Buying a PC? Here’s what you need to know now


If you’re in the market for a new computer, there are things you need to know. Things your PC manufacturer or retailer won’t necessarily share with you.

And with the frenzied days of buying just ahead, now is the time to inform yourself. Otherwise you could end up overpaying — I mean really overpaying — for your next laptop or desktop.

Turns out there’s a time for everything, when it comes to a new PC.

Wait for the new chips
Don’t pay attention to the new models, but instead the new chipsets — the things that power the PCs. “My advice is to buy a new PC right after a new motherboard chipsets come out,” says David Cox, the CEO of an internet company in Cheyenne, Wyo. “You will get the most longevity out of your system that way.” AMD and Intel have released new chips recently. Competition between the two have driven down prices and introduced a lot of cool, new features, according to Cox. “Last time consumers had this much buying power was before 2005,” he adds.

Tune in to “special” days
Antony Vitillo, an artificial reality developer, says certain days are best to buy a PC, beyond Black Friday and Cyber Monday. “Some of them are celebrated by one particular website, like Amazon Prime Day,” he says. Wait for these days to see what deals are being offered. But also, know that there will be other windows that open later. In other words, if you miss Black Friday, don’t worry; Cyber Monday is just a few hours away.

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Hang on for PC buying season
Yes, there’s a season, says Yanatha Desouvre, an information systems professional who has watched the ebb and flow of computer prices for the last two decades. Fall is the best time for a PC purchase. “Manufacturers have back-to-school sales, including printer bundles and other accessories,” says Desouvre. The holiday season is also a good time, with retailers trying to meet or exceed their fourth-quarter sales goals. But perhaps the lowest prices come to those who wait a little longer, a few days after the holidays, when the discounting can reach a frenzy. The worst time? Summer, since prices are high and it’s near the end of the product life cycle. Never buy a PC during the summer.

Purchasing data backs up that assertion. For laptop computers, for example, prices typically drop an extra 8 percent to 25 percent in August and early September, according to DealNews.com. In fact, August had 24 percent more computer deals last year than September did. The PC deals pick up again in November with Black Friday sales, according to the site.


Find out if the coast is clear
PCs rely on components, and the cost of those parts can fluctuate based on demand and other factors. “For example, an earthquake or hurricane can affect pricing of hard drives and memory by creating a temporary shortage of supply to the current demand,” explains Tim Lynch, publisher of Psychsoftpc.com, a computer site. For example, that happened to computer monitors when the production of quality glass was effected by a natural disaster, he says. Always check to make sure your computer’s prices are not artificially inflated by an outside event

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Missed it? March madness awaits
Yet another buying window opens up in March, at the end of the first quarter, according to Todd Millecam, the CEO of SWYM Systems. “They’re getting rid of the stock they couldn’t move for Christmas,” he says. “This is also the best time to buy components to build your own PC.” In other words, manufacturers and retailers are often under immense pressure to move inventory and meet sales goals, and those can favor the buyer at the end of the fourth and first quarters of the calendar year. So watch for aggressive prices in the final days of March.

There’s a bigger question if you’re in the market for a new PC. Should you wait for the newest computer or buy one that’s been available for a while? That’s worth addressing in a story about seasonality, since the most important season is yours. PC expert Itai Danan says consumer typically find the best value in the middle range of the new family of processors.

“Even getting a PC with the lowest speed processor of the newest platform, rather than a faster one of the previous platform, is advantageous. Not only will it last longer but it will also stay upgradable for longer since memory and other compatible components will be available longer.”

Finally, when you have an opportunity to buy a discounted PC, seize it. Sale quantities are limited, notes Eric Rintell, president of Rintell Technologies. “You have to be swift,” he says. “In the past, I have woken up in the middle of the night to ensure that I can purchase the sale PC.”

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To improve your odds, subscribe to sites or newsletters that preview the sales weeks in advance so you can plan ahead. Otherwise, you’ll pay too much for your next PC.


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • Jeff W.

    I don’t subscribe to the “wait for the new chips” theory of purchasing. Most people do not tax their system in such a way where the latest and greatest will make that much of a difference. Someone who is using their computer to read e-mail and browse the web does not need the newest chipset. (Besides, if you wait until the newest comes out, in a few months, something newer is bound to replace it.)

    However, if a new chipset or anything “new”, comes out — you can usually get a great deal on the previous model. Similar to car shopping. When the 2018 cars come out, you can get good deals on the 2017 models, for example. Same thing happens with most technology items.

