Picking the Right Computer

Picking the computer that’s right for you doesn’t have to be that hard. We are here to help. In this guide, we’ll be explaining some of the key choices you need to make. Along the way, we’ll explain some terms that you may have heard but are unfamiliar with, and point you towards additional reading to learn just what’s inside that number-crunching aluminum box we call a computer!

Before anything else, you need to ask yourself one simple question to rule them all: Why do you need a computer? Take a minute to think about all of the ways you will use it. Are you just going on the internet to send emails and check out youtube? Are you using professional applications like a word/text editor, spreadsheets, or a presentation editor? Are you doing some hardcore gaming or advanced video editing or scientific computing?

A few other points to consider as well:

  • What are the most important software programs that you’ll use?
  • What do the people around you use? This may not always be a good indicator, but if your workplace is currently a Windows-based environment, it may not be the best idea to suddenly switch over to Mac.
  • What is your budget?

Remember your answer to these questions— they’re all that matter here.

Laptop vs. Desktop:

The first decision— should you get a laptop or a desktop? Laptops are portable and light. They are easy to move and that means more places on earth are open for you to go on a computing adventure! They are smaller, easier to store in bags and comfortable on your lap so you could easily use them from bed or on a couch. However, laptops are harder to upgrade with extra memory and other components. They also have a smaller keyboard and screen. If you get a laptop, your mouse will be finger-controlled by the trackpad, that rectangular touchable area below the keyboard. Of course, if you want to, you can purchase a mouse to use if you prefer that option.

A desktop computer is the older, more traditional way of computing in which you put your computer in a single location— e.g. a desk— and keep it plugged in there. Desktop computers usually come with a few components, unlike a laptop which comes all in one piece. These are 1) the actual PC tower, usually a large rectangular box which encloses the motherboard and important components, 2) a monitor, the screen on which you see everything, 3) a keyboard and mouse, 4) all of the necessary wires to interconnect these components, as well as to power the system. Desktop computers usually have a better price-to-performance ratio (better CPU performance for fewer $$$). They are easier to upgrade with extra memory, new ports or other components.

Overall, desktops are becoming less popular, but still may suit your needs if you are in an office setting or want a wicked gaming setup in your lair.

Pick an operating system:

An Operating System (OS) is a meta-program that is always running on your computer and the one that you always interact with. It’s job is to tell the computer how to handle the hardware, to manage it effectively, and to allow you to use the computer in a user-friendly way. You are probably most familiar the Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) of the OS, which is the space in which your mouse moves around and you click on applications. Three of the most popular OS are Windows, Mac and Linux. The basic concept of these OS is the same and you will likely be able to use any of them if they are setup right. Still, some of the key issues to consider are:

  • What is your price range?
  • How skilled of a user are you?

Microsoft Windows— standard, classic and affordable

Windows is a very classic (first began in 1984!) and compatible OS that will likely run any software you need. You will be able to get all kinds of brands of computers that work with Windows (something we can’t say for Mac… we’ll get there). The most recent versions of Windows, in order, have been Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 10. Windows 8 wasn’t for everyone as it had a larger emphasis on apps, presented as tiles for tablets and mobile devices.  e360 is more likely to put Windows 7 or 10 on machines as they are more classic and stable for new and old users, alike.

Overall, Windows is a very affordable, professional and reliable OS that will be a great choice for any computer, including those meant for a budget.

Apple Mac OS X— expensive, easy to use out of the box, limited DIY flexibility

Mac OS X is marketed as being very user-friendly and easy to use out of the box. For instance, Mac’s come with lots of pretty packaging and fun features like touch gestures. Apple is known for being much more expensive than Microsoft for comparable technical specs. Apple is also rigid in their warranty policies. If you open your computer, the warranty is void, making Mac a very closed-source system that is not upgradeable and not for the experimenter-enthusiast. However, Apple does make incredibly clean and ergonomically designed computers that rarely suffer from viruses. The wide penetration of Apple’s mobile iOS devices also make Macs a great choice for many iPhone and iPad owners. Mac is a good choice if you are more of a designer/artist-type with a larger budget and don’t mind sacrificing some performance for sleekness and over-the-top, yet simple marketing.

Chrome OS— one function alone: browsing

This is a relatively new OS that is good for one single purpose— browsing the web. The only feature available to Chrome OS users is going on the internet and using Google Chrome. If you need more than this, avoid.

Linux— Free, less standard, small learning curve

Linux is an open-source, unix-based operating system. Linux is a great choice for users who are willing to go the non-Windows/Mac OS route. While linux was once touted as the OS for more experienced DIY software gurus, there are a few simple Graphical User Interface (GUI) versions of linux that work great for new users. Linux Mint, Ubuntu and Deepin, in particular are great choices for those new to the system. Linux has plenty of alternative software packages to mirror those on Windows and Mac. For instance, Libre Office is a free alternative to Microsoft Office, which should suffice for many users word, presentation and spreadsheet needs.

Open-source means Linux is free and openly accessible to users to study the source code and revise any functions according to their needs. Users are allowed to revise and redistribute the source code (lines of code used to create the OS) and are restricted from charging fees or discriminating usage of any people or industries. For more info on open source, check out https://opensource.org/definition.

Overall, when picking a kind of computer, you simply need to compare some of these distinctions with your needs. If you want a really cheap computer and have a little skill or a teacher, a linux-based laptop system should do. If you are doing some hardcore gaming, you might want a Windows-based desktop system. If you want something really whip fast and cheap and are only surfing the web, try a netbook with Chrome OS. It may seem like you have infinite choices at first, but really, you just have two to make: laptop or desktop, and what kind of OS/software do you want?

Click here to learn more about specific hardware decisions that go into your computer choice.