Bill Sheff, Novice SIG Coordinator, Lehigh Valley Computer Group, PA
November 2013 issue, The LVCG Journal
nsheff (at) aol.com
Buying a Computer
The holidays are nearly upon us, and some of us are considering purchasing a computer either as a gift or for ourselves. So usually one of the first questions is: which PC brand is best? Some swear by a particular brand, and there is probably an equal amount swearing at it. Let’s consider the fact that every PC consists of different parts, even within the same brand or model. So let’s look at what we should be considering in the purchase of a new computer. (For the purpose of this discussion I am leaving the choice of PC or Apple to the reader. Much can be said for either choice.)
Value! Before we decide on a price range we should consider what we want in a computer and then we can compare prices among various brands that are providing the same items within the “box.”
So first off, do we want a Laptop or Desktop?
This used to be a simple choice. Laptops offered mobility, but sacrificed a lot of performance.
Today many laptops, while sometimes being slightly slower than similarly priced desktops, offer more than enough performance for more than just everyday tasks. With a desktop you can always add additional cards, but outside of an ability to increase memory there are not too many add-ons for a laptop. If you decide that you want the portability and convenience of a laptop, it should have a good screen since it is not easily replaceable. And while you are at it, consider what size screen fits your need. Today, not only can you get very large monitors, you can also get monitors that are
touch sensitive (like a cell phone). Additionally, today’s memory should be between four to eight GB depending upon how much graphic editing you plan to do, but you do not need any ram over 16 GB.
The increase in speed over 8GB is negligible. For normal use four GB of ram should be sufficient to handle most programs including the threshold needed for the operating system.
OK! Let’s look further under the hood.
On a PC you should have a 400 Watt power supply to cover any additional cards you might require.
Laptops provide sufficient wattage. Today’s hard drives are usually 7200 RPM so do not settle for the older 5400 RPM models. Most DVD drives have been upgraded to read Blu-ray, but you don’t want to have to pay extra to be able to record Blu-ray. Also, do you want or need a light scribe disk burner to be able to print labels on the special light scribe disks?
Today’s processors have greatly improved. Look for the Intel I3 (or higher) or an AMD A6 (or higher). I would suggest you do not use the older Celeron, Pentium or AMD E or X2 series.
Ports. I can only suggest you cannot have too many ports. A minimum of four to six USB2 ports should be the minimum. Also see if there is a firewire port and for sure an HDMI port for video transfer.
Most laptops provide a pcmcia card slot which allows adding many useful options. Also both usually have slots to slide in memory sticks.
Motherboards. Almost all motherboards offer video and audio on the board. I have found that except for gaming where you need higher speed graphics the on board audio and video are quite sufficient.
Warranty & Support
Pay careful attention to the warranty and support policies, because they are getting more complicated than ever. Many companies offer various levels of in-home, mail-in or even local repair.
If your warranty is “mail-in after 90 days for a period of 1 year,” it means if anything goes wrong hardware-wise, you’ll need to mail the computer in. You may wait up to two weeks to get it back.
Buying from a local computer shop can often result in faster service and better component choices (to reduce service costs), but may cost you a bit more initially. Since most computers work pretty problem-free after a brief burn-in period; there are some who suggest that additional warranties are not price effective.
Finally, while not readily apparent, tech support from the various brands should be a consideration when choosing a brand.
Reinstall your operating system
When you purchase a new computer you normally do not get any restore disks to reinstall the hard drive to its original condition in case of a virus or failure. Sometimes they suggest you make a copy of the restore disks and keep them safe. Often they suggest you can restore directly from the partition “D” drive for Vista or Win 7. The “D” drive is a “restore partition” which holds the recovery programs. This partition costs less to make than it does to manufacture restore discs. This is good if you cannot locate the restore disks at a crucial time.
If you feel you want to restore from a restore partition, and you can, back up your computer, at least all the files and data you want to save. You probably could do a “non-destructive” restore that will allow you to keep all of your files intact, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
All HPs and Dells manufactured within the past five years include them, as do most other computers these days. You can check for the restore partition by clicking START and then COMPUTER. What you’re looking for is labeled “restore” or “recovery”.
Next, click START and then enter “recovery” into the search box. Click on RECOVERY
When you run the recovery manager, you’ll see a screen with various options.
If your problem is that one of the original programs that came with your computer has become corrupt, you use SOFTWARE PROGRAM REINSTALLATION. MICROSOFT SYSTEM RESTORE will close the recovery manager and launch Microsoft’s system restore program to fix broken Windows. The final option here is REALLY the final option. SYSTEM RECOVERY is for when your system has become hopelessly corrupt and you need to start from scratch.
COMPUTER CHECKUP will check your system for errors and problems. If you’re not sure what’s wrong, this might be a good place to start.
RECOVERY MEDIA CREATION allows you to make the external disks you should have made when you turned your computer on for the first time. These disks are in case there was a total hard disk failure. You can take out the damaged drive and put in a new one and reinstall the programs.
Try and make those disks before the total hard disk failure. Once you have those disks made put them where they won’t be lost or forgotten. Also on the screen mentioned above is a RECOVER REPORT which is pretty self-explanatory. Finally there is a REMOVE RESTORE PARTITION option on the screen.
Once you have restored your operating program be prepared to wait while all the updates get installed.
What Do I Do With a Flash Drive?
I really didn’t know if I had to put in a tip like this, but once in a while we have to go back to basics just in case there are a few of us out there who are newbies, or just confused.
A USB flash drive is sometimes called a jump drive or memory stick. (A thumb drive is slightly different because they have a write-protect feature). In either case the drive is simply a data storage device just like a floppy disk, or even a hard drive. Unlike a hard drive it has no moving parts. It draws power from the USB port on your computer. There are other USB drives that are actually spinning hard drives and sometimes include external power plugs. USB ports can be located in the front or back or even both on a desktop, and usually on the sides of a laptop or all-in-one.
Once you put the drive into the port, the computer will recognize it as a removable drive and assign it a drive letter.
Now you can copy or move items to the drive, the way you would copy to a floppy or transfer to another file or folder. You can add new folders to the drive and do practically any other action that you can do with a regular drive.
It is a good idea to click the Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media icon in your system tray to avoid any possible loss of data. This is not too important with the solid state flash drives, but is important with any USB drives that are spinning.
Besides having the ability to hold a lot of data, USB drives can also be used for creating a bootable USB drive and even putting many apps on it to keep some data from having to be installed on your computer.