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Tips on Buying a Computer

Desktop or Laptop?

Laptops are a little more pricey but mobile – an increasingly important feature. You can easily set up a laptop so it functions like a desktop by adding a monitor and a keyboard. On the other hand, you can often get a more powerful computer for the same price if you buy a desktop.

If you are going to buy a laptop — carefully consider:

  • Screen: Screen quality is constantly improving, but make sure this particular screen is one that you can use for long periods of time without eye strain. You can get a great screen for a relatively low cost so don’t settle for less!
  • Weight: A couple of pounds can make a big difference in how portable the computer really is. You may pay a little more for a lighter computer but it may be worth it if you plan on taking it with you often.
  • Keyboard: Try it out. Is it a comfortable fit for you?
  • Laptop Mouse: Try it out also! Will you able to use it comfortably? Of course, you can always add an external mouse.

Choosing a brand and model:

  • Do your research! Review Consumer Reports’ articles on reliability (frequency of repair) and customer service. You also can compare reviews online by doing a search for the computer’s model number and the word “review.”
  • Look for advertised bargains in the newspaper.
  • Try out a few models. Visit local computer stories to look at your options. Ask them to print out specifications for the ones you like so you can carefully compare processing speed, memory and other features.

Figure out what you need:

  • Find out the basic configuration requirements for any adaptive or other software you will be using, including memory, processing speed, and hard drive capacity and operating system.
  • More memory (both RAM and processor cache) will allow you to have more programs open at once without slowing down your computer.
  • A faster processor will allow programs to open and run faster.
  • Hard drive capacity will generally be sufficient on any newer computer model unless you plan to store lots of high-resolution photos or video editing (more hard drive space can easily be added later with a portable USB or Fire wire drive). If you need more hard drive for tasks such as these, you can ask for an upgrade at the time of purchase. Another inexpensive option is to purchase an external hard drive.
  • Does the computer come with a printer and a monitor? If not, how much will they cost? Will you also need a scanner?


  • Software developers pay to have time-limited or feature-limited versions of their software pre-installed on new computers in hopes that customers will eventually buy the software. Therefore, you should be prepared to either purchase the software you need or find free alternatives.
  • Basic office software used to come with the computer. That is generally not the case any more. Typically you only get a 90 day trial for, e.g., Microsoft Office.
  • In short, find out what software comes with the computer, what you will need to purchase at the end of the 90 day trial and how much it will cost.


  • Most computers come with a one-year warranty. Stores and online computer retailers offer extended warranties for up to three years (for a total of 4 years) for a very reasonable price. The warranties cover hardware problems but not problems with your software or viruses. For an additional cost, some warranties also will cover accidents (e.g., the coffee you spilled on your laptop). Warranties may help you make needed repairs at an affordable cost and/or considerably extend the useful life of your computer – saving you money in the long run.

Where to purchase:

  • Online vs. In-Store: One advantage of purchasing online is that you can customize your computer to get exactly the features you want. If you purchase a computer at a store, you may end up with a package and fewer options. However, purchasing from a store may be easier!
  • Find out if the store has a customer service/repair service and how good their reputation is! Consumer Reports offers information on customer satisfaction by store.

Low-Cost Internet Providers

National Locator Tool for Low-Cost Internet, Devices, and Technology Courses

This tool, through HUD’s nonprofit partner EveryoneOn, allows you to find local resources based on your zip code.

Washington State Health Care Authority

The Health Care Authority is offering free cell phones and minutes to low-income individuals through the Lifeline program. For information on phone services and carriers, click here. Once you have chosen a carrier, apply online or by phone.

CenturyLink Lifeline

Lifeline helps make communications services affordable to low-income consumers, who can choose to apply it to either voice services or broadband services, but not both. CenturyLink provides Lifeline internet service throughout Washington State and Oregon.

COVID-19 Update: On March 17, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission waived recertification and reverification requirements for existing customers for 60 days.

