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Buying a computer

It can be hard to know what kind of computer to buy. There are lots of different types of computers and lots of jargon to understand so deciding which is the best computer for you can be confusing.

This page helps you decide which kind of computer will suit your needs.

Top tips

When you buy a computer:

  • be clear about what you want from a computer
  • do some research
  • keep good records – keep receipts and make a note of the name of people you’ve spoken to on the phone
  • take a little extra time or advice before you commit to buying.

Laptop or Desktop?

The first decision you’ll need to make is between a portable laptop or netbook and a desktop machine. You’ll need to think about where you’ll use your computer and what you want it to do. Make a list of what you want, starting with who is going to use the computer and what kinds of tasks they want it to do. Don't feel embarrassed about asking questions if you don't understand something when you’re shopping for your computer. Asking questions shows you have done your research and you know what you want.


Laptop computers, sometimes called notebooks, are small portable computers that you can move around and use in different places. They have a built-in screen, keyboard and mouse and a battery which means they don’t always need to be plugged into a power source.


  • lightweight
  • portable
  • can run on battery power.


  • can be hard to upgrade
  • not as powerful as desktops
  • often more expensive.


A netbook is basically a smaller laptop computer. Netbook’s are very small and lightweight and so easy to carry around.


  • very small and light
  • can run on battery power
  • usually cheaper than laptops or desktops.


  • small screen makes it harder to use
  • less powerful than desktops and laptops
  • have less hard drive space and no DVD drive.


A desktop computer, sometimes called a desktop PC, is a computer that is designed to stay in one place. It may be a separate desktop monitor and hard drive or an all-in-one machine. Unlike laptops and netbooks, desktop computers don’t have a battery and so they need to be plugged into a power source at all times.


  • usually more powerful than similarly priced laptops
  • more storage space
  • a bigger screen.


  • not portable
  • take up more space than a laptop or notebook.

Computer service agreements

Computers are not always problem-free, so support services can be important if you run into problems. Some support services are available for free. Or you might want to get extended cover by buying a service agreement.

Your rights when you buy a computer

Your rights under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 mean your computer must be:

  • of satisfactory quality – taking into account things like age, price and durability
  • as described - the laptop needs to match the description you were given. For example, if the description said the laptop can play DVDs when it can’t then you’re your contract has been breached and you have rights under the Sale of Goods Act.

Next steps

Other useful information

  • More information about buying a computer and reviews of specific products - Which at: