Buying a Computer

Lasa logo By Lasa Information Systems Team

What to buy and how much to pay for a new computer.

Prices: the Bottom Line

Expect to spend around £500-800 on a new computer.

New machines are available at the budget end of the market for as little as £200 - this a false economy. A cheap machine will be based on last year's technology, and will therefore have a shorter useful life than a more expensive one.

For this, you should be able to get a computer with a 3.0 GHz processor, 1 GB of memory, 80 GB Hard Disk, 1.44 MB Floppy Disk Drive, 16x DVD+/-RW, 56K Modem, Network card, Windows XP SP2 / Windows Vista, and a 17-inch TFT (flat panel) monitor (you can reduce the final price by around £100 - £150 if you are buying a replacement machine and don't need a new monitor).

You don't need a higher-priced machine than this for ordinary office use.

N.B. The prices we give here do not include delivery, or VAT (add 15%). If you need it, you may also want to factor in the cost of 3 year onsite, next business day warranty. You will also need to budget for the cost of software other than the operating system which is not normally included in the above figure.

Guide to Features

Processor

When choosing a computer you have a choice between Intel and AMD processors. There is little to choose between the two companies' products - AMD processors are often slightly cheaper.

Buy a machine based on the Intel® Core® 2 Duo® Processor or AMD Athlon 64. The Intel Celeron is a budget processor and although adequate, it is best to go for one of the above processors.

AMD have pioneered the next generation of processors using 64 bits instead of 32. All AMD Athlon chips are now 64 bit. Sempron was AMD's line of 32 bit processors.

Once you have chosen a manufacturer, you will often be given a choice of processor speed. For most tasks you will not notice much difference between 3.0 and 3.4 GHz.

Memory

If you intend to run Vista (or Windows 7) ensure you buy a machine with at least 1 GB of memory

According to the Knowledgebase article What is Windows Vista TM? minimum memory of 1GB (preferably 2GB) is required for Microsoft Vista to run properly.

This amount of memory means you can run more than one application at once and switch between them. A machine with 512MB will mean that the latest suites of software like MS Office may run slowly. If you buy a machine with less memory you will probably need to pay for an upgrade in a year or two. Getting a machine with 1GB or more means that you are less likely to need to upgrade the memory in the near future and the machine will be able to run newer software faster.

Note: if using Windows XP Professional then 512mb of memory will generally be enough.

Hard Disk

Buy a machine with at least 80GB of disk space

Many machines now come with a larger hard disk as standard. Hard disk sizes continue to increase; a new machine is now usually sold with a hard disk of at least 160 gigabytes, and often more (a gigabyte is a thousand megabytes). Hard disks always fill up quicker than expected and so it's worth buying more space than you think you will need.

Bear in mind that if you use a Client/Server type network, most data will be stored on the server - so it is not worth spending extra on a larger hard drive for client computers.

CD/DVD Drive

Buy a computer with a DVD drive

Most software is supplied on CD, with some larger packages coming on DVD. A DVD drive can read CDs as well, and now comes as standard with many PCs. The option of a DVD CDR/RW combo drive means you can make CDs for backups. The extra cost of adding this at the point of purchase is relatively small (between free and £15 extra). A DVD Rewriter will cost between around £10 - £20 extra and will allow you to back up larger amounts of data than a CD drive.

Floppy Disk Drive

It is unlikely you will need a floppy disk drive and many machines sold today do not come with a 1.44 MB floppy disk drive as standard - make sure you specify you want one if you need one.

Speakers

Speakers may be useful and are often included in the price anyway, though if not think carefully if you really need such add-ons.

For a computer to make any noises other than beeps, it needs separate speakers and an extra bit of circuitry called a "sound card". Sound is now a standard component and especially worthwhile if you need to use multimedia applications and voice recognition systems. If you want to use VOIP software such as Skype (to make phone calls over the Internet) you will also need a microphone.

