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For modern families, computers can serve as entertainment devices, schoolwork hubs, home office centers and more. For businesses, they are integral for keeping up with the fast-paced demands of the digital age. Consumers of all ages, professions and walks of life depend on computers for work, entertainment, study, communication and numerous other tasks.
Nowadays, choosing the right computer is a matter of fit based on individual needs and preferences as each brand offers multiple models optimized for a variety of different users. Consumers and businesses looking for computers need to know first how they plan to use them to make sure they find the right machine.
Top 10 Best Rated Computer Brands
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The MacBook notebook computer from Apple is a lightweight laptop built for efficiency and power. MacBook features include a quiet processor, a high-resolution display and connectivity options for other Apple devices.
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Dell began making computers in 1985. It now offers a wide variety of computer and technology products, include desktop PCs and all-in-one computers. You can buy Dell computers on the company’s website and from major retailers.
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The iMac is Apple’s all-in-one desktop computer that combines high-quality display with speedy performance. The iMac is built with device interconnectivity and user-friendliness in mind. Prices start at $1,099.
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Dell was founded in Round Rock, Texas, in 1984 to offer computer and technology products to consumers at affordable prices. Their laptops are designed for home office, entertainment and businesses. Prices start at $199.99.
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Acer was established in 1976 and has since grown to be a leading provider of computers for consumers and businesses. With a variety of desktop, laptop and tablet computers, Acer sells PCs for everyone. Prices start around $400.
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Founded in 1938 as a South Korean trading company, Samsung has grown into a multinational business conglomerate. Its subsidiary Samsung Electronics sells computers, laptops, monitors and more. Prices start at $399.99.
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With a company history spanning over 130 years, Toshiba has become a global manufacturer and designer of technology solutions for individuals and businesses. They sell laptop computers with prices starting at $399.99.
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Fujitsu is a leading designer and manufacturer of technology equipment from laboratory equipment to personal computers. Fujitsu offers laptop, tablet and desktop PCs and workstations for consumers and businesses.
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Asus was founded in Taipei, Taiwan in 1989. The company is a leading manufacturer of computer hardware and other technology solutions, including phones, PCs, laptops, tablets, Chromebooks and more. Computer prices start at $269.
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The Apple iPad is a line of tablet computers that uses the Apple iOS and a number of apps for a user-friendly experience. With several different models and accessories, the iPad is one of the most popular tablets for consumers.
The ConsumerAffairs Research Team believes everyone deserves to make smart decisions. We aim to provide readers with the most up-to-date information available about today's consumer products and services.
What to consider when buying a computer
When choosing a computer, the first thing you should consider is how you’re going to use it. Workstations, portable computers, high-performance gaming machines and casual entertainment systems all fulfill different needs.
- Workstations: Desktops or laptops designed for basic functions can serve as workstations for businesses. If you’re buying a workstation computer, make sure it can run all the required applications to perform your job.
- Home offices: Like workstations, home offices can often run on basic systems, depending on the applications your work requires.
- Entertainment centers: If you’re looking for a computer to serve as an entertainment center, you’ll want a machine capable of high definition graphics and visuals. If your entertainment goals include gaming, you’ll want a powerful machine to keep up with the graphical demands of modern games, often requiring more advanced video cards, power supplies and even cooling systems to prevent overheating.
- Creative studios: If you’re planning to use a host of creative suites for photography, video or sound editing, you’ll want a computer capable of producing high definition visuals and running complicated editing software. Creative suite software often requires faster processors, more memory and more advanced video and sound cards to run effectively.
Once you know what you plan on using your machine for, you can begin thinking about components, the first of which should be how much power you need.
- Processor: The processor, or central processing unit (CPU), is the workhorse of the computer. When choosing a processor, you will likely have a choice between Intel and AMD chipsets, though each manufacturer has various individual models characterized by the number of core chips each CPU has. Each core is essentially a small processor, and the more cores a CPU has, the easier time your computer will have running multiple processes at once. Single-core processors (1.8GHz) should run most basic programs. Dual-core processors (3.4GHz) work more taxing editing and gaming programs. Quad-core processors (3.2-3.5GHz) are best for high-end programs. If you want to ensure your computer’s longevity, it’s generally a good idea to spend more on the processor than other components because the processor is the most expensive piece to upgrade.
- RAM: Random-access memory (RAM) is a form of computer data storage that keeps small pieces of application data available for quicker access. Not to be confused with hard drive that stores the large amounts of local data, RAM essentially allows the computer to run faster by allowing the computer to keep applications readily accessible. Many computers will start with at least 4GB of RAM, but it is usually worth the investment to purchase 8GB to keep your computer running smoothly. Programs that require more power, like games or video software, will benefit from having more RAM, up to 16GB or more.
- Power supply: An often overlooked component, the power supply unit (PSU) provides the electrical energy to the motherboard and all the components. More powerful components require PSUs with greater wattage. PSU wattage runs from 400-600W for low-end models, 600-800W for mid-tier models, 800-1000W for high-end models and 1000W or greater for deluxe models. Basic programs can work with low-end PSUs, but computers built for performance will require PSUs capable of providing more power.
