Five New Computer Buying Myths

Buying a new computer can be very exciting, but it may also be one of the more confusing things you ever do. Components change every month it seems, and misconceptions are abundant. For many users, the specs sheet may as well be written in Klingon. Understanding the differences between one hard drive and another is usually a skill reserved for the geekiest of us.

In this article, I hope to help you understand a little bit more about the common computer buying myths currently circulating. Big box stores love to take advantage of these misconceptions as they sell cheaper and less efficient wares to unassuming consumers. The sales clerks themselves may not be at fault here, as their employers usually go over the same five or six selling points that really don’t do much to influence the speed and/or efficiency of the machine.

Here are five of these myths, and how you can overcome being talked into a bad buy.

Graphics Cards with More Memory Are Better

If I were to tell you that a Gainward GeForce GTX 680 with 2 GB of RAM outperformed an AMD Radeon HD 7970 with 3 GB of GDDR5 RAM, would you believe that? The GeForce model number may be subconsciously compared to the higher one represented on the AMD Radeon. Further than that, the RAM difference is obvious, so why wouldn’t one outperform the other?

The Gainward GeForce GTX 680 operates at 1006 MHz. The AMD Radeon HD 7970 operates at a slightly lower 925 MHz, giving it an overall performance benchmark score of roughly 7/9 that of the GeForce.

This isn’t always the case, and other benchmark tests may disagree, but it is an example of how RAM is often used to sell a graphics card when it’s only a factor in the overall capabilities of the unit. More RAM is helpful, but it’s only a single factor in the card’s performance.

Processor Speed is Best Measured by Its GHz Rating

There was a time during the last decade when processor manufacturers sought ways to increase the MHz rating (clock speed) of their chips in an effort to get better performance without sacrificing the life of the unit. Cooling became a big deal, and still is among overclockers seeking ways to boost the power without risking overheating.

In more recent history, engineers have discovered ways to build processors more efficiently. A Core i5 processor running with a 3.1 GHz clock cycle may well outperform a Core i3 Processor running on 3.2 GHz. Even within the Core i5 family, there are differences in generations as one may have two cores and the other might be rocking four (virtual or otherwise). The best way to compare processors is to look online for performance benchmarks of the specific model.

For example, I’m running a Core i5-2400 CPU at 3.10 GHz. If I were to compare that to a first-generation Core i5 with the same clock speed, the difference in performance would be substantial.

Size is All That Matters on Hard Drives

Just like many things in life, size isn’t the most important factor to consider with hard drives. Yes, the capacity of a drive is crucial if you intend to use it to store large amounts of data, but the performance of the drive is also a big factor to consider. A hard drive running at 5400 RPM may not read and/or write data nearly as quickly as one spinning at 7200 RPM. Some drives made for gaming applications can exceed 10,000 RPM.

Even more impressive is the performance one might see from a solid-state drive (SSD). These drives require no moving parts and, as such, can pull data at remarkably fast speeds. This comes with a sacrifice in storage capacity, making it a hard sell for folks who have a lot of media to store. Still, you could always invest in a good external drive connecting by way of eSATA, USB 3.0, or Thunderbolt for storage purposes. A desktop computer may even have an additional space for a secondary internal drive.

When I buy a hard drive, I always take a look at the speed of the drive first. If it isn’t fast enough to keep up with the needs of a video editor, there’s little benefit to having an extreme amount of space.

Higher Price Means Better Performance

This is a very unfortunate misconception that you always get what you pay for in technology. While it’s true that going cheap will often bite you, there are plenty of examples out there of high-end machines being produced for less money than you might through more widely-known brands.

For example, an Alienware PC is typically considered to be the best of the best. You can, however, come pretty close in terms of performance at a fraction of the cost by buying a computer from another gaming system manufacturer. I’ve owned a system from CyberPower PC in the past and after almost four years, the machine is still being used to play the demanding games of today. I purchased the machine for about $900, which is about a third of what I would have paid for a comparable system from a bigger manufacturer.

You Need an Extended Warranty

Extended warranties sold by retailers are a sticky situation to jump into. On one hand, the warranty you spend an arm and a leg for might pay off should something go terribly wrong during the time it’s active. However, more often than not, you end up dropping a lot of cash for something that you never really need. Some stores even offer an extended warranty that matches that of the included warranty provided by the manufacturer.

In those cases, the benefits are simply that the store you purchased the extended warranty from would replace and/or repair your unit directly rather than referring you to the manufacturer. Is that really worth 20-30% of the product’s value? It’s a hard sell for me.

