In the last article, I gave some background on my involvement in computers, before getting any formal training. As mentioned, it started with our family computer that I loaded and re-loaded operating systems on and constantly tweaked over time.
Fast forward 30 years, If I were asked what can a beginner do to learn more about computers and technology in general? The very first suggestion I have is to get your hands on a computer that you can afford. This doesn’t have to be a new computer, nor does it have to even be considered current. Depending on what you can spend initially, there are options available.
I’m going to attack this subject as if the goal is to spend as little as possible to get started with a computer for educational purposes. With this in mind, I would have a few suggestions: Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and eBay. The biggest disadvantage to this plan would be you don’t have much of a fallback plan with either of these options. I mean that if something turns out to be wrong with the computer, typically there is no option to return it and are just stuck with it.
Out of these options, Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace would probably be my first choice, because the purchase would be local and allows seeing the unit function before buying. Typically, you would want to see the machine power-up, boot successfully with no errors during the startup process, and then be able to navigate around inside the Operating System. Assuming you can do all this — it’s a pretty safe bet of making a good purchase.
eBay would be my last resort, simply because you don’t have the opportunity to see it in person first. However, if you prefer a transaction that involves little to no human interaction and is delivered to your doorstep, this may be the preferred option.
One last and the probably less common scenario would be surplus auctions. County school systems will often dump a bunch of equipment during a refresh and will be offered via a public auction. This type of computer equipment will often be part of larger surplus auctions that may include county vehicles and other heavy equipment. The potential problem with this is there would be no way of telling if any of it works beforehand. However, you could very easily pick up multiple units for the same cost of just one elsewhere. Something to keep an eye out for.
Also, don’t forget family and friends. Make it known to all, that you are looking for an old computer. Many times people have not gotten rid of a computer they just recently upgraded from. These can often be had for free. Speaking of family or friends, chances are you know someone already working in a technical field that can help you find a good working computer. Use those resources to remove some of the headaches of trying to do this all on your own.
In terms of what to look for, my suggestion is to focus on a PC first. The Mac world is one all to its own and although valuable to learn, it doesn’t lend itself well to a technical learning platform. Mac computers are built for users, we want something we can completely wipe out and have our choice of multiple Operating Systems to go back on it, in which the PC is the best option.
Hardware types are another choice: Desktop or Laptop? Both have their pros and cons:
– Often are more powerful than a laptop of the same cost
– Can be easier to work on, if you need to add or swap out hardware
– Requires external components to operate: Monitor, keyboard, and mouse — all of which takes physical space
– Not portable
– Small and can be used anywhere
– Can be less powerful than a similarly priced desktop
– Most components can’t be upgraded with a couple of exceptions
– If physically damaged, depending on the problem area, sometimes it’s best to just throw them out and start over
My recommendation would be to find a laptop first. The portability part of a laptop should outweigh any of the other disadvantages, in my opinion. Even if the laptop you acquire say has a bad battery and requires it to be plugged in all the time, you are still able to pick it up and take it with you to another location, something that is very difficult to do with a desktop computer.
Now, after we have gone through all these options, there is one more. Let’s say you already have a modern computer or have access to one, to install software on. If that is the case, you can use something called ‘virtual machines’, all the software required to use virtual machines can be obtained at no cost. Since prepping a computer for VM’s is a whole process within itself, I’ll create a separate article explaining how to do that.