Need a New Computer? 7 Key Questions to Ask First

If you think it's time for a hardware update, make sure you go through this checklist first.

By Damon Beres
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    Photograph by Ruben Bos via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

    "How slow is my current computer?"

    Even if it's glacial, that's not necessarily reason enough to buy a new machine. Check if the drag is coming from your anti-virus software, your task manager, your apps, or any unnecessary auto-start programs, or if you should add more RAM or a memory cleaner. We've got more tips to make your machine faster here.

    Original photographs via Flickr: Caroline et Louis VOLANT (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0), Derek Lee (CC BY 2.0)

    "How old is my machine?"

    PCMag suggests desktop computers should last about four years and laptops at least two. If you're working on something older than that, you might upgrade. Any less time than that, it's likely that you can extend the machine's life with a memory expansion or by updating the operating system.

    Photo by kawaiikiri via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    "Does it pay to fix what's broken?"

    If you get a solid three years out of your laptop and it cost $1,000, that's about $333 per year. Now take inventory: Is it just the screen that needs to be replaced? The keyboard? A USB drive? The battery? A replacement Mac battery runs $129, and a memory upgrade might help with slowness, but it's $200. If you're in year three, is it worth stretching with $329 in upgrades? Of course, always check to see if any repairs you need are covered under any warranties or insurance. When you're looking at a repair cost of zero dollars, the decision's a bit easier.

    Photo by I-Ta Tsai via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

    "What's my budget?"

    Electronics get fancier each year, but costs tend to go down. You can likely get a nicer computer for less money than you paid for your old one—or a less upscale model for even more of a bargain. Resources like The Wirecutter offer expert recommendations based on price point, or try The Verge for comprehensive reviews.

    Photo by LoKan Sardari via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

    "What do I use it for?"

    You might not need a standard desktop or laptop as you once did. If you mostly browse the web, a Chromebook (good for getting "online without spending a bundle," says PCMag) might work; look at the HP Chromebook 11. Is your computer your entertainment center-slash-TV, with Netflix and Hulu? Shoot for something with a big HD screen—the Sony VAIO Tap 21 fits the bill and is fairly mobile, so you can easily carry it from room to room.

    Photo by shizo via Flickr (Prev
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  • "Do I need multiple devices?"

    You might want a computer dedicated to gaming or work that isn't slowed down with excess files from web browsing. In that case, split your budget and get a reasonably priced desktop for work, and a tablet for media on the go: a Mac Mini with an iPad Air, perhaps, or Lenovo's ThinkCenter M92p with a Nexus 7 tablet.

    Photo by renatomitra via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    "Should my devices all talk to each other?"

    Perhaps a bit obvious, but worth considering: If you've got an iPhone or an iPad, you might as well look into a Mac to keep everything in the same "ecosystem." Use a Google tablet or Android phone? Chromebooks start to make a little more sense, as your work will be easy to consolidate in Google Drive. 

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