As you might imagine, there is no one answer to the question of which factor you should consider when buying a new PC. To come up with the best answer, though, you need to answer some other questions for yourself before you begin the buying process.
1) What will you do with this computer? Will you use it solely for the Internet, such as email and browsing the web and perhaps typing a letter or using a spreadsheet once in a while? Will you use it for playing music and managing photos from your cell phone or digital camera? Will you use it for business purposes? What about gaming? Are you a serious gamer or will you want to do serious video editing on the machine?
2) There are also a set of performance questions. Are you the type of person who wants the computer to be as fast as it can be regardless of what you are doing or are you more comfortable with a bit slower performance?
This may seem obvious, but you can only find a computer that meets your needs if you stop and think about these, and other, questions to determine what your needs are. People who buy a computer without doing this type of inventory are almost always disappointed because they realize that they’ve spent a lot of money on a computer that is a lot fancier than they needed or, conversely, realize that they were too miserly and that the computer they have is not up to the tasks they are wanting it to do.
So, what does all this means practically?
Let’s start with those who use it almost exclusively for the Internet with an occasional letter written and spreadsheet created. Most baseline computers, whether desktop or laptop, will fit this bill. The more RAM the computer has, the faster it will go, but models with 3 or 4 GB should work just fine. I would identify the models that fit this baseline and then decide on price. Look at various models at the office supply store but purchase from the Internet. You will likely find much better deals, particularly from highly reputable sites like Newegg.com and Amazon.com. The All-in-One models are good for this subset of users, though they are expensive compared to regular desktop machines.
Two more notes about this: 1) Even if you only get 3-4 GB RAM, try to get a model that will hold more RAM in the event you want to upgrade later. 2) If your main thrust is Internet activities, the speed of your Internet connection is much more influential on the speed of your surfing than the speed of the computer. If you have DSL or Satellite Internet, see if cable Internet is available where you live. Cable is almost always fastest. If not, make sure you’re not at the lowest speed your current provider offers.
If you are using your computer for business or lots of applications besides the Internet, you’ll want to get a faster processor than the base model computers have. You also will want to get a model with more than 4 GB of RAM. Sometimes its cheaper to buy the lower amount of RAM and install more yourself or get it installed. It all depends on how the manufacturer packages the computer. You will also want to make sure that you get a large enough hard drive. 500 GB used to be a lot but now, models come much higher. Get at least a 1 TB drive. You may not use it all right away but in a couple of years you’ll be glad you have ample storage space.
If you are wanting very high speeds, consider a model with a Solid State Drive instead of a traditional hard drive. They are quite expensive, though, so until prices come down they are mainly for power users. However, they do make Solid State/Hard Disk hybrids, which are not terribly expensive and are faster than regular hard drive. The one I put in my laptop a couple of months ago has sped it up considerably.
For the gamers, you need a fast processor, lots of RAM, and a high-end video card with lots of video RAM. Many manufacturers sell PCs labeled as game machines; you may not need to buy one specifically labeled such, but looking at their configuration can give you an idea about what kind of hardware you may want.
If you end up with a PC that does not meet your needs, you want to be to bring it-or ship it-back, no questions asked. Pay close attention to the return policy and to make sure that the seller does not charge a restocking fee for bringing it back.