Pathfinder Repository


Purchasing a Home Computer

This Pathfinder is no longer being actively maintained by ipl.

General Information

This guide provides a number of resources that may be helpful when making decisions regarding the purchase of a home computer. There are both print-based and Internet-based resources that provide such information as buying guides, product reviews, price trackers, discussion groups and other general information about home computers. Consumers should be aware that some of these resources may have biases, often related to their financial sponsors. There is also no guarantee that the information contained within these resources is always accurate or up-to-date. Therefore, it is important to review and compare a number of information resources before making any important decisions regarding the purchase of a home computer.

Consumers should also be aware that for most home computer buyers there are only two computing platforms from which to choose: Microsoft Windows-based systems or Apple Macintosh systems. This dichotomy is reflected in many of the relevant information resources – some are more Windows-oriented and some are more Macintosh-oriented. This guide has attempted to exclude most resources with obvious platform biases, though some such resources have been included due to their information value and their biases are noted within this guide.

Internet Resources


The Internet Public Library (/) has a number of areas where one may find information sources relevant to purchasing a home computer.

  • Computer Hardware Resources (/ref/RR/static/com10.00.00.html): Check here for a continuously growing collection of Web resources related to general and platform-specific information about computer hardware.
  • Consumer Issues and Services Resources (/ref/RR/static/bus20.00.00.html): Check here for a continuously growing collection of Web resources related to general information for consumers.
  • Computers and Internet Associations (/cgi-bin/ref/aon.out.pl?ty=long&id=com00.00.00): Check here for a continuously growing collection of various computer-related associations with Web sites. Some of these associations may be able to help with questions that fall within their particular areas of interest.


Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com/) is a directory of sites on the Internet. You can perform a search of Yahoo! in order to find relevant Web sites. The following areas of Yahoo! may also be helpful:

  • Yahoo! Computers (http://shopping.yahoo.com/computers/): This is a general departure point for various product guides and reviews, reference information, information on shopping for computers and information on computer manufacturers.
  • Yahoo! Computer Hardware (http://dir.yahoo.com/Computers_and_Internet/Hardware/): This page has links to Web sites that are geared towards specific types of computers and computer platforms. It also links to sites with general computer information, including buying guides.
  • Yahoo! User Groups (http://dir.yahoo.com/Computers_and_Internet/Organizations/User_Groups/): This page links to many local user groups. User groups are organizations of computer enthusiasts which can be valuable sources of information. The user groups are organized by platform and application, and there are general computing user groups as well. Finding a local user group can provide a convenient source of assistance about purchasing a computer and for general computer knowledge.

Other Internet Resources

Buying Guides

Buying guides assist consumers in understanding their choices and how their needs fit those choices. Many also have additional information, such as product reviews and links to computer manufacturers.

  • About.com – Computer Reviews (http://compreviews.about.com/compute/compreviews/mbody.htm): This is a good source for articles about the basics of buying a computer, as well as product reviews, and feature articles. This site also allows you to send e-mail to their resident expert.
  • ZDNet (http://www.zdnet.com/): A good site for general information on various computer systems and platforms. Within ZDNet there are sub-sites that address more specific issues. Two of these sites are particularly helpful for those wishing to purchase a home computer:

    • Desktops Product Guide (http://www.zdnet.com/products/desktopuser/index.html): This site provides product reviews as well as guides for computer buyers.
    • Hardware User (http://www.zdnet.com/products/hardwareuser/): This site has reviews of various computer hardware products and advice on which to purchase in order to fulfill your particular needs.
    • CNET Computers.com (http://www.computers.com/): This site provides its own product reviews as well as information on computer products and their prices. Within CNET Computers.com is a User’s Guide that assists in navigating relevant parts of the site:
      • CNET Computers.com User’s Guide (http://www.computers.com/product/editorial/0,53,0-0-1228,00.html?st.co.1fd1.r5.ug): Here, you will find sections on finding the right products for your needs, comparison shopping, finding product reviews, getting the latest prices and buying online.

      Price Trackers

      Price tracking sites attempt to list the best, current prices for computer products. However, many of these sites are not comprehensive, and the consumer is advised to shop around carefully in order to find the best prices available.

