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If I Were Buying a Computer Today…

Yesterday my cousin Jordan asked for a little advice about computer purchase. Laptop vs. desktop, Mac vs. PC, and what are all these netbook things?

For background, she was looking for something for her husband, who is in his late twenties or early thirties, active and business-minded, though not “techie.”

Below is the email I sent to her. I figured it might be useful for someone besides her, so here it is.

Editor’s Note: I’m employed as a technology journalist, but this post is an answer to a family member’s question, and is full of opinion and advice about the situation and the people in it. If you think it represents an endorsement of any particular product, then you either aren’t reading very carefully, or should go soak your head.

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Jordan,

There’s pretty much no incentive, these days, to get a desktop (unless you need a computer at very low cost, or you need a SUPER high performance machine, like something they edited the Avatar movie on). Other then that, laptops are just as capable, can be used just like desktops, and have the added bonus of being portable when needed. Thats my take.

There are many great PCs out there, and I used them up until about 2 years ago when I bought my first mac. I have bought another mac since then. The switch was easier than expected becasue I spend so much of my computer time inside a web browser.

I’d say this. He should avoid things labeled “netbooks.” They are great as a secondary, ultra-portable computer, but lack certain features that he will miss, and most cant support being connected to a nice external screen.

He should look for a laptop with at least 4GB of RAM and over 250GB Hard Drive. The processor isn’t as important, but all the modern laptops will have a processor that will do the job. Just dont get one with an “Atom” processor from Intel. Its not a bad processor, but it is designed to work on small computers and netbooks, not an everyday machine, so it will seem slow.

Think of it this way… If the computer is a brain, the processor is how fast it thinks, the RAM is how many things it can think about at once, and the hard drive is how much it can remember, long term.

The other issue is size (always is). How big a laptop is he comfortable carrying. I use a 15inch Macbook Pro. I dont like carrying anything bigger than that, but thats just me.

Also, as for the screen, If I were in the market, even if I got a mac, I wouldn’t buy a mac screen unless I was really wooed by how pretty they are (which I nearly am). Reason being, there are TONS of awesome screens out there (as good as the mac) for half the money. I use a pretty gigantic widescreen from HP as a second screen (I use them with my laptop open so I can put stuff on both screens). Its a beautiful, glossy screen and with the money I saved I bought an iPad, an apple mouse and some speakers. Literally, thats how much I saved.

So, if I were making recommendations, I’d suggest one of the less expensive MacBookPro models, or a nice, similarly capable (and less expensive) laptop from a company like Lenovo, HP or Sony. All make good products.

As a bonus. I’ve attached a photo of my workspace, to give you a sense of how I set it all up and work every day with the laptop and external screen. Feet in the picture are an added bonus.