Ok, well, it looks like I’ve decided to write on this blog again.
I guess that I just had to make a conscious decision that this blog wouldn’t be a priority to me. By that, I mean that I won’t feel guilty if I don’t post for a month or two. That this blog comes with no expectations or requirements. That if I ever feel like writing, this blog provides an outlet for me to get my thoughts into the written word. However, if nobody reads it, that’s ok. And if you decide to read it, hopefully I’ll provide some value to you at some point.
With that being said, I’ve decided to write about a huge event in my life that recently happened: I bought a new computer.
I know, if you’ve read any of my posts about minimalism or why owning stuff sucks, you might be surprised that I’ve bought a tangible product. I’m not really opposed to buying stuff, just stuff that I don’t need or that I’ll never use.
But a computer? I use mine every day. All day long.
So, the decision to buy a new one was important to me. My last computer I bought in April 2007. Yep, six whole years ago. People I’ve been telling that to act like I broke some world record or something.
I haven’t done any computer shopping or studying up on computer hardware during that six years, so when I started shopping, I felt like I didn’t know a thing. I still don’t know very much, but I did spend two full work days trying to get informed so I could make a good decision.
My Laptop Computer Buying Guide
Everybody has different needs for their computer, so what type of computer you buy will vary based upon your needs. You may have completely different needs than I do, but if there are any similarities, my experience might be helpful to you. These are what my needs are and were:
- I’m online all day. I wanted something that would be as fast as possible when using the internet
- Programs were taking too long to load on my computer, so I wanted it be faster
- I wanted to work while traveling or in a park, so long battery life was a must
So, as you can see, my main considerations were speed and battery life. My computer was slow and it only lasted like an hour on battery. The hard part was figuring out how my priorities translated into computer specs.
I’m definitely no computer hardware expert, but for speed and battery life, here are my hardware recommendations:
With speed and battery life being important to me, there really was only one logical option: a Solid State Drive(SSD).
These have been around for a while, and soon enough, computers will only have these hard drives. They’ve been a little slow to adoption just because they’re much more expensive. However, they’re faster because they don’t have any mechanical or moving parts. They are also much more efficient, don’t cause as much heat, and they don’t drain your battery as quickly.
The only real drawback is the cost, which means that many computers that use them have much smaller hard drives. If you need somewhere to store all your movies and photos, just buy an external hard drive. The computer I bought has a 128 GB SSD hard drive, which is more than enough space for my needs.
My Hard Drive recommendation: Solid State Drive (SSD)
Trying to understand processors and processor speeds was the most confusing part of the process to me. I remember when the higher the processor speed, the faster that meant the computer was supposed to be. So a 1 GHZ processor was faster than a 500 MHZ processor.
Well, it just isn’t as simple as that, and it probably never was. My last computer had 1.73 GHZ processor, while my new computer has a 1.71 GHZ processor. They have almost the same clock speed, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Here’s a good article about why clock speed is a bad comparison tool.
So, what do you look for? Well, apparently, these processor chips get more efficient which each new model or generation that gets released. I’m only going to discuss Intel, because they’re more common than AMD and I never did enough research to understand how the AMD processors compare.
So, Intel just released their 4th generation chips a few weeks ago. Those chips are going to be the best and most efficient. Before these were the 3rd generation, and before them were the 2nd generation. It goes without saying, but, the newer the better.
Also, Intel has chips like the i3, the i5, and the i7. The higher the number, the more powerful of a processor it is. However, they have these same chips with every generation. So that means that there are i5 2nd generation chips, i5 3rd generation chips, and i5 4th generation chips.
I could build out a matrix for you, but that should give you a basic idea of how to compare one processor to another. Using my limited knowledge, a 4th generation i7 processor is the most powerful processor available today. I think.
The computer I ended up purchasing comes with a 3rd generation Intel i5 processor.
My processor recommendation: Get the fastest processer you can within your budget, but try to purchase Intel’s 3rd generation or newer
I don’t think RAM is as difficult of a spec to understand as some of the others, but it’s still worth mentioning. Again, I would say just get as much ram as your budget affords.
These days, 4 GB of RAM is an absolute minimum. Don’t buy a computer that comes with less than that. Also, DDR3 is the latest and greatest type of RAM, but most computers these days are using DDR3(my last computer used DDR2).
