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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Requirements Analysis | Determining Your PC Requirements ]

PC Requirements Factors and Tradeoffs

When considering what your requirements are for a PC, there are a number of different "factors" or categories to consider. To understand best what your priorities are, you should consider these various factors and which ones are most important to you. As with most things, you really can't "have it all". Getting the system that is right for you is a matter of balancing the various requirements considerations based on your particular needs and wants.

Here are the key fundamental requirements factors--there are likely many others but these are the most important to most people--and the questions to ask yourself when considering each:

  • Cost/Budget: How much will the PC cost? This requirement trades off against all of the others, because more performance, upgradeability, reliability and so on can often be purchased at a higher price. How much do you have to spend on a PC? What is the value of a PC that better meets the other requirements? Budget considerations are covered in detail here.
  • Performance: A measure of the PC's power or speed; its ability to run programs quickly and smoothly. How important is the "power level" of the system? Do you need to run demanding software? Is having fast access to your data critically important? Do you get frustrated when you have to wait a couple of seconds for something to happen on the PC, or is this no problem for you? For a full discussion of performance issues, see here.
  • Expandability and Upgradeability: Expandability refers to the ability to add components and capabilities to the PC with a minimum of fuss; upgradeability is similar but generally refers to replacing components with newer, high-performance ones. For some buyers these are very important, as they let the PC be improved in performance, capacity and reliability without necessitating the purchase of a whole new machine. For others, they are less significant; many prefer to buy a PC, use it for a period of a few years, and then just buy a new one. Which type of person are you? See here for more discussion of these issues.
  • Reliability and Availability: These are related terms as well. Definitions seem to vary from person to person; reliability generally means how likely the PC is to keep functioning over a period of time without requiring repairs, while availability is what percentage of the time the system is functional for use. As you can see, the concepts are similar but not the same. Reliability is largely a function of component quality, maintenance and a bit of luck. Availability is a function of reliability as well as the speed and effectiveness of technical support and service (or repair). How critical to you is access to your PC? Could you be without it for a day? A week? A month? Are you willing to pay more to avoid long "downtime" in the event of problems?
  • Warranty and Service: Does the PC come with a warranty? How long is it and what are its terms? If service is required, what will it cost and how will it be done? Another important issue is whether the vendor will provide service or the manufacturer--is the distinction important to you?
  • Ergonomics and Usability: Ergonomics is the study of human position, posture and movement during work. In the context of the PC it is usually applied to comfort and "feel" matters related to hardware and should definitely not be ignored. See this section for more discussion of the impact of design on these important use issues.
  • Aesthetics: How does the PC look? If this seems "silly" or "unimportant" to you then you're certainly not alone; realize however that those who consider this important do so for reasons that definitely matter to them. Some PCs are definitely better-looking than others. Some businesses that have to buy a number of PCs want them all to look the same general way--same color, same basic design, for example. And well, some people like the funky translucent cases of some PCs now showing up on the market. To each his or her own, I suppose. :^) Just make sure you don't prioritize this factor over the others!

Next: Desktops vs. Notebooks


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