Here are my thoughts on fixing a PC or getting a new one...
Windows Vista is what you will generally get with a new PC. It has much higher requirements for your computer. As new versions of Microsoft products have problems it would be best to wait at least six months before upgrading to it. I cannot at this time recommend Vista. Many computer sellers are offering a "downgrade" to Windows XP. This is worth looking into.
Now we will get to what you need to know that gives you the most bang for the buck.
Generally speaking adding memory and/or a new hardrive will make a noticeable improvement in your system. A new graphics card may give you a boost depending on what you do with your computer.
How much memory do you need.
If you are running windows 2000 or XP the minimum is 256 megabytes (mb) with 512 mb being my minimum. 1 gigabyte (gb) will be needed by most folks since service pack 3. For Windows Vista all but the very low end version will require at least 1 gb and I think 2 gb is a minimum you will need. Many units come with 4 gb
Windows 98 or ME are best at 192 mb.
How big a hardrive?
For average use a 80 gb drive is fine. Have some music files? Then 120 gb might be better. Video or your favorite TV shows? 300 gb or more depending on how many hours of video you are going to store. The cost of a hardrive is pretty cheap.
How much processor power?
Much depends on what you use your PC for.
Is your primary use is email and surfing the web – then a1.4 mhz or better processor is going to be adequate for now.
A 1700 mhz to 2500 mhz (1.7 – 2.5) will do most anything you need. There are just not that many new programs that need more than that. Most new processors are dual core or 2 processors on one chip with quad core available. Speed ratings are becoming pointless except to compare speed within the processor line itself, like core duo or x2. Email me if you need a further explanation.
If you are a heavy duty game player, use a lot of video applications, or just have a need for speed, then you are in the quad core category. You know who you are. Unless you need to have cutting edge equipment and are willing to live with the problems of having the latest you can save a lot of money by building what you need.
So, Fix or Buy a new PC?
So with that behind us it is time to look at buying a new pc. An example would be that you have a computer that is three years old and is getting cranky as they do after a while. For me to get it back in top shape could take several hours if you need to preserve your computer as it is. A new PC might be in your future. On the other hand if you want to start by completely cleaning your computer and starting fresh you may just need some more memory and buying a new PC may not be needed.
If you do a lot of game playing or video editing a fast graphics card will be a must. Otherwise whatever came with your computer will be suitable. To use the latest features in Widows Vista you will need a graphics card that supports DirectX 10. As of this writing DirectX 10 is still not ready for the average user. Many question the need for DirectX 10.
Buying a new PC
There a so many variables here that I will not cover most of that. But buying that $350.00 Dell may not meet your needs either. The stripped down PC's advertised on TV usually do not have enough memory and small hardrives. So you will probably need to look at that carefully as there are big expenses in adding these later or on the phone when you purchase.
Here is a link to a article about buying a Windows based PC.
One last thing to think about is buying a Apple Macintosh or Windows based machine.
A Mac is slightly more expensive than a Windows based machine but is much easier to use, rarely gets a virus and comes with most things you need. If most people used Mac's I would not repair many computers. Also Mac's have switched to Intel processors which means that you can run a copy of windows on a Mac. This was never possible before. With software you can now run Windows from inside a Mac which will really make things interesting.
What this comes down to is, unless you use a special windows only program on your computer you should look into a Mac.
I do not use Mac's or Windows for myself. I use Linux which is a free software system that appeals to power users and people who like to tinker with computers. It is becoming more mainstream and could save you quite a bit of money. Ubuntu is a very easy to use Linux distribution that is free. I only use Windows for a few minor things having to do with my repair business.
If you have a question about this drop me a email at firstname.lastname@example.org