Buying a new computer 3 : where to look

A lot of people think they have to buy a new computer. How many of us buy a new car? No, we save money and get a fairly new car for a lot less.

I did buy my desktop new as I had an exact specification that I required (lots of speed, RAM and super-fast storage) so I customised a desktop spending money on parts where I got the best value for me.

But for the two machines we are discussing, I looked down the refurbished channel. These are reconditioned computers. Most are ‘open box’ where a customer has returned the computer as not what they wanted or ex-demo. Others are repaired faulty units. Some are office computers replaced on a periodic cycle. All have some form of warranty and will be graded from A (like new) downwards.

Personally I wouldn’t go too old as the processors on older computers won’t have the power to run modern programs properly. However my customer is on a tight budget and really just wants to get on the web so we can relax here.

First thing when buying a refurb is to look a for a new computer that has the spec you want. This gives you a top-line price to compare against.

Now use a search engine to find sites that sell refurbished computers – there are a lot out there. Many are attached to new computer stores so look for a name that you recognize and read some reviews. If you are unsure, Currys sells refurb items on eBay and even Amazon sells them!

Most sites will have filters where you can narrow down the results to closer to your specification. Then sort by cheapest first.

Now browse the results and find items that you like to look of, especially if it is a laptop, tablet or phone. You will spend a long time staring at it, so buy one you would like to look at!

Review the spec against your needs and also use a search engine to find reviews of the item to get an idea of how old it is and that it does what you want. Search for something like

ASUS ZenBook 13 Flip UX363JA test

Make sure you put in the product number (in this case UX363JA) to make sure you are searching for the right specification. Modern laptops, especially, have more variations than a Volkswagen Golf! Also search for ‘test’ rather than ‘review’ as the latter brings up customer feedback rather than professional reviews.

Use a credit card to buy it to get more protection in case of problems but pay it off in full.

Finally I would stay away from second-hand items, except on auction sites. Most owners have an optimistic view of the value of the item and it clearly isn’t doing what they want so will it help you?

Buying a new computer 2: Set your requirements

I’ve always found it helps a bit to decide what you want the new machine to do and be in terms of physical (Like Size, weight) and functional capabilities (separate video card, processor, etc).

In my case I am replacing my on-site laptop. I already have a powerful desktop for any heavy lifting, so I wanted something:

  • small and light as I take it to customers and away with me;
  • As time is money, it should have a fast processor and speedy storage. That will extend its lifetime;
  • Decent battery life if I can’t plug it in;
  • Good HD screen;
  • Reasonable disc space to store programs and data;
  • connections to most things – USB, ethernet, video. USB can do most of this for us now, so three USB sockets is the minimum.

I decided that for me I was looking for:


ssd 512

RAM 8gb

Recent intel Core or AMD Ryzen processor

This is a reasonable spec for an office computer. If you want a gaming machine, your needs will be different.

My customer has simpler needs. They want a desktop to use email and the internet, but also have a tight budget. Most of their computer use is via the cloud, so the desktop doesn’t need to be very powerful. I’m looking for:


hdd of 512gb or bigger;

RAM 4gb;

Any intel Core or AMD Ryzen processor.

Here’s my video discussion:

My next post will have some technical stuff on specifications!

Project Activate

Although targeted on a limited group, I just had to share this in case it can help someone you know. For people who can’t speak or use their hands, it turns facial gestures into speech. So closing your eyes could trigger “I’m tired”

To quote Google research:

“Text a loved one, get a caregiver’s attention, or laugh along with friends. Project Activate is designed for people who are unable to speak or use technology with their hands, including those who have ALS, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, or multiple sclerosis, and those who have had a brainstem stroke or cervical spinal cord injury. This app enables you to activate customized preset communications by making facial gestures, such as smiling or looking up.

With your face, you can
• Play a text-to-speech phrase
• Play audio to express yourself or control a smart speaker
• Send a text message
• Make a phone call

With direct access, a loved one or carer can
• Customize communications
• Adjust the face gesture sensitivity”

It has a limited range of gestures at the moment but a brilliant idea.

Buying a new computer 1: are you thinking of replacing your computer?

Do you need to? It’s a bit like replacing a car. If the car does what you want, then keep it! So the first question to ask is ‘does the computer do what I want?’. If the answer is yes, then that is fine.

If not, then maybe the computer can be upgraded. This is easier for desktops but even laptops can have replacement hard drives for speed or capacity. USB ports can also add a lot of capability: better sound, monitor connections, etc. Check out whether you can get what you need.

In my case the keyboard had failed. I could carry an external keyboard with me but that adds weight and more stuff to carry. I was also finding that the laptop was a bit underpowered for what I was asking it to do. Pity as I really liked it.

At the same time a customer asked me to look into a new desktop to replace their XP machine.

So a great time to take you through the story of getting the new machines.

See my video chat here:

Take note of your meetings

I’m involved in a few meetings and I’ve been experimenting with transcribing them using Otter on my Android phone (Sorry Apple users).