  • Area Served: CenturyLink service areas
  • Qualifications/Application Procedure: To qualify, you must have an income below 135% of the federal poverty line or you must receive one or more listed federal benefit. For more information on eligibility and applying, visit this page for Washington State or this page for Oregon.
  • Cost: Provides a discount of $9.25 on monthly internet service in Washington State and up to $12.75 on monthly service in Oregon.

Comcast/Xfinity Internet Essentials

Home internet service and low-cost computers for low-income families.

COVID-19 Update: Xfinity is offering free internet service for two months for new Xfinity Internet Essentials customers who apply before April 30, 2020. Additionally, the Internet Essentials download/upload speed will increase to 25Mpbs/3Mpbs. This speed will remain the new base speed moving forward.

  • Area Served: Xfinity service areas
  • Qualifications/Application Procedure: You can qualify if child in your household is eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), you receive HUD housing assistance, you are a community college student in Colorado or Illinois, or you are a verified low-income veteran or senior. To learn more and apply, click here.
  • Cost: $9.95/month for internet speeds up to 15 Mpbs, with in-home Wi-Fi included. Participants also have the option to buy a low-cost computer for $149.99 plus tax.

Cox Connect2Compete

Low-cost high-speed internet service options.

COVID-19 Update: Cox is providing two months of free Connect2Compete service. They are also teaming up with PCs for People to provide discounted, refurbished equipment to customers. For customers who do not meet Connect2Compete eligibility requirements, Cox is offering the Cox Internet Starter 10 free for the first month (up to 10 Mpbs, price increases to $19.99/month for months 2-12). Learn more here.

  • Area Served: Zip codes throughout Washington State and Oregon
  • Qualifications/Application Procedure: To qualify, you must have at least one child in K-12, receive certain federal assistance, and live in certain service areas. To learn more and apply, visit this link.
  • Cost: $9.95/month for up to 15 Mpbs from Cox, plus a free Wi-Fi modem.


Spectrum Internet Assistance

Low-cost internet service for qualifying households.

COVID-19 Update: Spectrum is providing free internet for 60 days for students. They have also made all of their Wi-Fi hotspots available for public use.

  • Area Served: Areas throughout Washington State and Oregon
  • Qualifications/Application Procedure: To qualify, a member of your household must receive National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of NSLP, or Supplemental Security Income (for those 65 and older) benefits. To learn more and apply, visit this link.
  • Cost: $14.99/month for 30 Mpbs and no data caps, including a free modem. In-home Wi-Fi available for an extra $5/month.

PCs for People

Low-cost, high-speed internet service for qualifying households.

  • Area Served: Service areas include Washington State and Oregon
  • Qualifications/Application Procedure: To qualify, you must earn below 200% of the federal poverty level or you must currently be enrolled in an income-based government assistance program. To learn more, click here.
  • Cost: Internet service is $15/month and includes unlimited 4G LTE service. Customers have the option of buying a wireless LTE modem if needed ($80), as well as low-cost computers and other devices.

ConnectAll by InterConnection

Low-cost computers and internet service, providing an array of desktops and laptops to low-income individuals at a reduced cost.

  • Area Served: All 50 states
  • Qualifications/Application Procedure: You can qualify for internet service through their Mobile Citizen program if you reside in a low-income zip code, receive any form of government assistance, are currently a student, or have a total income under $50,000/year. To apply, call 206-633-1517 ext. 114 (ext. 118 for Spanish), email [email protected], or create an account here, provide verification, and purchase your Internet plan online.
  • Cost: $11.95/month for internet service.


FreedomPop offers free to low-cost wireless internet and cellular service.

  • Area Served: Check to see if your zip code qualifies here.
  • Qualifications/Application Procedure: There is no application procedure; simply go to the choose whatever plan and/or device best suit your needs.
  • Cost: Varies on device and area you live in, generally $0-20/month.

