What You Need to Know About Buying a Windows 8.1 PC

Purchasing a Windows 8.1 PC doesn't have to be the confusing process you went through the last time you bought a PC. Here's everything you need to know about buying a Windows 8.1 PC:

  • Decide if you’re going to use a touch screen.

    If you know that you won’t be using the tiled “Metro” side of Windows very much, a touch screen won’t hurt, but it probably isn’t worth the additional expense. Experienced, mouse-savvy Windows users often find that using a mouse and a touch screen at the same time is an ergonomic pain in the ar . . . m.

    Until Microsoft gets its Office act together, don't try to use Office with a touch screen. Unless you have fingertips the size of pinheads — or you always use a stylus — Microsoft Office on a touch screen is an excruciating experience.

  • If you’re going to use the old-fashioned, Windows 7–style desktop, get a high-quality monitor, a solid keyboard, and a mouse that feels comfortable.

    Corollary: Don’t buy a computer online unless you know for a fact that your fingers will like the keyboard, your wrist will tolerate the mouse, and your eyes will fall in love with the monitor.

  • If you’re going to use the tiled Metro side of Windows 8.1, get a screen that’s at least 1366x768 pixels — the minimum size to support all of Metro’s features.

    Although a touch-sensitive screen isn’t a prerequisite for using the Metro side of Windows 8.1, you’ll find it much, much easier to use Metro apps with your fingers than with your mouse. Microsoft allows hardware manufacturers to sell small tablets with 1024x768 screens and call them “Made for Windows.” Unfortunately, the under-pixeled screens can’t use Metro Snap; they’re stuck with running just one Metro app at a time.

    There’s no substitute for physically trying the hardware on a touch-sensitive Windows 8.1 computer. Hands come in all shapes and sizes, and fingers, too. What works for size XXL hands with ten thumbs (present company included) may not cut the mustard for svelte hands and fingers experienced at taking cotton swabs out of medicine bottles.

  • Go overboard with hard drives.

    In the best of all possible worlds, get a computer with a Solid State Drive (SSD) for the system drive (the C: drive) plus a large hard drive for storage.

    How much hard drive space do you need? How long is a string? Unless you have an enormous collection of videos, movies, or songs, 1TB (= 1,024GB = 1,048,576MB = 1,073,741,824KB = 1,099,511,627,776 bytes, or characters of storage) should suffice. That’s big enough to handle about 1,000 broadcast-quality movies. Consider that the printed collection of the U.S. Library of Congress runs about 10TB.

    If you’re getting a laptop or Ultrabook with an SSD drive, consider buying an external 1TB or larger drive at the same time. You’ll use it.

  • Everything else they try to sell ya pales in comparison.

If you want to spend more money, go for a faster Internet connection and a better chair. You need both items much more than you need a marginally faster, or bigger, computer.

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