How To Choose a Computer
Attempting to wade through the plethora of computer options to uncover the one most appropriate for your needs can be tedious, to say the least. Equipment reviewers usually have a limited frame of reference, manufacturer's marketing is anything but objective and never has your best interest in mind, and store clerks may not know much more than a typical magazine reviewer. Priorities and desires differ among computer users, making it close to impossible to create a single guide that would apply to everyone. This guide applies to those who prioritize on the longevity of their computer equipment, dependability, comfort, and user friendliness.
One of the first things to decide is whether your computer is to be a stationary form factor or mobile form factor (laptop). Even if you think a stationary computer is best for your needs, you may find that a modern "desktop replacement" laptop computer is ideal: they are easier to service and provide the ability to act as a stationary computer by attaching to larger monitors and keyboards, while still providing the option to move the computer if necessary, such as for evacuation, temporary workspace movement, etc. Stationary computers are ideal if one or more of the following three features will be used: 1) use of more than two monitors, 2) an extremely powerful chipset will be needed to increase performance of gaming or industry centric applications, or 3) the reliability of HC-RAID (allows you to never loose data even if a hard drive fails) would be an advantage.
Screen size / type, keyboard size, and weight vary among laptop computers. Screen sizes are available from about 10" - 19" and are generally chosen by prioritizing the screen size against the footprint of the computer. Generally screen sizes above about 15.5" start to sacrifice dependability, as hinge wear is increased and structural issues with the frame supports can start to manifest within 1-2 years. Screen types vary by the outdoor readability. OR (Outdoor readable) screens are ideal if you plan to use the computer in rooms with high ambient light or completely outdoors. Keyboard sizes are now available up to desktop size and generally vary by the footprint of the computer, though some larger computers still have smaller keyboards if the companies want to reduce their manufacturing cost by using one keyboard for all computer models. The weight of the computer can make a difference for those who travel or simply carry the computer from room to room. Computers are available from 1lb to over 10lbs, yet anything below about 2.5lbs starts to sacrifice dependability and structural reinforcements, reducing the computer life down to to just a few years.
As computer performance has achieved a point where most users do not experience performance limitations, the new primary differentiating factor between computers is dependability. Customer service is one of the first things to assess and you can do this before your purchase by calling tech support to review the process. On the low side, you'll find long hold times, call centers that may be hard to understand (usually out-sourced), long bureaucratic procedures that must be applied before returns or repairs are authorized and possibly multiple call transfers. On the high side you'll find little to no call prompts, domestic call centers (usually in-house), no call transfers, and incredibly quick and easy return / repair authorizations. Typically better customer service is paired with greater dependability which is manifested by rugged structural characteristics, full serviceability allowing anything to be easily and inexpensively repaired, and battery charging that varies based on the temperature of the battery resulting in an extended overall battery life. Based on experience, Dell and Apple have the worst customer service and dependability while Sun Microsystems and Panasonic have the best and easiest. Dependable computers today can easily be expected to last 7-8 years.
Performance varies greatly among computers: see previous articles which addressed this topic. Overall, companies that manufacture their own components such as Sun Microsystems, Panasonic, Fujitsu, and Samsung tend to be the fastest, whereas companies that out-source such as Dell, Apple, Gateway, and E-machines, tend to be the slowest.