At the rate the technology is changing, it is sometimes difficult to keep up with what is good and what is bad. Many people do not have the time required to put hours into the decision making process for buying or building a new computer only to realize what they got is not what they needed. Going to the local technology store is not always the best answer, because some of them are only concerned with what makes them more money. To help give you unbiased help with the computer buying process, we took the time to create this guide. We did in-depth research into tablets, laptops, and desktops so you can spend less time finding the computer that fits all of your needs. Within this guide, you will find information to help you assess your needs in a computer or tablet, teach you some important terminology, and help you get the most out of your money.

Our team of authors has extensive experience in buying and building computers. We have used this experience in composing this guide for your benefit. We want you to get the most out of your computer, which means knowing what you need and when some things are good and others are not so good. We have done extensive research on top of our existing experience to bring you as much unbiased information as possible in regards to brand and power of computers. Our goal with this guide is to make sure you get a product that will perform as you need it to while also saving you as much money as possible.

In the technology-centered world that we live in today, computers are essential for most people. Computers are used for communication, research, gaming, working, and endless other things. Buying a computer can be a commitment from hundreds to thousands of dollars, and when you spend that much money, it is important to know that you made the right choice. It can be difficult to keep up with the changing technology because of how rapidly computers are evolving. Trying to do the necessary research on your own can take hours of time searching through biased online sources and can make the process more stressful than it already is. Our guide will help you understand what you need and how to get it at a great value.

One of the first things to consider when looking for a new computer is what you will be using it for. If you are a new student heading to college, you will need to consider things like what your major is, the computer related requirements of this major, and what your personal needs for the computer are. For example, if you are majoring in engineering, you may need to use CAD software, which requires extensive graphics processing power. A graphic design major may also have similar requirements, while a business or English major will not generally require anything more than good word processing and web browsing capabilities. You must also consider what you would like to do yourself. If you are considering playing video games on your computer, you may require something with more power.

Another thing to consider is what resources will be available to you. It is possible that your university or place of work will provide you with a machine, in which case you will have to find out more about these opportunities on your own. Otherwise, it may be pertinent to note what sorts of computer labs are open to you, the software you can get from them, etc. If you already have a computer, but are looking for a new one, then consider what you like and do not like about your current computer. This will help you decide what you are looking for.

Table 1 shows a breakdown of typical uses for a computer. You should be able to use this table to initially determine what you are interested in. When you decide what you want (tablet/laptop/desktop) you may skip to that portion of the document for more detailed information. Also, if you are unsure about technical specifications, you may refer to our Technology Background section.

Uses for computers and what they offer

# Use Needs
1 Internet (email, social media, browsing, etc.) Tablets, laptops, and desktops all adequately perform the task of web browsing.
Tablets and laptops allow for the most portability, so they allow more versatility.
2 Document Editing (Office) Microsoft Office (among other similar programs) works on every laptop and desktop, but not all tablets fully support a version of Office. Even if a tablet has document editing capabilities, they usually are not adequate replacements to using a laptop or desktop.
3 Multimedia (movies/music) Movies and music are available on all three types of devices. Tablets and laptops are great for watching movies on the go, but battery life drops drastically when watching videos/movies.
Tablets generally have small hard drives, so videos will fill them up fast.
4 Light Gaming Light gaming generally refers to playing games on apps, web browsers, and smaller downloadable games. Generally, any laptop or desktop would do fine for this. Tablets even work great as long as you are only playing games that are downloadable apps. Certain browser games do not effectively work on tablets.
5 Gaming Desktops work the best for this, since computing power is essential, but there are laptops that have enough power to run almost any game. The problem with laptops is that generally they cannot be upgraded, or have limited upgradeability, so it can be hard to keep up with the requirements for the newest games.
Powerful laptops also generally have low battery life, are large/bulky, and very expensive.
6 Graphic Design and Modelling (CAD/Adobe) Laptops and desktops both work well for these. Macs tend to be above average in regards to design and other graphical uses.
An important thing to note is that some 3D modeling software is not supported on Mac computers, so it is important to check if it is supported before buying a computer. Also, some of this software will require quite powerful GPUs (see GPUs).
Laptops are better if you need it to be portable (studio to apartment, etc.).
7 Video Editing Laptops and desktops are both good for video editing. A machine with decent GPU and CPU (see GPUs and CPUs) will be necessary, but otherwise it is up to personal preference.
8 Programming Programming will usually only require a good CPU and RAM. Unless you are doing intensive graphics programming, these are what you will want to focus on. Keep in mind both CPU speed and number of cores is important, where more cores will allow more multitasking.
After considering Table 1, you should have a decent idea of what you need to do with a computer, and hopefully some idea of what type of computer you might want. Now, you need to consider exactly what you want to do and what fits your budget. Table 2 shows typical price ranges for computers to help you decide what fits your budget. Note that it is possible for prices to be below or above what we have listed, but those are often extremes or outliers. The table is broken down into the sections from Table 1, since some tasks require different power, which affects price.

Table 2
Typical Current Computer Prices*

Needs Tablet Laptop Desktop
1, 3, 4 $200-700 PC-$300-$800
1, 2, 3, 4 $400-1200 PC-$300-$800
5 N/A PC- $1000-$2500
PC- $1000-$2500
6 N/A PC- $800-$2000
PC- $700-$1800+
7 N/A PC- $800-$2000
PC- $700-$1800+
8 N/A PC- $800-$1500
PC- $600-$1500
*These prices are approximations, and are not meant to be exact **Denotes a selection that is not ideal for this purpose

If you do not currently own a laptop or desktop, and you determined that you do not need one in the Assessing Your Needs section, then a tablet is a great cheap option that offers various different functions. For more information on what a tablet is if you do not already know, see our Technology Background section regarding tablets.

