Thinking about a new computer – home, home office, small business? Let me give you some generalizations that will help you get started. (As always, gamers will be looking for faster processors and hard drives, more memory, and – particularly important – choosing from an array of high-end video cards. Notebook computers also require consideration of size and weight, which will trump some of the considerations below.)

  • PROCESSOR  Intel’s Core 2 Duo processors are significantly better than the other Intel and AMD processors. Within the Core 2 Duo line, at some point there’s a step up to a 4Mb L2 cache, another bit of technical wizardry that’s worth a hundred dollars or so. That being said, all of the processors on the market will serve you well – processor speed is no longer the defining point of a computer.
  • MEMORY  2Gb of RAM is mandatory for a new computer – it’s required for a satisfying experience, and it’s sufficient for most people.
  • VIDEO  It is essential to look for a video card with 256Mb of RAM! There are many more differences between video cards than that but you’ll get what you need if you just focus on that single number. If your new computer doesn’t have a 256Mb video card, you’ll be disappointed in ways large and small – perhaps you might just not be able to turn on Vista’s eye candy, but at worst the computer’s entire performance will be compromised.
  • HARD DRIVE  You’ll get lots of storage space with any new computer, but the speed of the hard drive is a new and important consideration. The speed is measured in RPM; you want a speed of 7200RPM or above. If you see 5400RPM, avoid it – the whole system will be slow regardless of the other specs. (You’ll run into this problem more often on notebooks.)
  • OPERATING SYSTEM  Vista Business is the best choice for most people; get Vista Home Premium if you’re interested in one of its specific features, but be aware of what you’re missing. Vista Ultimate is a safe choice because it includes all features.
    • The general answer to your question about Vista is: Yes, it will ________. (Fill in the blank: work; run your programs; network with your other computers; work with your printer/scanner/camera; etc.)
    • I’m buying exactly the same hardware to run Windows XP, if you decide to be a wimp conservative.
  • OPTICAL DRIVE  Make sure you get a drive that can read DVDs – software is being distributed on DVDs now.
  • SOFTWARE  If you’re ordering from Dell, you can get Microsoft Office preinstalled at an attractive price. Other manufacturers almost never include MS Office. Make sure your budget is ready for the $150 Student Edition of Office if the computer will be used at home, or $300 and up for the standard versions.
  • SECURITY  Your first job with a new computer is removing unnecessary software installed by the computer maker – and the most important products to remove will be any preinstalled software from Norton or McAfee. Windows Vista has a very capable firewall and adware/spyware protection, so you’re safe while you decide what to install instead. I continue to recommend Windows Live OneCare for comprehensive protection.

Happy shopping!