Microsoft Corporation, AUGUST 25, 2010 (MICROSOFT.COM) If you haven't shopped for a PC in a while, you might be surprised at what you can get without spending a ton of money. And the options are virtually limitless. From size and color to speed and hardware you'll be able to find the perfect laptop for you. With so many choices, it's good to have a shopping plan before you get started. Here are 7 things to do before you buy.

1. Get started with a quick 101

To make sure you get exactly what you need, it helps to understand the options you'll have. Kind of like knowing about gas mileage and stereo system upgrades when you shop for a car. So if "RAM" and "processor" aren't in your standard vocabulary, we can help get you up to speed. Our Windows PC Scout interactive guide will take you through a quick laptop crash course that teaches you the basics and helps you decide which features are right for you.

2. Compare PCs side by side Comparing PCs side by side is a great way to zero in on the right one for you. Visit a store and spend time with the different models on display. See what works for you: look at the monitor, keyboard, and check the weight. Of course, you have a lot more choices online than in most stores. Many retailers and PC manufacturers offer a way to compare different PCs on their websites. Windows PC Scout includes a collection of top PCs that you can compare side by side. You can also browse by usage category, such as gaming or working on the go.







3. Investigate price differences Two laptops can look identical but differ greatly in price. Look more closely at the specifications of laptops that look the same but vary wildly in price. If the specs match, you might be on to a good deal. Most likely, prices differ for reasons like different processor speeds, hard drive size, software included, and unique features like super-fast and spendy solid-state drives (SSDs).

4. Check out the different editions of Windows 7 Windows 7 is the newest Microsoft operating system. Whether you're a media buff, someone who constantly walks the line between work and play, or someone who just wants it all, there's an edition of Windows 7 that's perfect for you. Most laptops come with Windows 7 Home Premium. If you want to move up to the Professional or Ultimate edition, it's easy with Windows Anytime Upgrade. For a quick rundown of the essential features, check out the list of Top 10 reasons to buy Windows 7.

5. Ask about upgrades Before you pull out your credit card, see if you can get more laptop for a little more money. Check on the cost of upgrades like more RAM, a bigger hard drive, a Blu-ray DiscTM movie player, and more. For a little extra, you can boost your laptop's capabilities, so be sure to ask these questions. It's cheaper to buy extra RAM when you buy the laptop. If you think you'll use it, get it now rather than later when you'll probably need help installing new hardware. If you're buying online, you can usually add upgrades. If you're up for buying add-on hardware elsewhere and installing it yourself, you could do a little research before you start shopping to make sure you're getting a good deal on the extras.

6. Know your warranty options Check out the manufacturer's standard warranty first. If any problems arise, it's often right away or within the first few months of use, so a manufacturer's warranty (which typically lasts a year) will give you coverage without requiring you to pay for an extended warranty. But you also need to think about how hard you are on your laptop. Do you travel a lot? Do you have young children who are fascinated with your "toy"? An extended warranty can be valuable insurance if you think your computer may experience some extra wear and tear.

7. Ask about return policy and installation support Before you buy, take a couple of minutes to check out the seller's return policy. Many computer manufacturers, online retailers, and stores offer a 14 to 30-day grace period during which you can return a product for a full refund, no questions asked. Some stores will charge a restocking fee, however, so make sure you ask about that too. While you're at it, check into how much help you can get if you run into questions during setup. Rather than ask you to return the PC, some sellers will help you solve problems over the phone.

Got it? Great! Here's how to switch over to your new laptop Once you've found your perfect PC, come back and we'll help you make the move from your old PC to your new laptop. You can transfer all your files and settings with Windows Easy Transfer (see page for details and instructions). And the Compatibility Center is there for you to check out hardware compatibility and figure out which of your favorite programs will run on your new machine as is, along with which ones just need some upgrades.

When you get your PC, don't forget to register your copy of Windows 7. You'll get a series of emails that help you get started followed by our monthly newsletter so you can stay in the know and get more tips from Windows.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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