Smart PC Buying Tips

Urban legends can creep up and bite you even before you get a computer under your roof. Don't get caught up in common traps and outdated advice the next time you're shopping for a system. Take this true-false quiz to test your knowledge of PC buying trends.

True or false? More gigahertz means a faster PC.

False. Not anymore. A speed rating like "2 GHz" used to tell you a lot about how quickly a microprocessor would run inside a computer. But today, chipmakers Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are creating many new improvements for processors besides simply ratcheting up the clock speeds. For instance, today's fastest chips have lots of cache memory (onboard memory that saves application requests.) So you shouldn't judge a chip, or a PC, by its gigahertz rating.

True or false? You're smarter to spring for more main memory than a fancier processor.

True. Memory will make a huge difference in your PC's everyday pep as well as when using demanding applications such as photo-editing software. So if you have a choice between buying a PC with a slightly faster processor or one with more memory, go for the extra memory. You want at least 512MB of memory, but 1GB is better.

True or false? If you can afford it, buy the top-of-the-line PC model.

False. You'll usually find the sweet spot for the best combination of performance, features, and price in the second- or third-best model of a PC line--not in the top model. You will pay a premium for the absolute top-of-line model simply because it has the newest features, but you won't get much bang for the extra bucks. And the top-of-line PC won't last significantly longer, either.

True or false? Home electronics stores like Circuit City and Best Buy will try to sell you several add-ons when you buy a new computer. Ignore this sales pitch.

True. But with one exception: If you don't already have a really good surge protector, it's a good idea to buy one with your new system. As for any other add-ons or software, go home, think about it, and do some more comparison shopping before buying.

True or false? PCs from the big-name companies all come with at least a one-year warranty.

False. Even companies like Dell now offer mere 90-day warranties on some lower-end PCs. If you're shopping for a PC in the sub-$1000 range, this is an important item to check. You can pay extra to obtain a longer warranty, and an entire year gives you a lot more peace of mind than 90 days.

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