A consumer guide to shopping for computers on Black Friday

If you've been waiting for the year's lowest prices on computers and computer components, Black Friday is right around the corner. In the weeks leading up to Black Friday, you'll find all kinds of advertised computer sales offering incredible discounts on desktops, laptops, netbooks, tablets, hardware and software. To get maximum value for your money, you should brush up on your computer buying basics before heading to your local retailer or shopping online.

Desktop vs. Laptop Computers

In recent years, laptop computers have come down in price dramatically, while their technical specifications and capabilities have consistently improved. These factors, as well as their portability and the rise of wireless Internet connectivity, have made laptops the number one choice for many consumers. However, desktop computers still have their place, and may be a better choice in certain circumstances.

One of the key advantages of a desktop computer is that all its individual components are separately serviceable, thus making them easier to repair when the inevitable wear and tear sets in after a few years. They are also easier to upgrade, don't require batteries, and can be faster and more powerful for the same price you would pay for a slower, less powerful laptop.

If you're on a budget and portability is your key consideration, a netbook or tablet may be a great choice. These sleek, small new arrivals on the computing scene are very easy to carry with you, and with the addition of peripheral input devices like a keyboard and mouse, they offer every bit as much functionality as a desktop or laptop for a far cheaper price.


Computer Tech Specs

Here is a run-down of the most important technical specifications you'll encounter as you shop for computers on Black Friday:

Processor speed. Your processor's speed determines how quickly the computer is able to run applications. The faster your processor, the better your computer's performance will be. Processor speed is measured in hertz (or, more accurately, in megahertz or gigahertz). If you're going to make a significant investment in any one area of your computer, make it a fast processor -- you'll notice an appreciable improvement in your user experience.

  • Hard drive size. Your hard drive is where your software and files are physically stored. Remember that while hard drive sizes have seen major increases in recent years, so too have file sizes, especially when it comes to digital video. You can always upgrade your hard drive, but getting a generously-sized hard drive is always a good idea.
  • RAM. An acronym for "random access memory", RAM determines how much memory is made available to the programs and applications you are running. More RAM equals faster response. Look for machines with at least 4 gigabytes (GB) of RAM.
  • Input drives. The floppy disk has been dead for a while, and cloud computing may soon spell the end of optical discs. However, we're not quite there yet, so your new computer should have an optical disc drive that allows you to write information to CDs or DVDs. Built-in disc burners have more or less become standard on virtually every desktop and laptop computer manufactured today.
  • Input ports. The more USB connections your new computer has, the more peripheral devices you will be able to connect to it. Examples of such peripherals include wired keyboards, wired mice, flash drives, and external hard drives. You'll enjoy more flexibility and customization over your computing experience if you have four or more input ports.
  • Screen size. This is specific to laptops. Your laptop's screen size is the size of its monitor, measured diagonally. Bigger is generally better…but it's also generally more expensive.

Before you begin your shopping, compare the tech specs of the computers you're considering and choose the model that delivers the best value for the Black Friday sale price.