Getting Started: Identify Your “User Type”
Whether you’re relying on the funds in your bank account or planning to open an in-store credit card, you already have an idea of how much you’re willing to spend on a new family computer. That’s perfectly reasonable, and if you want to set a limit of, say, $500, you could still walk away with a decent laptop or desktop PC that’ll cover the basics of email, Web use, chat, office essentials, and homework. (Macs will cost you more, but we’ll cover stuff like brand loyalty and budget flexibility later.)
However, if you really want to get the most from your new-computer funds, you should shop the way computer manufacturers build their systems: around intended usage. Start by anticipating how your family will use a computer, and then focus on the computers with specs that match your needs. Heck, even if you can’t find the perfect computer on the shelf, major manufacturers such as HP, Dell, and even Apple offer the ability to customize hardware, warranty coverage, accessories, and other features online. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here – before you can do any of this, you need to identify your family’s “user type.”
To start, call a family meeting. Ask everyone in the house to contribute to a wish list of computer features, and organize these wants and needs into a spreadsheet, which you’ll eventually translate into models and hardware specs. For instance, do the kids want the ability to play games or stream movies between homework assignments? That might lead you toward a PC with discrete graphics and built-in Wi-Fi. Does your husband want to hop on a late-night World of Warcraft session after you’ve finished updating the family balance sheet? You might be looking at a desktop PC or high-end laptop with discrete graphics, Wi-Fi capability, and a productivity-software suite such as Microsoft Office.