Category Archives: Buying a PC

Replacing an old PC or laptop with a new PC or laptop

A lot of people seem to be replacing a Windows 7 PC (or laptop) with a new Windows 10 one, and for many people this may be the first time they’ve actually replaced a computer with a new one. Here’s some tips:

  1. Take advice on what to buy. Like having driving lessons, it’s important that the person giving the advice actually knows what they are talking about, and that their knowledge is reasonably up to date. This often rules out the sales assistant in the high-street shop (who are often selling a washing machine one minute and a PC the next) and the brother-in-law “who knows a bit about computers”. Some are very good (shop staff and brothers-in-law) but a lot aren’t, and it can be hard to know the difference.

    Too many people have told me they bought their laptop based on the colour or the screen size. Fine, but you wouldn’t buy a car based only on the colour or the radio, so you’re going to have to find out a bit more about computer jargon. In particular think about (a) processor – some are really slow – I’d got for at least an Intel Core i5 at time of writing (Feb 2020) and (b) memory or “RAM” – get at least 4GB, preferably 8GB and (c) storage or “disk” – the more the better. “SSD” storage is faster than “HDD” storage, but costs more. You probably need advice of whether it’s better to go for a smaller SSD or a larger HDD for about the same price, but in any case I’d want at least 128GB of SSD storage (preferably more for most people) or at least 1TB or HDD storage.

    After that, you can think about screen size, colour, etc. Many laptops no longer come with a CD or DVD drive – does this matter to you? (You could always buy an “external” one and plug it in. Same with 128GB of SSD storage – it this isn’t enough for you, you could always buy an “external HDD” and just plug it in to provide more storage. (Even so, I’d never have less than 128GB of SSD storage, although such laptops are readily available. Too little internal storage and you won’t even be able to do Windows updates.)
  2. Your data. This is stuff you’ve created or stored on the old PC (documents, photos, spreadsheets, presentations, maybe some mail items), and is personal to you – you can’t just buy it. Or it’s things like music, movies, and audiobooks that you’ve bought and downloaded.

    These can usually just be “copied across” to the new computer (although there can sometimes be problems with copyright material such as movies that you’ve bought).
  3. Programs. Some programs (or “apps”) are provided with Windows, some aren’t. The ones that aren’t might be free, or might need to be paid for.

    Programs can’t generally just be “copied across”, they have to be re-installed on the new computer. So let’s say you had a copy of Microsoft Office 2003 on your old computer. To get that on the new computer it will need to be re-installed, which raises a number of questions: do you still have the original DVD from which is was installed? Do you still have the “product key” that cam with it? Is the product key still valid? Does the new PC have a DVD reader? Does Office 2003 actually work on Windows 10 (the fact it worked on Windows 7 proves nothing).

    If it’s not possible to reinstall a specific program (and you still want it), you’ll have to buy a new version. So it’s probably time to replace Office 2003 with a later version. You could download Office 365 from Microsoft for a subscription of £60 per year, or maybe you could use something similar, but free. Something like Libre Office.

    A particular concern is mail. Some people do everything online these days, so their mail and messages is all on Facebook or Gmail, say. But many (usually older) people still use either a paid-for mail program (for example Outlook) or a free mail program such as Windows Live Mail or the Windows 10 “Mail” app. It may well be that the free mail program that you used on the old PC is not available on the new PC, so you make have to learn a new mail program, and – if you have years of stored mail – it may be necessary to copy mail, contacts, calendar, and to-do entries from one computer to another, and maybe import them into a different mail program. This can all be tricky, and is very dependent on individual circumstances.
  4. Hardware. You new PC will need to be attached to your broadband (usually easy if you know the wi-fi password) and any printers and scanners (etc) that you want to use. This can be tricker: such devices need a “driver” to work with Windows, and if your moving from Windows 7 to Windows 10, you’ll need a Windows 10 driver. For newer, reputable, models of printer such a driver will often be download automatically be Windows 10. But sometimes such a driver has to be downloaded manually (and there are websites out there that offer drivers for download that in fact contain a virus) or – especially if the printer is over about six years or from a less supportive manufacturer, such a driver may not exist (because the manufacturer hasn’t written one) in with case your old printer probably won’t work with Windows 10, ever though it did work with Windows 7.
  5. History. Stored passwords, autofill or suggestions when you start to type a website or email recipient, and a few other things depend on the computer’s memory of what you have previously typed. The new computer won’t initially have this memory, which surprises some people, but is will build up again over time, of course. The memory of some things can be copied across, but it’s tricky and not usually worth is. Stored passwords can be retrieved, but you should be keeping a secure record, of course. See my article on Password Managers.

