Buying a Home Computer

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Background Components Mac or PC? Your needs Email CCSF Deals Links

Using this site

bulletIf you can spend some time, are planning to buy a computer, and don't have a lot of background, look at the sequence suggested in Suggested steps for buying on this page.
bulletIf all you want is to look up a component or term that has come up in the course of setting out to buy a computer, try one or both of these options:
» Use the site's Search engine
» Orient yourself with the site map on the same page.
bulletFor a quick check of specials available to City College of San Francisco faculty and staff (and, in some cases, to students as well), go straight to CCSF Deals.
bulletFor information on me and on the genesis of this site, see the Background page.

Suggested steps for buying

  1. Review past experience (Mac or PC?).

  2. Look at your needs—now and in the future (Your needs).

  3. Do a little research on what goes into the machine (Components and the pages it opens out to).

  4. Find out about connecting to e-mail and the Web (Email).

  5. Look at external sources to compare reviews of the latest models and prices (Links).

  6. Check out good buys (CCSF deals).

  7. Take encouragement wherever you can find it.

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Choices, choices...

You've listened to friends, seen the ads, wandered through computer supermarkets and local stores. Confused? Every source says something different. Everyone else knows what's best.

Actually, deciding on a computer is no different from any other buying decision. You are buying something that you will use. You have your own needs and preferences to help guide you in your decisions. You wouldn't buy a sofa just because uncle Jed pointed it out, or a car because a salesman said it was the one for you.

But, like many others, you may not think that you know how to buy a computer. These pages can help guide you through some common sense steps, like those you would use to buy a refrigerator. No impulse buying here.

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A Disclaimer: prices, quality, and dealerspeak

I should add a disclaimer: the opinions in this site are my own, and so on. Certainly, not everyone will agree with what I'm about to put down here. But I am basing what I say on several years of experience buying computers for labs at CCSF and consulting clients, as well as for friends and myself.

If you are enterprising and look through local magazines like Computer User or MicroTimes, you will see PC ads for prices that look like incredible bargains compared to those I've quoted. It's possible that you will find a real bargain—but unlikely. Computer components sell at very low profit margins, so there is actually little leeway on prices. Volume makes the difference in prices these days. What appears to be a bargain is likely to be inferior in quality, out of date, or, simply, misleading. Bargain prices often completely leave out:

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a monitor (the screen)

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a modem (the device that dials out to connect to e-mail or the internet)

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an operating system (software, like Windows98, that enables the computer to run at all)

Bait and switch is common: that 15" monitor doesn't look so good in person, next to the sexy 17" model that's only $160 more....

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You can do it

For some reason, buying a computer can send otherwise sane, competent people into a tizzy—as if the process was just somehow beyond them. Not true. Just stay calm and figure out what you want and need.

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Page by Vic Fascio:  email Vic at vfascio@ccsf.org
Color consulting by John Copoulos
Last edited Saturday December 08, 2001
City College of San Francisco, Technology Learning Center: 310-313 Batmale Hall
50 Phelan Avenue, San Francisco CA 94112