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Quick Tips For Buying A Computer


Desktop or a 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 with a monitor and keyboard. On the other hand, you can often get a more powerful computer for the money with a desktop.
If you are going to buy a laptop — carefully consider:

  • The screen: screen quality has improved a lot in the last few years 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 well 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 the research! Review Consumer Reports’ articles on reliability (frequency of repair) and customer service. [WATF can provide copies of the most recent articles]. 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 on line 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 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 (and perhaps other magazines) has information on customer satisfaction by store. (Ask the Access Fund for a copy).