Learn how to choose the best computer to fit your needs.
Neil writes in: Although I have bought computers for years, I find myself unable to make a decision today. Perhaps because I am finding too many slow downs and problems with hardware/software combinations. Should I get a PC or a Mac? Should I get the newest series of processor? Is one brand better than another? Help!
Neil, you’re asking a heretic for advice. I started my career writing as a super-geek. These days, I’m a user. So here’s my user perspective. May my fellow super-geeks forgive me for what I’m about to say.
How to Choose a Computer
People are proud of buying inexpensive computers. They quote a low price and assume they’ve made a smart move. Not so fast! The true cost is the purchase price of the machine, plus software costs—like virus scanners and disk defragmenters and office suites—plus cost for service. If you’re self-employed or have a life, add in the cost of time you spend fixing or maintaining the machine.
How to Limit Your Computer Choices
Computer manufacturers love to offer you choices. They tell you one platform has 200,000 apps, while the other only has 150,000 apps. Who cares? Remember the stores and computer manufacturers make money by selling you the most expensive option. That doesn’t mean you need it.
Choose what you need to get stuff done, and then stop. If you are always buying software, upgrading, and needing lots of choices in your software or hardware, you’re not being productive, you're addicted to fun toys. Admit it. Then, give in to it. Go all the way; assemble the system yourself. Then when it breaks—and it will, often—you can have fun spending weekends and evenings disassembling it, reinstalling operating systems, and proudly telling your friends how you saved a whole $200 dollars by doing it yourself. And yes, if you value your irreplaceable, precious, limited time on this planet at $0/hour, your savings were immense.
Macs Save Maintenance Time
I value my time highly. In my book Get-it-Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More, I show how “learning logs” help you never make the same mistake twice. I log every computer problem, what caused it, how I fixed it, and how long it took. My log says I spent more time maintaining one Windows machine for a month than I’ve spent on three Macs in three years, combined. I value my time. I’m a Mac fanboy purely for productivity reasons.
Hardware can also break. Buy machines that have an in-person support center. Then buy a good service contract. I live near an Apple store. Less than a day after my hard drive crashed, they had me up and running from my Time Machine backup. In my Windows days, I had a top-of-the-line on-site support contract from Dell, and between sitting on hold and going through their telephone pre-screen, I spent over 20 hours on a single support incident before they sent their on-site support person! Oh, yeah, and their telephone support person gave me instructions that nuked my hard drive in the process.
Choose the Machine with the Right Software
You may love your computer’s body, but you really want it for its brain. That is, the software. Choose a computer that runs the software you want. If your workplace uses Windows-specific or Mac-specific software, consider buying the same machine for home, so you can move files back and forth between the two platforms. Most software companies, including Adobe and Microsoft, offer their software on both platforms.