How to Choose Between Two Computers

A LockerGnome reader asks:

I’m going to be starting college in the Fall of 2011 and I am in the hunt for a laptop. I don’t really need a Mac, but I love the ease of use the OS offers. While most of my experience is with a Windows PC, I can’t help but to consider the Mac due to its looks and overall reliability. What do you think?

Deciding between what you need and what you want can be tricky, especially when what you want can help you get the job done in much the same way without failing to achieve the need your alternative would fulfill.

Here are a few suggestions to help you decide between two computers you want, no matter what their brand or operating system may be:

Can I Afford Them?
This is a common question among people considering differences between two pieces of similar technology. Often, the computer with the most power and/or eye candy comes complete with a higher price tag. In this case, you’re deciding between a Mac and a PC, but this decision could easily be between two systems with matching operating systems.

Before you even begin to consider anything else, you should determine if you actually have the financial capacity to grab the pricier option. If you bite off more than you can chew financially, it could lead to serious problems in the short and long term. The sticker shock of some text books, for example, comes as a nasty surprise for many students as they enter college.

Which Choice Will I Be Happier With in a Year?
If you’ve determined that both computers are within your buying range, the next question to ask yourself is whether or not you believe you’ll still be happy with each system a year from your purchase date. Usually, when you buy a computer, it is expected to last anywhere from 2-5 years before becoming obsolete. For many power users, that time period can be perceived to be much shorter and create a buyer’s remorse after the fact.

Even though it is important to consider immediate needs when making your decision, you also need to take in to account what you may be taking for the next year or two. Chemistry doesn’t require powerful hardware to study or work on, but a graphics design or video editing course may. Does the operating system on the computer you choose have the ability to work with the programs you may need to use to get through your coursework?

What Are My Software Needs?
When deciding between OS X and Windows, you may also want to take in to account any software you may need to use to get through your coursework. Are you taking a class that needs you to become proficient with a program that is only available on Windows? This is less of a problem now thanks to more universal programs being developed. Macs are also able to run Windows through programs like Boot Camp or Parallels.

Some systems come with an included suite of software to help you get started. For example, new Macs come with the iLife Suite which gives you fairly powerful video, music, and photo applications that allow you to get right to work without spending more on software. With a Windows machine, you’ve got access to Windows Live Essentials as well as some third-party programs included through the manufacturer.

Do I Have Time to Learn a New Operating System?
If you need to be up and running with your new computer right away, you may not have time to tackle the learning curve of a new operating system. Early frustrations, intensified by stress of a deadline or project, can lead to serious buyer’s remorse. If you’re unfamiliar with an operating system, it’s important to make sure you have a few days to get accustomed to things prior to any desperate deadlines requiring proficiency.

What Are Their Weaknesses?
Lastly, if it looks like a stalemate, examine each option by its weaknesses rather than its strengths. This is where computer shopping can get really confusing. By wiping your mind of all the bells and whistles and concentrating on which one has faults your most willing to overlook, you’re probably going to end up with a choice you’ll be happier with in the long run.

Does one have terrible battery life? Is battery life that important to you? Is one heavy and hard to lug around, especially when compared to the other? Do you plan to take it with you often? Hopefully using this method, the choice will be easier than concentrating on the shiny bits. 16 gigs of RAM doesn’t amount to much if the battery dies on you during class.

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