Power is only one aspect to look for in a computer. Other options to consider are storage space, video capabilities, sound fidelity and cooling options.
- Hard drive: The hard drive stores the computer’s program and operating system data and any files you may have. Basic computer models start with 500-800GB of hard drive space, but for high performance computers for gaming or multimedia software, you’ll want to upgrade to a hard drive that can store up to 1-3 Terabytes or more of data. There are also cloud storage and external hard drive options that work with most computers.
- Video card: If you plan on using your computer for watching high definition video or gaming, you will want to invest in a powerful video card, maybe even two for dual monitors. Video cards contain chipsets and memory dedicated solely to video, rendering your computer capable of producing images at greater speed and clarity. In purchasing a PC built for performance, you’ll want to look at some more powerful video cards than those that come standard on the motherboard.
- Sound card: Sound cards are slotted into the motherboard and allow the use of audio components. If you plan on hooking up high-quality speakers, microphones, mixers or other sound equipment, you will want a good sound card.
- Cooling: Computers running one or more high-end video cards, massive power supplies and quad core processors can overheat quickly, which causes parts to wear out more quickly or could immediately damage the machine. Buying a computer case with vents can help keep the system cool, but liquid cooling systems, fans and heatsinks can keep your computer system from overheating and burning out.
Technology changes so fast that new computers come out at a steady rate. To safeguard against obsolescence, you may want to choose a computer that can be upgraded. Expandability options are far more limited on laptops than tower PCs.
- Motherboard: The motherboard is a computer board that hosts all the other pieces of hardware (sound card, processor, video card, RAM). Much of the hardware you upgrade in the computer depend on the motherboard that hosts them. Some video cards, for instance, work better with certain motherboards, so you must research your motherboard to make sure it’s capable of incremental upgrades.
- Computer case: As a rule of thumb, the more spacious the computer case, the more easily it can be upgraded. Choosing the right computer case for upgrades means thinking ahead to fitting it with new motherboards as they become available. This decision is more important if you’re thinking of using your computer for an entertainment or gaming machine.
- Modular computers: A few computers can be upgraded simply by connecting various modules together. With a modular computer, you can start out with a functional base and then add sound cards or DVD and Blu-ray drives as you decide to expand. The individual components that make up these modules, however, can’t be changed, so upgrades are limited.
Computers and computer systems can take up a lot of space in your house or office. Some desktop models are designed to save space while other, high-end systems require a bit more real estate.
- Compact systems: Some basic computers come in space-saving towers that keep components in a smaller case. These machines don’t take up much space, but upgrading them can be more difficult.
- All-in-one PCs: PCs that combine the monitor with the computer components can help save space as well. It will, however, be very difficult, if not impossible, to upgrade.
- Notebooks and tablets: Laptop and tablet computers are the most compact and portable computers on the market. Power varies across brands and models, but they may provide the best option for the computer user with limited space options or who need to use their computer in multiple places.
- Entertainment centers: Using your PC for an entertainment hub will often require a good bit of space, especially if your plans include gaming and VR capabilities. Computers capable of high-power video and audio are often housed in larger cases to fit all the necessary components.
Once you have decided on the components you want for your computer, the final step is finding a build at the right price. Monitoring sales, considering bundles or building your own are all options to consider when you start hunting for a good deal.
- Sales: Online and in-store retailers often have regular rotating sales for their stock of computers. These should be closely monitored if your needs are not immediate and you have the patience to wait for the right deal.
- System deals: Sometimes bundling a computer with a monitor or a number of other components can net you a good deal if you need all of those components. If you need a monitor anyway, look for a good deal that combines both it and the computer to save some money.
- Building vs. buying: If you know you’re going to need a computer with a lot of power, one way to save money may be choosing to build the computer yourself. You can purchase individual components like a case, a motherboard, RAM, a hard drive and more to put the machine together. If you know the parts you want, you may be able to build a machine cheaper than buying a pre-built system.
Different types of computers
Desktops, or towers, are the basic type of PC most people think of when they consider computers. These are the standard box PCs that require a monitor, keyboard and mouse to use.
Computers that combine a display with the CPU are all-in-one devices that keep clutter and cord management to a minimum.
Consumers who like to customize their computers will want to look into upgradeable PCs. These types of computers are outfitted with as few on-board features (video cards, sound cards, processors etc.) as possible in order to upgrade them with new hardware as it becomes available.
Consumers who know precisely what they want can often purchase custom builds from different computer brands. Consumers can also purchase a computer in pieces, buying a case and hardware separately and putting it together. However, consumers should always make sure their hardware is compatible.
Gaming computers focus on performance to power high-end graphic cards and to run the latest games.
Laptops, also called notebooks, are portable laptop computers that fold up for easy transportation. 2-in-1 laptops are foldable computers that can function as either a laptop or a tablet computer.
Chromebooks are laptops that run a Linux-based Chrome operating system. They are designed to be connected to the Internet at all times to run their applications, and they store most of their data in the cloud.
