Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

How to buy a computer

Looking for a flawless, dispassionate method you can use when buying your next computer?

The email I pasted below comes pretty close. George Butters, CEO of, recently sent this email to a group listserv I belong to. It describes his specific (and relatively advanced) needs, but the first paragraph gives you the three steps you need to take to prevent computer-buyer’s remorse. (Thanks to George for giving me permission to publish his email here.)

How to buy a computer…

Begin by determining its primary purposes. Then find the best software to accomplish those purposes. Then find the best computer you can afford to run that software.

My current laptop is a 4-yr old Macbook (which will be replaced this year). The primary requirement was a laptop that could take a live feed from a high-end video camera and be used as a streaming video box, and for out-of-office video editing. It’s a bit heavier than I’d like, but it performed its primary goals admirably.

The machine before that was a Sharp ultralight with a fabulous screen, excellent keyboard and weighed in at about 3.5 lbs (including power adapter and spare battery). It cost more than $3,000 in 1999, but I was traveling extensively at the time and a tiny powerhouse I could slip into a folio was a big deal. On my first cross-country flight, the battery set lasted for more than 7 hours. My companion’s died after about an hour and he spent the first day in LA playing catchup.

I’m back to traveling again, the Macbook is showing its age, video files are much bigger, video ports have changed, so I’m on the hunt for a new machine.

What will it cost? I don’t know. That’s usually one of the last issues on my list.

It will have to be light, super fast, have a number of ports that can handle HiDef video. But the search is really based on finding the right video editing software since that’s the key objective.

Once that’s nailed down, then it’s find a light, fast computer than can handle it.

In terms of costs over the life of a computer, the hardware is usually the least expensive part. Software is usually more, but the time and effort you put into creating and manipulating files will make those other two categories look minuscule by comparison.