      • DealNews (http://dealnews.com/): Based largely on user contributions, this site publicizes the “best deals” that have been seen for various computer products. There is also a forum where users can post messages and read discussions. Both the “best deals” section and the forum are searchable. This site is devoted primarily to non-Macintosh computers.
      • Deal-mac (http://deal-mac.com/): This site is identical to DealNews, but it is devoted primarily to Macintosh computers.
      • CNET Shopper.com (http://www.shopper.com/): This is CNET’s price tracking sub-site. It has price information on a great deal of computer hardware and software and is searchable.
      • PriceSCAN – Computer Hardware (http://www.pricescan.com/0101.asp): This site tracks current product prices.
      • Bottomdollar.com – Hardware (http://www.bottomdollar.com/hardware.html): This site also tracks current product prices.


      Usenet is a collection of online discussion groups on a huge variety of subjects. The discussion groups allow users to post messages to the groups and to read previous posts. There are many computer-related Usenet groups.

      • Deja.com – Computing (http://www.deja.com/bg.xp?level=comp.*): Through this Deja.com web interface to Usenet, you can search, browse and/or post to forums on many computer-related topics.

      Miscellaneous Internet Resources

      • U.S. Consumer Gateway – Technology (http://www.consumer.gov/Tech.htm): This is a site set up by the Federal Government to address consumer concerns associated with such issues as buying online and other technical issues. If you are concerned about online purchasing, this site can provide you with useful information about safe online buying.

      Print Resources

      One of the drawbacks of using print resources for information about purchasing home computers is that the pace of change in the computing world is so great that print resources can quickly become out-of-date and obsolete. One way to minimize this problem is to use online book sellers in order to keep track of the latest print publications. Other potentially useful resources are periodicals. Both books and periodicals can be found at local public libraries. You can find books and periodicals based on their Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress call numbers. You will find the periodicals mentioned below within the Dewey Decimal system under the call number 381.33 (“consumer information”) or under the call number 004.165 (“specific digital microcomputers”). The Library of Congress call numbers for these periodicals are listed below. The staff at your local library can always help you find what you are looking for.


      • Amazon.com – PC Buyers’ Guides (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/browse/-/3832/): Amazon.com is one of the largest online book sellers. They have a category called “PC Buyers’ Guides” that displays relevant titles available from Amazon.com. You can purchase these books online or look for them in your local library.
      • Barnesandnoble.com – Computers: Reference: Buyer’s Guides (http://shop.barnesandnoble.com/bookshelf/shelf_results.asp?userid=5R594XJI5K&mscssid=10012PKUWMS12N0S00L1RVR8262M6A86&pcount=0&feature_code=4&subject_search=Y&subject=4455&sort=): Barnes and Noble is another of the largest online book sellers. In their Computers Reference “Buyer’s Guides” area they list their available relevant titles. You can purchase these books online or look for them in your local library.


      • Consumer Reports (Mt. Vernon, NY, Consumers Union of U. S.) (Library of Congress Call No: TX 335 .A1 C6): This is a periodical that provides consumers with impartial product testing and reviews. From time to time, Consumer Reports will include buying guides and product ratings for products like personal computers and computer components. There is also an online version of this periodical, though it requires payment and registration to access all of its features: (http://www.consumerreports.org/).
      • PC Magazine (New York, NY, PC Communications Corp.) (Library of Congress Call No: QA 76.8 .I1015 P38): This periodical discusses personal computers in general and may, from time-to-time, publish information relevant to those buying personal computers. It deals primarily with non-Macintosh personal computers. There is also an online version of the magazine: (http://www.zdnet.com/pcmag/).
      • Macworld (San Francisco, CA, P.G. World Communications) (Library of Congress Call No: QA 76.8 .M3 M3): This periodical discusses personal computers in general and may, from time-to-time, publish information relevant to those buying personal computers. It deals primarily with Macintosh personal computers. There is also an online version of the magazine: (http://macworld.zdnet.com/).

      This pathfinder was created by Yitzhak Gitelman