Your faithful old computer has finally reached the end of its life and it's time to buy a new one. But do you get a laptop, desktop, PC, Mac or Chromebook? What specs do you need and what's a good price?
You don't need to panic; I have the answers. Let's start with finding out what kind of computer you want. Then I can direct you to the correct buying guide for more details.
Computer or tablet?
A few years ago, this would have been a silly question. Today, however, tablets can handle almost everything a basic computer can. You can surf the Web, send emails, watch videos, listen to music, read books, play games, and even type up documents. Click here to learn how to choose the right tablet for you.
One inconvenience of tablets used to be the keyboard, or the lack of anything but an on-screen keyboard. Those keyboards can be a hassle, especially if you write up long documents.
But that is no longer the case. Apple sells optional keyboards for its iPads, while other ones like this Bluetooth Wireless keyboard in The Shop are also great.
Microsoft has an attachable keyboard for its Surface tablet. Plus, there are new keyboards coming out all the time, like this super-convenient LG portable keyboard.
Tablets (and smartphones) have also come a really long way in giving you the functionality of a laptop or computer. In fact, Microsoft Windows, the standard tool in most businesses, schools and homes for writing, calculating and presenting information is now available on most devices.
You'll most likely still want a computer, especially when a large screen is easier on your eyes, like for long marathon browsing sessions. You may also want a computer with large screens and standard-size keyboards for serious creative work, like editing photos or videos. But, which computer is right for you?
PC, Mac or Chromebook?
The PC vs. Mac debate seems to have no beginning or ending. Historically, PCs were cheaper and ran more software while Macs were the expensive, high-quality domain of graphic artists and creative types.
Nowadays, the argument is mostly academic. PCs and Macs run most types of software that you need and, in fact, you can install Microsoft's Windows 10 on Macs.
Macs are still considered premium computers, but more people are buying them for everyday use thanks to their stability, build quality and air of coolness. But, now that Windows 10 is proving to be quite popular, and it's free, Windows-based PCs are giving Macs a run for their money.
Macs don't go as low in price as PCs, so you could be paying more than you should for what you need. Plus, contrary to the hype, Macs aren't immune to viruses - you still need security software.
Then there's Google's Chromebook. These run an upgraded version of Google's Chrome browser, use apps and Web services in place of programs, and store their information online.
Chromebooks have two huge selling points. One, they're quite inexpensive; most cost less than $500. Two, if you groan each time your PC or Mac takes forever to open up, Google Chromebooks open super fast.
On the other hand, Chromebooks don't run standard computer programs. And, heads up, Chromebooks don't work well without a fast Internet connection.
Desktop or laptop?
More people are choosing laptops as their main computer - even if they never take them anywhere. That's because laptops take up less room, they're more energy efficient and you can move them around the house at will.
Desktops, however, still have some advantages. They cost less for the same speed; they're better suited to high-end gaming and media editing; and you can upgrade or repair a desktop yourself.
For productivity, a desktop's full-size keyboard and mouse, along with better support for multiple large monitors, are often better than a laptop's smaller screen, keyboard and track pad. However, you can also add a third-party mouse, keyboard and monitor to most laptops for a similar experience.
What is the budget?
For many people, money is a deciding factor in what computer they buy. Sure you'd love to spring for the high-end Ultrabook PC, or Mac Pro with Retina display, which will set you back about $1,300.
If you're looking for a budget system, you can't get any cheaper than a $250 Chromebook laptop. A little higher up the price scale are desktop PCs and then laptop PCs. Apple's iMac and Macbook Air laptop start around $900, and prices go up from there. Also on the the costlier side are PC Ultrabooks, and high-end desktops.
Before you buy the least expensive computer you can find, however, remember the saying, "A penny wise and a pound foolish." Trying to save money in the short term might leave you with a computer that's barely usable or breaking down within a year.
Consider spending more for better components that will run better, and last longer.
What are you using it for?
Not every computer is suited to every task. Any computer you buy will be good at surfing the Web, watching online videos, sending emails, creating text documents and photo organizing.
However, if you want photo editing, video editing, gaming or similar activities, a budget computer isn't going to be the best. Expect to spring for a mid-range or high-end computer.
If you travel a little, a budget laptop that's heavier will work OK. If you travel all the time, though, you'll want a lighter laptop, which is generally more expensive.
The next step
Hopefully you have some idea what kind of computer you're looking for. Now you can pick the appropriate buying guide, for more specifics on that type of computer.