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Buying a PC


When should you buy?

There's never a perfect time to buy a PC. There is always a faster, newer and possibly cheaper model about to be marketed. The key to success is deciding upon an affordable PC that is capable of running the software you intend using, and, if possible, will be able to cope with future developments for at least two years.

These pages try to offer guidance on the technical specification of the PC. You may then need advice on where to buy it. Much more advice can can be found on the web.

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Laptop vs Desktop

Laptops are generally more suited to University life, especially if you intend to be mobile and want to work in various locations: at home, in seminars, at the Library. Most students at Sussex use laptops. However, they are more expensive than Desktop PCs and offer less upgrade flexibility. The technical specifications of Desktops are higher than Laptops for the same cost.

If you bring a laptop on to campus, you can use the wi-fi network (eduroam) and you can also print to charged printers direct from your laptop:

Most manufacturers are producing a new breed of thinner, lighter laptops called ultrabooks. These devices are generally easier to carry around but are currently quite expensive. However, some good deals are sometimes available - see the links to the student computer stores below to find the latest offers.

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What software should you expect to be able to run on your PC?

When purchasing a new PC you will probably be given the choice of Microsoft Windows 8 pre-installed. Windows 8 is the most recent operating system released by Microsoft and is somewhat different from previous versions but is compatible with services at Sussex. Windows 7 is likely to be more familiar and closer to PCs you might have used in the past.

32-bit or 64-bit?
You sometimes see these terms when choosing Windows and you might be asked to choose between them! The terms relate to the speed with which your computer's processor can communicate with the short-term memory (see below). If in doubt, choose 32-bit which is the standard and is compatible with most programs and hardware.

The 64-bit versions of Windows are better for specialised uses such as video editing and complex graphics but may not be compatible with older computers.

Most students also purchase Microsoft Office (including Word, Excel and Powerpoint) as this gives the best compatibility with the computers on the campus. It means you can work on the same documents and files at home and on the campus computers without having to worry about inconsistencies or changes in formatting. Students can buy Microsoft Office at reduced prices - see our software page for details. Alternatively, there are some very good versions of office software that are completely free - such as Libre Office. You can use this software to produce documents, spreadsheets and presentations in the same way as with Microsoft Office. You may occasionally face some compatibility problems if transferring files but for general, day-to-day use, there is very little difference.

Many PC users will also use their PC for web-browsing. Microsoft Internet Explorer (web browser) comes and pre-installed on new PCs with Windows, although you can also install alternative free browsers such as Firefox or Chrome.

You may be offered illegal or pirated copies of proprietary software. Under no circumstances accept such offers. IT Services will follow up all reports of pirated or illegal software and will report to the appropriate authorities all suspected cases of breaches of the appropriate University Regulations and of the UK laws on Software Copyright.

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What hardware configuration should you buy?

Our advice below is for a Laptop running Microsoft Windows 10. The power and performance of PC equipment changes very rapidly but in terms of economy the best deals are not always found in the newest computers; you are usually better off investing the money in either memory or disk space or both. The table below gives our minimum specifications, so if you can afford more, get more.

Processor

This does all the work so is the most important part! There are two main brands: Intel and AMD. Newer Intel versions are i5 or i7 (increasing in capability) and the most recent AMD processors are labelled A10 or A12. You should aim for a laptop with these processors as a minimum.

Processors are usually measured by their speed in GHz. The minimum you should choose would normally be around 2GHz with newer models pushing 4GHz. The higher the number, the faster your PC.

Memory

Most new PCs have at least 4GB of Memory (also called RAM) with more capable devices going up to 8GB. This is the short-term memory of your computer and determines how many tasks can be juggled at one time. If you like to have lots of applications open and switch quickly between them, you need more memory but you can usually get by with 4GB.

DVD reader/ writer

If your computer can handle DVDs and CDs, it can be a useful way of getting new software (CDs for some programs can be borrowed from the Library), playing video and audio or an inexpensive means of archiving data.

However, many new laptops don't have these facilities built in and they are no longer essential.

Storage

This is where your data is stored. Newer laptops will have 320GB or more with 500GB being fairly standard. These days it's possible to get away with very little storage since it's easier to store information on USB sticks or using internet-based services, but the more storage you have, the more files you will be able to store on your computer.

There are two main types of storage: hard disk drives (HDD) or solid state drives (SSD). SSDs have no moving parts and therefore operate a little more efficiently but tend to be more expensive. Because of the higher price, you sometimes see laptops with relatively small capacity SSD drives (e.g. 128GB). This is still fine for most purposes, unless you have large collections of music, photographs or video that you want to be able to carry with you on your laptop.

Screen size

This is an important factor to consider and is sometimes overlooked. You will probably spend a lot of time looking at the screen and it's worth thinking carefully about what you need. 

Screen size is measured in two ways - firstly the resolution, or the number of pixels that can be displayed. A screen with resolution 1024x768 pixels will feel quite small so you should aim higher if possible. A resolution of 1366 x 768 or above should be adequate for most uses.

The other measurement is the physical size, usually measured by the length of the diagonal from one corner to another. Smaller laptops with 11 or 12 inch screens are easier to carry and fine if you have very good eyesight! A 13 or 15 inch screen will be more comfortable for working.

Network

To use the network connections on campus, you will need an ethernet socket (for the wired access) and wireless capability. Almost all new computers have wireless facilities but some laptops don't have an ethernet port - for these devices you would need to use a USB converter or rely on the wireless.

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Apple Mac

Many prefer to use a Mac - they're particularly popular in the Music department and some of the science schools. If you are buying a Mac, be sure to check the prices at Apple's Higher Education store.  Staff can also purchase Apple computers at a discounted rate - please contact IT Services for details.

From whom should I purchase?

Some manufacturers offer discounted prices for students on a range of laptops and desktop computers. For more details, please see:

Apple also offer student discounts.

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created on 2010-01-01 by Lez Oxley
last updated on 2018-02-07 by Alexander Butler