For Seniors: How to Choose a Computer

You can find several styles of computers on the market, and you may be wondering how you’ll ever choose which one to buy. Some computers, such as laptops, are small and portable. Other computers use different operating systems, such as Windows and Macintosh, to make everything run. Computers may excel at certain functions, such as working with graphics or playing games.

Consider the following features when choosing the type of computer you should buy:

Which computer operating system do you prefer?

Windows is probably the most common computer operating system. However, Macintosh computers from Apple are also popular. Macintosh computers use Apple-specific software. However, many software applications written for Windows are also available for the Macintosh, and you can also set up your Mac to run the Windows operating system, which gives you the best of both worlds.

Some computers run on a freely available operating system called Linux, which has similar functionality to Windows.

Do you want a laptop or PC?

Two types of computers you can buy are a laptop and a desktop. Here’s the difference:

  • A laptop is portable, weighing anywhere from two to eight pounds (the lowest weight ones are called netbooks). The monitor, keyboard, and mouse are built into the laptop. (Note that if the monitor is damaged, you have to pay quite a bit to have it repaired or hook it up to an external monitor.) Choose a laptop (sometimes called a notebook computer) if you want to use your computer mainly away from home, or you have little space in your home for a larger computer.

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  • Desktop models typically have a large tower that contains the computer’s central processing unit (called a CPU). The keyboard, mouse, and monitor are separate. Desktop computers take up more space than laptops and are not portable, but they’re usually less expensive.

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How about pictures and sound on your computer?

If you work with a lot of visual elements (for example, photographs, home movies, or computer games), consider a computer that has a better graphics card. Games often involve sound, so a high-end sound card may also be useful.

Computers with more sophisticated sound and image capabilities are often referred to as gaming or multimedia models and they typically require a larger hard disk to handle these functions. Because the capabilities of these cards change all the time, ask the person you’re buying the computer from whether the system can handle sophisticated sound and graphics.

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