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How to Buy a Computer, 2nd Edition

by Myles White

Buying a computer remains a daunting task. Prices are still high and the technology is incredibly complex and unstable. These two reasons alone make computer shopping more akin to car shopping than shopping for, say, a microwave or a VCR. It takes some education and planning to get a good balance between price and performance. Enter Myles White, Toronto’s accomplished scribe of all things computerish.

The second edition of How to Buy a Computer (the first was released in 1995) is for those who are prepared to invest the time necessary to understand what they are buying. Although White does not expect readers to pull out a soldering iron and start hardwiring their system, they are expected to understand the difference between hardware and software, and RAM and ROM.

Assuming one has that basic knowledge (or is prepared to acquire it), the book is immensely useful. And for those who’ve bought computer systems before, White’s book is a good way to brush up on what has happened since they last bought.

According to the author’s strategy, computer buyers should develop a plan that defines what they want to do with their computer; talk with people they trust about their own experiences in computer buying; check prices through ads to determine how much they want to spend; and check retailers for their degree of business stability and customer service. It’s sound advice.

Chapters include a mix of technical and consumer concerns, ranging from a lesson on “Reading Computer Ads” to “Motherboards and Chipsets.” It touches on great debates like PC vs. Mac, and when (and if) your computer will finally be able to deliver all forms of video and audio.

There’s plenty of fundamental advice for the beginner – never look to computer salespeople for guidance; there’s no such thing as too powerful a computer because your needs invariably grow once you start using a system; buy a machine similar to those of friends or family, because you’ll be placing a few frustrated, after-dinner calls to them for help in the near future; and beware system envy – that moment when you realize an acquaintance has a far better computer and you suddenly think yours is a complete piece of junk.

In the end, White notes, you have to eventually just let go, stop fretting, and make a purchase. The conditions of indecision are eternally present in the computer buying world. Nothing ever gets easier, because nothing ever stays the same.

“Prices for existing systems always go down. Newer, fancier, and faster systems appear at the old top price point, and there is always something newer and faster just around the corner. There’s no point in waiting. The time to buy a computer is when you need one. It will open up new worlds for you and your family. Make it fun.”

White’s book makes it just that.