If you already own a desktop or laptop, then a tablet may be a good supplement to your technology. They are great on the go for scheduling, task management, mobile gaming, web browsing, e-mail, and endless other possibilities.

Operating systems are the framework and interface of the tablet, and determine the type of experience that the user will have. Choosing the operating system that is right for you can be a difficult endeavor.

There are three main operating systems you are likely to see today.

Operating Systems

Choosing an operating system is 100% a decision of preference because each device works slightly different than its counterparts. Most technology stores that sell tablets have display models that you can use in the store. The best option for choosing a tablet is to go to a store like this and try out the different models to get a feel of how they operate. This could be important because though there are only three main operating systems for popular tablets today, Android operating systems are highly customized from model to model, and can give a very different feel.

Note that tablets have limited functionality (often lack keyboards and other useful accessories like a case), and cannot be easily upgraded without buying another tablet. These accessories can run upwards of $200, so be sure to look at them before purchasing a tablet at the top of your budget. Although they are great at what they were created for, tablets are not powerful enough to replace laptops. If you are in search for a device with the portability of a tablet, but the functionality of a small laptop, then a hybrid tablet/laptop or is a better option to look into (see the Laptops section below).

Pros Cons
High Portability Less Power
Low Cost Lacks Keyboard/Mouse
Thousands of apps Limited Battery Life
Size Lack of Upgradability

If you have determined a laptop is the best way to go in your new computer, your next step is to learn more about the options available. For more information on what a laptop is, see our Technology Background section regarding laptops.

There are four main operating systems you likely to see today:
Operating Systems

You are likely familiar with Windows and/or OS X, so the only thing you probably need to look into to learn more is ChromeOS. This operating system is newer and is designed for someone who always has internet access. The limitations of ChromeOS are just that, however, you must do all of your work online, meaning you cannot use software like the Office Suite, Adobe Suite, etc. We would not recommend using Linux unless you either have prior experience with it, or you need it specifically (for more information, see our Operating Systems Section).

Windows, OS X, and Linux are the same operating systems you will see on desktops. These laptops can be seen as generally less powerful, but portable versions of a desktop, meaning they will usually offer the same productivity and software.

Note that laptops, because they are smaller, more compact versions of a desktop, do have a few significant limitations. They lack significant ability to modify and upgrade without purchasing a new unit, and the cost of a laptop increases greatly as you increase in power and/or decrease in size.

Pros Cons
Moderate Portability Cost
All-in-one device Limited Battery Life
Little Upgradability

Desktops offer top of the line performance for the least amount of cost. Despite this, they are not portable, which means this is going to be your best option only if you want a computer that is very powerful without spending a lot of money, and can work around the lack of portability. Often, a tablet or laptop is used to supplement a desktop, so you can have portability when you need it, but power when you need as well. This, however, is difficult to do if you are on a budget.

There are many ways to get a desktop. Unlike laptops or tablets, the ability to customize a desktop to fit your needs is virtually endless. This means you can choose your own combination of processor, graphics card, motherboard, case, and more. If you do not want to do this, it is also possible to buy a prebuilt machine from most manufacturers (PC - Dell, HP, etc. - or Mac). Otherwise, the ability to build your own machine can save you money, if you are willing to research and buy your own parts. If you want the ability to get the parts you want, but do not want to build your own machine, there are places that let you do this too (iBuyPower and CyberPowerPC are websites to check out, though they are gaming oriented). Otherwise, you can pick out your own parts and assemble the machine yourself.

If you decide to build your own computer, there is a lot to consider. Even if you are just customizing a computer at one of the places mentioned before, you need to know what you looking at for parts. To get more information about the parts of a computer, see our Technology Background page.

Pros Cons
Upgradability Terrible Portability
Cost Size
No Battery Needs Electricity
If you decide to build your own computer, there is a lot to consider. Even if you are just customizing a computer at one of the places mentioned before, you need to know what you are looking at for parts. To get more information about the parts of a computer, refer to theTechnology Background section.

There are some key things to consider when building a desktop other than just what performance is needed. The parts need to fit together as well; in other words, certain processors must have certain sockets, motherboards must fit in their cases, etc. A good way to go about picking out your parts is to pick what kind of processor you want first. Once you know you processor, you can determine what motherboard you will need based on its specifications. The motherboard will help you determine what GPU, case, and other accessories you can have. You can also build around most other parts, but they may limit our options. The important thing is to make sure all your parts will fit together before spending the money on them.

If you choose to build your own computer, the best piece of advice we can give you is to know what you are doing. There are plenty of sites to help with building in addition to other online resources you could go to that would help you through the process. The Technology Background section of this guide tries to explain the technology in enough detail to help you understand what things are, but it cannot replace a thorough understanding or professional help.

Pros Cons
Best Value Time
Fully Customized Requires Knowledge
Requires Research

Tablets, Laptops, and desktops each have their intended use, and they all have strengths and weaknesses. In the end, your decision should be based on your preference and needs in a computer or tablet. Ultimately, this document cannot replace a little research of your own because of how rapid computers are changing. Use the knowledge you have learned in this document to guide you in the right direction; check online reviews and ask questions to professionals in order to ensure you the most out of your money.

Topic Tablet Laptop Desktop
Tight Budget Better Good Best
Portability Best Good Worst
Battery Better Good N/A*
Screen Size Good (7" - 10") Better (11" - 18") Best (Endless possibilities)
Customizability Worst Okay Best
Upgrading Worst Okay Best
Processor Good Better Best
Graphics Okay Better Best
Light Gaming Best Good Good
Gaming Worst Good Best
Keyboard Worst Good Best (Endless possibilities)
Ease of Repair** Worst Good Best
*Desktops do not have batteries
**Varies based on the issue