Christmas Gifts: To PC or not to PC, that is the question

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The Independent Culture
We all know that Christmas is an expensive time to buy. It is much better to wait for the January sales - but well it's Christmas. This is true for PCs. If you are thinking of buying a PC, the smart thing to do is resist the temptation and buy in March when prices are traditionally lower.

But what fun is a PC in March? Christmas is the time to have a PC and these days PCs are truly amazing machines. One big tip is to rush out and buy one NOW.

While it might seem like a fun idea unpacking the PC on Christmas morning, it is a recipe for disaster. True, PCs are a lot more robust than they used to be and fewer things are likely to go wrong but a) do you want to spend Christmas Day standing on your head trying to understand the manual and b) if you get really stuck not many companies are going to have technical support guys in on Christmas Day so you are likely to be on your own if you hit trouble.

With PCs, the question of what to buy is now getting much simpler. The where to buy remains a challenge. Do you buy a Macintosh or not? Until a few months ago it looked a pretty easy question. Apple was on the ropes but it is getting back up off the floor and it's new iMac Macintosh is a stunning piece of design.

Macs tend to be easier to use and tend to have less problems than PCs, but they are not completely trouble free. If you do go for a PC the choices are mind blowing. For cheaper machines you can get a great bargain by going for non Intel chips. They do the job just as well but cost less. Unless you are on a tight budget make sure you get plenty of memory. These days you should look to get at least 32 Mbytes of memory and a four gigabyte hard disk. These are giant, powerful machines far, far bigger than any professional PC user had even two years ago. So if budgets are tight and all you want to do is write letters beautifully, run spreadsheets and access the Internet you can get away with a machine costing around pounds 500.

The one place you do need all the power you can get is games. If you or your offspring like fast-moving games, make sure you get the most powerful machine your pocket will support.

Which just leaves us with the huge question of where to buy.

All the High Street retailers are pretty expensive compared with the mail order organisations. You probably still have time to buy before Christmas with mail order companies but don't put it off for too long.

Established companies like Dell and Elonex have good reputations and pretty good after-sales support. If you are buying from less well-known companies, ask them some searching questions and, ideally, don't part with your hard-earned cash until you know that your machine has been sent to you.

Finally, avoid extended warranties like the plague. Most of the High Street retailers push these policies because they make huge profits on them. Your machine should be covered by its manufacturers warranty for at least the first year and 95 per cent of the problems will show themselves in that time. If you are in the unlucky five per cent it will often cost you less to get your PC fixed at a local repair than to take out a policy for an extra year's cover. I have heard of one case of someone buying a PC for pounds 500 and being offered a two-year extension to his warranty for pounds 200. This is insane.