User Profiles

A great way to start shopping for a computer is to determine how you intend to use it. Once you have that in mind, your choices become much clearer. To help the process along,  we’ve created a set of user profiles that describe the most common ways computers get used. All you need to do is find the profile that best matches who you are. Within each profile, you’ll find a set of purchasing recommendations that fit both your budget and your lifestyle.

Profile #1: Families & Everyday Consumers

Most families will be well served if they buy a general purpose computer with average performance. This class of computer is powerful enough to run word processing software, spreadsheets, and digital presentation software like PowerPoint simultaneously. They can also be used to browse the web, send email or text messages and watch on-line videos or DVD’s. You should also be able to do some light video and photo editing and some casual gaming as well. Computers designed for home use typically fall into the low to moderate price range.

Buy a laptop if you need a computer while traveling, or plan to work in more than one location around the house.

  • Netbooks are inexpensive and highly mobile but they have very limited performance. Netbooks shouldn’t be relied upon as one’s only computer. They are not general purpose computers and because of that, they are probably not a good fit for ordinary consumers and families. They are however a very good fit for travelers provided the travelers have continuous access to the internet.
  • Ultra-portable laptops offer excellent mobility and adequate performance but they are not as economical as Mid-sized laptops. Ultra-portables are network savvy devices so they’ll tie right in to any home network or Wi-Fi hot spot. If you buy an Ultra-portable with a broadband connection, you’ll be able to access the internet from anywhere with cell phone coverage. Ultra-portables can be counted on to handle any kind of computational task that doesn’t require gobs of power or speed.
  • Mid-sized laptops are an excellent choice if you are looking for the best balance of power, mobility and price. Mid-sized laptops are general purpose computers. They are designed to appeal to most home users. They are capable of doing many different things reasonably well. They are network savvy and have the power to run several different software programs at the same time. They are well built and rugged and usually designed to last at least three years. Prices vary according to the features and speed of the product. Inexpensive mid-sized laptops are an excellent choice for first time computer buyers or for a family in need of a second or third computer.
  • Large size laptops are a good choice for those who are willing to pay a premium for great performance and limited mobility. These laptops are especially attractive to casual gamers and Videophiles who want to watch DVD’s or streaming video.
  • Slate Tablets are not recommended for home use because they are generally underpowered and often don’t come with built-in keyboards. This makes data entry difficult unless you are a skilled artist or are comfortable enough with the current state-of-the-art in handwriting recognition to take notes using the touch sensitive screen. Convertible Tablets are a better choice for home use. Depending on model selected, they offer excellent mobility and adequate performance at a reasonable price.

If you have enough space to designate a permanent home for your new computer, then a desktop unit is the right choice for you.

  • Tower and Desktop computers are an excellent fit for most homes. In fact, they are the most popular type of computer on the market. They offer good performance at a reasonable price. Size is their only drawback. Because of their size and bulk, it’s unlikely that Towers and Desktops will be moved once they’ve been installed.
  • All-In-One desktops are also a good choice for the home. They offer good performance at a reasonable price and depending on the model chosen, a moderate size footprint. All-In-Ones are not easily moved so the spot you pick for the initial installation is likely to become its permanent home. That said, All-In-Ones are a bit more mobile than Towers or Desktops because all the components are housed in one package.
  • Small Form Factor (SFF) computers are a good fit for the home. They have adequate performance, a small footprint, and depending on the model you select, are economically priced.

Profile #2: Students

Buy a laptop if you need to use your own computer in more than one location.

  • Netbooks offer great mobility and are well priced but their performance is severely limited and they may not have enough oomph to do what you need them to do.
  • Ultra-portable laptops are a bit less powerful and more expensive than midsized laptops but they are also more portable and convenient. They are an excellent choice for on-the-go-students.
  • Mid-sized laptops are rugged and versatile general purpose computers. They offer a very good mix of features, portability and price.
  • Large size laptops are not a good fit for students if you don’t need the power they provide. Their size and weight make them ungainly and their price is often prohibitive for student budgets.
  • Tablets may be a good fit for students who need touch screen input to do their school work or want the convenience and power of an enhanced e-book reader. Tablets marketed as e-book readers are new. Both the technology and the business model that support these devices are still being developed so it’s impossible to say with certainty if the market will grow as predicted. The prospect of eliminating hand-carried textbooks is revolutionary and could prove wildly popular but only time will tell.

