the missing of some old features (such as the start button on the desktop), these things are easily worked with and the ‘under the hood’ differences in Windows 8 make it definitely the operating system of choice. With a few minor modifications (all free), Windows 8 can be made to look and perform just like Windows 7 but with the added safety, security, and performance of Windows 8. Most applications that ran on Windows 7 will run on Windows 8, although hardware devices may often require updated drivers. Windows 8.1 was released as an update in October 2013 and is now installed on most new computers you will buy. At Pensacola Computers, we have been working with Windows 8 since Microsoft’s early testing and we can help and show you how to use it to your advantage. Give us a call today to find out why Windows 8 is great! ** Note: for those who think that they would rather stick with Windows 7, call us and we will tell you how to overcome the issues you may have with Windows 8, and why Windows 8 is a better choice in most cases.

Windows 10 was released in the summer of 2015 and has now been updated numerous times with the latest build as of this writing being build 1709 – the Fall 2017 Creators update. Windows 10 has introduced a host of new features to Windows and will run on most current new hardware. At Pensacola Computers we have been working with Windows 10 throughout its development and are up to date on most of the commonly found issues. We can help you upgrade or fresh install Windows 10 on your current system, or give you advice on the best hardware to buy if you are looking for a new system.

Pre-installed Software:

Most computers come with a variety of pre-installed software. Some of this software such as CD/DVD burning software, and DVD players are needed to use your hardware. There is often other ‘Trial’ Software such as Antivirus, Firewall, Antispyware, and ISP software such as MSN and AOL which is installed. Although Security software is definitely needed, most of the preinstalled versions such as Norton’s and McAfee are expensive and have a reputation for slowing down your machine and causing conflicts with other programs. There are a number of free and paid for versions of Security software which work just as good, if not better, and use a lot less of your computer’s resources. See the Pensacola Computers Tech Page for some links to the best free and paid for Security Software. Some computer bundles also come with software such as Microsoft Office, which when purchased separately is usually pretty expensive. Read the computer descriptions carefully though to see if the software pre-installed on your new computer is the full version, or if it is just a ‘Trial’ version which you will have to pay to continue using past a certain time.

Many computer stores will try to sell you add-on security packages. These packages are not only expensive, but they are often versions of software which are over bloated and will actually slow down your system. For casual home users there are a number of FREE antivirus and anti-spyware solutions which are as good or better than what most of these stores will offer you. And there are certainly much better programs available for the same or less. Please see our Tech Page for links to the best free and paid for security software, or give us a call with any questions you may have.

A tip about ‘Custom-built’ computers.

Major manufacturers generally spend a lot of time and money making sure that the components in their systems work well together, and work with Microsoft Windows. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with custom-built computers. Just because a system has all high quality parts does not mean that those parts will function well together. In addition, few custom builders can beat the prices of major manufacturers. For the average computer user, the safer bet is a computer from a large manufacturer. For more experienced users, or users who have unique computer needs, take the time to research the components which are offered and check out the reputation of the builder before ordering a custom system. Be very careful when buying a custom built system, as many cut-rate offerings do not come with Windows installed. If Windows is pre-installed, make sure you get a certificate of authenticity, or a guarantee that the software will pass Microsoft’s Genuine Advantage verification, otherwise you will not be able to get updates from Microsoft. Pensacola Computers can custom build and configure a system for you based upon your needs – give us a call for an estimate.

Questions about computers, or not sure what to buy?

Call us today at 850-390-4242 – our General Advice is Always Free!