Your next PC: thinking beyond the desktop

Woody leonhard By Woody Leonhard

With Black Friday a fading memory and Cyber Monday deals still fresh on the Web, visions of a new PC may be dancing in your head.

But before you go out hunting for that shiny new Win7 machine, take a deep breath, sit back, and consider these tips on buying a PC.

The first and most important tip? Ask yourself whether you need another Windows-based desktop — there are some excellent alternatives. In fact, for home computing, Windows is becoming less and less relevant. More of the services and applications we use are on the Web than in our PCs. And there are now many ways to work on the Web that are cheaper, easier, or just more fun than sitting at a desk and staring into a PC screen.

Think mobility for future personal computing

If you are replacing a desktop with another desktop, you should seriously think about going portable. Laptops are more expensive, feature for feature, but any additional cost is more than made up for with convenience. Many businesses, including Windows Secrets, are migrating to notebooks on the desk. The only PC users who still need a desktop are those who regularly upgrade their systems with new components.

One component you might ditch with your next computer is the keyboard. Take, for example, Apple’s iPad — or if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Windows user, one of the iPad-like tablets that are starting to appear. No, the iPad won’t replace a desktop PC if you’re typically pounding away on a keyboard, but some would find that its greatest redeeming value. For surfing the Web, watching videos, and updating photos and Facebook, the $500 to $829 for an iPad is relatively cheap. And it might keep you happy with that aging desktop for another year or so.

If you’ve decided that upgrading your current desktop PC is no longer cost-effective, think again. To dredge up a well-worn mantra, “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.” You’ll save money and the environment. Over the years, I’ve upgraded dozens of PCs, always wiping the hard drive in the process and starting with fresh software installs — and in every case, I’ve ended up with a downright decent machine. The trick is to bump the main memory up to at least 2GB and install a fast video card with at least 512MB of on-board video memory. You can do both for about $100.

Check your peripherals for a good Win7 match

Before you put that old machine out to pasture — destined for the kids or donated to your favorite charity, no doubt — check to see whether all your peripherals will work with a new Win7 system. Most older printers and external drives play nicely with Microsoft’s newest OS, but many scanners don’t. Other types of peripherals such as older audio cards can be problematic, too.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2010-12-02:

Woody Leonhard

About Woody Leonhard

Woody Leonhard is a Windows Secrets senior editor and a senior contributing editor at InfoWorld. His latest book, the comprehensive 1,080-page Windows 8 All-In-One For Dummies, delves into all the Win8 nooks and crannies. His many writings tell it like it is — whether Microsoft likes it or not.