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Computer prices have dropped a lot over the past few years, and the computing power you get for your money is going up! I don't recommend used computers for anyone, because the rate of change of computer technology will make most systems nearly obsolete within three years. And used computers often come "pre-loaded" with viruses, spyware and damaged system files. If you're a computer novice, wondering what kind of computer, monitor, hard drive, memory, and operating system to get... read on.

Buying a New Computer

Computer prices have dropped a lot.
Computing power you get for your money is going up.
I don't recommend used computers for anyone, because the rate of change of computer technology will make most systems nearly obsolete within three years.
Used computers often come "pre-loaded" with viruses, spyware and damaged system files.

Windows or Mac?

The choice of operating system really doesn't matter. From a beginner's perspective, each has point & click interfaces that are pretty easy to use. Both will take you to the same Internet, and enable you to send and receive email. Both offer word processing, and the documents they create are interchangeable. Windows-based computers are cheaper.
A good entry-level Windows-based computer with monitor can be purchased for under $400, and sometimes you even get a printer in the deal. A Mac Mini goes for about $600, but that price doesn't include a monitor, mouse or keyboard, so figure around $750 total.


The CPU (central processing unit or “processor” for short is the brain of your computer. In general, the faster the better. Processor speeds are measured in gigahertz (GHz) and as of this writing, the fastest models available operate at about 4 GHz. Entry-level machines start at 1.5 to 2.0 GHz and are more than adequate for web surfing, email and word processing. If you see a computer with a processor that has a speed specified in megahertz (MHz), steer clear -- these are older models.


How much RAM memory you need. Don't confuse RAM with hard drive (file storage) space. RAM is the temporary working memory that your computer uses to perform calculations and manipulate files. When you open a document, it is copied from the hard drive into RAM. As you and your word processor work on the file, the modified copy exists only in RAM. When you save the file, it is copied from RAM back to the hard drive, or permanent storage. And as with CPU power, the more RAM you have, the better your computer will perform.
Have a minimum 256 megabytes (MB) of RAM, but with 512MB or 1024MB (one gigabyte) you'll notice better performance.

Hard Drive

The hard drive is your permanent file storage. All of your personal files, such as word processor documents, photos, music, and emails are stored here, in addition to software packages and the operating system. Most new PC's come with a hard drive that's 80 gigabytes (GB) or larger. I recommend you start with a hard drive of 80 GB, or more if you plan to keep lots of photos or music on your computer.

Large Monitor

Here's the formula: Larger Monitor = Less Eyestrain and Less Scrolling. I recommend a 17-inch monitor or even a 19-inch if you don't mind spending a bit more. Don't worry about brand names here; they're all pretty much the same. Stay away from 14 or 15-inch monitors, they're just too small to be practical.


Most of the software you need will come pre-installed on your new PC. Windows comes with Internet Explorer (for web browsing) and Outlook Express (for email). Many PC systems include a word processor, such as Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, or OpenOffice. Likewise, Mac systems come with the Safari web browser and Apple Mail for email. If your computer doesn't come with a word processor, I suggest you purchase Microsoft Works for Windows or iWork for Mac, both of which will give you a capable word processor and other useful programs.

Anti-virus and Spyware Protection

Windows users, look for a computer that comes with anti-virus software pre-installed. If yours doesn't come with any anti-virus package, check with your Internet service provider to see if they offer anything for free. Look for FREE anti-virus, anti-spam and other security tools. (see my page on Security).


• Look for a PC with Windows XP (about $400) or a Mac Mini (about $750)
• Processor: 1.5 GHz or better
• RAM memory: 256 MB or better
• Hard Drive: 80 GB or better
• Monitor: 17-inch or larger
• Software: Works (Windows) or iWork (Mac)

Look at your local computer store first, they may have some good deals and offer local support. Office supply and electronics stores such as Staples, Office Depot, and Best Buy are good options to explore too. If you're comfortable buying online, check out Dell, Gateway, Apple

From: Ask Bob Rankin Newsletter, June 15, 2006

Hard Drive Failure

You may not know when your drive is about to fail. They have a limited life. However, you may be able to get advance notice with this free program.

HDD Health is a full-featured failure-prediction agent for machines using Windows 95, 98, NT, Me, 2000 and XP. It monitors hard disks and alerts you to impending failure.

HDD Health - free download

The True Cost of Printer Ink 

  • Focus on the cost per page, not the cost per cartridge.
  • The current standard covers documents only. A separate standard for photos is being created.
  • What matters is the total cost of printing, which includes the price of the printer plus the cost for all the pages you'll print over its lifetime.

Links to Information on What and Where to Buy

Do I Need A New Computer?
Buying a Computer
How to Buy the Best New CPU - Computer Shopper
Step-by-step: Buying a Computer:The best source
PC Magazine-Buying Guide: Desktops and Laptops
Rating the Retailers - Computer shopper
How to Buy a Desktop PC
Mac vs. PC: which is better?
What is better a MAC or PC?
Mac Versus PC-Offensive Advertising
Which Printer Shall I Buy?
Buying a photo printer
Kevin Savetz' Guide To Buying a Ridiculously Cheap PC
Click here: The On-line Library of Digital Photography

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