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What kind of computer should I buy?

As I've stated in previous articles, Microsoft discontinued support for Windows 7 in January 2020, meaning that it will be unsafe to use on the internet due to a lack of security updates. It's unfortunate as, like myself, many prefer Windows 7 to Windows 8 or 10, but there are worse problems to have in the world at present. At this point you've got two choices if you're on Windows 7: upgrade your computer to Windows 10 or, buy a new computer with Windows 10 on it. Alternatively you could change to Linux or Mac, but that's beyond the scope of this article.

How long is a piece of string? If a tree falls in the forest and no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? All good questions, supposedly without answers. Luckily the answer to the question "What kind of computer do I need?" is a little more attainable. To start with, most computer-users or 'netizens' as we used to call them (back before the internet was part of every moment of our waking lives), use computers for five activities: editing documents, checking email, going to websites, looking at or storing their photos, and playing games.

The first four require very little from a modern computer; even a computer from 5 years ago or a tablet is going to be fine for doing all of that. You can get a laptop if you want - they don't tend to last terribly long compared to desktop machines though, and if anything breaks you have to replace the whole thing, rather than just a component as you would with a desktop machine. The main reason to get a laptop is if you need to use it in different spaces.

Therefore for most users I tend to advise going for a new-ish, but cheap-ish desktop computer - and not a name brand. They (Dell, HP, etc) tend to skimp on quality and therefore have poor reliability longer-term, at least for desktop PCs. Also avoid all-in-one (AIO) machines - those large screens with a computer built into them - they're worse than laptops for reliability and replacement parts. But a trusted local PC company of some sort (or your friendly neighbourhood computer guy) will generally have something that is "lower budget" comparatively, but more-than sufficient for your needs.

The fifth activity I mentioned earlier (games) is where you start to see an increase in both requirements and price, if the games in question are 3D, and not your standard "solitaire" or "minesweeper" 2D games. If they're 3D, you'll need a beefier power supply (PSU) - at least 600 watts - and a graphics card. Luckily even cheap graphics cards are quite powerful nowadays, so depending on your game and monitor resolution, you can get away with not spending much. You may also want more RAM for 3D games. 8GB (gigabytes) used to be standard, but 16GB is becoming commonly recommended. Meanwhile, regular desktop users are unlikely to see any difference in performance from having more than 4GB of ram.

Something that I recommend for both gamers and non-gamers alike is a SSD (solid state drive), at least for your operating system. Compared to a regular hard drive, a SSD is about 10 times faster. And M2 drives (the latest standard) are about 10 times faster than that again! SSD's make a huge difference for most computers, and particularly on windows 10, given how often it uses the hard drive. They don't tend to be as large as regular hard drives though, so if you're storing more than 700GB of documents/photos/data/etc, maybe get a secondary regular drive just for data.

Once you have your base computer you might want to add a few things, depending on your requirements. Do you connect to your internet via wifi or an ethernet cable (a cable which runs from your modem to your computer)? If wifi, you'll need an additional card in the machine. Do you want to plug in SD cards (the type you get with older digital cameras)? You'll need something for that too!

And then there's software - the operating system (most likely Windows 10), Microsoft Office if you need it (though most people can get by with Libreoffice, which is free), and anything else you require. All up a new machine with all the bells and whistles can set you back anywhere between $700 and $1400. It all comes down to what you want to do with it. And whether Solitaire is entertaining enough for you.

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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