Here’s all the data you need to choose a home PC that will best suit your needs – and your budget to boot.
Until recently, buying a new computer meant upgrading to a model with extra memory, speed and programs, plus extra bells and whistles. Today, that's not necessarily the case. The latest choices accommodate varying needs, sometimes offering fewer features for back-to-basics appeal. This makes it easier to buy what suits, whether you're a casual web-surfer and email user, a family with game-loving teens or a graphic artist working from home.
Netbooks/mini notebooksBest for: Basic tasks such as email, web-browsing and word processing. About half the size of a regular notebook PC, netbooks are relatively new to the market but extremely popular. According to US research company DisplaySearch, netbooks (also known as mini notebooks) now make up 20 per cent of all portable computer shipments worldwide. The one big compromise of netbooks is their performance, which is roughly equivalent to a four-year-old conventional notebook. That's too slow for processor-hungry applications such as games. Netbooks don't include a DVD drive either, making it difficult (although not impossible) to install software from a CD or a DVD.
Notebooks/laptopsBest for: Portable power. If you want a high-spec, portable computer that allows you to watch DVDs and offers other extras, this is an excellent choice. For less than $1000, you can buy a full-size notebook, or laptop (the terms have become effectively interchangeable within the industry), with at least double the power of a netbook, plus a DVD drive, 15in screen, easy-to-use keyboard and other extras. If you can stretch your budget to $1300 or more, there's even more power and flexibility on offer. At this price, notebooks range from portables with 12in screens to 'luggables' with 17in screens. The ideal size depends on how much you travel and which applications you want. If you use a laptop for watching movies, editing videos or creating masterpieces in Photoshop, you'll appreciate a bigger screen. The downside: 17in notebooks are at least 50 per cent heavier than 12- or 13in models.
Desktop PCsBest for: Versatility. A desktop PC is the ideal family computer, and it's less likely to be lost or stolen than a laptop. Laptops may have captured the lion's share of the market but desktop computers still offer significantly better bang for your buck. With a full-size keyboard, mouse and screen (22- and 24in screens are now affordable), plus CD and DVD drives, substantial storage and often significantly faster processing speed, they can be used for many household tasks. For starters, they're great for paying bills online, writing up a school assignment, downloading music or playing the latest games. They're usually cheaper and easier to upgrade when required too.
A new type of desktop computer just hitting the market is the so-called 'net-top PC'. Like the netbook, it is aimed at consumers with simple computing needs. The sleek, all-in-one design is also a godsend for people limited to compact home offices.
PC vs MACA well-recognised brand is usually a good starting point for buying a computer. Next, think about how you will use it; if you have a good understanding of what you want the computer to do, you will be able to narrow down the choice based on features. Finally, choose a model that best suits your needs and your budget.
Apple computers are the flavour of the month, and for good reason: they look great and work well straight out of the box. The drawback is that they are relatively expensive. Mac fans may tell you that the Windows operating system most commonly used on PCs is not secure, but up-to-date security software is designed to protect any system against viruses.
Laptop checklistConsider these essentials before buying any laptop model:
Size and weight Models range from ‘ultra light’ to ‘desktop replacement’.
Hard disk size Choose the largest you can afford – at least 120GB (gigabytes) for a netbook, much more for a standard notebook.
Speed The faster the processor and more memory (RAM) you have, the speedier your computer.
Battery life Choose a computer with a six-cell battery (at least).
Wireless capability Look for ‘N Wireless’ (also known as 802.11n) for the fastest wireless connection to the internet.