Nowadays it’s such a headache to buy anything, and honestly, there is just too much information. I don’t even want to use a supermarket trip as an example.

The first developers of IBM PC computers negle...

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So a brief history of how 30 years ago it was kinda no-brainer regards to buying a personal computer(PC), cause there were few choices:

  1. IBM PC – expensive
  2. Apple MacIntosh IIe -expensive
  3. Commodore 64 (I still have one) or Commodore VIC 20 ($200 1982’s $ ??)
At that time, no one really cared what processor was in it, cause the “whoa” factor was a personal computer, in other words, it is unlike today’s marketing ambush of speed, cache, memory, and space, which in effect complicated the buying experience and turning it into sweat and indecision. It includes me, and I consider myself a tech-savvy guy.
So back to the question. One thing is for sure, desktop is mostly obsolete, unless you are a gamer who wants a cool-tower with LED lights and a dedicated HVAC inside the chassis to do some heavy duty cool 3D images rendering; otherwise, you are determining which laptop to buy, or, netbook. Tablet like iPad is still a niche, so I am not going to mix this in the decision tree.
As usual, Apple is switching the paradigm again when it upgraded the components of its latest line of MacBook Air, a netbook, and introduced iCloud, which means even laptop may sooner than later joins the obsolescence fade. WHY? the clear physical distinction between a laptop and netbook is really the absence of a DVD-ROM! Keep that in-mind. Beyond that, a netbook does everything a laptop will do, granted slower in a multi-task environment. So why 2 product lines ? Simple, revenue diversification! So a person like my mom might get talk into buying both… 1 to use at home and 1 on the road (not that she will ever need to).
Back to the paradigm shift or is it? Think about it, if your application is delivered from the “cloud” and movies, and music, and everything else, why do you need a DVD-ROM, or a laptop? In fact, Apple had done nothing but brought back the mainframe idea, so nothing is “really” new! (For those who remember the University computer terminal’s green screen with a white rectangular cursor? and remember it blinking while compiling… ) Yes, one difference, there is no lab technician dictates which applications are available. Otherwise, the future netbook like MacBook Air is really our old VAX terminal.
Are you still with me? So let’s get to the decision tree, shall we:
(for use in the next two years)
  1. Laptop or netbook? Value for money: get a laptop, unless your needs are strictly web-surfing, checking emails, occasionally use of Word, Excel, and the odd movies on Youtube, then get a netbook.
  2. Processor: look at your budget and pay for the best you can get, Intel i7 if not i5. i3 is really dual-core in disguise for marketing. If you are more advance check the differences among all the models, and what is the latest e.g., i5-2410m is now replaced by i5-2420m… (honestly, it has become the cereal aisle…read the fine print of their differences). Don’t overlook AMD processors! It’s really a debate of brands here.
  3. RAM: as much as possible, usually comes with 4GB (let’s not get into OS utilization efficiency, i.e., Windows 7 32 bit can’t address memory above 4GB, I believe, so 6GB is wasted of money, anyway… google if you may).
  4. Hard-drive: larger the better, and RevolutionPerMinute 7200 sightly better than 5400; the newest fashion is Solid State Drive (SSD) used in Macbook Air.
  5. Video card: I never like on-board stuff, i.e., Integrated Intel 3000 videochip shared memory, see if yours come with dedicated video card like Raedon or Nvdia, i.e., the card does it own processing and not relied on motherboard management.
  6. Apple or PC? Apple (check my APPLE page re: opinion), you will always pay a premium! PC, there are some bargains out there.
So if you only have $500 to spend, go to your favorite store and start comparing based on my list above.
My opinion on brands:
  1. Acer or Asus? Asus computers are better made.
  2. Sony has style but at premium, cause it’s SONY …
  3. Toshiba, Fujitsu, Samsung or LG: your personal taste.
  4. Dell: I am not a big fan, cause once you go through their ordering process, an advertised $399 machine becomes $599.
  5. Lenovo is my personal preference; it’s robust and well-built. especially the old IBM Thinkpad line, but a bit boring to look at or to carry (Lenovo, China, bought IBM PC operations)
  6. HP: I owned a few, and still have this laptop. HP really has quality control problems (once in a while, I have to blow dry this to get it boot again, check my blog on this later)
  7. Apple: I love but can never justify in my head the extra that I have to pay.
So there you have it, I hope it helps a bit. I haven’t talked about the OS, cause really there are only two, Mac OS and Windows. (for Linux check my blog on this later), and obviously any decision made will first be based on your budget, so if you have a low one likely MacOS is automatically out the doors.