Question: What kind of laptop or PC should I buy?

If you've been asked this question multiple times, here's what to respond back to them.

Written by Jonathan "JD" Danylko • Last Updated: • General •

Woman with Laptop on a chair

When you start in IT, you almost instantly need to know what kind of machine you need for your career (or should have a general understanding since this IS your career). The funny thing is that everyone else wants to know what kind of PC they should buy as well. Who better to ask than the awesome guy who's been in the technology field for 20+ years.

So you get bombarded by questions such as "Should I buy a refurbished laptop or a cheap laptop?," "Should I just buy a cheap laptop?," or "Should I get a netbook or a laptop?"

But the biggest question you'll be asked is "What kind of laptop or PC should I buy?"

When you get a user who knows little about computers, it may be a little frustrating at first, but they'll trust your judgement if you understand what they're looking for in a computer.

The following steps should give you a better understanding of how to answer this question and help you (and users) determine how to find that awesome laptop.

  1. "What will you be using the laptop for?" - Determine the requirements of the computer.

    Anytime someone asks you "what kind of laptop should I buy?", you should almost always ask this question immediately.

    This tells you the power of the PC they are interested in for either themselves or Bobby who's going off to college.

    Should the laptop be a powerhouse for an AutoCAD designer or should it be a simple netbook or low-end laptop for general word processing or number-crunching (such as Word or Excel)? You wouldn't want to send a developer off to college with a netbook (unless you WANT him to be teased).
  2. "Should I buy a netbook or a laptop?" - Determine the type of the computer.

    Netbooks started out early 2007 and are still doing quite well in the market. The main reason for the netbooks was low weight and low cost while still having the computing power to get the job done.

    You shouldn't recommend a netbook to a developer when they need the horsepower. If you recommend a Netbook to a user, they should only be doing email, word processing, and general spreadsheet functionality. Otherwise, recommend a laptop or PC.
  3. "How much xxx do I need?" - Determine the extras for the laptop.

    The xxx above can be replaced with "hard drive space" or "memory." Do you really need 8GB of memory? Do you need a 1TB hard drive? Again, it depends on the need of the user. After asking the first question above, you should have a general understanding of their laptop or PC.

    If they are a power user or developer, there is a saying in the technology industry, "You can never have too much memory or hard drive space." Get as much memory and hard drive space as you can. Otherwise, "stock" parts that come with the computer are fine.
  4. "What brand should I buy?" - Determine the type of support.

    This is definitely a loaded question and even gets into some "religious" debates with some technology folks ("I live and die by Dell" or "Apple forever!").

    When you buy a netbook, laptop, or PC and walk out the door, it doesn't stop there. You need a company to back you up on supporting the user. That company has to provide exceptional support for the device you just recommended.

    Along with this recommendation, each manufacturer can have their up-years and down-years. So if you recommend a (fictional company) laptop and their service is spectacular one year and the next year it sucks, your friend/relative/user probably won't trust your judgement anymore.

    A couple of places to refer them to when determining which brand to buy: Laptop Magazine ( and CNet.
  5. "Should I buy a refurbished laptop or a cheap laptop?" - Determine the user's budget.

    Most techies don't shy away from refurbished laptops or cheap laptops, but your user isn't a techie.

    Make sure if they decide to go with a refurbished laptop that they receive a guarantee or warranty on the device. This will allow them to call the manufacturer without calling you all of the time.

    If they decide to buy a used laptop from someone, it's just like buying a car. Have them take a fellow IT person with them to inspect the laptop, netbook, or PC before purchasing it. Bribe the IT guy with dinner or something.
  6. "Could you build me a computer?" - Determine Why?

    This question always sends chills down a techies spine. Lately, it seems that computers are becoming so cheap that buying a computer MAY BE cheaper than building one. Trust me, I know.

Over time, these answers will become second nature to you. In advancing your career, you'll find other factors that interest your users "Do I need a webcam?" or even scarier "Could you build me a computer?"

I hope these questions can help my fellow techies out there from becoming the technical support guru of the family.

Did I miss any questions that you've been asked before? Post them below in the comments.

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Picture of Jonathan "JD" Danylko

Jonathan Danylko is a web architect and entrepreneur who's been programming for over 25 years. He's developed websites for small, medium, and Fortune 500 companies since 1996.

He currently works at Insight Enterprises as a Principal Software Engineer.

When asked what he likes to do in his spare time, he replies, "I like to write and I like to code. I also like to write about code."

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