This is one instance where research certainly pays off. Find out what the manufacturer is willing to cover and compare that with the extended warranty provided by the retailer. You might be surprised just how often the two match each other, leaving no real benefit for the customer.

I mean, really, why would anyone want to spend four dollars on an accidental damage warranty for a CD?

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • Dustin Harper

    You missed a big one: you don’t need a Core i7 2600K, 12 GB RAM, dual video cards, 4 TB HDD space to run Solitare and check email. I’ve seen Best Buy salespeople oversell so many times, I can’t even go into the store anymore… It’s sad seeing a 60 year old grandma that wants to Skype with her grandkids get sold a $2500 computer that is designed for gaming. That, and they said that the Zune was made by Sony… I am a huge computer geek, and when I wanted to get a job there, they wanted to put me in sales of cell phones, which I know very little about (well, comparatively speaking). They don’t hire experts, they hire people that can sell the extended warranty, up sell and make their numbers looks good. That is why Best Buy is going down hill. They care more about the numbers instead of pleasing the customer (which in turn brings in higher sales). Not so much the sales people’s fault, more of the managers and the suits.

  • Peggy Duncan

    I recently purchased an HP laptop from Best Buy. I passed on most of the silly warranty stuff they offered, but I did get the basics. Well, guess what? My almost new, not paid for yet laptop’s Webcam is shot. Best Buy’s Geek Squad can’t fix it…said I’d have to ship my laptop to HP. Now what person do you know who uses their laptop for business would be willing to do that? Not me.
     So another question to ask is what EXACTLY can the store fix in-house? 

    • Itechlive

       HP will cover 1 year warranty for any part that is bad. The warranty that some retails offers is not repair is switching your laptop for another laptop if this kind of event happen, they can’t repair part like webcam, speakers etc. it more like windows installation, Hard drive, memory the basic stuffs (Geek Squad are not skilled tech, A+ doesn’t mean you can open and repairs computers). I don’t know how efficient is HP with its warranties ‘cos I got my old HP shipping back for warranty and took about a 1 months to shipping it back (it was HD replacement and battery).

    • Matt Ryan

      Very little.

      • Gustavo

        This isn’t true anymore, not for HPs under warranty.

    • Sheila F

      just wanted to share a few experiences regarding Best Buy and HP laptops. Ive owned 4 HP laptops…..the first two I did get the extended warranty. Even with that extended warranty the issues I had (one had a keyboard issue, the other an issue with the BIOS) they told me they had to send my laptop out to HP. I was also charged an additional fee.

      After reading and talking with others, its my opinion that Best Buy pretty much is useless when it comes to HP computers.

      • Gustavo

        If you were charged to send a computer out there’s either more to the story or the store is wrong. Geek Squad doesn’t send laptops to HP. They are kept and repaired in-store (for a lot of repairs now) or shipped to the main service center in Kentucky where it’s worked on by other Geek Squad agents.
        I can’t speak to your specific issue, but as you describe it my store would have treated this situation very different (and probably much closer to your expectation)

    • Gustavo

      Depending on the build the store may not be comfortable replacing in-store in order to save themselves from the possibility of damaging your computer and sending it out after all. Geek Squad agents in-store have a lot of deference now with HP computers still under manufacturer’s warranty. When they decide to go the service route it’s sent to Geek Squad, not HP.

    • guest

      from what i understand, best buy cant do much repair in house (at least was case 5 years ago for best buy canada)   for PCs with warranty they need to ship it off to a HP authorized  service centre

  • Matt Ryan

    Missed is a harsh word here. It would take weeks to list all the myths and misconceptions out there. Upselling in my mind would fall under the higher prices mean better performance category. Still, good advice.

    • Dustin Harper

       Ok, rather than “missed”, replace it with “Let me add…”. :) Some people don’t need the higher performance. They may only need a low end PC to do what they need (web, email, etc.).

  • Mark

    I usually mix and match my hard drives. I’ll have fast drives for having my swap space and program files, and slower larger drives for storing my media files. I’d rather sacrifice performance for storage for archiving data that is not accessed regularly, and sacrifice storage for performance for items that are more dynamic.

    • Dustin Harper

       SSD for OS drive (smaller capacity), slower mechanical HDD’s for storage (and server storage). I don’t need a fast HDD to open a PDF or music. But, booting and shutting down are amazingly fast.

  • Gustavo

    I have to disagree with you here on one basis. You’re right that not everybody needs the best computer, but PLENTY of people have no idea what they need. The worst is trying to convince someone that they are wasting their time upgrading their 6GB computer just because they heard it’ll go faster if you do. The same is true of the converse, but not always. Keep in mind… for every knowledgeable person that walks in knowing that they need a very fast (or not so fast) computer there are plenty that skimmed some article and heard that they need the quadcores.