Finally, it helps to understand that each of your type of data needs a particular program to view/play it. So your music file needs a music program to play it; your picture file needs a picture viewer to display it; your document needs a word processing program to show and edit it, and your spreadsheet needs a spreadsheet program to view and edit it.

One type of file can often be handled by different programs, and this especially seems to confuse people moving from Windows 7 to Windows 10. So take your picture files (often called “jpg” files): it may be you had your Windows 7 set up to use “Windows Photo Viewer” to display such files. Now, Windows 10 doesn’t include “Windows Photo Viewer” but it does include an app called “Photos” which will display .jpg files. But it’s a different program, so although your photo will look he same, to print it may be different that what you were used to with Windows Photo Viewer.

It’s the same with (say) music or spreadsheets. Just because you produced all you spreadsheets with Excel 2003 (part of Microsoft Office 2003) on Windows 7, doesn’t mean you have to use any version of Microsoft Office on Windows 10. You could use Libre Office (mentioned before), which is free and is well able to open, edit and save Excel 2003 spreadsheets. Or maybe you has iTunes to play music on your old PC: in many cases you don’t have to have iTunes on your new PC (although you could) – there are many other music programs which could play your music files (although some types of music files may contain “DRM” or Digital Rights Management which may prevent you playing (say) content you bought from Apple being played using non-Apple software. This was very unpopulat with users, though, and has largeley – although not completeley – died aout.)

All these problems are soluble, but it takes up-to-date knowledge. Personally, I don’t get on the the Microsoft “Photos” app that comes with Windows 10, so I use InfanView which is much better (and free), but has to be downloaded, it doesn’t come with Windows.

So, in summary, changing your computer is a bit like changing your car. There may be a few new things to learn – the windscreen wiper switch is on the other side – and some things may not be able to be carries forward – the old spare tyres you’d been hoarding may not fit the new wheels. More surprisingly, you may find that your favourite picnic hamper no longer fits in the boot of your new car.

But overall, once you’ve got used to the new car, and sorted out a few niggles, you’ve be glad you bought it. It’s nicer, smoother, more rust-resistant, and safer than the old one!

Choosing a printer

When choosing a printer, you have three main decisions to make:

  • Laser or inkjet? Laser printers (at a reasonable price) only do
    black and white (and grey), but are much cheaper to run (maybe 2p for a typical page) whereas inkjets do colour but are expensive to run (maybe 25p for a typical page). Everyone seems to buy inkjets but, if you don’t need colour I’d always consider a laser.
  • Printer-only or an “all in one” device? An “all-in-one” or
    “multifunction” devices is a printer plus copier plus scanner (and
    sometimes plus fax, but who uses fax any more?) Even a laser will
    scan in colour.
  • Local or network? Local printers attach to a computer’s USB socket, and are only used by that computer. Network printers attach to a router (by wi-fi or sometime by Ethernet c able) and can be used by all computers on the network. Some can also be used by smartphones and tablets.

Buying a PC

Updated 2nd August 2016.

I’m often asked what to look for in a PC (desktop or laptop).

The basic things to get right are the processor (or CPU), the memory (or RAM) and the amount of disk space.

As at August 2014, I recommend that most people go for:

  • CPU: Intel Core i3 or Core i5
  • RAM: at least 4GB
  • Disk: at least 500 GB (which is 0.5 TB)

UPDATE: In August 2016, for a mainstream PC I’d now recommend:

  • An i5 processor rather than an i3.
  • 8GB of memory rather than 4GB.

The older spec (i3 and 4GB) would still be fine as a cheaper PC for people who just need a basic, but decent spec, PC.

Expect to pay around £300 to £400 for a decent PC – either a laptop or a desktop PC not including the screen – expect to pay upwards of £80 for a screen for a desktop PC if you need one (you could maybe keep your existing screen if you have one).

