Community & Current Events

Find your ideal computer with these 7 tips

By: Marc Saltzman

Author: Canadian Living

Community & Current Events

Find your ideal computer with these 7 tips

By: Marc Saltzman
Buying a new computer might be a little tougher today than it was a few years back. Not only do you have to figure out how much you want to spend and which brand and operating system to go with, but there are now four different forms to choose from: laptops, netbooks, desktops and tablets. Over these three pages we'll cover how to find something ideal for you and your family.

Choosing the best operating software
• Deciding between a Windows and a Mac computer -- two competing operating systems -- boils down to personal preference, familiarity and what software you need to run. Generally speaking, Windows 7 PCs are more affordable, and you'll find greater selection and a lot more software. But Macs are sleek, solidly built and less prone to virus attacks. The laptops have large trackpads for intuitive gestures. Today's Macs can also run Windows (via Boot Camp or Parallels), but you'll need to buy Windows separately.

Shopping tips for laptops and netbooks
• A laptop is the most well-rounded pick because it is almost as powerful as a desktop, but with the added convenience of portability and wireless connectivity (the built-in Wi-Fi connection makes it easy to get online). Laptops typically have 13- to 18-inch screens and full-size keyboards for comfortable typing. Most laptops have CD/DVD drives and multiple USB ports to connect external devices.

• While shopping for a laptop, keep in mind the bigger the screen, the bigger and heavier the laptop will likely be. While ideal for web browsing, gaming and videos, a larger screen also tends to drain the battery faster than a smaller display. This shouldn't be as much of a concern for those whose laptops will be used as desktop replacements (plugged into AC outlets for power), but could be an issue for those on the go.

• Netbooks are more portable and affordable than laptops, as they're smaller (usually seven- to 12-inch screens); typically, they cost only half (or a third) of the price of a laptop. But netbooks are designed only for basic tasks, such as web browsing, reading email, using Facebook and word processing; they lack the power for more intensive tasks (video editing, gaming or serious multi-tasking). They also don't have DVD drives or full-size keyboards.

Page 1 of 3 -- Discover if a desktop computer suits your needs, or if the portability of a tablet is better for you on page 2
Is a desktop computer right for you?
• A desktop is a stationary solution, used in one place and plugged into the wall for power. Some desktops have separate towers and monitors, while in other cases the computer is built behind the screen itself. Some desktops have touchscreens as well as keyboards and mouses. While there are exceptions, desktops are typically less expensive, more powerful and easier to upgrade with new parts (such as adding a bigger hard drive or better video card) than laptops.

Desktops are ideal for younger users because they're less prone to damage (they're much less likely to be dropped than a laptop, netbook or tablet) and you can keep a better eye on where your kids are going online if you place the desktop in a high-traffic area of your home.

Buying the latest tablets
• Tablets are the newest and hottest computer category, thanks in part to the incredible success of the 9.7-inch Apple iPad. There are now about 100 different tablets on the market, most of which run on Google's Android platform. A touchscreen tablet has benefits over other computers: instant-on access (no waiting to boot up), 10-hour battery life, comfortable finger gestures -- plus they're great as e-readers.

On the other hand, the lack of a physical keyboard might mean it's more difficult to use for typing-heavy tasks (though you can pick up an external keyboard); tablets only have about one-tenth the memory of a laptop (usually 32 GB, as opposed to at least 320 GB); and it's not as easy to transfer files onto and off of the tablet -- most don't have USB ports or SD card slots.

Know the specifications your computer needs
• While different computer users have different needs, the following minimum laptop specifications are a good place to start: a speedy dual-core processor (such as Intel's second-generation Core i5 or AMD's Phenom II); at least 4 GB of system memory (a.k.a. RAM); and a minimum 500 GB hard drive. Integrated 802.11n wireless connectivity (Wi-Fi) is a must, as is a decent graphics processor (especially if you want to play video games). Look for multiple USB ports to plug in external devices, and HDMI to connect to your television.

Page 2 of 3 -- Find the best computer for your needs on page 3
The best buy for you
For the mobile Mac enthusiast: Featuring the latest Apple operating system, Mac OS X Lion, the 11.6-inch MacBook Air (from $1,000) is incredibly thin and lightweight, and features a backlit keyboard and 64 GB of integrated flash memory.

For the on-the-go gamer:
Dell's Inspiron 15R (from $700) is powered by Windows 7 and offers plenty of power with its second-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB of system memory and 750 GB hard drive.

For the casual coffee-shop browser: Petite but peppy, the HP Mini 10.1-inch netbook ($280) features an Intel Atom Processor N455, 1 GB of system memory and a 250 GB hard drive.

Tablet time: Apple's iPad 2 (from $520) is a powerful 9.7-inch touchscreen tablet that weighs just 1.3 pounds, is millimetres thin and enjoys a graceful user interface that lets you swipe, tap, flick and pinch your way through your documents, emails, websites, games, music, movies, e-books and more.

Home base: Made for those who prefer a computer built into the monitor, the 24-inch Acer AZ5801 ($1,000) has a speedy Intel Core i5 processor, 6 GB of system memory and a 1.5-terabyte hard drive to store all your digital files.

Shopping for the latest in gadgets and technology? Let tech expert Marc Saltzman help you decide what to buy. Find the best smartphones, computers, digital cameras and other tech toys to suit your family's needs with our home electronics shopping guide.

This story was originally titled "Holiday Tech Shopping Guide" in the January 2012 issue.

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Find your ideal computer with these 7 tips