    • Dustin Harper

       But, I’m talking about those that walk in wanting an entry level PC to do basic things on, and walk out with an expensive Alienware gaming PC on the recommendation from the sales person.

      Those that attempt to do research but only end up reading one article or sales pitch articles that are misinformed are usually on their own, and that is their mistake, not the salesperson. If I were to walk in to a Best Buy right now and ask for a part, they would sell it to me no questions asked. Or if I told them the PC I wanted and all the specs, they’d sell it to me. But, if I walked in knowing my needs, but not how to solve those needs, that’s where I am talking about. The salesperson is the one selling what the customer needs – not the customer asking for a certain PC. The customer just has a problem.

      It’s similar to going to a mechanic because you have a shimmy in your steering wheel and walk out with an alignment, new transmission, valve job, radiator flush and new tires.

      • Gustavo

        I’m not talking about people informed about specific computers… I mean people coming in convinced that they know how much RAM they need or what processor. It’s hard to get past those walls sometimes. Sometimes the wrong salesperson can have a devastating effect. I would be upset if I saw what you’re describing… luckily I don’t see that sort of thing and call it out when I do. The whole idea is to make a lasting relationship not a quick buck. The latter type of salesperson is an idiot, there’s no commission, no point.

        • Dustin Harper

          It really depends on the store. I’ve seen managers that push that tactic. I’ve also seen the salespeople that took the job because they were computer geeks and needed a job. They are the ones that do it right. They know what they are talking about, know how to help the customer, etc.., but they usually get moved to appliances or somewhere… 😐

          The customers that build those walls are responsible for their purchase, and as much as they blame the salesperson, it was them that decided they knew what they wanted and thought they knew more than the salesperson. I really have no remorse for those customers that buy a $3000 PC to play solitare and Facebook. If they read Consumer Reports and that’s the conclusion they came up with and they are the ones that chose which PC to buy and ignored all reason and input – that is their error.

          Gustavo, I take it you work at Best Buy. There are a few salespeople that do an excellent job. They are even fewer Geek Squad folks that do an excellent job. But, in general, Best Buy has really gone downhill in the customer service department. It takes more than just a few to keep the company running. I don’t put it all on the salespeople/Geek Squad, though. The managers are the ones that are really killing it. I’ve had friends that recently lost their jobs at a Best Buy that closed shop. They loved their job, and were good at it, but even they said they had a few people they worked with that were idiots. Regardless of where you work, there will always be a few that aren’t great. Best Buy’s many stores just have a few more than others. But, as I’ve said before – there are a lot of people that do know their shit, and do a great job. Just too many people with bad experiences have earned them the name “Worst Buy”.

  • Gustavo

    If you were charged to send a computer out there’s either more to the story or the store is wrong. Geek Squad doesn’t send laptops to HP. They are kept and repaired in-store (for a lot of repairs now) or shipped to the main service center in Kentucky where it’s worked on by other Geek Squad agents.

    I can’t speak to your specific issue, but as you describe it my store would have treated this situation very different (and probably much closer to your expectation)

  • PJ Hanna

    Don’t forget you don’t always have to go to a BIG box store either!!  A lot of us small guys can get better prices for you then Best Buy or Costco!!  

    • Dustin Harper

       I think the Mom & Pop shops are being shut down by the Dell’s and HP’s that buy in tens of thousands of parts and add so much crapware to extend their profit margin. Quality isn’t an issue, as the smaller shops use higher quality parts not from the lowest bidder. Better service, too.

      However, for the people that are looking for a cheap PC, I do use Techbargains, etc. to find them a great deal – which is 99% better than you can find in store. But, then the tech support person becomes me. I’ve stopped recommending Dell, though.

      There is a local PC shop here that I wouldn’t recommend for anything. The one a few towns over, though, is excellent. If someone is willing to pay $100 more than a Dell or HP, I send them there. Faster, better service, you buy and get what you want, and nice people. Plus, the money stays in the local community.

      Small shops can usually beat prices on components or other parts, too. PC’s, though, aren’t subsidized by crapware, so prices are a bit higher on those. In my experience, that is.

      • Dell YTT Fan

        These small shops with varied components might or might not be in businesses when your computer needs a repair.  On your own you have to have all the drivers playing together nicely.  A lot of people can’t make them handshake and have no idea how to get original drivers (they lose disks)(They forget to make backups)  When they deal with a major manufacturer such as Dell …. it’s all on the website baby for each machine they sell.  I wish Dell continued Your Tech Team on all their computers not just their high -end overpriced Alienware Systems.  We in America want English speaking techs.  Dell’s Yellow Tech Team is second only to none.  There are some great techs on it and there are some lousy techs on it.  The best tech at Dell right now is Jeff.. long may he serve his customers.  He has helped build computers for my friends that are what they need now, that will keep up with what will be required in the future, as well as with his eye on what the customers’ budget is.  If Dell reads this I am not liking that YTT is not available for easy purchase and I don’t like them going to fee based support per incident with overseas idiots.