Tablet computers are single-screen mobile computer with a touchscreen display. They are designed for maximum portability to perform basic functions on the go.
Who uses computers?
Computers have become as common a family device as a television. Having one or more computers can help with the numerous needs of a modern family.
In the digital age, businesses would have a hard time running effectively without computers. Some computer companies even offer discounts to businesses buying employee computers in bulk.
Modern video games require a lot of power, and some computer brands have models dedicated to performance and high-powered gaming solutions.
Most people who work in business settings require computers, and this is especially true for remote workers. Employees working remotely can use their computers to keep in contact with their office.
Photographers, musicians and video content creators
Computers, laptops and tablets have the storage space for many programs required for photo, music and video editing software. The right computer can serve as an entire artist studio.
Students and teachers
For research, writing and classroom applications, computers are becoming one of the most important educational tools available to students and teachers.
Computer brand expert reviews
iBUYPOWER was founded in 1999 to offer custom PCs that are focused on power and cutting edge technology to keep up with the demands of the growing gaming market. Located in City of Industry, Calif., iBuyPower is now one of the leading manufacturers and retailers of gaming PCs for consumers in the United States.
The Apple iMac is Apple’s desktop computer. These computers combine display and CPU into one unit and focus on interconnectivity, high definition display and an easy-to-use interface and operating system.
CyberPowerPC is a nation-wide leading computer system manufacturer focused on providing powerful gaming PCs for consumers. The CyberPower company was founded in 1996, opening their gaming PC specialty business in 1998, and is headquartered in City of Industry, Calif.
Founded in 1976, Acer is a communication and information technology company that has become one of the leading manufacturers of laptops, Chromebooks and PCs.
From its humble beginning in Midwestern American farmhouse in 1985, Gateway has become one of the most recognizable technology brands in the world. In 2007, Gateway was bought by Acer and the combined companies comprise one of the largest PC companies in the world. Gateway PCs are available for purchase at select retailers.
Headquartered in Tokyo, Toshiba is a Japanese multinational conglomerate corporation with roots that extend back to 1875. Now, Toshiba offers a full range of hard drives, digital storage solutions, digital displays, business solutions, laptops and tablets. Toshiba laptops are built for high-performance to keep up with numerous business applications and are available at select retailers.
Dell, now renamed Dell Technologies, is a computer company that was founded in Round Rock, Texas in 1984. Dell was started with the goal of making technologies like computers more accessible and affordable to consumers. Dell's various lines of laptops can fit consumer needs from basic application functions to business solutions.
Formerly known as the Hewlett-Packard Company, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, or HP, is a multinational technology company headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif. Their line of desktop, tablet and laptop computers offer consumers a wide selection of devices to fit any computer need.
Alienware was founded in 1996 as Sakai of Miami, Inc. and adopted the name of Alienware in 1997. Alienware became a subsidiary of Dell in 2006. Alienware manufactures and distributes high-performance computers built for gaming.
Founded in Taipei, Taiwan in 1989, Asus is a manufacturer of computer and technology solutions. ASUS products include mobile phones, desktop PCs, laptops, tablets and more.
Lenovo is a Chinese multinational technology and computer company with headquarters in Beijing and in Morrisville, N.C. Lenovo is a leading designer of personal computers, laptops, tablets, work stations, electronic storage devices, smartphones and more. It was founded in 1984.
Micro-Star International Co., Inc. (MSI) is a multinational technology corporation with headquarters in New Taipei City, Taiwan. MSI was founded in 1986 and began manufacturing motherboards and graphics cards. Now MSI is one of the leading global manufacturers of high-powered gaming PCs and video cards.
- Aegis series: The Aegis series of gaming desktops is MSI’s quintessential line of powerful PCs. They are designed to be upgradeable, and consumers can choose among several models and builds to find the right rig for them.
- Trident: The MSI Trident is a compact gaming PC built to save space without sacrificing power. It is one of the smallest PCs on the market that is still capable of running VR applications.
- Gaming laptops: The Titan, Dominator, Stealth and Apache series are MSI’s gaming laptops. Each is VR-capable and packs high-performance gaming hardware into a portable laptop.
- VR One: The VR One is a backpack gaming PC built for users to wear while using a VR headset. The system’s swappable batteries and comfort consideration are designed for extended play and maximum mobility.
- MSI all-in-one PCs: MSI’s All-in-One gaming PC offers the power of a gaming machine in an all-in-one device. MSI’s Adora and Pro series of all-in-one systems offer desktops for casual users and business applications respectively.
- Best for: MSI computers are best for gamers and for consumers interested in VR technology.
Samsung began as a small trading company in 1938. It is now a multinational conglomerate company headquartered in Samsung Town, South Korea that includes subsidiaries like Samsung Electronics, Samsung Heavy Industries and Samsung Engineering among others. Samsung manufactures computer and technology products including televisions, appliances, desktop computers, laptops, monitors and more.
Information in this guide is general in nature and is intended for informational purposes only; it is not legal, health, investment or tax advice. ConsumerAffairs.com makes no representation as to the accuracy of the information provided and assumes no liability for any damages or loss arising from its use.