How to buy a computer

Buying a new computer can be daunting, so here are some things to consider before you head to the store.

If you have brand loyalty or brand aversion, you can probably skip to the middle of this article. If not, my advice is to *start* with the specs that are right for you and *end* by selecting the computer that works, regardless of brand.

The important stuff first

Processor power is measured in GHz. The processor is like the engine of a car. You need a powerful enough processor for everything else to function optimally.

First, look at the processor speed on your current computer, and don’t ever go any slower than that.

  • Open File Explorer
  • Right-click on This PC
  • Click on Properties

The System section has the information you need. Higher numbers are better, but never settle for a speed of less than 2GHz. You won’t have a very nice Windows experience.

RAM is important as well. RAM temporarily holds information while you have the computer on so Windows and other programs don’t have to access the hard drive for the same thing repeatedly.

As with your Processor, look at what you have now and try not to have any less. Your computer will likely still work, but it won’t work as smoothly. I recommend 8GB at minimum, and, of course, higher numbers are better.

Hard Drive capacity is also measured in GB. The hard drive is where all the programs, files, and Windows itself reside, whether the computer is on or off. Hard drives are not terribly expensive any more, so a 1TB hard drive is not uncommon.

Go for it if you can, but don’t accept less than 500GB with a traditional, mechanical drive.

Other considerations

If you’re buying a desktop computer, are you planning to replace your monitor at the same time? That’s good. Just make sure the computer and monitor have the same type of ports, so you can connect them easily.

If you’re keeping your monitor, make sure your new computer can accept the same type of connection you’re using, or make sure you have a cable that will convert one end so you can connect the computer and monitor.

If you’re buying a laptop, are you planning to travel with it? If so, weight might be a consideration. Do you need a CD/DVD drive? Many laptops, especially the very light ones, don’t include that drive.

Laptop users should also consider the feel of the keyboard and the look of the monitor. Both things are personal choices. Get something you like!

If you’re buying an All-In-One computer pay attention to the size of the room it’s going to and if you’re putting it on a desk with a cut-out, make sure there’s room for it, and room to reach around behind it to plug in and to unplug your devices.

Also make sure you like the looks of the screen.

Don’t forget…

Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Outlook, etc.) rarely “comes with” a new computer. You have to pay for those programs. You should find out if the version you have is transferrable, and if not, you should expect to pay for a new version.

Your printer needs to be installed on your new computer. If it’s a scanner, too, you need to do things in a particular order. This column might be helpful.

Transfer your files and settings from your old computer to your new one. This really isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. Get help if you need it.

Ask questions when the sales person says something you don’t understand. There’s no need to preface your questions with, “I don’t know anything about computers.”

If you have a question, it doesn’t matter if you know anything about computers or not. Just keep asking your question until you get an answer you understand!

More, more, more

This week: More on reminders, more on Tablet Mode, and more on Photos and movies.

Thanks for your feedback! You all rock!

More on ReminderFox

The flood of email continues from people horrified about the demise of ReminderFox. (See last week’s column.) In this week’s email, long-time reader “Ron” passed along some good news for fans of the ReminderFox extension:

"Just discovered that reminder fox works in Mozilla's Thunderbird (which I use for my Telus mail account and access daily). It is superior to the Google app as you can create repeats daily, bi-weekly, monthly and yearly."

Thanks, Ron!

If you’re looking for an email program that’s not Windows Live Mail or the horrible Mail program built into Windows 10, check this recent column where I mention Thunderbird and a couple of others.

More on Tablet Mode

Several people wrote to say that after an update to Windows 10 they couldn’t find the taskbar on their laptops. Just going by the description of the problem by the first correspondent, I thought the problem might be that the taskbar had just been accidentally moved to someplace other than the bottom of the screen.

If that happens to you, follow these instructions to fix it and make it stay put:

  • Press the Windows Key and the I key (that's the letter i) at the same time to open Settings
  • Click on Personalization | Taskbar
  • Under Taskbar location on screen make sure you've selected Bottom
  • Under Automatically hide the taskbar in desktop mode select Off
  • Under Automatically hide the taskbar in tablet mode select Off
  • Under Lock the taskbar select On
  • Close the Settings window

That should put the taskbar at the bottom of your screen and make is visible all the time.

But that wasn’t the problem! It turns out the laptops had been sent into Tablet Mode. If you want to know how to get out and stay out of that dilemma, take a look here.

More on the Photos app features that replace Movie Maker

Windows Live Mail and Movie Maker are part of the same suite of free programs no longer supported by Microsoft. It’s now impossible to download Windows Live Essentials from Microsoft. But as I mentioned recently, the Fall Creators Update from Microsoft added some very cool features to the Photos app.

The Photos app is built into Windows 10. There is no charge for it. Once you have the Fall Creators Update installed, open Photos. Close it. Reboot the computer, then open Photos again. You’ll see a notification that additional features are being installed.

After a couple of minutes, your Photos app is good to go. And it’s free. Read more about it here.  If you are being asked to pay for this app, you are being scammed. There are excellent alternatives, both free and paid, and I mention a couple in that column. But this app is free.

Thanks to everyone who takes the time to comment and to make suggestions. I appreciate it! Keep your questions and comments coming.

Where did I put the, uh...?

If you are a fan of ReminderFox, I have some bad news for you. Also, how do you know where your packages are?


Last week, I mentioned the new version of Firefox was rolling out and judging by the email this week, lots of you have already upgraded.

The overhaul to Firefox resulted in a sleeker, faster browsing experience, but it also broke some extensions.

I find myself missing Shareaholic, but by far the most mentioned extension in my email is ReminderFox, which many of you love, but none of you can use any more.