Just start the App, and it transcribes what it hears through the microphone, and turns it into text on your Android device. The free version allows for up to 40 minutes a recording. Quite clever as it pauses when you are on a phone call and so on.

I also tried it on a radio programme, which worked well. So it looks like you can use Otter on other recordings that you have, such as dictation recorded by someone else.

It does use quite a bit of data, but you can set it to do live transcription over wifi only.

Otter does offer to connect to your calendar and your Google account, but I decided to not let it have access to all about me.

Transcription quality so far is both good and fast so I’ll keep using it and finding out more.

Staying private on WhatsApp

WhatsApp is great, but what if you want to keep things private?

A great new feature of WhatsApp is the ability to create photo or video messages that can only be seen just once. Create a message and add a video or photo in the caption area you’ll see a 1 in a circle. Tap this and the message can only be seen once by the recipient before disappearing or will delete if unopened for 14 days. Great for sharing passwords and other confidential stuff. Just be aware that they cab still photograph the screen, for example, to keep a copy.

Secondly, you can set a chat so that all messages will disappear after a set length of time. This doesn’t work for all group chats, where you need to be the group admin. Open the chat and press the chat name at the top. In the options below you will see ‘disappearing messages’. Turn this on and any new messages will disappear seven days after being sent.

If you are in a group chat but don’t want your comment to be seen by all the rest of the group, long-press the message and then the three dots at the top right. Choose ‘reply privately’ to open the contacts window so you can message just the message creator.

Use your phone to stay safe

With all the concerns about women being safe whilst out, I’d like to mention HollieGuard, named after Hollie Gizzard who was murdered one night.

Hollieguard is an app for Android and iPhone that uses the features of your phone to help people out and about.

Capabilities in brief include monitoring your progress along a route, sending emergency messages and location to preset numbers, as well as transmitting audio and video.

User reviews vary widely in their opinions but the app developers do respond.

Do have a look

Spring clean for your tech – part 2

In the last article we dealt with getting your computer physically clean. Now let’s look at getting your data clean for a Windows computer.

Two things here:

  • unnecessary files
  • state of the hard drive/SSD

Just running your computer generates lots of files, many of which we don’t need. This means we have less disc space and that lack of space can cause issues with Windows. To resolve this, we start File Explorer and right click one of the hard drives (e.g. C:) either in the left window under ‘This PC’ or the icon/name in the right-hand window. Now click ‘properties’ at the bottom.

In the general tab by the pie chart is a ‘Disk clean-up’ button. Click this and wait. Once the response comes back, if there is a ‘clean up system files’ button, press this. Now tick all the boxes in the window and click ‘OK’. Confirm you want to delete the files. It may take a while.

Now we’ll look at the state of the hard drive/SSD. Go to the ‘tools’ tab in the properties window and under ‘error checking’ click ‘Check’. This will check the indexing of the drive and look for any bad sectors that Windows can’t use. Even if it reports no errors scan the drive anyway. I find this often really speeds the computer up.

Ignore ‘Oprimise and defragment drive’ as Windows 10 looks after this in the background

Repeat both for all Harddrives/SSDs

Now you have got rid of a load of junk and also given the disc a good work out.

This video shows you how you how to use disc cleanup and more:

Offline Google Lens

I’ve often mentioned how useful Google Lens is for all sorts of tasks like identifying things, translation, etc. But what if you are out of mobile range or it’s a photo you got from somewhere else?

Well the good news is that if you photograph what you want to work on, then you can do that when the connection is back. Simply swipe up in the picture area to see all the photos on your camera. Now just tap on one and Goole Lens will process it as if you were pointing your phone at it.

Spring clean for your tech – part 1

Your technology, especially computers, do need a good clean from time to time. You can do this yourself.

We can split the exercise into two: physical cleaning and data cleaning.

First of all, clean the screen whether it is a phone or a computer. Avoid using your usual household glass cleaner as this will damage the surface. Use LCD cleaner instead. It’s not expensive – have a look in a pound shop.

Now clean the device. If it’s a phone or tablet then remove the case and get rid of all the crud. If it’s a computer, turn it or the keyboard upside down and shake the biscuit crumbs from inside the keyboard.

Finally for computers, they are like vacuum cleaners with air being sucked in all the time. This clogs up the vents and heatsinks making the computer slow down.

For a laptop, find where the exhaust for the air is (feel for a warm breeze), turn the computer off and take it outside. Now blow as hard as you can into the exhaust vent and you will see why you took it outside! Repeat until just clear air comes out.

If you have a desktop then shut it down and unplug it. Remove the side panel on the opposite side to the video and keyboard connectors. Look on the big board and you will find a large fan and heatsink. Get a straw and hold the fan still. Now use the straw to blow the dust out from the vents in the heat sink. Vacuum anything else out. Refit the side panel.

Here’s the video guide:

That’s it!