Next computer? What to buy?

I am frequently asked by students, teachers, parents, and friends where to buy the next computer and what model should be purchased.  In the past this was a daunting question for me because I felt that a good model for me was not necessarily the best model for the average user and I was concerned that if I chose the wrong model for the user that I was somehow responsible for their success or failure with a new computer device.  Today, however, I ask a few questions to help them determine their needs;  I teach them about current models and options; and I expect them to help make the final decision.  I expect the user to reach an educated conclusion.

The first question that I ask is how portable do you need to be.   Tablets today are a great option for the average user because the portability can’t be beat.  However, tablets are not currently great devices for heavy processing and high end development such as video production or intense graphic development.  Tablets usually require additional newer technologies to connect to externals such as printers, projectors, and more storage.  Today, the laptop option is usually suitable for the more complex processing needs such as computer programming, animation development, graphics, and video.  If portability is not important then I refer users to all in one type computers such as those from HP and MAC.

The second question I like to ask is the PC or MAC question.  I remind potential PC users that while the device is more common, more compatible, and usually more inexpensive on the front end there are some costs associated with PC’s such as support, viruses, frequent updates, and software expenses.  The downtime alone on a PC can be costly and should be clearly discussed.  The MAC environment has a better track record for support issues and while the software can be expensive there are some very enticing free programs that come with the operating system.  I have used great models on both platforms, but I am trending personally toward a MAC environment at home due to the countless hours of time saved via no support issues.  However, I do like to remind people that I favor good computers, and I am not brand name loyal.

The third question that I ask is about the research that they have completed.  Frequently little to no research has been started by a user, and they are looking for a quick fix.  Consequently, I point them in the direction of Consumer Reports and Costco.  Consumer Reports has a great process for evaluating the best computers and then compares them side by side in nice charts to help you see how much you want to spend and how effective and efficient they are.  I have found Consumer Reports very reliable.  I have also found that the Costco computer department follows standards similar to Consumer Reports, and I usually recommend the computers that are on both reports to make it easy for the user.  Costco tests their devices too before purchasing in bulk so there are few models.  Those models are usually quite reliable and current.  If you are buying a MAC then I simply recommend buying it online from the Apple store in order to save some money.  Mac prices do not fluctuate in price due to that fact that they have a stronger control over where the new MACs are sold.

Finally I remind users that this is a major purchase like purchasing a car, and you should expect to use it for at least three years without problems and that the user should be actively involved in the process.  It is going to be your device that you will take to family events, the work place, and cafes.  Don’t leave everything up to the sales person.  I have been in many stores where sales persons have told me things that were completely wrong, perhaps fabricated, poorly researched, or simply hid the fact that they did not know the answer to a tech question.  I won’t reveal those store names, but I will caution you that there are many models of computers that are still in testing phases and should have never been released to the public.  Computer Science is a practice of trial and error, but business has a responsibility to the consumer.  So I recommend that you do your research and take the advice from Consumer Reports and Costco as a starting point if not a purchasing point.  More reviews are better than one, and I am not going to tell you what to buy.   Please do contact me with unique purchases that you make along your journey, and let me know if there are better reports that what I am recommending.

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