Graphics

The graphics card allows the computer to output its display onto your monitor. Many new computers come with the graphics card built into the motherboard, in which case you do not need to specify one when choosing a computer. If you will be doing a lot of work with graphics software such as Photoshop you might look at spending an extra £30-£120 on a separate graphics card, but for general Office software based work, this is not necessary.

Monitor

Buy a machine with at least 17-inch TFT (flat panel) monitor

A brand name monitor will provide noticeably better quality than the cheap monitors sold with budget machines, and is well worth paying a little extra for. ViewSonic and Dell monitors have the best reputation, and reputable brand names like Sony, Iiyama, LG, NEC, Mitsubishi and Philips are fine.

Internet and Network Connection

 

Get a machine with a network card.

If the machine is being used as a stand-alone computer a 56k modem is a useful back-up if there are problems with broadband. See the knowledgebase Getting Connected to the Internet for more information.

If you plan to use broadband on more than this PC you will need a network card. Most PCs these days have one as standard, but be sure to check. If you think you will be using dial-up to connect to the internet choose a machine with a 56k Data/Fax modem. You can also use this to send and receive faxes.

Software

Unless you are considering an open source operating system such as Linux, buy a machine with Windows XP Professional/Windows Vista Business installed. Make sure that Windows XP has Service Pack 2 or later already included.

You may see a cheaper versions of Windows XP/Vista labelled "Home". This does not allow flexibility for networking and is best not used as it will not allow for future development and networking.

See Charity Software Suppliers.

Don't choose a machine for the free software

Some machines come with bundles of free software. Be sceptical about the value of these. Many are cut down versions of full suites (e.g. Microsoft Works is a cut down version of Office).

This software may be useful, but manufacturers may give away their software in the hope of committing you to using their products in future. For example, many computers come with anti-virus software which may not be the best choice for your organisation.

In general, don't buy a bundle just because it is a bargain. Only get it if you really need the various components. Can you get cheap software? Software systems are usually available at a reduced upgrade price if you can show evidence of owning a competitor's product, or an older version of the product.

Registered charities can get big discounts (as much as 80%) on some software prices, but these are often available only from specialist suppliers, or from the manufacturer. It is always worth checking as big savings can be made.

Sample Costing

(All prices exclude VAT and delivery and are keen discounted prices. Check how much delivery will cost as different companies charge wildly varying amounts ranging from free to £60. You should be able to get a 3 year onsite warranty included in this figure. Be prepared to pay more if you buy from a dealer whose price includes installation.)

Computer

  • Intel® Core® 2 Duo® Processor / AMD Athlon processor
  • 1 GB memory (minimum)
  • 160 GB hard disk
  • 1.44 MB Floppy Disk drive
  • 16x DVD +/- RW
  • 2 button wheel mouse
  • Keyboard
  • 56K Modem
  • Network card
  • 17 inch TFT monitor
  • Windows XP Professional, Service Pack 2 / Windows Vista
  • 3 year onsite warranty

Subtotal £542
VAT at 15% £82
TOTAL £624(excluding delivery)

Software

Microsoft Office 2007, the latest version of the Office Suite, comes in various versions (and can be rolled back to Microsoft Office 2003).

The Knowledgebase article What is Office 2007? recommends that organisations opt for Microsoft Office 2007 Professional (which includes all the main Office programs), this retails for around £430. The Standard version of Office 2007 can be purchased for around £350 but does not come with Microsoft Access.

Also available is open source software (see the Knowledgebase article Open Source is on the Map) which is free to use. OpenOffice undoubtedly leads the way as a free (in all senses) equivalent of Microsoft Office.

Remember also to get Antivirus software if it is not included with your new PC 

Even if it is, consider whether it is compatible with your existing organisational Antivirus software, and if it is really the right one for you.

Charities can get discounted software through National Council for Voluntary Organisations (www.ncvo-vol.org.uk), and other suppliers - see our list of charity software suppliers.

Microsoft software is also available through the Charity Technology Trust (CTT) for only a small administrative fee. This can only be used once a year so it is essential that you choose software carefully to get the biggest savings.

Don't forget to budget for support and training.


Copyright © 2007 Lasa Information Systems Team

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