    With computers, especially desktops, you can usually upgrade components later to make your investment last even longer. Laptops are a little more difficult to upgrade, but certain components can.

  • llandyw

    A couple items I have to mention..

    1. Check around. There’s Amazon (as mentioned above), but also Newegg, CDW, Microcenter and others. Especially if you’re building your own, you might want to first decide what you want in the computer, then get the best deal on each of the components rather than trying to get them all at the same place.

    2. I don’t know why the people cited above say get the latest because it will last longer. Memory is still available for quite old systems. Also, any relatively recent motherboard, say, within the last 7-8 years can use commonly available memory. Just because the memory is rated at a higher speed than the motherboard/processor can, doesn’t mean it can’t be run at a lower speed. Check compatibility at curcial’s website. You don’t have to buy from them, but it will give you the type/speed of memory your system can run.

    3. Don’t overlook flat screen TVs for use on your computer. Most systems these days (including phones) have an HDMI output. As long as the TV has an HDMI input, you’re all set. Some TVs also have DVI and/or VGA for the older systems.

    4. Be careful when buying some types of solid state drives (SSDs). The standard SATA type will work in any recent (8 years old) systems. Some main boards have an M2 SSD socket. However, there’s 2 types and they’re not always easy to tell apart. There’s the PCIe type and the SATA type. Some boards will use up a SATA line if you have a SATA M2 drive installed while others dedicate the M2 socket.

    5. Don’t be afraid to get a “off brand” video card. The vast majority of video cards are made by ATI and NVIDIA. For example, most of the ASUS video boards are made by NVIDIA. You can usually tell if it’s one of the 2 majors since the model will be the same as the manufacturer. For instance (using an older model here), an ASUS GeForce GTX 970 is the same as the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970.

    6. Most computers have a good sound chipset built onto the main board. These days they have the capability to run 7.1 sound typically. But check the reviews, I’m sure there’s some pretty crappy chipsets out there still, especially on the cheaper boards.

    7. Hard drives are at an all time low ($ per gigabyte wise). But there are still sales. About 6 months ago, I got an 8TB hard drive for $170. Same one is currently $180 where I got it. There are sales of these almost all the time.

    8. For complete systems, don’t avoid the manufacturer’s website. Sometimes you can get sales and bargains there, especially if you work for a larger company that has an employee purchase program going with the manufacturer.

    I have been working with computers since the early days of Apple, when the Apple ][ first came out. Since then I have done computer repair work as well as system building. I have a computer engineering degree and currently work as an electronic engineer.

  • DChamp56

    I’m a 30 year IT professional, and most of the stuff written above is by people SELLING PC’s.
    I don’t agree with most of it, sorry.
    My best advice, find someone very knowledgeable in building PC’s, or an IT professional, and ask them what you should buy, based on how much you have to spend.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I agree with DChamp56. I don’t play games on my computer, so if I had it, my old windows 95 machine would be fine for writing and websurfing (well maybe not websurfing). But any machine from the last five years will be good enough for most people. If you’re an avid gamer, making movies, architectural drawings, or using other video rendering resources, ymmv.

  • AMA

    I really miss Dell’s personal customization from years past, when you could literally build your own computer. My brand loyalty bit the dust this spring, when I ended up buying an ACER because the same configuration at Dell cost $200 more and wasn’t modifiable.

  • mcb48204

    I don’t agree with the article at all. I don’t want to build my own computer. I don’t want infinite choices. I don’t want to chase the sales.

    In 1985 an HP touch-screen was exciting, but the documentation stunk and you had to learn DOS commands. No GUI. Not plug-and-play. Lots of software and hardware incompatibilities.
    I am not interested in the PC
    blue screen of death experience
    that has happened at work multiple times over the years. At least at work there is a tech department there to handle it.

    So when I bought my first computer I chose an Apple Macintosh IIsi. I had it for 12 years with NO problems. It still worked flawlessly when I decided to replace it (instead of trying to upgrade it for the Internet). I gave it away to a single mom who wanted it for word processing and kid’s educational games. I knew she would love it.

    At home I want a reliable machine with the local Apple Store for free technical support and education. Their “geniuses” are great at explaining things and they have classes to walk you through new features. I am willing to pay a premium for reliability and plug-and-play ease of use. I recently bought a used MacBook Pro for $400 at the Michigan State University Surplus Store. I would never buy a PC that way. As long as Apple can survive I will buy Apple.

  • mcb48204

    Many artists and chemists use Apple products.

