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Holiday Electronic Device Guide

If you are looking to purchase a computer, laptop, or mobile device there are a few questions you should ask yourself before you start.

Do you need a laptop or a desktop?

Laptops have become more and more popular throughout the years. If you plan to use your computer in many different locations, then a laptop is great. But keep in mind that they are less powerful for the money. If you plan on just using the computer in one room, you can save a lot by buying a desktop.

What are you going to do with the computer?

Will you be creating or editing graphics, music, or video? Then you need a lot of RAM (random access memory). If you’re planning on watching a lot of movies or listening to CDs, you want to make sure that your computer includes a DVD/CD-ROM Drive. If you’re planning on playing video games on your computer, you want to look into what sort of graphics cards are available.

What is your price range?

Sure, this question is obvious, but take the time to do the math correctly. Think of what additional bills you might have (e.g. new internet package), as well as how this will save you money. For example, you might use your computer to watch movies instead of getting a new DVD player, or you might be able to use Skype to save on a long-distance phone calls.

Would you actually prefer a tablet?

If you’re not planning on doing more than surfing the Internet or checking email, then you might want to consider saving some money and just getting a tablet. Many tablets have the ability to attach a keyboard to make typing easier than on a touch screen.


Beyond these basic questions there are some specifications you will also want to consider. This information will tell you things like how fast the computer is or how much information it can store.

Processor: Also known as the CPU, the short and simple of processors is in the number of cores and the speed (labeled in GHz or Gigahertz) of the processor. The speed of the chip will tell you how much data it can process in how much time, so the bigger the number, the better. The number of cores functions as a multiplier, as the processor is actually a stack of cores that each run at the listed speed (e.g. a single-core 2GHz processor is a lot slower than a four-core 2GHz processor). Multiple cores can also help with multitasking, as each can be working on different tasks. If you don’t use a lot of programs at the same time, you may be content with just one or two cores and don’t need to fork out the extra cash to snag a few more.

RAM: Nowadays most RAM is measured in gigabytes, and as is often the case, the more the merrier. By having more RAM, your computer is able to keep more data close at hand, rather than having to go digging around through the slower hard drive for the information it needs. Of course, because RAM is smaller, there is only so much room for data. That’s why it’s useful to have more RAM if you want to keep multiple tasks going at the same time and be able to jump between them relatively quickly. If you’re also a criminal of having too many web browser windows open at the same time, more RAM will make that a lot easier.

Storage: If you plan to just have your computer and no peripherals, you may want to opt for the biggest hard drive you can (measured in gigabytes, or terabytes for extra large drives), since all of your files and programs will be stored on the computer. If you don’t plan to have many applications on your computer, and won’t store media on it, then you can opt for a smaller hard drive and save yourself some money. If you can handle a small hard drive, but want to it be extra fast, and you have the cash, consider going for a solid-state drive, or flash hard drive.

Where to Buy:

Once you have made a decision of what to buy, you need to decide where to buy it from.  Choose Where You Shop Wisely. There are many locations to buy a computer, however, it is not just which computer you buy, but where you choose to buy it. Some of your options include:

  • Local “mom & pop” computer retailers
  • Chain electronics stores (e.g., Best Buy)
  • Office supply stores
  • All-purpose superstores (e.g., Walmart & Target)
  • Primarily web-based manufacturers (e.g., Dell & Gateway)

Think about the advantages and disadvantages of each. What type of store will give you the lowest price? Which store will you give you the most personal experience? Is purchasing a used or rebuilt computer a good idea considering how many inexpensive new computers are available? Where will you find the most knowledgeable salespeople? And finally, which location will best assist you according to your needs?

For example, if you’ve never purchased a computer before, you may want the extra support that informed salespeople can offer at local computer retailers, chain electronics stores, and primarily web-based manufacturers. Discount online retailers and all-purpose superstores may not give you enough support in this big decision. It is important that you weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each location and choose the one that will best meet your needs. For more information on places to purchase a computer, download our computer purchase handout here.

You can also find more detailed information on selecting the right device for you in our Holiday Electronic Device Guide class handout.

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