There are cheaper PCs, but they would be slow and/or cheaply made. The price of a decent PC (£300 to £400) doesn’t seem to change much over time: you just get a better spec for the same money as the technology evolves.

Good spec laptop PC.
Good spec laptop PC. Prices change daily – click picture to see current price.

The laptop above was £309.99 on 31st July 2014 when I first uploaded this article. On checking again on 9th Dec 2014, it is now £369.97. But by 15th November 2015 it was £899.48 (and therefore presumably more or less unsaleable).

Price £301.57 on 9th Dec 2014

This one (above) is not quite such a high spec but is still a very good laptop. Click the picture to go to Amazon to see its current  price. On 15th Nov 2015 it was £279.97, which is still good value.

Prices change very frequently, both up and down (often daily) so it’s worth monitoring sites like Amazon for a while to see if any bargains pop up on “Deal of the Day” or similar.   This laptop was £300 in October 2014, it’s £380 now. So a good value PC one day may be only average value then next, or vice versa.

I’ve said above that the processor (CPU) should be an Intel Core i3 or Core i5, which is a good rule of thumb, but things are (a lot) more complicated than that. The CPU is the chip at the heart of he computer – it executes all the instructions that make up every program – so the faster the better. There is a vast range of CPUs made by Intel and AMD, so you may be able to find ones that are just as good. There is a list of “high midrange” CPUs here (use CTRL+F on that page to find the CPU you are interested in).

For example, this looks a good bet at £300 (November 2014), even though it doesn’t use an i3 or i5 processor:

CPU is an Intel N3530
CPU is an Intel N3530

That CPU is in the “high midrange” table (admittedly near the bottom) so might be worth considering.

List of CPUs and their speed
List of CPUs and their speed

 

UPDATE: Operating system should be Windows 10. The free upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 has now ended, so if you want Windows 10, make sure it’s already installed on your new PC.

Windows 10 seems to have come in for a lot of bad press, but I find the things people don’t like about it are mostly superficial and easily changed. Once the changes are made, I find it’s pretty much as good as Windows 7, which people mostly liked.

Laptop manufacturers I like: Asus, Fujitsu-Siemens, Samsung, HP, Lenovo, Toshiba.

Desktop manufacturers I like: Zoostorm, HP.

I’m not a fan of “All-in-One” desktop PCs – they look nice, but if anything goes wrong (the screen fails, for example) or you want to upgrade it, it’s much more of a hassle. Generally All-in-Ones can’t easily have their disk removed (which is a handy “last resort” way of getting photos and suchlike off a failed computer), and (unlike a desktop) you can’t change the screen easily.

I buy from Amazon, Tesco or John Lewis (online or from a shop), all of whom sell laptops with this sort of spec for around £360.

You can get cheaper laptops, but something will have been sacrificed – they will have a slower processor, less memory or a smaller disk.

In the end, once you get the basic spec right, the difference probably comes down to nuances like whether it has HDMI (useful for connecting to some TVs), Bluetooth (useful for connecting to some phone, or some external speakers, etc.)

Generally, I’d say spend between £300 and £350 if you can; less than this will buy you a noticeably poorer PC, more than this probably won’t buy you anything that much better.

Here is a list of good-value PCs on Amazon UK which I produced for a customer on 6th November 2015. If you buy something similar now, make sure it comes with Windows 10 rather than Windows 8.1. The original links :

Windows 8 and anti-virus programs

Every PC needs an anti-virus program, but Windows 8 (and Windows 8.1) users don’t need to buy one.

Windows 8 has a built-in product called “Windows Defender” which provides basic anti-virus protection.

Defender screenshot
Built in to Windows 8

You’ll probably be urged to buy McAfee or Norton if you buy your Windows 8 PC from PC World, but it’s not necessary.

If you install Norton or McAfee (or most other anti-virus programs), they will just disable Windows Defender.

If you then uninstall Norton of McAfee, make sure they (or you) have re-enabled Windows Defender.  Go to Control PanelSystem and SecurityAction Center

You can run MalwareBytes  alongside Windows Defender. The paid-for version is an excellent way to suppement the capabilities of Windows Defender (and does a much better job, in my experience, than Norton or McAfee).