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What's the Best Computer for You?

The first step in our computer buying guide is figuring out what type of computer is best for you.

If you're a casual home computer user and just want check your email occasionally, surf the Internet, and keep up with home finances, you'll probably be satisfied with a desktop or an all-in-one system. An inexpensive desktop offers a large screen that's easy on the eyes—although if you prefer sitting on the couch to sitting at a desk, a tablet or netbook could offer both the features and comfort you're looking for.

Generally, high-end power and capabilities are more affordable in a desktop system, which is also easier to upgrade over time. You can keep a desktop computer contemporary by replacing components year after year, a process that's more difficult or impossible on most portable computers and all-in-ones.

If you need a computer for travel, doing business, or attending school, you'll want a laptop or an Ultrabook.

Tablets and netbooks keep you connected to the Internet and allow you to do light work, but neither offer the full-fledged power of a laptop or desktop computer. Still, for a computer that's so highly portable, tablets and netbooks are about as convenient as you can get.

 Types of Computers 

When buying a computer, you should consider one of two basic machine types: portable computers or desktop computers. Portable computers encompass a wide variety of devices small enough to take on the road, while desktop computers are larger, stationary machines.

If you want to bring your computer along when you're on the go, choose a laptop, Ultrabook, netbook, or tablet computer.

Portable Computer Types

• Laptops - These computers feature all the basics in a single unit. Laptops cost from $400 to well over $1,500, depending on how much power you need. If you watch movies on DVD or Blu-ray, or need the ability to burn DVDs, a laptop or ultrabook will likely be the best choice; tablets and netbooks don't offer an optical drive.

• Ultrabooks - Ultrabooks are thinner and lighter than standard laptops, providing incredible portability. The cost of an ultrabook runs between $600 to $1,800. Ultrabooks are usually a bit more expensive than laptops with comparable specs because Ultrabooks must be manufactured to exacting detail in order to achieve their remarkably slim profile.

• Netbooks - Netbooks eschew optical drives and high-end components in favor of getting things done through an internet browser. They tend to be very small, with screens around 10 inches. While their popularity has faded due to the growth of tablets, netbooks remain the least expensive, most portable mobile computer available with a built-in physical keyboard. You'll usually spend between $200 to $400 on a netbook. Although they are not officially classified as netbooks, the Samsung and Acer Chromebooks serve a similar purpose and have become popular alternatives to more traditional laptops.

• Tablets - Tablets are essentially compact, ultra-portable touchscreen devices that rely on a specialized operating system. Mini-programs called apps make possible all the work and play you'd expect from a computer, but instead of using a keyboard and mouse, you simply touch the screen. Tablets run anywhere between $300 to $900, depending on how much storage and which brand you choose. 

Desktop Computers: Tower-Style or the All-in-One. 

• Tower-style desktop computers - This type of system separates the processing tower, monitor, and other components into distinct units, allowing you to more easily select specific components to suit your needs. Upgrading your computer later is much easier with a tower desktop. The prices of tower-style desktops range widely. In general, expect to spend $500 to $1,200 for both the computer and monitor.

• All-in-one desktops - These computers combine the processor, internal components, and monitor into one convenient, sleek package. An all-in-one makes your computer buying decision easy by including nearly everything you'll need in one purchase. All-in-one computers tend to come in affordable packages ranging from $600 to $1,000, but can go as high as $2,000 and more.

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