  • Kyle Polansky

    I’ll agree with you on the last 2 for sure. I love getting a great deal on a computer. It’s hard to put together a good list of rules to follow, as hardware is dependent on other hardware. If you only have a few GB of RAM, it might be nice to have the graphics card cache more, and maybe you could use the CPU to speed up graphics processing. Also, hard drives have a longer lifespan than SSDs, so that’s another advantage there. I know these are probably rare cases and software might not support some of the newest hardware, but just thought I would comment about something. Good article overall, it’s a good checklist for un-educated buyers.

  • Matt Whitehead


    I used to work at CompUSA way back when in the tech shop fixing computers. I was let go for “running off a customer” and was totally baffled by this until I learned what exactly they were talking about.

    I had spoken to a customer about their needs in hardware. I told the truth. They didn’t need a fancy video card, or all that much RAM or anything since they were using basic office software. That person left the store because they had come to ask me questions right after speaking with the sales team. I told them something different than what the sales team told them. Any customer who gets significantly different answers from the employees will simply leave.
    When someone tries to up-sell like this, all it does is hurt the business. Want proof? That store was closed after making it to the top of the sales chart. The sales manager who let me go when my supervisor (the tech shop manager) wasn’t there? He got a promotion to the Dallas headquarters. When you run your computer departments by telling customers they need something they really don’t, you will eventually find your customers bad-mouth you enough to put you out of business.

    Best Buy is on the same road because they don’t make sure their sales teams are actually experts. CompUSA suffered a similar problem. They provide training, but it is limited to reading the specs on the box. Your experience will vary from employee to employee. There are good ones who are just trying to keep a job in their field of expertise while they look for something better. Sometimes you get one who reads all the tech blogs and has a clue, sometimes you get one that really only has the pathetic training provided by the company. Do some of your own research! This article is a great start.One other thing I think you should mention:Sometimes you don’t actually need a new computer to get it to go faster! A lot of the slow downs your PC gets over the time you use it is caused by bloat on your Windows install. I’m not talking about the junk software included when you bought it, I mean stuff you’ve done and installed, removed and stuff you no longer need. Sometimes, you just need to start over and re-install windows from scratch (format the drive). Make backups of your files and use that recovery disc! You will get a fresh start that will make your PC feel exactly like it did when you bought it. It was fast back then right?The only time you really need to upgrade your hardware is if your software is too heavy for it. My mom runs a 5 year old laptop. My desktop I built for gaming is 4.5 years old and can STILL play the new games (albeit at reduced graphics settings). My netbook runs Ubuntu, my little file server is an atom 330. Sometimes there is no reason to upgrade your hardware. Try starting over with the software if everything feels slow and you don’t need new software!

  • Donald Harris

    Your paragraph,
    Higher Price Means Better Performance
    applies to lots of things besides pc hardware.

    I sell a line of non-pc products on eBay. They’re not an expensive item, but a very good margin and volume makes it worth my time and effort. I had one model listed at a low price. No competitor has a similar product. But, it wasn’t a big seller even though I have, for the most part, the corner on the eBay market for it. I knew people used this model, but still there wasn’t very many takers.

    For some reason, I got the thought to raise the price on that model 50%  Bingo! That one now flies out the door and has become one of my best sellers.

    So, I love it that people have that misconception about price being a performance or quality marker. :)

    • Daniel Dover

      I saw this happen at a yard-sale once.  I had some people on the hook for a couch for $20, and the guy in charge the yard-sale walks up and starts offering it for $1.  The couple promptly gets a disgusted look on their face and leave.  I was just a teen at the time, but I could clearly see what was going on: $20 for a couch is a great deal!  We were haggling over the price, because it was clearly a worthy item.  But at $1, they thought the guy was trying to get rid of it and that there was something wrong with it.  It’s weird how that works, but it’s true.  People correlate price with value.

  • Hofnet

    I  have reading in multiple places the concept that you don’t need a super computer to read mail, listen to music, and online banking/shopping.

    I find I don’t have the time to play games like medel of honor and such anymore.

    I’m begining to wonder if you need faster cpus and more memory just to feed the newer MS operating systems.

  • Lulu

    And wait a month to get it back.