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Stretching Your Tech Dollar: Part 2- Find the Best Items for Your Needs

Nov 1 '11 Hardware & Networks, Purchasing, Software Comments Off

This is the second of a four part series on how to get the best tech for your needs at the best price. If you haven’t already, you might want to read Part 1- Figure Out What You Need.

Part 2 -Find the Best Items for Your Needs
Once you’ve spent some time looking at what you currently have and figuring out some basics about what you need, the next step is to find the most suitable products. In this post we will discuss how to find the items that will will best suit your needs, while in the next we’ll look at how to find the best price from a vendor you can trust. Note that we do not endorse any specific brands, products, services, or vendors. Whatever and wherever you decide to buy, these recommendations are provided to help you make the most informed decision.

Finding information you can trust
As we discussed in the first part of this series, it be difficult to find impartial and reliable (not to mention intelligible) information about the best tech products for your needs. Knowledgeable friends and colleagues can be a great help in getting you started. Beware, however, if their opinions seem especially polarized or always seem to come back to one particular brand. Students can often be a great resource for all things tech, but keep in mind that their interests and priorities might be slanted more toward gaming and things like video performance that probably aren’t  the most important considerations in an office environment. What you want is someone who will ask you a few questions to clarify what you need then point you in the right direction and suggest a few alternatives. Luckily, most techies love to talk about what works and doesn’t and what to buy, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Narrowing down your tech choices
There are an enormous number of sources for tech reviews and information. The key is to find impartial information that starts at your current level of knowledge and provides just the right amount of detail. The graphic to the right illustrates one way of approaching this process as described below. Links to specific sites that provide information at each level are provided on our Resources: Tech Reviews page. For  items you’re familiar with, you might well start this process in the middle; for very few will you need to go all the way from top to bottom.
Narrowing down you

Next time you need to make a tech purchase, decide which of the categories below best fits and visit our Resources: Tech Reviews page for links and info.

Getting Started: Guides and Comparative Reviews

Best for: Popular items that you don’t know much about
These sites are often the best place to start, especially if you are very not familiar the items you are buying. The comparative reviews are especially helpful. Be sure to check the date the reviews were last updated. Sites like Consumer Search and TopTenREVIEWS will help you get an overview of the types of products available and many of the issues involved in choosing between them. If you don’t need specific features or want to invest a lot of time deciding, this may be as far as you need to go.

Narrowing the Focus: Tech Publication Reviews and Forums
Best for: Popular items when you have a general idea of what you want
These sites often feature helpful comparisons of similar products and are a great source for reviews of individual items. Again, be sure to check the date of the reviews. Usually these also include user reviews and forums that can be helpful once you’ve narrowed it down to a few options. Sites like Macworld focus on products for specific operating systems, while others like PCMag try to address a broader audience. Usually you will have a pretty good idea of what to choose after spending some time at these sites, so for most purchases you can stop at this level.

Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty: Enthusiast and Techie Reviews
Best for: High-end items or when you are looking for specific features
These are the sites to visit when the details are important and you are looking for a specific feature or the highest performance you can get. Try viewing the “Conclusion” or “Final Thoughts” type pages first to see if it’s worth sifting through all the details. If a print view is available it often makes these lengthy reviews easier to navigate. If you can find a review of a product you’re considering, sites like Anandtech, TomsHardware, ExtremeTech, and Benchmark Reviews will usually tell you all you want to know, and often a whole lot more.

Will it Work for ME? : Forums, User Reviews, and Vendor and Manufacturer Sites
Best for: learning how well something will work in a particular context or researching less popular products
It’s usually best to start somewhere else when you’re researching a product, but these can be extremely helpful when trying to decide between a few options or seeing if an item will work in a specific situation. If you are looking for a product that hasn’t attracted much attention from the reviewers or something that has just been released, these are often your best source.  It’s often worth consulting user reviews at sites with more savvy users (like NewEgg and B&H PhotoVideo) even if you plan to purchase elsewhere. At other sites that have a more general audience (like Amazon) it is usually best to sort reviews by those which are rated “Most Helpful” . When all else fails, take the specific model number from your vendor and go to the manufacturer’s site and search for the owner’s manual. It’s not often you’ll need this level of detail, but when you do it often provides the definitive word.

Another Tact: Focused Reviews on Specific Products
Many of the best reviews are produced by enthusiasts that are only interested in one particular product. If you are looking for a digital camera, for example, the reviews from sites like Imaging Resource,, and will provide you with not only a wealth of information about each model, but also pointed (but often contradictory) recommendations. If a product gets high marks from all these sites, you know it’s a winner. Other specialized sites like Laptop Magazine and Notebook Review are great for researching portable computers while sites like SmallNetBuilder are a valuable resource for anyone working on computer networks.

Finding the Best Price from a Vendor You Can Trust
OK, you’ve done it! Congratulations – you’ve found the perfect item to suit your budget and needs. Now how do you find the best price? How do you know that your going to get what you paid for from a reputable source?  Stay tuned for Part 3 in this series for more...

Available now: Part 3- Finding the Best Price from a Source You Can Trust .

Don’t forget to visit  our Resources: Tech Reviews  page for links and more information about many of  the sites discussed above.


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