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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Introduction To The PC Buyer's Guide ]

Common Mistakes Made By PC Buyers

Many years in the PC industry, and extensive research and discussions with those who sell PC components and systems, have exposed me to more horror stories than I could care to count. Making these sorts of mistakes doesn't mean a person is "stupid"; errors are typically a function of limited knowledge and experience. If you've made these types of mistakes in the past you are in good company, myself most definitely included.

Here, in no particular order, are the most common categories of mistakes I see made frequently by those buying PCs:

  • Hurrying The Purchase: Most people do not spend nearly as much time on major purchases as they should. I read somewhere once that a large percentage of those shopping for a new automobile sign a contract the first day they go shopping! The same is likely true of PC shoppers. There is no way to do a good job of buying something important if you are in a big rush. Ironically, in many cases someone will decide on a new system in an hour, even though they will have to wait days until they receive it and can set it up anyway! And how much time does it cost you later on, if you buy the wrong system or one of poor quality?
  • Buying Whatever Is Convenient: Closely related to the item above, many people will only consider purchasing a PC from whatever stores are close to them, even though this usually guarantees that they will make a bad purchasing decision.
  • Putting The Cart Before The Horse: I'd estimate that over half of PC buyers never bother to take the critical first step of assessing what their needs and requirements are. Jumping to "the solution" before you understand "the problem" is a common trait in our society and one that invariably leads to poor results.
  • Magic Number and Buzzword Bafflement: The PC industry shamelessly over-promotes a few "magic numbers" and buzzwords as supposedly representing performance, and PC buyers unwittingly use these to guide their purchase decisions. In reality, the actual impact of differences in these numbers and acronyms ranges from moderate to absolutely nothing, while less high-profile characteristics that greatly impact system usability are left unemphasized or even unexamined.
  • Over-Purchasing: The days when you had to spend a minimum of several thousand dollars to get a PC are gone. While a decade ago purchasing too little PC was a very common problem, today buying too much is probably more prevalent. Many purchasers are convinced by unscrupulous vendors that they need a certain amount of hardware "for the Internet", or that they should "buy for the future", when the rapidly changing PC market means that this is almost always a waste of money.
  • Buying Imbalanced Systems: As a result of not understanding requirements analysis and system design, and the prevalence of magic numbers and buzzwords, systems are often purchased that are crippled by being under-powered in one key component, or are "one-dimensional" and won't work well for a variety of uses.
  • Mismanaging Vendors: Insufficient research is done by most buyers before they select a vendor, even though vendor selection is one of the most important aspects of purchasing a PC. The purchase itself is often mishandled by the buyer, particularly on mail order systems. Problems with vendors are often not resolved to the satisfaction of the customer, and far too many people let vendors get away with behavior that ranges from inappropriate to illegal.
  • Buying PCs The Same Way As Toasters: Even if sold as integrated units, PCs are inherently systems, comprised of components that must be individually considered. Despite the efforts of many manufacturers to get customers to nonchalantly view PCs as household appliances, they aren't.
  • Being Intimidated: Computers are fairly complex, but buying a good PC is not brain surgery. Far too many people write off the task as "unknowable" and turn for advice to salespeople who often know less about PCs than someone who takes even a couple of hours to read up on the subject. In the process, they place themselves at the mercy of a person who often has very different motives and interests than they do.

Next: "Value"--What Does That Mean Anyway?

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