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Five Things to Consider When Buying a Computer

Form Factor: Desktop vs. Laptop

Deciding between a laptop and desktop is primarily an exercise in identifying how and where you plan to use a computer. Answering these three simple questions should set you on the right path.

Where are you going to use it?
Obviously, you'll need to answer whether or not you plan to travel with your computer. If you need to work on your commute, or take notes in class, a desktop is clearly out of the question. If you'll be using your computer in a cramped dorm room, a small apartment, or a bedroom, though, you may want to opt for an all-in-one desktop -- or, for even more space savings, what's known as a "desktop replacement notebook" (essentially, a large, high-powered laptop). Those in the market for a living room PC should be eying small form factor (SFF) boxes that will better blend with home theater equipment and game consoles. If you're not sure where you're going to be using your machine, as you'll be lugging it from place to place, you'd do well to opt for an ultra-light laptop.

What are you going to use it to do?

If you're going to be doing heavy video editing, photo editing, or gaming, you'll definitely want to consider a desktop PC that can be upgraded and sports a large (20 inch+) screen. Media and gaming addicts who are willing to sacrifice some screen real estate and performance for the sake of mobility should gravitate towards the desktop replacements with 17-inch screens. Those who spend their days buried in sprawling spread sheets might also benefit from a desktop or large-screened notebook. If you only wish to browse the Web, check e-mail, and compose the occasional Word doc, you should check out a notebook with a screen no larger than 15 inches.

Is this a secondary computer?
This should be another obvious one. If you already have a desktop, then opt for a laptop. Do you have a laptop, but want something more portable for light e-mail use? Then check out the netbook scene. And if you're looking for a second machine just to get Hulu or Netflix streaming on your TV, then look for nettops or SFF PCs.

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