Let me ask you a question.

In several professions it’s just accepted that you will be asked work related questions at any time.  Doctors always get to hear about people’s aches and pains and see their rashes.  Financiers will be constantly asked their opinions on the stock market.  Techs get the computer questions.  That’s what I’m going to talk about.

The questions can take any form, but one that we commonly hear is:  “I’m buying a new computer, what should I get?”  This is often in conjunction with, or followed by, “Is HP or Dell better?”  “How many gigs do I need?”  “How does wireless work?”  “How fast a processor do I need?”  We try to help;  after all, computer techs are the salt of the earth and the most helpful, giving creatures ever created.  However, even we have our limits.  Our limits usually consist of not being psychic to know what you need.

For the edification of my readers, I will undertake the task of providing a few common sense answers that may or may not help.  Just remember two things:  1) This is free advice.  2) You get what you pay for.

For instance, HP or Dell or (insert any random brand here)?  I usually respond, “Ford or Chevy?”  It’s basically the same question.  In the case of computers or trucks (or toasters or TVs etc.) the vast majority work great and never give the owner a lick of trouble.  However, there are lemons in every brand of every device manufactured.  Most likely, it won’t matter.  Computers are very nearly, if not already, commodities.  That means there’s very little differentiation between the brands.  Of course, some people are fanatical that one brand is better than another.  This usually comes from the tech’s experience with the brand(s) he or she has encountered at work.  Keep in mind, the business models we’re familiar with are not the same as the consumer models which you will be buying.  Just look for the best deal and you’ll be fine.  Probably.

How many gigs of what?!?  Seriously!  I’ve heard that question!  Make sure you have at least 2GB of RAM, more is better but probably not necessary for most users.  If you have no idea what advantages would be gained, you don’t need it.

Hard drive space is more critical.  Most PC packages have around a 250GB hard drive and that’s “probably” fine.  If you’re going to do movie editing, desktop publishing, or crazy amounts of photos, upgrade the drive.  Hard drive space is a cheap upgrade and usually worth the money.

As for what kind of processor, don’t worry about it.  Just get whatever comes with the PC and sleep well at night.  If you’re running a high CPU demand specialty application such as graphic rendering or CAD/CAM, max it out.  Otherwise, you’ll never notice the difference between one CPU and another.

As far as setting up your router, either wireless or wired, just get the one your internet service provider sends and follow the directions.  The directions are designed to be very simple and straightforward.  Don’t worry about how it works, it involves a lot of  magic.  Step one will tell you how to plug it in.  There might even be pictures.  Follow the proceeding steps in order (a lot of people actually miss the “in order” part) and soon you’ll be surfing the web looking for a new ANCTech blog.

I’ve got to start making these things shorter.

Happy Computing.

3 Responses to “Let me ask you a question.”

  1. Thanks for the summer school post, (ANCTech)! I don’t get a lot of these kinds of requests in my line of work (English Prof. ed.): a few times, friends and neighbors have asked me to proofread or edit something they’ve written, but it’s rare. The ex-brother-in-law asked me to help him revise his thesis for his Masters in Criminal Justice. As his advisor put it to him, “Your thesis reads like a 60-page police report. You need some serious wordsmithing.” Several years ago, a guy offered me cash to write the thesis for his Ed. Specialist degree (a high school asst. principal, no less). I turned him down, not primarily because of the irony of his situation, but mostly because the pay would have equaled about two bucks an hour.

    I think most people who could use help with their writing are either embarrassed by their writing skills or don’t give a d***. Technology is one area people are less afraid to reveal their ignorance, like the student of mine who responded, “I don’t know. It’s an Acer,” when I asked him how much memory his laptop had. Another IT-related major, wearing his technological ignorance like a badge of honor. This guy was in a (remedial) class, so there’s some room for forgiveness.

    The situation you describe is a common trap neophyte thinkers in all areas fall into: they think there is one best option, period. My students sometimes fall into that trap, too, though I try to head it off. On day one, I tell them, “Asking me how to write an ‘A’ paper is like asking your math prof how to get to 4. Many ways will get you there. Many more will not.” Reality is messy; there’s not one right answer; there’s not one best answer. There is what’s best under the circumstances with the information you have available. With circumstances and information as variables, the “best” solution will always vary. (Yes, I’ve been thinking about this very thing a LOT lately).

    For me, I need to have a clue before I’ll ask someone with considerably more expertise for help. That means lots and lots of research, which, as an academic, I enjoy. For the PC build (my son) and I did in March, I had already researched and selected the hardware, and the only question I still had was whether Vista would be an acceptable OS. You said it would be fine for home use. It is.

    My parents just bought a new laptop after several months of indecision, and my sister hard-selling a Mac. Their six-year old HP desktop just wasn’t getting it done any more. I gave them similar advice to yours: Minimum 2GB of memory, 250GB hard drive, Vista Home Premium since it has Windows Media Center and they want to hook it up to the HDTV, and a dual core processor. They found one they liked on sale and grabbed it last week. As long as it doesn’t break, they’ll be fine.

    For a laptop, I’ll go with the most power and features for the price I’m willing to spend. For a desktop, I enjoyed building my own so much I’ll do that again. Don’t be surprised if I ask you about Windows 7 in the coming months…

  2. Mark McCain Says:

    You left out one of the most important tios in buying a pc. Whatever you get now days is gonna way exceed most common user needs. But!!! Where you get it at might be very important to your future happiness. Unless of course you know a very friendly techy who likes working on yor pc. Stuff will go wrong some minor sometimes major. Believe me the sales guy at Walmart doesn’t have a clue. If wanna pay a little extra spend it on the warrenty or spend a few extra bucks and buy it from some place that can help you in the future.

  3. James Says:

    I need to get you a shirt like I have. It says, “No, I will not fix your computer”. You can wear it on your days off or on the holidays.

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