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Computer Buying Guide

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Purchasing a computer is an important investment. But how do you know that your computer will be ready for the future?

People usually keep computers for 2-4 years before replacing it again. Because of this, it is important to be sure that your computer will support future standards and software.

This How-To Article is a guide, helping you make the right decisions when purchasing your next computer.

Computer Buying Guide

Choosing a computer manufacturer

The first thing you need to do when purchasing a computer is to pick a manufacturer. While you can purchase computers at retail stores and office stores, buying direct from the manufacturer Internet is recommended.

Be sure to choose a good computer manufacturer. We recommend Dell (, the world leader in computers. Another top choice is Compaq ( Both manufacturers provide computer customization and ordering through their web sites.

The essentials

Once you have chosen a manufacturer, you need to know what to look for in a PC. You should always look at these specifications as the minimum for new computers:

450MHz to 667MHz Pentium III processor
128MB - 256MB RAM
10GB hard drive
56K V.90 modem
10/100 Ethernet PCI adapter
Sound-blaster compatible sound card
High-quality video card with at least 16MB memory

Note: These are minimums recommended for future PCs. Depending on your needs, these minimums may change. Information on these minimums are discussed below.


The processor is the "brain" of the computer. Everything that is done on the computer must go through the processor. The higher the MHz of the processor, the faster your computer can run. We recommend Intel Pentium III at 450MHz to 667MHz. The general rule is to have the newest and highest speed processor your can afford.


RAM (random access memory) is used to store currently running programs. The more RAM you have, the more programs you can run at once. If you open more programs than can fit in RAM, your computer places them in a swap file on your hard drive, which makes running the program slower. The rule for the processor also applies to RAM. Be sure to have as much memory as possible in your PC. We recommend at least 128MB of RAM at the minimum, and 256MB at the high-end. (Microsoft Windows XP requires a minimum of 128MB of RAM.)

Hard Drive

The hard drive stores all of the information that is on your computer. With more and more multimedia devices becoming available, a minimum of a 10GB hard drive is recommended. If you will be using your computer for multimedia, you may want to consider 20GB or above for a hard drive. The more hard drive space, the more you can store on your computer. Again, be sure to have the largest hard drive you can afford.

56K V.90 modem

56K modems are the fastest type of dial-up modem that you can buy. Even though dial-up modems are slowly being replaced with Cable Internet and DSL Internet connections, a modem is still recommended, and usually standard with most PCs.

10/100 Ethernet PCI Adapter

If you're thinking of moving to Cable Internet or if you need to connect to a LAN (or if you're thinking of setting up home network), you will need a network card.

Sound-blaster compatible sound card

A sound-blaster sound card is considered the standard type of sound card for your PC. If you are looking at using your PC for music, you may want to consider the "Premium sound package" from your computer manufacturer.

High-quality video card with at least 16MB memory

The video card is needed for your monitor. Video card choices vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but try to choose a video card with at least 16MB of memory. The more memory that your video card has, the more complex the images it can display, and the faster they can display. If you're looking to use your PC for graphics, we recommend 32MB or more memory for your video card.


This How-To Article isn't meant to be the entire guide to purchasing a PC. Use this article as a simple guide when purchasing a PC.

If you decide to purchase your computer over the Internet, be sure you have information on the return policy before you buy the computer. If you decide to purchase through a retail store, be sure to read carefully about the specifications of the computer before you purchase. Don't buy a computer that has the absolute minimum hardware, even if you don't plan on using it for more than word processing and Internet browsing. There may be a time that you decide to use your computer for more high-end uses that require more from your computer's hardware.

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