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Buying Computers

We've put together some suggestions/opinions for buying computers for libraries. There are no hard and fast rules, just things to think about.

Use – First off, you’ll want to make sure what you’ll be using the computer for. Staff computer? Public machine? OPAC? Lendable computer? This is likely to impact your decisions.

Operating System

  • Windows – The default option. This is probably the most familiar option to most staff and patrons, and allows you to run the widest range of software. Check if you need Windows Professional (for example, if you have a network domain).
  • Chromebook/box – These run Chrome OS (by Google). The expectation is that most of your work will be done on the web (though some popular programs are available as apps). Because Chrome is faster (and more limited) than Windows, you can generally use a cheaper computer. Can be a good fit (especially for public computers), if you are comfortable with the differences from Windows.
  • Mac – Apple computers are more expensive than comparable Windows options. Some users will find them easier to work with, but many users are not familiar with MacOS.


  • Desktop/Tower - These are the most traditional shape. Pros - Easiest to upgrade and repair, can add drives/cards (not usually relevant), slightly faster than equivalent other models (better ventilation and desktop-class processors), second cheapest option. Cons - Takes up more space.
  • Mini PC - This looks like a shrunk-down desktop (and is not the same as a Raspberry Pi). Pros - Takes up less space, some models can be upgraded*, cheapest option, tend to use less electrcity. Cons - Fewer ports and less space for drives/cards (which probably doesn't matter), slightly slower than the equivalent desktop. (thanks to Nick at Aldrich and Steve at Kellogg Hubbard for their suggestions)
  • All-in-One - Combines a monitor and computer into one unit (like an iMac). Pros - Requires less space, fewer cables, tend to use less electrcity. Cons - More expensive, if one half fails it's no longer useful (monitors tend to last longer than computers), harder to upgrade and repair*, slightly slower than the equivalent desktop.
  • Laptops - These vary from very portable computers with tiny screens (11.6"), to barely portable computers with giant screens. (17") Ergonomics matters a lot more with laptops. The keyboard and touchpad are also significant, since you can't swap them out (like a desktop). When possible, it's helps to try out a similar model out in a physical store beforehand. Pros - Very portable, tend to use less electrcity. Cons - More expensive, harder to upgrade and repair*, slightly slower than the equivalent desktop.
  • * - For Mini PC's, All-in-Ones, and Laptops, make sure that your model can have the memory upgraded, or that you have enough memory not to worry about it going forward.

Budget - A typical new desktop without monitor will probably run you about $500-800, unless you opt for something fancier. Refurbished equipment can be worth considering, though you’ll want to make sure the amount you’re saving is worth it (an older generation computer, possibly with a shorter warranty).

Consumer/Business – There is something to be said for looking for business (rather than consumer) focused computers. They are (possibly) just a little bit sturdier, and (more importantly) usually have a 3-year rather than 1-year warranty. But ignore this if the differential is too much.

Specs - If at all possible, I recommend spending just a bit more up front if you can, and getting a nicer computer. It will be faster through its whole lifespan, and you may get an extra year or two of useful service out of it. There is definitely a point of diminishing returns though (e.g. if you spend twice as much, but only get an extra two years, it probably wasn’t worth it). If the listing leaves out anything important, like processor model or generation (see below), amount of memory, or the like, it may be intentional. Be aware! If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!