  • Bill___A

    Apple, Linux, and Windows 10 are all viable operating systems at the moment. However, for most people the choice is going to be between Windows and Apple Although Apple may have had “fewer problems” at some times due to Microsoft having various operating systems that were less than desirable, this article is about buying a computer now, not when it was Windows 8 or 8.1 or Vista. So although I encourage those who are more comfortable to get an Apple, I don’t think that the previously used premise of all the Windows problems in the past is a good justification for going to Apple It depends upon what programs you use, who you work with, what kind of phone you have, etc.
    I am in a position to know, I am an IT Professional and I am also not only using these systems, but deal with people who are using all these systems. Actually, if you are someone who just surfs the web and a few other things, a Chromebook is a pretty decent option also (and yes, I do have one of those too).

    i might add that the Apple “Genius Bar” is no longer the only game in town, the Microsoft Store gives free support (to a certain extent), free training, etc.

    My wife uses the iMac and a MacBook (as well as an iPad and an iPhone) I generally use a Surface Pro with a docking station (as well as an iPad and iPhone) but also keep up with Chromebook, MacBook Pro (wife’s old one), Linux and an Android tablet….

  • Bill

    agree … best deals are to be had on the outgoing products and, other than extreme gamers, nobody needs the newest chipset in their computer. as long as it is the current or one generation prior, anyone other than the most advanced power user is going to get six to eight years out of their computer (especially if it’s an Apple product … I’ve had clients with three or four year old Windows computers that cannot be upgraded to Windows 10!)

  • mcb48204

    Part of my point was that this article did not mention Apple products at all.

  • LonnieC

    Is there any advantage for Apple systems over Windows as Apple seem more resistant to viruses, etc.? Especially for folks who are a little less experienced and may be more vulnerable to phishing, etc.?

  • joycexyz

    My advice to someone who wants a PC built–make sure you know MORE than the guy who’s building it. I could tell you stories…
    In addition, very few people need the latest whiz-bang. Email, web-browsing, online banking, etc. don’t require much computing power. Even the cheapest machines on the market today are very capable. I would stick with familiar brands and check out ratings on CNET. Also, Consumer Reports rates computer brands on their frequency of repair records, just as they do with appliances.

  • joycexyz

    IMHO, the reason why Windows machines are more vulnerable is because there are so many more of them. More bang for the buck, to a mischief-maker. Like when Willie Sutton was asked why he robs banks, he replied, “That’s where the money is.” No matter what you get there’s always a risk. Invest in a good security program (Norton, McAfee,…) and use reasonable caution. Lock your door and don’t open it to strangers.

  • LonnieC

    I agree. However, for whatever reason, Windows machines are targeted more often. For the novice, that fact, and Apple’s devotion to security (and less attractive target) provides a little more “off the shelf” safety. Certainly, good security software is critical, as is constant awareness of what’s “out there”. I just have a feeling that a novice may be a little bit safer on an Apple product. Just my opinion….

  • BubbaJoe123

    Unless you’re a gamer, the vast majority of computers out there have more than enough horsepower for your needs.

  • Bill___A

    Might be but there are more protections for PC’s than there were, and for example, the type of phishing attack a client was asking me about today was a “click on this link that will ask for your email and password” which would be effective on any device. My point is that you can be compromised no matter what you use. I have several operating systems, as mentioned before and I think they are pretty much all to the point of being impressive. I’m in a Starbucks right now on an ipad with a keyboard that’s connected to their wi fi (and a VPN). For what I’m doing now, it is more than enough to accomplish the task. One really needs to look at what they do, and what the people they deal with do…..in order to make their decision.

    As to “less experienced” there is a learning curve involved with Mac as well as, say, Windows.

  • Bill___A

    I didn’t think it was a very well put together article, quite honestly. Lots of people do use Apple products quite happily. In this Starbucks I am in at the moment, I see five Apple laptops (a couple of MacBook Airs), two PC type laptops (I am assuming Windows but can’t really check), and one iPad with keyboard (me). Everyone seems quite contented and able to be “working” on their devices, although one fellow on a PC looked at me strangely as I gazed around briefly. The two PC devices are plugged in (and seem to be of older vintage) while only one Apple notebook is plugged in, everyone else is on battery. Of note is the fact that there is one person reading a novel,and several that are visiting and not on computers at all.

  • Bill___A

    I’ve got several older computers upgraded to Windows 10, including one from 2011 and one from 2012….I don’t believe I could update the 2007 apple laptop to sierra, although I do have the MacBook Pro that’s my wife’s most recent “old one” upgraded to High Sierra. Not sure why these three or four year old Windows computers could not be upgraded, quite honestly, that’s unusual.

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