Student lucky enough to afford their own desktop computers have a wide variety of models from which to choose. Suitable units are available in every desktop form factor and price range. The most popular are Towers and Desktops but you can also find suitable Small Form Factor (SFF) and All-In-One units as well.

Profile #3: Avid Gamers

If you spend a great deal of time playing the very latest online or standalone games, you’re probably best served by a dedicated gaming computer. Avid gamers typically demand crisp images, smooth motion graphics, a rich color pallet and an intense audio experience. If you’re like most avid gamers, you’ll probably want to do extensive research before deciding on what to buy. It’s common for hard core gamers to have their equipment custom built to their personal specifications. Most gaming computers come with very fast, multi-core processors (often more than one), high end graphics and sound cards and tons of memory. Gaming laptops usually come with built-in broadband internet access. If you’re thinking of buying a dedicated gaming computer be aware that customization comes at a cost. You should be prepared to pay top dollar.

  • If you need the mobility of a laptop, than a large sized laptop is the best fit for you. It’s the only laptop with the power and screen size to give you the intensity of experience you’re looking for. Smaller sized laptops, netbooks and tablets are perfectly adequate for casual gamers but not for you.
  • Buy a desktop gaming machine if you’re looking for very high performance and don’t need a mobile computer.  All desktop gaming machines (with the exception of SFF units) come with a great many unused expansion bays and add-on card slots. This makes it easy to replace or upgrade obsolete equipment or add new components to the system at any time. Size is definitely a virtue.
  • Small Form Factor (SFF) computers make cost effective gaming machines. The SFF’s small chassis restricts the number of components that can be incorporated into the unit but allows knowledgeable gamers to save money by carefully specifying just the components they need. Gamers who buy SFF desktops often see them as semi-mobile computers. Customized SFF units are often more powerful than high-end gaming laptops so users are willing to endure the inconvenience of moving their computers for the higher performance that SFF units deliver.

Profile #4: Digital Content Creators

Computers in this category are high end, performance workstations that can be optimized for a specific purpose. They are typically equipped with several very fast multi-core processors, high end graphics and sound cards, lots of memory and large amounts of disk space (usually multiple discs arranged in a RAID array). This class of computer is ideal if you’re doing computer-aided design, 3D modeling and rendering, web development, engineering or scientific analysis, high-end animation and multimedia editing.

  • Buy a Large Size Laptop if you need both power and mobility in the same device. Large size laptops are top of the line powerhouses. They tend to be big, bulky and expensive. These units come with a large number of built-in ports and plugs which makes them ideally suited as replace desktop units. A word of caution about smaller laptops: mid-sized laptops, ultra-portables, netbooks and tablets simply don’t have the power needed to successfully complete the kinds of tasks that large size laptops are routinely asked to perform.
  • Buy a Tower, Desktop or All-In-One unit if you need power but not mobility.
  • Buy an SFF unit only if you are highly skilled at selecting or building custom computer systems.

Profile #5: Audiophiles & Videophiles

Multimedia computers are designed to act as the control unit or distribution hub for digital media. They are easily networked and built to deliver high definition video and surround sound audio to multiple locations throughout your home or office. They are not specifically designed for editing digital images, creating videos or composing music although they can be used to do so in a limited way, Multimedia computers typically come with relatively fast processors, plenty of RAM and copious amounts of disk space that can be used to archive digital music and video files. Most multimedia systems come with discrete sound and graphics cards and a video tuner. They also come with a large number of plugs and jacks that allow them to connect to gadgets like MP3 players, digital cameras and projectors, musical instruments, video camcorders and gaming consoles.

