Looking to buy yourself or loved one a new computer for the 2013 holiday season, but not sure what to buy or how much to spend? I’ve written the following guide to help answer these questions. Being in the IT industry, I come in contact with thousands of computers each year that vary greatly in style and price. I learn toward certain brands, such as HP and Intel, because of my experience in the field. This post isn’t to argue about which brands are better; it’s to give recommendations and answer the most frequently asked questions I receive during the holiday season.
While this article will cover systems for most people, I won’t be making any recommendations for Apple computers. This is because I have very limited knowledge of Apple systems and wouldn’t feel comfortable making a recommendation. Secondly, I won’t be making recommendations for gaming rigs. You should never buy pre-built gaming rigs, they are junk and overpriced. If you are going to get a gaming rig, you will need to piece one together and build it yourself. If you know enough to build your own computer, you probably don’t need me to make a recommendation for you.
If you want a gaming system, but have never built your own computer, you should look into the $399 Playstation 4. It much cheaper than the most inexpensive gaming rigs. I do not recommend the Xbox One because it is $100 more than the Playstation 4, you cannot upgrade your own hard drive, and it plays most games at 720p. The Playstation 4 on the other hand plays games at full 1080p. (I am unbiased on this, I was an Xbox 360 gamer during the last generation. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s newest console is mediocre at best. 720p is not “next gen.”)
Should you get a desktop, laptop, tablet, or All-In-One? This is really a question you will have to answer for yourself. Desktops are the most bang for your buck: you will get more storage space and computing power for a lower cost than in any of the other devices. If you are already planning to keep your new system on the same desk 24/7, I highly suggest going with a desktop computer. Alternatively, All-In-Ones are great if you are looking for a sleek desk computer with touchscreen capabilities. I suggest getting a mouse with your All-In-One to use in conjunction with the touch screen. Laptops, while less powerful than desktops, have more processing power than tablets. If you don’t plan on doing anything computation heavy, such as Photoshop, then you could go with either a laptop or a tablet. Finally, tablets aren’t recommended for people who plan on writing a lot, even though some of them come with a rubber fold out keyboard. In my opinion, even with the fold out rubber keyboard, they just aren’t as efficient as a desktop or laptop when it comes to writing more than a few lines at a time.
Software recommendations: I know that some of you will not read to the bottom of this article as you will probably go directly to the recommendation for the type of computer you want. While I still have your attention, it’s important to tell you about software bundles. When you buy Microsoft Office at the time you buy your computer, you save more than $100 than if you buy it later. If you are going to need Word, Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint, etc. make sure to purchase it with your computer and not after the fact! If you want to be able to access Word, Excel and Powerpoint files for free, please check out Open Office, LibreOffice or Google Docs. These apps work great for home use, but I don’t recommend them for business use. Finally, do not purchase antivirus software with your computer! Use the very free and very good Microsoft Security Essentials.
Desktop recommendations: When looking for a desktop computer, there’s a few things you should check. First, unless you already know that you like Windows 8, you should be looking for a Windows 7 system. I would purchase a computer with at least 8GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, and an Intel i5 processor or better. Also make sure it has a DVD burner, you’d be surprised how many computers do not come with optical drives anymore.
I have two recommendations in this category. The first is the small form factor HP ProDesk 600 G1. It’s listed on HP’s website for $799 with the specs I explained above. You can find other versions of this computer with better/worse specs, so feel free to browse. Just make sure to not go below the minimums listed in the paragraph above. I also suggest searching for systems on Newegg and TigerDirect to see if you can get a better deal. Do not buy computers from Best Buy. I don’t know if they still do it, but it use to be that all computers purchased through Best Buy only came with a Geek Squad warranty, not a manufacturer warranty.
My second recommendation is virtually the same computer, but in a regular form factor (pictured on right.) Unfortunately, none of the tower units do come with 8GB of RAM, so it’s recommended that you purchase and install another 4GB stick of RAM. If you order your computer directly through HP, they can add this to your order and even install it for you. This system + RAM upgrade will cost you $834. While a bit more expensive than the small form factor, this tower will be large enough to accommodate a graphics card if you decide to get dual monitors or play games later.
