Evaluating Your Computer Needs

Picking a computer used to be easy.

These were the rules:

  • Buy what you can afford, the better the machine, the better the performance
  • Don’t buy the top of the line tech, it’s too expensive and the price will drop in three months
  • Don’t buy a Dell or Gateway

OK, that last one was my rules, but I still stand behind it.

Sorry, you're getting a Dell

The point is that if you bought a more powerful computer, you would see a direct result in the performance of of everyday tasks. Everything from Solitaire, to MS Word, to Counterstrike would work better on a more powerful machine.

Over the last few years, the rules have changed. Fairly basic and low-end models will accomplish your tasks without a hitch.

There are also a ton of different types of computing experiences that you can buy into. You can get a lightweight, inexpensive computers, or a lightweight expensive computer. You can buy a cheap run of the mill desktop machine, or monstrously powerful box that could run NORAD (For the record, NORAD’s website is a little too friendly for a missile defense organization). Finally, you can’t exclude tablets and smart phones from the mix.

So here’s the deal. You need to determine how and where you use your computer.

The three key questions you should ask yourself are…

Where do I use my computer?

On the train, on a plane, in a house, with a mouse et cetera.

Do you need mobility? If you don’t a desktop will work.

What do I do with my computer?

The overwhelming majority of people I have encountered over the years use their computer for five basic functions:

  • Browsing the Internet
  • Listening to music
  • MS Office, and more specifically, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel
  • Saving/ viewing photos
  • Watch movies

If this sounds like you, you don’t need a powerful computer. I wouldn’t recommend spending more than $1,000.

If you play high-end games, do 3D graphics work, edit movies, process massive quantities of data, then you will need to contemplate a pricey machine.

What feels comfortable for you?

Do you prefer sitting at a desk with a mouse, lounging on a couch, or sitting in a coffee shop with an overpriced latte?

The whole point of this discussion is that form is just as important as function.

What do I buy?

I can’t give you an outright recommendation here because there are too many combination of tasks, locations, and I don’t know your individual needs. What I can do is describe my usage, and hopefully it will help you identify your own needs.

I use a combination of technology to meet my needs.


I have a powerful desktop at home. At one point I used this beast for data processing, but those days are long behind me. Basically it holds my vast music collection, it has an alarm clock on it that wakes me up in the morning, and I browse the Internet with it. Over the last few years basically everything I do has moved from desktop software, to browser based software. The bottom-line is that I am completely underusing this machine, but I don’t think I will have to replace it for a long time. If I had to replace it today, I would get something much less expensive.


I do all of my gaming on consoles so that I don’t have to worry about the power of my computer. Any PC gamer knows the rat-race keeping up with the current software. I just don’t have time for that crap.


I have a lightweight laptop that I carry damn near everywhere. I travel a lot, and I don’t want to lug around a heavy computer. Since I do almost everything online, I don’t need a lot of power. This is why I am planning on getting an iPad. I’m confident I can meet all of my needs with that tablet.


Since getting a Droid, I have managed most of my email on my phone. This has greatly increased my mobility, and freed me from carrying the laptop everywhere.

Between the iPad and Droid, I think I will finally be able to go laptopless.

I use a lot of technology to meet my wide variety of needs. You probably have fewer, more, or different needs that I have. My advice is to stop and think about your technology interactions. You will learn a bit about yourself, it might help you save money, and hopefully you can streamline your life a bit.

Feel free to write me if you want guidance on a specific purchase, but please include answers to the questions I posed above so that I have the proper context to advise you.

Regardless of the technology you are using, please make sure that the software is up-to-date, and you are taking the proper precautions to prevent viruses.

Practice safe computing.

4 thoughts on “Evaluating Your Computer Needs

  1. Great write up!

    This may be a dumb question, but can you word process on the device? If I got it to replace my laptop, I’d need a place to type papers on still.

    Also, no USB, so it’d be tough to print obviously.

  2. Hey Carl,

    I’m assuming that your question is in reference to the iPad.

    Apple has reported that it will have support for Word. It will also have a way for you to share documents between the iPad and your primary computer. However, if you’re a student, I wouldn’t recommend using this in place of a laptop. You will still need things like Excel and PowerPoint. It’s not really a workhorse.

  3. Thanks for your great article … very helpful. I am a senior with an old Desktop (Windows); Telus Cell phone that also came off the ark; and a Nexus Notepad I am trying to get adjusted to. Your article has confirmed for me that I need to simplify my life with one vendor (e.g. Apple). and probably a Smart Phone/and either a IPad2 or Laptop (wireless). My computer needs are basic: web browsing, e-mail, online banking; online income tax and ability to update apps. Have some files downloaded to a USP stick; your article I believe indicates that these cannot be downloaded onto the IPad2.

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