Buying a New Computer?
Personal Dell Purchases Discounts
For Faculty/Staff/Student personal purchases Dell now offers up to a 7% discount! NOTE: Should it ask you for an account enter KS29215843
Personal Apple Purchases Discounts
For Faculty/Staff/Student personal Mac purchases you can click on the Apple Store icon. This link will take you directly to the Apple academic discount pages.
UW - Eau Claire LTS guidelines for purchasing a computer for your office or department will give you an example if you are thinking of purchasing a Windows based computer for your home.
What you're looking for
There are a lot of options when it comes to configuring a system, but you don't want to end up with less than you need. When buying a system, whether it's a notebook or a desktop, make sure to cover the basics. Below is a list of the different components and what they do. This will aid you in knowing what to look for when your shopping.
- Processor: The processor is the heart and the workhorse of any computer. The processor does most of the work and has a direct effect on the speed of the machine, faster processors result in faster machines. When choosing a processor, think about what kind of things you will be doing with your new computer. Most applications do not require the best possible processor.
- RAM: RAM is temporary storage that your computer uses for quick access to files, programs, and other data. The more RAM you have, the more data your computer can store for quick access. Very little RAM will cause your computer to run slowly, while having too much is unnecessary.
- Hard Drive: The hard drive is what stores all the data on your computer. Having more space will allow you to save more data. Be sure to choose an appropriatly sized hard drive so that you have sufficient space for your work.
- Modem: Modems are almost default on all new machines. Modems use your telephone line to connect to the internet. Modems are not as popular as Cable Modem or DSL connections, but a dial up connection can still come in handy.
- NIC: If you plan on using high speed internet like DSL or Cable Modem connections, you will need a Network Interface Card, or NIC. Almost all new computers come with one, but double check to make sure the computer you are interested in has one. Some laptops require a "PCMCIA Network Adapter Card" because they do not have a NIC. This PCMCIA card will allow you to connect to the internet using faster connections, and they are relatively inexpensive.
- Monitor: We recommend 17 inches or larger for desktops, and 12 inches or larger for laptops. When shopping for desktop computer monitors there are two important factors to look for: The flatness of the screen, flatter is better, and the DOT-PITCH, lower is better. Many new Desktop machines come in a "deal package" where the manufacturer chooses a monitor for you. For the most part, these will do but you can always upgrade to a better monitor.
- CD/DVD Drives: Most new computers come with a CD/DVD drive and the capability to burn CDs.
- Sound Card and Speakers: The sound card is what allows the computer to play sound. Basic sound cards give sufficient sound quality but the speakers can make the system sound poor. The default sound card that comes with the machine will be sufficient unless you intend to do sound recording and editing. Many machine "packages" will come with speakers, these will also be fine but upgrading may be a good idea if you intend to use your computer as your main stereo.
- Video Card: The video card is what the computer uses to display programs and information on the monitor. Default video cards will look good but if you intend to do any intensive gaming or watch a lot of movies on your computer, you might want to think about an upgrade.
Of course, no computer is useful without software. A new student should not be without:
- Office software: There are many office packages available. When looking for an office package, you will want a word processor, Email Client, and a spreadsheet editor. The university supports and uses Microsoft Office. Office has many tools all in one package, allowing the user to handle many office tasks. Faculty/staff and students can take advantage of our special Microsoft Office pricing for home/personal computers at www.wisc.edu/wisc.
- Email program: Many office packages include an Email client, but purchasing a sole client is not necessary. The university provides Webmail, a free web based client that can be accessed using any modern internet browser such as Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. There are several free clients available for download.
- Virus protection: It is important that you have an anti-virus program on your computer. Here are a few of the free options listed on our Dowloads page
Though there are printers in every general access lab and in the library, it is very convenient to have a printer in your dorm room or house. Fortunately, printers are quite affordable these days. You can get an inkjet printer that will give you nice-looking documents for under $100, and some that will print very high quality pictures and images for $200-$300. You may even be able to find a deal where the printer is included in a computer "package."