Where do you buy your computer from? From us, of course! No, seriously – there is no “one right place” for everybody. That’s true. 

Our customers tend to be the more experienced users who don’t need someone to tell them how to save a file on disk. They know how much RAM they want, how much hard disk space and are a little more confident about using computers. Maybe we tend not to get a lot of beginners because they feel safer walking into Dixon’s and seeing and using a computer before taking it home. They like the reassurance of someone telling them they are getting a good buy, and that works for them.

Here, we are going to explore the pros and cons of the various outlets. Some of them sell “name brand” computers. Others sell their own makes. Both camps usually offer some “built-to-order” services where you can specify what exactly you want in your computer.

You will, of course, have to decide if you must have a name brand computer. We’re talking here about the big names like Compaq and IBM. If you are new to computers you may want the reassurance of a brand behind you. Comparing the relative merits and demerits of going for a name brand computer is beyond the scope of this page, but before you decide on buying a name brand computer, here is one page you don’t want to miss.

Auctions tend to be good places to find the old part that is no longer in production. However, as a place to buy a computer, they tend to be the most expensive. Yes! Remember also that your consumer rights are quite different on goods bought at auctions. You don’t get as much protection. 

Read all about auctions and how to use them to your advantage in our auction page.

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If you are buying from an online auction, InfoHQ has some useful advice.

The main sellers of computer equipment are:

The big stores like PCWorld, Curry’s, Dixons, etc. Let’s include Staples, Office World, and now even supermarkets in this category!

The specialist computer shops. These are privately owned and run by a local businessman and don’t form part of any chain.

The Mail Order suppliers.

You can also divide computer sellers into firms that sell just one manufacturer’s product (in which case their views on rival manufacturers; products may not be completely unbiased), and firms that stock computers from a variety of manufacturers. Note: Some retailers sell both their own brands and brands from rival manufacturers.

Advantages & Disadvantages of buying from . . .

The High Street Store

Local, private computer shop

Mail Order

From the High Street

Pros

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  • You get to try out the computer and see it in action before you part with your money.
  • You can usually take it back for a full refund if not entirely satisfied (do read the small print).
  • It usually comes complete with the operating system, some bundled software, and easy to understand set-up guides.
  • Easy payment terms.

Cons

  • It tends to be a lot more expensive than buying from a Mail Order outlet.
  • It’s a common complaint that staff at these stores tend to know very little and because of their lack of knowledge fob you off with what may be completely wrong information.

Telephone helplines are sometimes on a premium rate phone number charging 50c to $1 per minute, and a simple query can set you back as much as $20. The support number for Macro and Staples, for example, is 0891 969 959 (April 99), which is a premium rate number.

You may not be able to personalize your computer to your exact requirements.

From local, private computer shop

Pros

  • You are more likely to get a personal service, where a computer is built to your exact specifications.
  • The local shop tends to be a little more informed and may be able to give you some good advice.
  • You can, in many cases, actually speak with the person who is building your computer and raise any questions you have with him/her.
  • Should you need to take your computer back for whatever reason, local is obviously a lot more convenient.

Cons

  • You may not get a very competitive price.
  • Should the shop ever close, you lose your warranty.
  • Quality may be an issue you want to look at more closely.
  • You don’t usually get deferred payment options.
  • You may not get any fancy guides and set-up documents.

Via Mail Order

Pros

  • Prices are usually more competitive.
  • Staff may be better at answering technical questions you have.
  • You can usually spread payments.
  • You can usually have your computer built to a specific order.
  • It usually comes complete with an operating system, some bundled software, and easy to understand set-up guides.

Cons

  • Delivery may take a while.
  • Telephone helplines are sometimes on a premium rate phone number charging 50p to $1 per minute, and a simple query can set you back as much as $20.
  • Warranties may be Return to Base, which could prove expensive if you have to ship your computer back.
  • Contrary to popular belief, if you don’t like your computer, you can’t just return it for a full refund.

Comparing Quotes

It is cheaper to pay $1000 for a computer that gives you a long trouble-free service than to pay $800 for one that lasts only for a year. It’s cheaper to pay $1000 for a computer that comes with all the hardware and software you need than to pay $800 and have to shell out another $400 before you can use it for what you intended.

Can you compare quotes from rival companies? Unfortunately, it is not just a matter of comparing the price. Various features, like the quality of the computer, type of support, warranty, and innumerable other features, all have their own value. You do need to take all of these into consideration before making your judgment. We have a formula that we hope will enable you to make a fair comparison. Check it here.

Understanding comparisons of different specifications:

The first thing you’ll find is that specifications from two different manufacturers are never the same and therefore don’t lend themselves to comparisons. One possible way of overcoming this is to compile your own specifications and then get your quotes. That way, you know all manufacturers are quoting like for like.

Even if computers are exactly the same, some firms offer more added value than others. Go through the list below. Each and every item on the list has its own intrinsic value, and if one of them is supplied as standard with the computer, you need to take that into consideration when comparing prices.

Peripherals like printers, scanners, cameras, etc.

Software (what software comes with each? Software – including the operating system – does cost money, and prices on different packages vary widely.

Warranties beyond the minimum of 12 months parts and labor, Return to Base (which is the minimum offered by all computer companies on new computers). Warranties for 3 years are obviously more valuable than warranties for 2. On-site warranties are more valuable than Return to Base ones or collect and return ones.

Free technical help, and help on a freephone number or a local rate number, are worth more than technical help on a premium rate number.

Extensive startup guides/videos to help you set up and get the most from your computer have a small value in themselves

Other services like an installation service: Where the vendor sends someone over to plug the computer in for you at your premises.

Interest-free purchases (credit costs money, and you can save a lot if you are able to pay upfront).

Some things that don’t seem to cost money but still have their own worth:

Free trial periods where you can return the computer for a full refund. (Note, very few vendors offer this. Those that do tend to offer a replacement rather than a refund).

Quick deliveries (because computers depreciate so fast, a computer that arrives one month after ordering has already lost about 10% of its value).

No credit card surcharges.

Quality certifications, awards and recognition that the vendor takes quality very seriously.

Long trading history. (Companies that have been around for a while tend to be companies that are still going to be around when you need them)

Other services: Like Free Lifetime Upgrading (as far as we know, we are the only company in the US offering this service). Some companies offer free setting up and configuring the computer in your office network.