You don't have to head for the high street. Steve Homer on the pros and cons of buying a computer by phone
When you finally decide to take the plunge and buy your computer, there are two ways to go about it. You can buy from a shop or buy over the phone.

If you buy direct, normally you get more bang for your buck. But you do have to be careful. "Buying off the page, you get a lot more choice. You can buy exactly what you want," says John Tode, editor of Computer Shopper, a magazine with hundreds of pages of direct sales advertisements.

"Stores like Dixons, and even specialist retailers like PC World, stock a limited selection of machines so you can only get what they are prepared to offer you. So, if you wanted a machine with more memory and a CD-Rom and nothing else fancy, if you buy off the page, the suppliers can deliver just that and leave out all the fancy bits and pieces that people do not need."

However, Mr Tode acknowledges that people are worried about parting with so much money over the phone. He suggests buying by credit card as, for purchases over pounds 100, this gives you considerable protection. "Don't be afraid to ask a company difficult questions. If they feel right, they are probably a good company to deal with."

But you have to know what you are doing. "If you are going to buy off the page, you either need someone who is technically savvy to guide you or you need to be technologically aware yourself," warns Jan Howells, news editor of Computer Life magazine. "In a store, you can touch and get a feel of the machine you are thinking about buying. There are also some excellent credit offers available in stores at the moment."

Shops such as Dixons can offer a reasonable selection of machines, but specialist retailers such as Tempo and PC World obviously have more machines to offer and should have greater expertise in depth (though some of the advice can be questionable).

But your most important focus should be on what is going to happen after you have bought your PC.

"It really does not matter where you buy as long as you get a reasonable price for the machine you want, you get a good machine and you know there is someone there to help you if the machine breaks down or you simply get stuck using it," says Miss Howells. "There are all sorts of warranty and support deals being offered. Its not just the big, well-known sellers of computers that are offering a good deal. John Lewis, for example, have an excellent reputation for supporting their customers with good warranties and optional after sales packages"