  • If you’re an avid video or movie buff with a killer sound system and need the mobility of a laptop, than a large sized laptop is the best fit for you. It’s the only laptop with the power and screen size to give you the intensity of experience you’re looking for. Smaller sized laptops, netbooks and tablets are perfectly adequate for casual playback but they don’t offer the quality of experience you’re looking for. Be aware that large sized multimedia laptops are pricey machines. They’re also bulky.
  • Buy a dedicated multimedia Tower, Desktop, All-In-One or SFF unit if you’re looking for very high performance and don’t need a mobile computer. Desktops and SFF units are especially suitable for use as multimedia computers because their horizontal shape allows them to fit into storage cabinets and furniture consoles easily.

Profile #6: Self Employed Workers

Self employed business travelers should carefully weigh their options before selecting a laptop. There’s a lot to choose from but only careful shopping will help you identify what type of laptop best fits your needs and your business. Here are our recommendations:

  • Although their price and mobility are very attractive, Netbooks are probably not the best fit for self employed business travelers unless they are comfortable with “working in the cloud”. (i.e. using the internet to store your work and supply “just-in-time” software). Netbooks have very little computing power of their own and must therefore rely on internet servers to do much of their work for them. This option is recommended with caution. On the up side, Netbooks offer unparalleled mobility. On the down side, you have to store your work on other people’s servers and learn to use new and unfamiliar software. In addition, the benefits generally don’t justify the cost. Broadband connection fees quickly exceed the price of the hardware.
  • Ultra-portables share many (but not all) of the features found in mid-sized laptops. They are rugged and network ready but they are generally not as powerful as their mid-sized cousins. They are however a lot more portable. Ultra-portables are a good choice if you’re willing to sacrifice some performance that’s typically found in most larger laptops and pay a small premium for the added mobility of a light weight unit.
  • Mid-sized laptops offer good performance and mobility at an affordable price. They are well balanced units and make a very good choice for self employed workers who have to travel on a regular basis. They are rugged and very well made. They’re built to take a good many  bumps and bruises. They come in a variety of different speeds and sport mid-range graphics capabilities that can be used to make business presentations. Mid-sized laptops are designed to be plugged in to a network. Because they are network ready, most units come with up-to-date security features. Many models also come with built-in wireless broadband connections. With the addition of VPN software, these laptops can log-in to any network from anywhere with cell phone or broadband coverage. When cell coverage is unavailable, they are also quite capable of working offline as standalone computers.
  • Large size laptops are ungainly travelers. For that reason, they are not recommended for folks who make frequent business trips unless you need the power they provide. However, they are a good choice if you only have to do a bit of traveling and are interested in replacing your permanent desktop unit with a laptop.
  • Slate Tablets are not a very good fit for the self employed traveler unless you work in a specialized service industry (like trucking,  insurance and medicine) where touch sensitive data entry is essential. Unfortunately, Slate Tablets are not very good general purpose laptops. They are typically underpowered and overpriced. In contrast, Convertible Tablets are a very good fit for self employed road warriors because they represent a good mix of power, mobility and affordability. Convertible Tablets are virtually indistinguishable from mid-sized laptops but have the added feature of a rotating touch screen that can be used to take notes, make sketches or deliver presentations.
  • Buy a business desktop unit if you’re looking for a good mix of performance and price but don’t need mobility. Business desktops come in an extremely wide range of sizes, shapes and prices. The most popular are Towers and Desktops but you can also find suitable Small Form Factor (SFF) and All-In-One units as well.

At the low end of the price-performance scale you’ll find computers that are powerful enough to run word processing software, spreadsheets, and digital presentation software like PowerPoint. You’ll also be able to browse the web, use email, watch on-line videos or DVD’s and participate in video conferences all at the same time. You should also be able to do some light video and photo editing and some casual gaming as well. At the high end of the scale, you’ll find powerful workstations capable of handling the most computationally demanding tasks you can throw at it.