Thursday, January 04, 2007

How To Buy the Right Computer(s)

A paradox of personal computers is that while any computer quickly becomes technically obsolete and the hardware loses market value, your computer will increase in value as you use it. There are several factors involved here:

  • The applications or software you load on your computer increase the value of the machine. It is not uncommon for the software to cost more than the computer itself.
  • You can spend many hours installing software and patches, customizing the look and feel of the system, getting connected to the network and the Internet, setting up email, etc. This time represents a real investment in your computer.
  • If you store documents, photos, music and/or data on the computer's hard disk, then the longer you use the computer the more such files it will contain. Such files will have substantial economic and/or sentimental value.

This means that when you buy a new computer you should not think that you are buying a depreciating, disposable appliance. Think of making an investment that can grow dramatically in value if you buy wisely and service it properly.

Computer makers and mass merchandisers usually promote machines based on a limited number of specifications:
  • Price
  • Brand Name (Dell, HP, Apple, Gateway, etc.)
  • Make of the processor (Intel vs. AMD)
  • Form factor (notebook, tower, desktop, etc.)
  • Speed of the processor (GHz clock speed)
  • Amount of memory (RAM)
  • Size of the hard disk
  • Operating system
  • Bundled software
  • Peripherals (monitor, printer, etc.)

These are a lot of things to consider, and this is only a partial list of the technical specs that can be developed to describe any computer. But what do technical specs have to do with what you are looking for?

Different people have different needs which are best enumerated in the context of “use cases” or scenarios. Use cases provide answers to questions like:

  • How are you going to use the computer?
    • Business vs. pleasure (or both)?
    • Networked or standalone?
    • Multimedia expectations (video & sound)?
    • On the road or in one place?
  • What do you want/expect the useful life of the machine to be?
  • Do you have any privacy or security concerns?
  • Can you be without your machine or data for any extended period of time?
  • What software and peripherals do you use?
  • Are there any considerations associated with your surroundings?
  • Do you need any support services (hardware, software, network, etc.)?
From the use cases, it is generally a simple matter to define the functional specifications of the computer that a buyer is looking for. For example, one use case which applies to many business executives is “I need to make impressive multimedia presentations to prospective clients.” The resulting functional specs might be that these people need computers which are mobile, powerful, and stylish. When you have an additional use case, “I need to replace my existing desktop PC,” you would have an additional functional spec for a docking station.

After you have articulated all the important use cases for each computer you want to buy and identified all the important functional specs, then you need to translate and compare your functional specs to the technical specs that you get from the manufacturers to select the right machine.

This process, starting with the enumeration use cases and ending with the purchase of the right machine, is an art and not a science. Unless you are skillful in identifying the needs for each machine you want to buy and understand the technical implications of the needs, you should get some knowledgeable help. This service is the key to getting the right computer for your needs.

Where can you find this service? My colleagues and I at Keystone Computer Group can help. We provide expert and objective decision support in situations like this for clients every day.

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