So you're thinking of
buying a new computer...
Where do you start? There are so many brands and models
of computers available, and it can all be a little overwhelming
when you start to look around.
How do you decide what type of computer you need? And perhaps
more importantly, how do you decide what the best value
I have sold computers professionally for almost 20 years,
and there are certain "tricks of the trade" that most computer
stores and salespeople use. Knowing these secrets can make
your decision easier and will help you buy the right computer
for your needs.
1. Buy What You Need, Maybe a Little More
One of the most important things you can do when buying
a new computer is make a list of the things that you will
be using it for. There are so many different models - with
different capabilities - that you can easily buy more, or
less, than you really need if you don't.
If this is your first computer, this can be a little tougher.
Until you've used a computer, it's hard to know exactly
what you might want to do with it beyond the obvious, like
connecting to the internet.
Regardless, you should think about some of the things you
might want to do. Some possibilities include:
- Connect to the internet
- Play games
- Digital photography
- Digital video
- Type documents
- Design websites
- Digital scrapbooking
Some of these things need more power than others. For example,
connecting to the internet really doesn't need a lot of
power. Even the most basic computer available will probably
work just fine.
Digital video and many games need a lot more power. If you
don't get a fast enough computer with enough memory, you'll
be disappointed with the performance.
Knowing what you're going to be using your computer for
will help your salesperson, whether they're on the phone,
the internet or standing in front of you, recommend the
best system for your needs.
As a general rule you're always better off buying more power
than you need rather than less, but buying too much can
be a waste of money.
2. Warranty Considerations
Computer warranties are one of the most confusing and obscure
parts of your purchase. Most manufacturers have cut back
on their customer service to the point where poor service
has become a given.
The three most common options are onsite, carry-in or manufacturer's
Onsite service can be helpful, but think about whether you
want to have to be available for a technician to come and
diagnose your computer, and possibly have to come back with
parts at another time.
Carry in service is a good option, but find out whether
the service center is factory authorized for warranty repairs,
as well as whether the technicians are all certified.
Shipping your computer to a factory service center can take
a long time - sometimes a number of weeks. It also creates
risk that your computer will be damaged or even lost in
shipping. In some cases, the manufacturer will even replace
your computer with another unit and ship it back to you,
rather than repairing it. This can result in your losing
any information that was on your system and having to reload
all your software.
Another aspect of the warranty to find out about is technical
support. Find out if the computer manufacturer offers a
toll-free phone number and what the quality of service is
The better computer salespeople will be honest about this
and tell you if a company's service leaves something to
be desired. You can also do some research on the internet
- most of the computer magazines like PC Magazine and PC
World have annual customer service comparisons that rate
the larger computer companies.
Always find out how the warranty is handled before making
your decision. Even if it doesn't influence your choice,
knowing what to expect if something does go wrong will save
some nasty surprises down the road.
3. Can You Negotiate the Price Down?
A computer is a relatively large investment - anywhere from
a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Many computer buyers
expect that there is a significant amount of "wiggle room"
on the price.
The reality is that most computer hardware - the physical
pieces like the computer, monitor and printer - is sold
at very low profit margins. Often, computer systems are
even sold at or below the dealer cost. When you're buying
a computer, it never hurts to ask for a better deal, but
don't be surprised if you only get a few dollars off, if
Over the close to 20 years I've sold computers, I watched
the profit margins go from over 40% to less than 5%. It's
almost embarassing to offer a $20 discount on a $2500 computer
system, but that could mean the difference between making
and losing money on the sale.
What you can do to get the best price is to do some comparison
shopping. Most computer stores offer price-matching guarantees,
so if you find your computer for less at another store,
most dealers will match or beat that price, even if it means
they lose money.
4. How Do Computer Stores Make Any Money?
You might be wondering how these computer stores make any
money if they're selling computer for so little profit.
Their money is made on add-on items. The highest profit
areas in most computer stores are cables and "consumable"
products such as printer ink and paper.
Printer ink is a huge money-maker for most computer stores
(even more so for the printer manufacturers). Why is this?
Once you've bought a printer, you're going to have to replace
your ink at some point, and continue to replace it as it
Most chain computer stores and office supply stores that
carry a large selection of ink cartridges make more from
ink than they do from the computers themselves.
Cables also have huge markups. A cable that costs the store
$2-3 will often sell for $20-30. That's ten times their
If you're buying a new computer, you will likely need to
buy some cables. Some items - printers, for example - don't
often include the cables needed to hook them up.
Many printers also come with "starter" ink cartridges that
are only half-full. You might also want to pick up some
extra ink cartridges.
This is where you should be able to negotiate a better price.
Don't expect the salesperson to throw them in for nothing,
but they should be willing to offer you a better price.
After all, if you're happy with their service, you'll probably
continue to buy your ink, paper and other products from
that store in the future.
5. What Software is Included?
The last secret of buying a new computer has to do with
the software that is included. Most new computer systems
include quite a few programs and sometimes the value of
the software can be quite high.
Something to watch out for when looking at the included
software is "trial versions" or "limited editions".
Many programs that are preloaded are either crippled versions
that don't have all the features of the full program, or
trial versions that will only run for a certain amount of
time before they expire.
Computer are often sold with trial versions of the following
types of software:
- MS Office or other office suites
- Accounting - both business and personal
The computer manufacturers generally don't make it easy
to tell whether the software on their systems are trial
versions or limited versions. This is a question that you
should specifically ask if you can't find the answer in
their promotional information.
If you're buying a new computer with trial versions of the
software, keep in mind that you will need to pay to continue
using it after the trial period is over. This is an added
cost that you need to consider as part of your overall budget.
These five "secrets" of buying a new computer are fairly
common sense, but they are not always made clear up front.
Knowing what to ask will help you in two ways. First, you
can be sure you are getting the right computer for your
Second, if the salesperson or company that you're dealing
with explains these things to you without being asked, you'll
know you're dealing with someone who is honest and upfront.
Knowing you can trust the people you're dealing with is
an invaluable feature of your new computer system.
About the Author:
John Lenaghan offers
easy-to-understand advice at the Computer Help Squad website.
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