So, You Want to Buy a New Computer?

By Larry Darnell, Director of Information Systems

I hear you. You are a dentist — a highly educated professional who works with a lot of technology day in and day out at your practice. So buying a new computer/laptop should be easy for you, right?

I just participated in Amazon Prime Days. It is like Black Friday sales a month early. You know what I never buy on Black Friday or Amazon Prime Days? Computers/laptops. Why? For the most part, retailers will put models and features on ridiculous sales that have almost none of the features you really want or need. However, who can turn down a $300 laptop though, right?

I call this time of the year silly season for technology because you have people who want a new “something”, and you mostly have retailers who want to sell you the technology they cannot sell at other times of the year. It is a match made in technology heaven.

Let me ask you a few questions and provide you with some suggestions that can help you make wise purchases (or even no purchase) at this time of year.

First, who is this computer/laptop for? Will it need to be mobile — like travel with you? That rules out a desktop. In fact, I will say there are very few specific cases where a desktop is going to be the best option because laptops and even tablets are just as powerful as desktops these days.

Next, are you tied to a particular brand or maker of a device? If you are an Apple user (like an iPhone), MacBooks and iPads make great options to buy. Why? Because information can so easily be shared between them with built-in apps.

Likewise, if you are an Android or Google user, there are options that work well in that arena too. I would caution you to steer clear of a Chromebook unless you only want it for limited Internet access. Chromebooks are single-purpose laptops with limited power and functionality but are also very cheap.

On occasion, a Microsoft Surface might be a good option no matter the phone you use because it is like a hybrid laptop/tablet that works on the familiar Microsoft Windows Operating system. Familiar is good.

The other thing you will notice is a dizzying array of features, acronyms, and letter/number combinations. Here is an actual advertisement on Amazon for a $650 laptop. 2022 Newest HP 17.3” HD+ Display Laptop, 11th Gen Intel Core i3-1115G4 (Up to 4.1GHz, Beat i5-1030G7), 16GB DDR4 RAM, 1TB PCIe SSD, Bluetooth, HDMI, Webcam, Windows 11, Silver, w/ 3in1 Accessories.

Let’s break that down. Intel Core I3 is an older and slower processor (even an 11th generation one), you want I5, I7 or I9, the higher the number the better. 17.3-inch screen means it could be monstrously heavy for a laptop. Check the weight if you want it to be portable.

16GB of RAM should be a standard today. You might get by with 8 or 12 but you want more in a laptop than that. RAM is where the work on a computer can bog down. A 1 Terabyte (TB) SSD is a solid-state drive which is really good. The drive is where you store your applications and data. 1 TB is 1024 GB (Gigabytes). Most of your cheaper models will push a 256 GB SSD which is NEVER enough.

If you are buying a desktop/laptop you want Windows 11. Most of the other features listed come standard on just about anything you buy. You definitely want to pay attention to ports like USB, HDMI and other video ports. Like how many and what type. In my opinion, this laptop is worth $400 not $650.

If you are wanting to purchase a desktop or laptop, here are the suggestions part I mentioned:

  • Go look at what you are interested in at a store locally. Want to buy a computer/tablet/laptop/phone, you name it. Go get the look and feel at the store. You do not have to buy it there. Anytime I go to a city with an Apple store, I go in and put my hands on all the test models. Best Buy and other Club Warehouses have the ability for you to test out anything, so do it. Find what you like. Make a note of it and the features. Take a picture of the specs with your fancy phone…that’s what it’s for. Then shop around both in stores and on the Internet paying close attention to get the specs and features you want for the price you want too.
  • Is the extended warranty or Geek Squad stuff worth it? Probably not but it depends on your level of expertise. I get AppleCare on my phone because a lot of bad things can happen with a phone. My laptops? Never.
  • If you are shopping online, make sure it is with a reputable retailer. On Amazon, look at the stars, read a few customer reviews. Careful of some 3rd party resellers. Might save yourself some headaches later.
  • Despite what seems like light-speed development, newer is not always better. Case in point, except for the camera, an iPhone 13 is just like an iPhone 14. No need for the pricy upgrade. Wait for the iPhone 16 to get more value for your money.
  • I also tend not to purchase really off-brand of technology. Generic may work for groceries but it’s not as helpful with technology. It really comes down to service and support after you have made the purchase. The off-brands may not provide you with the best options here. Sometimes you really do get what you paid for.
  • Be critical of those things that are put on sale at the high-pressure times of the year. The only exception I might make to that is back-to-school sales because good deals can be found then, but they are usually found at office supply stores not big box retailers or online.
  • Most computer people like me will also never buy from certain manufacturers. Often that is based on personal experience. I have a list just like that. I do not care if they are giving them away, I am not taking it. Making the wrong decision can have long-term consequences so do some research. Be patient. What seems like the best deal today will likely be available again.

Happy computer/laptop shopping. As a guy who just properly disposed of 15 years’ worth of old computers/laptops, it pays to pay more, take your time, and get what you want/need the first time.

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