While we are on desktop computers, I want to make some recommendations for displays. You have one of two options: get an actual computer monitor or get a television. Both computers above come with DisplayPort video outputs, which means you can purchase DisplayPort adapters to convert the output to HDMI if you are using a television. If you are going to get a monitor, simply find any monitor in the price range you like on HP’s website, no adapter required. If you are going with a television, I suggest getting either a Samsung or Sony television as they both work great with computer output. Don’t forget your DisplayPort to HDMI cable. I do recommend getting your display at a brick-and-mortar store, such as Best Buy, because most online retailers won’t let you return a display with dead pixels unless there’s at least 6 dead pixels. I don’t know about you, but if there is even 1 dead pixel in my brand new display, I’m taking it back.
Laptop recommendations: Just like with desktops, when looking for a laptop, there’s a few things you should check. First, unless you already know that you like Windows 8, you should be looking for a Windows 7 system. I would purchase a laptop with at least a 14″ screen, 8GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, and an Intel i5 processor or better. I personally don’t like the 17″ systems as they are too heavy to carry around. I always go with either a 14″ or 15″ when purchasing for myself.
I setup and configure ProBook and EliteBook laptops a couple times per month and never have issues with them. It should come as no surprise that I highly recommend them both. The difference between them is primarily the look and durability, the EliteBook is all aluminum while the ProBook has some plastic components. Both are great systems.
If you’re able to snag a laptop with a Solid State Disk drive in it (abbreviated SSD) as opposed to a traditional hard disk drive (HDD,) definitely do so. SSD drives, while usually smaller than the 500GB I suggested earlier, are much faster and more durable than traditional HDDs. Laptop HDDs have a propensity to crash because you are moving the laptop, so going with an SSD helps prevent most crashes. This is because SSDs have no moving parts, while HDDs are a mechanical device that do have moving parts. Finally, if you do get an SSD, get at least a 120GB drive (240GB is even better, but obviously more expensive.)
All-in-one recommendation: When looking for an All-In-One, there’s some stuff unique to this type of system that you should check. Unlike with my laptop and desktop recommendations, you should get Windows 8.1 with your All-In-One. This is because the All-In-One’s have touchscreens and Windows 8.1 is a great touchscreen operating system. I would purchase a system with at least a 20″ screen, 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, and an Intel i3 processor or better. Always get a keyboard and mouse with the system as you will not want to use the touch interface for everything you do. Be aware that not all of the All-In-One systems come with an optical drive, so make sure that it has one if you need it.
Take a look through this list of All-In-Ones and make your decision. 23″ screen is obviously recommended over the 20″, but you will have to find what works inside of your budget. Make sure the one you pick says “Touchscreen” on the icon and meets the minimum requirements in the paragraph above. I think the 23-f460xt is the best deal right now at $699.99. Consider getting 2.1 speakers as the built in speakers aren’t any better than the speakers in most laptops.
Tablet recommendations: The Microsoft Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro are both excellent tablets and come in a wide variety of colors. The primary difference between the regular Surface and the Pro is that the Pro can run regular Windows apps as well as apps from the app store. The regular Surface can only run apps from the app store, meaning that some programs you already have on your laptop or desktop probably won’t work on it.
If you are going to get a regular Surface 2, I suggest the 64GB version for $549. However, if you need to be able to run regular Windows applications and want a little more power under the hood, you’re going to want to look at the Surface 2 Pro starting at $899. If you plan on storing a lot of film, television and music on your tablet, you should really consider upgrading to the 128GB or 256GB versions. Don’t even look at the 512GB version unless you are rich and want to flush money down the toilet because it’s really overpriced.
I hope this helps! Happy holidays!!!!
The above recommendations are the extent of what I’ll be suggesting this holiday season. I realize you may see deals that aren’t listed here, but due to the sheer amount of requests I get about this, I won’t be able to individually review and respond to those questions. The only systems I really feel confident putting my recommendation behind are the ones already listed on this page. Thank you for understanding this and happy shopping!