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Easy Mistakes To Make—Or Avoid

Based mostly on my own experiences, here's some things I suggest you keep in mind:

  • Make sure that all the components "play together." For example, do you have drivers for whatever operating system(s) you plan to run? Are there hardware conflicts? Can you use the intended video card with the selected motherboard?

  • Unless you have specialized, hard to find, and/or expensive hardware, don't unnecessarily reuse parts from your old systems. Reason 1: Driver support (sigh). Reason 2: New hardware with greater capacity/performance is probably not that much more expensive. Reason 3: Older parts may break sooner than the new stuff. Reason 4: You're adding complexity. If you do feel the need to use legacy equipment, be very clear to the sales rep what you want—you may even need to get somebody more tech savvy to confirm that this arrangement will be okay.

  • Don't get unnecessarily complicated/cute add-ons. In principle, for example, things like removable hard drives make lots of sense. Until something doesn't work, because the pins bend or whatever. Apply the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid).

  • Internal versus external devices? Think carefully. Devices such as burners and hard drives are available in both internal and external versions. The externals obviously offer more flexibility—you can use them with more than one computer—but they cost more, run slower, and may take more fussing to get right, or may not work with apps such as disk imaging.

  • Don't get too much stuff you don't think you'll need. It'll only get cheaper later.

  • Try to buy on the early-adoption side of the curve. The more established technology is cheaper, but it gets obsolete faster, too.

In general, my advice for buying (and using) white box computers is the same as for any other kind of system:

  • Be sure to do regular full-data backups and periodic system backups.

  • Have and use virus and firewall software, UPS, and hardware firewall/router.

  • If possible, have a spare system you can switch to, using your backed-up data.

  • Keep receipts, serial number info, disks, and other key info easily at hand.

If you're careful and do your homework—and don't jump at "too good to be true" bargains—there's no reason you can't get the computer you want, hopefully from a local computer store you like.

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