Internet First by Wave

Internet First provides Internet speeds of up to 25 Mpbs to low-income households.

  • Area Served: Multiple U.S. states, including Washington State and Oregon
  • Qualifications/Application Procedure: To qualify, you must participate in a public assistance program such as the National School Lunch Program, housing assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, or SSI. For a full list and to apply, visit this link.
  • Cost: $9.95/month, with modem included. They are currently offering the first 60 days for free.

Computer Funding Options – Washington

Seattle Community Network (SCN)

SCN offers free and low-cost internet-ready computers to folks who need them.

  • Contact [email protected] if you are interested in receiving a computer. Please note that they have a long waiting list and you may wait 4-6 months for a computer.

ConnectAll by InterConnection

ConnectAll by InterConnection sells low-cost refurbished laptops, desktops, and other devices for low-income individuals. To browse their online store, follow this link.

COVID-19 Update: InterConnection’s outlet store in Seattle is closed until further notice.

Northwest Access Fund

Northwest Access Fund provides low-interest loans to individuals with disabilities, including seniors with age-related functional limitations, in Washington State and Oregon. Loans can be used to purchase computers and software.

Computer Funding Options – Oregon

Free Geek – Welcome to Computers

Provides multi-week digital literacy training throughout the Portland metro area for low-income adults. Participants receive a computer and 1 year of technical support at the end of the training.

COVID-19 Update: Although they are currently closed, you can email [email protected] for information on getting a computer for a K-12 student.

  • Location: 1731 SE 10th Avenue, Portland, OR 97214
  • Phone: 503-232-9350
  • Email: [email protected]

Blanche Fischer Foundation

The Blanche Fischer Foundation provides grants to improve the personal independence of Oregon-state residents with physical disabilities and demonstrated financial need. Grants range up to $1200 and have covered iPads and computer software in the past.

  • Phone: 503-246-4941
  • Apply online here.

Northwest Access Fund

Northwest Access Fund provides low-interest loans to individuals with disabilities, including seniors with age-related functional limitations, in Washington State and Oregon. Loans can be used to purchase computers and software.

Computer & Technology Training Programs – Washington

Northshore Senior Center

The Northshore Senior Center has been at the forefront of training seniors in computer learning since 1992. Around 1,500 students come to the labs each year to learn the basics of computing for work or pleasure. Lab computers and software are kept up to date so that seniors can keep their skills up to current market trends.

  • Location: 10212 East Riverside Drive, Bothell, WA 98011
  • Phone: 425-487-2441
  • Email: [email protected]


PROVAIL’s Assistive Technology Computer Groups offer an opportunity for individuals with disabilities to increase computer and technology skills in a group of their peers. Computer classes and training for individuals with disabilities including specially designed programs for individuals with cognitive disabilities.

  • Location: 12550 Aurora Ave N., Seattle, WA 98133
  • Phone: 206-826-1050
  • Email: Gabe at [email protected]

Special Technology Access Resource: STAR Center

The STAR Center provides skills training on computers, the Internet, and related assistive technologies specifically for people with disabilities.

Tacoma Area Coalition for Individuals with Disabilities (TACID)

TACID offers a computer lab with some adaptive software, as well as individualized instruction, to individuals with disabilities.

  • Location: 6315 S 19th St.,Tacoma, WA 98466
  • Phone: 253-565-9300

Computer & Technology Training Programs – Oregon

Multnomah County Library – Computer Help

With locations throughout Portland and Multnomah County, the Multnomah County Library provides a variety of classes on computer use and technical help.

  • Location: Multnomah County
  • Phone: 503-988-5123

Rogue Area Senior Computer Assistance League (RASCAL)

RASCAL provides a variety of classes on computer and phone-related technical skills, geared towards seniors, in southwestern Oregon. Online registration is required.

  • Location: 214 SW 4th St., Grants Pass, OR 97526