I’ve been helping a few friends buy new PC’s (mostly laptops) and I thought I’d pass on some advice. So here are few tips to for buying a PC and setting it cheaply.
Memory – If you’re buying a PC mostly for web surfing and productivity applications the only thing I’d worry about (besides size and weight) is memory. If you scrooge on everything else you should splurge on ample memory. In shopping for laptops recently I’ve seen lots of great deals on laptops for under $1k with 1 gigabyte of RAM.
Rip out the crap – Often times when you buy a PC from Dell or another big vendor you get a PC loaded with all kinds of trial and promotional software. I rip this stuff out by going to the control panel and adding/removing programs. All of these services want you to sign up and pay something, and if you don’t pay they usually keep bugging you. It gets annoying and it also slows your machine down. So rip it out. There are free alternatives to most of what you need.
Run Windows XP service pack 2 – Before you do anything on the internet make sure you have the Windows Firewall included with WIndows XP service pack 2 turned on. Something nasty will infect your computer in minutes if you’re not careful. An even better idea is to access the internet using a router (like a Linksys) while also using the Windows Firewall.
Security – Consider using another browser besides Microsoft’s included Internet Explorer. I love Firefox but Opera makes a good browser too. The main advantage with these browsers is that they are used by a relatively small percentage of internet users. Virus writers who want to take to inflict maximum damage devote their efforts to writing viruses that target Microsoft Internet Explorer more than anything else.
Take advantage of good freeware:
For anti-virus I use AVG free. Works well and doesn’t bug me with upgrade messages. For spyware control I use Spyware Search and Destroy which is free (donations accepted). Some say that it might be wise to employ a second anti-spyware tool but I think that a combination of AVG, Spyware S&D, a good firewall, and a browser other than IE is adequate for safe computing.
Try the latest edition of OpenOffice. OpenOffice works well for basic office stuff but for complicated Excel stuff you’ll need Microsoft Excel. In the past OpenOffice has been known to run slow on Windows but expect thing to improve now that Google is working to improve the product. For IM I like the basic version of Trillian. Works well with all the major IM networks.
For playing damn near any type of audio or video try VideoLAN. It runs very nicely on Windows and I haven’t found a file that I couldn’t play on it yet.
Anyway, those are my tips but I’m sure others have more. Feel free to write any in the comments area.