You don't have to buy the latest, top-of-the-line option every time you shop for technology. I know I risk being shunned by the nerd community for saying it, but there are times to splurge and times to save.
This doesn't apply to some people -- gamers, graphic designers, photographers and others -- with special requirements for their computers and gadgets. However, many computer users have a basic set of technology needs that can be met without shelling out a lot of money for the best of the best.
Surprisingly, you can shop for a deal on desktop or tower PCs. The parts are readily changeable from one tower to the next, so if something dies you can replace it without much difficulty. If you decide you need more RAM, it's an easy and relatively inexpensive process to upgrade. Limit your bargain shopping to a reputable computer manufacturer, such as Dell or HP, so you get a year's warranty. Because most hardware failure caused by poor craftsmanship occurs in the first year, this will ensure you aren't stuck with a dud.
Spend your desktop tower savings on getting the best monitor you can afford. Because it's the part of your system you'll stare at day in and day out, monitor size and quality will have a far greater impact on your computing enjoyment than a somewhat faster processor. Splurge on the biggest high-definition screen you can afford and fit in your space.
Before you buy, check out pros and cons on professional tech review sites such as CNet or PCWorld. User reviews from sites like Amazon and Newegg reveal problems that may arise after extended use.
Unfortunately, you can't cut corners when shopping for a laptop. Aim to get the best hardware you can afford.
Because a laptop's compact, internal parts -- such as fans and input ports -- are often specific to the machine, a laptop may require custom orders, in many cases direct from the manufacturer. This makes laptop hardware more costly to repair or upgrade.
A laptop's portability makes it more likely to get banged around, so it's important to get high quality, durable materials. Pay attention to screen quality and buy as much RAM, processor speed and battery life you can. Upgrade now so you get as much life as possible from your machine.
Shopping for a laptop? Using the words "iPad" and "bargain" in the same sentence may seem like an oxymoron. But because a tablet is an entertainment device; you don't need the latest and greatest. Now that the third-generation iPad has been released, you can get an iPad2 for $100 less, and it's substantially the same. You may not notice the improved screen quality as much as that extra money in the bank.
Big-box retailers make their money on cables. That's why they're prominently displayed near the cash register: They're like fruity cocktails at a restaurant -- they're marked up several hundred times. But the truth is, there's negligible difference between a $5 cable purchased online from a site like monoprice.com, and a $50 cable you get off the shelf at Best Buy. Save your money.
(Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, which offers on-site computer and home theater set-up and repair. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)