If you can afford it, try to get 8 GB of RAM, but if your other specs are good, 4 GB of RAM should be just fine for most things. That is, if your computer usage is similar to mine.
My RAM recommendation: Get at least 4 GB of DDR3 RAM
Everyone has their own opinion about brands. I told some people that my last computer was a Toshiba and that it lasted 6 years, and they claimed that was the longest they’d ever heard of a Toshiba lasting.
It’s hard to know what to believe when people talk about brands, so, I just try to go with the brands that are the most consistently praised and ranked well.
In the computer realm, Apple is the top brand right now. However, I wanted to get the best price possible, so I was also considering a PC. According to this report, the top 3 brands are Apple, Lenovo, and Asus. I used this as a guide and decided I would only buy a computer from one of the top 3 brands.
However, sticking to brands by themselves isn’t necessarily the best option, because brands have good and bad computers. It’s still wise to do research on the specific computer you’re thinking of buying and see how it stacks up according to the “experts”.
Apple and Lenovo were the top brands according to multiple sources I saw, but I also couldn’t seem to find any super good deals with them, so I ended up buying an Asus. To me, it’s all about trying to get as much as you can for the least amount of money, which ended up being an Asus computer. Also, apart from the brand, the specific computer I purchased had really great reviews.
My Brand Recommendation: Apple, Lenovo, or Asus
I’ve already mentioned that getting a solid state drive is one of the best things you can do for battery life. However, there is a specific computer category for lap tops that are designed to get good battery life. I didn’t know this before I started shopping, but they’re called ultrabooks.
The Macbook air was really the first ultrabook, and Apple created a new category when they released that computer. Apple is still the leader in this space, but a lot of the other brands have started catching up and are providing some great alternatives as well.
Ultrabooks are designed from the ground up to combine maximum performance with minimal design. They cut away the fat and any unneeded or unnecessary components. The ultrabook philosophy aligns well my minimalist view of the world.
My battery life recommendation: Get an ultrabook
New vs. Refurbished
I know that most people just buy new computers and probably don’t consider other options. I think there’s a stigma against used or refurbished electronics, but I suggest you take a look at refurbishement.
Now, as far as used is concerned, that makes me a little nervous. If I’m buying from someone off of craigslist or eBay, I really don’t know the condition of the computer. I’d feel much more comfortable with buying a used item off of eBay, just because of the protections that platform has put into place.
However, I think that refurbishment is a great option and doesn’t come with the same risks as purchasing used. Refurbished electronics are products that were returned to the manufacturer or reseller for whatever reason. It may have had a hardware bug. It may have come with a scratch on the exterior. There are probably plenty of reasons that items are returned. However, the important thing is that the company fixes whatever hardware or software issues existed, so that the computer should essentially be good as new.
Every company has a different refurbishment process, and some are better than others. Personally, if I ever decide to purchase an Apple computer (I came close this time), I’ll probably buy a refurbished one. All of their refurbished products come with a new outer shell, a new battery, and a one year warranty.
The most important thing is to just check and see what kind of warranty or return policy the refurbished product you purchase will come with. I ended up buying a refurbished computer at an awesome price, and it looks and feels brand new. I’d definitely recommend looking into refurbishment as an option.
My New vs. Refurbished recommendation: Consider both new and refurbished
What Did I Buy?
I’m not sure if any of you have read this entire article, but, if so, you may be very curious to find out what computer I purchased. Now, I decided that last year’s 13” Macbook Air was pretty much what I wanted. But, I also wanted to spend around $500.
Since it was going to be hard to buy a Macbook Air for that price, I was really happy when I found a refurbished Asus UX31A for only $509 from Newegg. That product is currently out of stock, but the same computer is available from Newegg under a different listing. Not sure what the difference is between the two. After using a $10 coupon code, I only spent $499 for this computer that gives the Macbook Air a run for its money.
I’m really happy with my purchase, and I hope that if you’re thinking of buying a new computer that some of my thoughts might be helpful to you. The great thing about this post is that I wrote this while flying across the country. With my amazing battery life, I can now get some things accomplished on my laptop while I’m traveling, which is freaking awesome.