What to Look for in a new PC

There is no longer a single recommendation that can be made for buying computing devices as the most basic ones easily handle the basic needs, while the range of options and power have increased tremendously. It has gotten to the point that you really have know what you want to do with your system to give you any real guidance. Your choices range from 'Smart' phones for the basics for many, through powerful multi-CPU systems for a wide range of uses. About the only general statement that can now be made is to get more storage and memory than you think you'll need as even just your operating system can grow, and you will likely find some new uses for your system than you originally bought it for.

If you find you are stuck among all the options out there, we certainly can talk. Before contacting me, please give a lot of thought to what you want to use a new system for and where you would want to use it.
- If you know what I drink and already know how to get a hold of me, check this rate sheet.
- Otherwise contact me via Konecny Consulting Inc. and we can discuss your options.

Others perspectives:
- LifeHacker comparison
- Don't wimp out on storage, you will invariably run out at some point
- Focus on Your Daily Needs When Buying Electronics

for historic purposes
late 1990s and Windows 9x era recommendations

Created May 1995 in frustration to answering all the requests of "I want to get a computer, what should I buy" from friends, family, co-workers, and even other folks whom have found out that I'm in the industry and periodically updated ever since so here goes my minimums specification list aimed for new Home PCs for non-tech types but suitable as a base for all uses(including business usage)
- Pentium with MMX or a Pentium II as a minimum CPU. More and more of today's software (especially games and CAD) are already demanding Pentium(586) for optimum performance and in another year or two there will be software that demands the MMX extensions to the original Pentium and now part of the standard Pentium II.

- 256KB of secondary cache

- 32MB of RAM (using minimal number of SIMMs to leave room for expansion) 72pin SIMMs are the best right now (EDO versions 60NS or better) but there are some new types now vying to be the next standard. (you may think you need less RAM, but you will be mistaken, it usually costs more to add it later and many Windoze 3.1x apps now require 8MB to work and only start to fly at 12+MB, Win95 only starts be useful at 16MB, so don't kid your self with less)

- the system should be capable of having at least 256MB or RAM and any system aimed at power users should be able to handle 512MB of RAM if not more

- 3 local bus slots (PCI is the only real option now days)

- Enhanced IDE (vs. old regular IDE) for harddrive & CD-ROM a good SCSI system can be used instead if U know what R doing and need to attach many different drives

- 2GB harddrive minimum, the more the better as it WILL fill up! (especially when you aren't looking)

- CD-ROM x20 speed or better(though DVD players are rapidly becoming the better buy), SCSI or EIDE (others are not acceptable) and drivers that will load even when there is no disk in the drive(i.e. turn on PC, load programs, then insert CD-ROM)

- serial port(s) with buffered UART (16550A)

- mouse port or second serial port

- Enhanced Parallel Port (EPP)

- local bus Video with 1MB VRAM (if you do any kind of graphics work you'll want to look at towards 2MB or better systems)

- 14" monitor(15" and 16" are about right for most people), .28 dot pitch or finer (.25 is GOOD, forget .31), 72hz at 1024 x 768 none-interlaced resolution (not 72hz at 640 x 480 and 60hz at 1024 x 768) Take a good look at the monitor in use and treat it like you would speakers on a good stereo system, the quality more than size will determine the enjoyment of your whole system

- 1.44MB 3.5" floppy, 2.88 would be nice, 1.2MB 5.25" is history unless you have a specific need for one.

- a mouse and keyboard that feels nice to you hands and typing style

- check that the internal hardware clock rolls over to the year 2000 correctly (i.e. set the clock to 23:58:00 Dec.31,1999 and turn off the system for two minutes then see if the clock is correct after that (it seems that many people in the industry think that PCs are crushed less than 5 years after their manufacture)

- check that the CMOS battery is replaceable or at a minimum, that an 'external' battery be added (Flash RAM CMOS reduces this need a lot but make sure that your PC's clock will still be ticking when the PC is turned off)

- make sure you get all the documentation for your new PC and then make sure that it is readily available at all times (computers, like cars, rarely die when it is convenient)

- make sure that you get all the installation disks & CD-ROMs for your system as you never know when you'll have to totally reinstall the entire system from scratch to get it back into shape. Most folks will have to do this every couple of years or so, I have to do it every 6 to 9 months on my system.

if you are doing any real amount of multitasking and/or using Microsoft's Windows NT more than 32MB of RAM will be needed in addition to a Pentium II CPU and lots (3GB+) of uncompressed harddrive space.


- modem (for BBS & InterNet access) a well known v.34 (the real 28.8 spec) if you plan on any real amount of access, especially for InterNet/Web access. v.fast and v.FC were the industries first bash at a 28.8 spec and should be ignored in modems unless they come as part of the v.34 modem the 33.6kbps is almost ratified as the v.34bis standard and should be safe to with on top of the regular v.34 There are 2 competing almost standards for 56Kb systems, both that will only work in certain situations so you take your chances with that

- sound card(for games) Creative Lab's "Sound Blaster 16" my only reservation is that this and all the other good ISA sound cards limit your programs to only the first 16MB of RAM with any remaining being used for cache. This in not a big problem up to 64MB of RAM but the performance hit gets exponentially bigger past that. To date I haven't seen any solution other than where the sound system is built into the system board on the PCI part of the bus

Remember that upgrades are not as easy as they say it is, it is very much like surgery, there is always a chance of something 'dying' when your computer is opened up. and it is always easier and often cheaper to get everything you'll need up front. The best 'surgeon' is the one who knows his patient really well due to repeated work, so if you're in the industry and like tinkering with the hardware just make sure that you are grounded when your hands are in the PCs guts.

This page was last updated on 2014-06-20