  • Age - Though sellers often obscure this, try to figure out when this model was first sold. Even if it's never been used, a computer that's been sitting in a warehouse for 4 years still has components that are 4 years behind. At the minimum, you should be seeing a lower price. That being said, a high-end computer a few years old may be just as good as a low-end new model, so you may need to do some research.
  • Monitor - If you're replacing computers, you may be able to keep using the current monitors. If not, new ones tend to cost $100-150.
  • Processor - The processor is one of the most important specs, but the names are pure gibberish. My default recommendation is to aim for an Intel i5 or an AMD Ryzen, which means that you probably won't need to worry about processor speed for the life of the computer. Alternately, you might find that a cheaper processor (Intel i3 or even Pentium) is fine for your needs, and offers more bang for the buck (three computers instead of two, for example). I've gone into excessive detail below, but you can always ask me (
    • Intel
      • Processor - For Intel, include Core i9, i7, i5, i3, Pentium, and Celeron.Each model is slower and cheaper than the previous. I think i5 is the sweet spot, but an i3 or even a Pentium might work (and will certainly be cheaper).
      • The first part of the number tells you the generation. For example, a new Intel i5-13400F is 13th generation (first two numbers) and launched in 2023, while an i5-9600k is 9th generation (first number) and launched in 2018. Or a Ryzen 7600 (2023) is newer than a Ryzen 3900 (2019). Each generation is at least a bit better than the last.
      • Model - This is where it gets even messier. The remaining numbers tell you the model; in general, the higher the number the faster. For example, a Core i5-9600 is better than a 9500 is better than a 9400. However, in the tenth generation, Intel changed to an entirely different system which is hard to understand.
      • Suffix - There are often additional characters (K, T, U, H, F), but those are too involved to go into here.
      • This site might help - , or Intel's own explanation -
    • AMD
      • Processor - Include Ryzen 7, 5, and 3, and Athlon. Each model is slower and cheaper than the previous, but even a Ryzen 3 would probably cover your needs. Athlons are the equivalent of Pentiums, but would not be my first choice.
      • Generation - The first digit tells you the generation. A new Ryzen 5 7600X starts with "7" and launched in 2023, while a Ryzen 5 1400 starts with "1" and launched in 2017. For Ryzen, the even generations (for example, a 4500) are roughly similar to the preceding odd generation (for example, a 3500), but with better integrated graphics but slower overall speed.
      • Model - The remaining numbers tell you the model. For example, a Ryzen 5 3600X is better than a 3500X.
      • Suffix - There are often additional characters (X, G, U), but those are too involved to go into here.
      • This site might help -
  • Memory – For Windows, 8 GB is on the low-end of okay, but 12-16 GB would be better. 4 GB is way too low, except for a Chromebook.
  • Hard Drive – For the hard drive, if you can find something that has a SSD (solid state drive), those feel a lot faster. Drive size probably doesn’t matter much (staff) or at all (public).
  • Video Card – Unless this computer will be used for resource-intensive video games, whatever comes integrated into the processor is fine. If you do need a video card, it's like processor naming but even more confusing. In general, the more you spend the better it will be.
  • Chromebook Specs - Though they seem very similar, there’s actually a pretty wide range of models and prices for Chromebooks. Size varies from small (11.5” screen) to medium sized (14-15”), and maybe a few larger. You can get low-end models for less than $200 in some cases, while there are a few high-end ones for like $800. If I were buying a Chromebook I hoped to use for 3-5 years, this might be my approach:
    • Screen – 14” or 15” (more usable, if a bit less portable)
      • Many models come with a touchscreen. I felt like that was less important than a faster processor/more memory, but that’s personal preference.
    • Processor – I would be looking for an Intel N95-N305, or an actual i3 (like an i3-1215U), or better. These are all 4 or 8-core lower power processors.
    • Memory – 4 GB is okay, but 8GB is better
    • Hard Drive – Doesn’t matter very much (32 GB is more than enough)
    • Shape – There are standard laptops, as well as 2-in-1 convertibles (where you flip the screen around to make a tablet).

    I was seeing about $350 for that type, when they were available. You could certainly go cheaper and still have a very usable machine. I feel like I wouldn’t go to the cheapest, unless I wasn’t envisioning holding onto them for more than a year or two.

Brands - Unfortunately, there isn't much in the way of general guidance (e.g. this brand is good, and this one is bad). Up-market brands may have a little better reputation, down-market brands may have a little worse. As long as you opt for a company that you've heard of (or that otherwise has a reasonable reputation online), you're probably okay.

Sellers - Likewise, it's probably not bad to stick with sellers that you've heard of, or to check out their reputation online. One thing to verify is that you can get tax exempt status, which can sometimes be a challenge.

  • MHEC - The Massachusetts Higher Education Consortium purchasing program is eligible to any library within the state. It can provide discounts on a wide range of products and services, including computers and other technology. Read more at our page

Software - Computers don't typically include any software (at least any that you would want). You might be interested in products like Microsoft Office, AntiVirus or Anti-Malware, state-saving software (like Deep Freeze or Reboot Restore), creative products (like Adobe), and more. You can read our page about buying software from TechSoup.

Assistive Technologies - If you are interested in assistive technologies, like large-print keyboards, ergonomic mice, high-contrast screens, and the like, we recommend getting in touch with the Vermont Assistive Technology Program, part of the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living. We've worked with them before, and always found them incredibly helpful and knowledgeable

Restricted Vendors - We are all restricted from using Federal Funds to purchase equipment from Huawei, ZTE, Hytera, Hangzhou Hikvision, and Dahua. This isn't incredibly likely to come up, as they tend to sell enterprise-level networking and telecommunications equipment (switches, routers, IP cameras), as well as smartphones, but is worth keeping in mind