How to buy a computer

I am regularly asked my advice about buying computers. Here are the issues I think are worth considering if you aren’t a computer whiz, but want a decent computer.

Why buy a computer

The first thing to consider is why you want a computer. This will help you set your budget and choose a specification and any extras to meet your needs. If you are not sure why you want to buy a computer, get one that matches some minimum specifications. It will be capable of many things and will set you on the road to learning more. Here are some minimum specifications for different purposes, and basic explanations of what the different specifications mean:

Basic Home/Office Computer
  • Pentium III 500Mhz Processor (This describes the model of processor and how fast it is)
  • 128Mb RAM (This is the computer’s memory, which indicates how many things it can do at one time)
  • 10Gb Hard Drive (This is the space you have for storing files and programmes)
  • 15 Inch Monitor (Any smaller than this is uncomfortable to look at)
  • CD-ROM drive
  • Floppy Disk Drive
  • Keyboard and Mouse
This is the absolute minimum when getting a new computer. A computer with these specifications will enable you to write documents, manage your accounts and run simple databases.
Graphic Design Workstation
  • Pentium 4 1GHz processor
  • 256Mb RAM
  • Graphics Card with 32Mb RAM built in
  • 30Gb Hard Drive
  • 17 Inch Monitor
This is a minimum specification for a computer that will be used for a lot of graphics work – designing business cards, touching up photos and designing web sites etc.
Games Machine
  • Pentium 4 1.5GHz Processor
  • 512Mb RAM
  • Graphics Card with 64Mb RAM built in
  • 50Gb Hard Drive
  • A sound card for playing music and hearing the baddies scream!
  • 17 Inch Monitor
Computer games are probably the most demanding programmes you will ever run. If you want to play the latest, most exciting games you will need a more powerful machine.

It is possible to buy the most basic computer and add more memory, a bigger hard drive or better graphics card if and when you need a higher specification. Changing the processor is more complicated, so if you really want the Games Machine you will probably have to buy that straight out!

How much should you spend?

The above specifications are all rough minimums. Selecting a computer from the above list will help you decide your budget, as will how much you can afford. Do not be tempted to spend much more or less than your budget- any computer is expensive, so don’t disappoint yourself to save a few shillings!

The Basic Home/Office Computer might cost $400-500. The Graphics Workstation might cost $700-800 and for the Games Machine you are looking at over $1000.

Do not stop just yet when it comes to your budget and specifications. A new and better model may be available for the same price. There are also extra’s you will almost certainly want.


You might consider upgrading to a bigger monitor – while you use your computer you look at the monitor the entire time. A bigger one is more comfortable to work with, and paying a little extra for even an extra 2 inches is well worthwhile.

Chances are you want to get online to read email, surf the web, and download all the nasties I always warn about. In that case you need a modem or another device for connecting.

You almost certainly need a printer, especially considering the hassle and huge cost of taking floppy disks into internet cafes in town to print.

Operating System

Another important consideration is which operating system to have installed. Windows comes in a number of flavours – 98, ME, 2000 and XP. Be warned that 98 and ME are rather old now. Microsoft will be phasing them out in the next few years – if you can afford to get 2000 or XP you are wise to spend a little more.

Useful Tips

Look at what is available on web sites like this will give you an idea of the prices people pay in America, and what specifications are currently available. Tanzania is not very far behind on price or the latest models!

Some shops add a lot of extras, some of which are nice, others you don’t need. If you will not be connecting to the internet by dial-up you don’t need a modem – ask to swap it for something else, like a wheel mouse.

Make sure that your computer comes with installation CDs for all the software and especially the operating system – you may need them to install things in future, or fix things if they start acting a little odd. You should at least get pirated CDs along with the pirated software. You are paying for it whether or not the money is going to the original programmers!

Also make sure you check out special offers in the shops – many bundle together a computer, printer, speakers and other goodies for a very attractive price.

Make sure you know how to get the computer set up! The shop assistant should be able to show you how to get it up and running.

Once it is up and running, don’t forget to enjoy your new toy! Explore, and don’t forget – it is just a very fancy calculator.

Originally published in Arusha Times 280


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