The authors made it quite clear that they have no intention of updating ReminderFox.

So, what now?

People are desperate to be reminded of things. If you use a reminder browser extension, what is it? Why do you like it? If you have another reminder program, please write and share what you use and why you like it.

Send email to [email protected] and I’ll let everyone know.

In the meantime, although I never used ReminderFox, I have a great reminder/calendar system that I use. Google Calendar is excellent for calendar appointments and for reminders.

I like it because I access the same calendar in my browser and on my phone, and I add/change/delete events from anywhere I can use the internet or on my cellphone.

If you were a ReminderFox fan because it ran in your browser, you’ll be happy to hear that Google Calendar does that, too. You can pin the Google Calendar tab in any modern browser, so it’s always there, one click away.

If you want a calendar that’s a computer program rather than on the web, there’s a lovely calendar app built into Windows 10.

Click on Start, then on Calendar to begin using it. Someone made an informative video tutorial, available here.

If you like the idea of a built-in, always available desktop app, but you use Google Calendar (or another online calendar) you can easily import that calendar into the app. I wrote about this earlier this year.


It’s the time of year when we send and receive packages. Wouldn’t it be great to know where those packages are?

If you have a community mailbox as I do, it can be very handy to know your stuff has been delivered to that box when you need to answer the question, “Should I stop and check the mail in the driving rain/swirling snow on my way home tonight?”

Of course, you can track every package that has a tracking number by visiting the website of the company shipping the package. But it’s more convenient to visit one website and track all your stuff from there.

Packagetrackr is the one I like best. When you create an account there (It’s free.) you can list all your packages and Packagetrackr remembers them.

You can set it so you receive an email when things are delivered. You can also mark outgoing shipments to keep track of stuff you’ve sent or ordered for someone else.

I’ve been using PackageTrackr for years, but I have to admit it stumbles on some carriers. I tried ParcelMonitor, and it was better at tracking a package being shipped from China.

As I write this, I am wearing the boots that Packagetrackr thinks are still in Edmonton. ParcelMonitor not only knows they were delivered, it knew when they were on the truck.

ParcelMonitor isn’t as full-featured as Packagetrackr, but when timeliness and accuracy are important, it’s great to have this site bookmarked.

As the Holiday Stress Season approaches, please take care of yourselves and one another. It’s important. Maybe set a reminder!


Notification Irritation

There is such a thing as too much information in Windows 10. Also, the new version of Firefox is here.

Notifications can be useful. Or maybe not so much.

Are you new to Windows 10? Or, have you been learning Windows 10 for a year or so? Either way, a frequently asked question is:

  • “What the heck is that cartoon thing over there on the right?”

That icon in the lower right corner next to the clock is for the Action Center. When something happens, you get a notification there. Some of these notifications are useful.

For instance, I have my backup set to run automatically at the same time each night. Often, I’m not at the computer when it runs. It’s nice to see the notifications that it started on time and either completed successfully or didn’t. Now, I know where I stand.

Some notifications are just stupid annoyances. For a long time, I would receive a notification every time I plugged in a headset. Also, I’d receive another notification when I unplugged it. That hardly seems necessary.

This brings me to the second most frequently asked question on this topic, which is, “How do I turn that off?”

Here’s the procedure:

  • Click on Start | Settings (the gear icon) or press WindowsKey + I
  • Click on System | Notifications and actions
  • Under Notifications, turn off Get notifications from apps and other senders

This will turn off most notifications. Notifications for some apps have to be turned off in the app itself. If you also want to hide the Action Center icon, in Fall Creators Update:

  • Click on Start | Settings (the gear icon) or press WindowsKey + I
  • Click on Personalization | Taskbar | Turn system icons on or off
  • Turn off Action Center

But you don’t have to turn off all the notifications just to kill the ones you hate. You can change whether and how different apps notify you.

I want notifications from WD Backup, but not the ones about headphones. So, with Get notifications from apps and other senders turned back on, I scrolled down until I found my audio manager, and turned that off.

Audio works fine, but now no banners sliding in and no notifications in the Action Center.

I’m good with my backup program flying in a notification banner, making a sound, and putting a note in the Action Center. All that only happens twice a day.

But holy buckets, I don’t want banners, sounds, and Action Center notices every time Outlook finds a new email. So, I scrolled down to Outlook, and instead of sliding the switch to off, I clicked on Outlook to open a whole new page of settings.

There, I allowed banners to fly in, but turned off notifications in the Action Center. And I turned off the notification sound. You’ll see other options there. Customize your apps to make them so you like them.

The big Firefox update is rolling out

Last month, I mentioned that the new version of Firefox will break some extensions. The new version is here, and it certainly broke some of my favourite extensions! If you’re missing something, you can look for a replacement:

  • Open Firefox
  • Click on Menu (the three horizontal lines that look like pancakes in the upper right corner)
  • Click on Add-ons | Legacy Extensions
  • Next to any extension on the list, click on Find Replacement
  • Use the search bar to enter the name of the extension you’re looking for
  • You might find an exact replacement. You might find something like the one you’re trying to replace. You might find nothing. Check again in a week or a month. Somebody will update/recode or in some way come up with something better.

What extensions do you miss? Have you found replacements?

More Getting Along With Your Computer articles

About the Author

The Technology Shaman, Cate Eales, has been helping people make online computing safe, accessible, and fun for over 30 years.

Cate lives in Kelowna with her husband, Eric. She owns and operates Computer Care Kelowna, a mobile computer business providing on-site service for home and small business customers.

Cate is here to help you and your home or business computer get along.

E-mail Cate at [email protected] with comments, suggestions, or questions.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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