Buying a new computer is fun and they’re pretty cheap now. But watch out for the online reviews; trust no one and don’t speak to strangers.

When searching for “how to buy a desktop computer,” you’ll find articles steering you to computers costing $1800 and up. These are fast and mean but appropriate mostly for people who edit videos or play games. Lots of memory and lots of processing power are important in those areas; for most of us, not so much. Searching for “budget desktops,” you get some strange picks, not all of them ready for prime time.

PC Magazine shuttled us to the “Shuttle XPC Nano with Windows 10.” It weighs only one pound and goes for $221 on Amazon. What a deal? But it is oh so techie. The company’s tech support says your keyboard and mouse won’t work until you “patch the installation media” before installing Windows 7. Only then can you install Windows 10. Oh yeah, that’ll go over big with the general market. You would think that since it has Windows 10 in its description, it comes that way. Many users on Amazon noted that they wished they’d bought a more mainstream computer.

Here’s an easy way to find a good one. Type “desktop computer” into the search box at Amazon. We found one from Hewlett Packard for $139. It’s refurbished, but good as new they say. Adding a four-year warranty contract adds another $21 to the price. It has eight gigabytes of RAM, which is plenty for real people. To assess the central processor, we turned to, and compared it to the one on Joy’s current desktop. It was faster than Joy’s. By the way, the newest, fastest processor available is Intel’s “Kaby Lake, Core H.” If you Google it, you can find a list of all the laptops that have it. Typically, only intense gamers need that kind of speed.

The low price was because it was “refurbished,” which means it went out the door once before and was returned for any number of reasons. The usual reason is the buyer — typically a company — bought too many of them and is sending the excess back. Sometimes it’s just because a buyer changed their mind; maybe they got one for their birthday and can’t use two. Whatever the reason, we have purchased refurbished equipment before and have never had any problems when it’s a known brand like HP. We did have a problem with a new one once, which we bought from one of the big-box office supply stores and it turned out to have someone’s files already stored on disk. The store was apologetic and exchanged it with no questions asked. One of the things we never buy is extended warranties. If it breaks, it breaks; do you really want to go through the hassle of arguing with some company over whether they should repair an item you may or may not have broken yourself?

For 99 out of 100 users processor speed has little meaning. Magazine testing crews and lab results will typically rate one processor better than another because it cut the processing time on intensive work like large database searches by a second or two. For more ordinary calculations the difference is often only hundredths of a second. We’re not that crazy. Back in our “city room” days at newspapers we would often get annoyed by waits of half a minute for something to save or be called up. None of that happens today. Since we don’t play World of Warcraft or Call of Duty, processor speed has little value.

Increasingly, Joy turns to her Asus Chromebook 14 for speed. It’s not that her Windows desktop was too slow when she bought it. It’s that adding a lot of programs to any PC can bog it down. With a Chromebook, nearly everything you do takes place online. A good one goes for less than $300.

Bob uses an HP laptop plugged into a large monitor, keyboard and mouse. Since heat is the killer of laptops, his rests on a shelf with a lot of holes for air circulation. Laptops have their own air vents on the case to let heat escape, but some people put a book or a purse on top and close these off. This is not good; let it breathe.

Let’s Do Lunch

Mixmax is a free service that makes it easy to slug boilerplate into your emails. Boilerplate refers to text that is often repeated. (Our all-time favorite boilerplate was from the late Senator Metzenbaum of Ohio. Whenever he got a crazy, angry or scurrilous letter, he would send back a response that read: “We feel it is our responsibility to inform you that that someone is sending out crank letters under your name.”)

Instead of typing in the same reply to these emails, we now click “templates” from a drop-down list. You can choose from one of the Mixmax standard replies, but it’s more useful to set up your own. Click “new” and type in a standard response to be slugged in whenever you need it. We have three templates so far, all of which include cartoon images of ourselves. Now they’ve got a new calendar app to add to that wonderful service.

Go to and click “calendar” off to the left. Choose the days of the week you’re available, and then share a link to the calendar. Typically, the link is You could be (Bob always signs his credit card receipts “James Bond.”) Anyone with a link to your calendar, can click and choose the day they want to meet with you. You need a Google account to use the service, but these are free and can be easily created at


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