More Byte For The Buck-where Should You Buy Your Next Computer?
Whether or not it is fact, the common perception is that nearly every family in the U.S. today owns at least one computer. Likewise, it now seems that just about every store in existence now sell PCs and/or Macs. From specialty computer retailers to mail order and online shops to catchall department stores and beyond, it seems as though just about every gargantuan retail chain and every Mom-n-Pop corner store now stock computers of some variety. So which type of place should be getting your hard-earned dollar? It depends. Each one has advantages and disadvantages. It all depends upon your personal taste. Basic electronics stores tend to offer a variety of different types of computers, including desktop PCs, Macs, and laptops, all of varying performance quality. These types of stores are usually good choices for a wide array of computer users. Basic users should be able to find a workable system at an affordable price, while power users - those who need high-end hardware to play CD-ROM games or like to download lots of music and video files - will find acceptable (but not outstanding) units. One downside to these types of stores is that the final price often includes one or more mail-in rebates, meaning that a shopper must pay the full price of the PC up front and then wait for the refund to arrive in the mail, which could take six-to-eight weeks or longer. The best bet for power users is to either shop at a computer specialty store or to shop through a catalogue or online retailer. Both offer high-end systems with upper tier quality video and sound cards, DVD-ROM and burning equipment, state-of-the-art modems and more. Many even allow the shopper to pick and choose which components and software he or she wants included in his or her Mac or PC. Obviously, this is ideal for a user with an interest in streaming video, state-of-the-art gaming, and high-speed Internet connections. If you're the type of person who wants to download 10,000 mpeg files or participate in an online Doom 3 fragfest with your friends, these are the places to go. The only downside is that the cost will undoubtedly be higher than that of a standard system, and when it comes to mail order or online merchants, tech support can be a bit of a hassle. Retail stores - the Wal-Marts and Targets of the world - tend to stock the best deals for the casual user. The systems usually boast above average specs (high-end processors, 128-512MB RAM, 40-80GB hard drive, etc.) at affordable prices (usually $400-800). Of course, being a larger store not dedicated just to computers, tech support is non-existent. Additionally, computers sold in these types of stores tend to be package deals, including at least a monitor and perhaps a printer and/or scanner as well. If you're looking for a higher-end system - one capable of playing a game released within the past two years, for instance - then you'd best look elsewhere. However, if you're more interested in sending email, surfing the Web, doing your finances or using word processing software, then you can rest easy knowing you bought a computer from one of these retail outlets. Lastly, that brings us to nontraditional outlets, including pawnshops, outlet stores, and other places where you wouldn't typically expect to find PCs for sale. Generally speaking, it is not recommended to buy computers from these locations. Computers located at pawnshops and other used dealers tend to be overpriced for the quality of system, and it isn't really possible to know exactly what you're getting. Likewise, small, family-owned businesses that don't specialize in computer sales also tend to inflate the prices of their systems and other computer-related businesses. Most of the time, better deals are to be had elsewhere.