Where to Buy Hardware

I react to spending money like some people react to being stung by bees. I get inflamed. Recovery takes a while.

If you want to buy a computer or parts, and if you know what you want, so you don’t need a sales representative to “advise” you, here’s what’s worked for me, most of the time (I’m in the U.S.):

  • Newegg.com (an online retailer)

  • Amazon.com (an online retailer)

  • Froogle.com or, if you put on formal clothing to read this page, then the same thing as google.com/shopping (it searches a large variety of online retailers and links to their offers (Google itself does not do the selling))

In years past, I used the Usenet and Web searches to find someone local who’s selling something, but in that case plan on visiting and bringing a bootable live operating system CD to test it (with the seller’s permission but don’t buy without testing unless it’s extremely cheap and still looks plausibly worth the chance). I haven’t tried that in a few years and markets may have evolved. If I were trying it now, I’d probably look in Craigslist, too. People selling computers through the Usenet (not through Craigslist) are probably knowledgeable geeks, since the Usenet is a less-well-known specialized part of the Internet, older than the Web.

When I search, I sort the results by price, lowest first. This gives some peculiar results, because a few bizarre offers use the same description keywords as what you really want, but it’s still the best sortation. You can set a minimum price before searching if you’re pretty sure you won't find a working lunar lander for $5, but I tend to be hopeful, so I start at $0 or blank.

I often ignore other criteria for searches, preferring to rely on my search terms. For example, I usually don’t specify sellers, ratings, or that I must have deals. I look at those things on the product page. If the price is attractive, I don’t care if it’s this week’s deal.

I also don’t specify variables like RAM (memory) size. For some reason, ranges are not clearly indicated, so I haven’t tried those kinds of criteria. What’s on the product page is good enough. And, if the product page is silent about something important, that’s a red flag, especially when other product pages have the needed information. If someone selling omits an important fact, that’s a silent warning.

While ratings don’t much matter, comments matter more. But they could come from people who lack skills you have or who work for or against the company selling the thing, so even comments are not always reliable. But read them for things to watch out for.

To weed out reviews that are secretly from the company’s own flaks or their competitors, those likely will be the reviews with the most extreme ratings and which have only short comments that say lttle (like “great/lousy product do/don’t buy”). For example, if reviews can have anywhere from 1 to 5 stars, pay little attention to 5-star reviews and pay little attention to 1-star reviews, but look mainly at reviews that have 2 to 4 stars. Look especially at those that say specific things about features, especially combining pro and con. The useless reviews are probably paid for with a requirement to write them cheaply, quickly, and in mass, which is why they’ll be short, hardly informative, and with extreme ratings.

Reviews can be written by people who don’t understand but may be frustrated or angry. They may be sincere, but the complaint itself may be invalid. Judge the vallidity of each review for yourself.

Low-price items I typically buy locally. While ordering from an online supplier that has no legal nexus in the state where I live can save me sales tax, the shipping and handling charge can effectively wipe that out, so it can be worth paying the sales tax and walking out the door with my purchase.

Linux-compatible Wi-Fi adapters or network interface cards (NICs) for USB are in a separate article.