Computing / Gaming Buyers Guide

By: Martin Davis

For those of you looking to console gaming on a budget, then older systems are definitely worth considering. Playstation 2s are becoming more common on the second hand market as more and more are upgrading to the vastly superior Playstation 3, as is the original XBox with owners again upgrading. Don't always expect a lot of games as many sellers will keep a lot of their games to use on their newer consoles but you should still be able to grab a bargain or two. Games for both are still easy to pick up on the high street at knock-down prices so they're still worth thinking about.

Onto the current wave of consoles and this is where you will have to give more consideration about what system you want to buy as each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Nintendo's Wii is targeted more at a family audience as most of its games demonstrate and it takes a fairly novel approach to gaming with its innovative motion-sensitive controller. It's certainly not the most technologically advanced of all of the consoles, hence its lower price, but it has proved to be incredibly popular. Because of the lower retail price, this is the cheapest way to get into "next-gen" gaming, but more serious gamers might be put off by the family bias in the catalogue of games available.

Since it's launch the XBox 360 has proven to be a smash hit despite confusion over the different models available. It's a very powerful system with the most extensive range of games available of all of the latest machines at present. There have been some technical issues with the hardware and reliability problems experiences by some users and there does seem to be an over-reliance on PC-style games but for the hard-core gamer this shouldn't be a problem. If you're on the lookout for a second hand model, your best bet here if you are looking for a machine as cheap as possible is the "Arcade" version of the XBox 360 which comes without a hard drive (which you could add yourself later), but if you're more serious about gaming, then you are better off spending the extra to buy one of the other models.

The Playstation 3 is still something of an enigma to many. It suffered from a rocky start due to an incredibly high retail price, and a poor selection of games, hampered further by high game prices. This is changing now following the price drop and game releases seem to be coming out on a par with the XBox 360. The one concern that owners did have was that many early games were almost identical to those on the XBox 360, despite the PS3's superior capabilities. This is starting to be addressed now so players will start to see the real difference between the machines... not to mention the fact that the PS3 is also a rather nifty Blu-Ray player!

As these hardware differences really start to become noticeable, you may start to see some XBox 360 owners making the switch to the PS3 (as was seen in the high street following the PS3's price drop in late 2007) so this could start to see more second hand XBox 360s appearing on the market so it could prove to be a bargain entry-level machine if you want to join the latest wave of next-generation gamers.

Some second hand PS3s do turn up however but buying second hand is complicated as there are two models available. The current machine comes complete with a 40Gb hard drive, but the original model was released with a 60Gb hard drive. As well as that there are other subtle changes to the new model. The new version no longer has the memory card slots for digital cameras (although this is no great loss), there are now only two USB ports instead of four, and it is no longer compatible with Playstation 2 games. While Sony argued that many users didn't need this feature, if it is something that's essential then you are either going to want to track down the 60Gb model (which are selling for a premium price) or settle for owning both a 40Gb Playstation 3 AND buying a Playstation 2 as well.

One thing I would say is that - no matter what console you buy - is to make sure that you try to stick to the European models of the machines and not be tempted by a Japanese or American import. While some of these may be cheaper, you will have problems getting them repaired when things go wrong and most consoles are restricted to playing games (and DVDs) to a specific part of the world so buying Imported consoles could make life difficult for yourself in the long term.

For the older games players looking to reminisce over their youth, there is continual interest in retro gaming and while old computers and games consoles don't tend to appear in classified adverts too often, they can be fantastic value for money. The obvious great bargains are the seminal classics Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum along with the Sega Megadrive and Nintendo SNES. The great thing with retro gaming is that old consoles and computers generally hold very little value to anyone apart from those looking to buy them, so you can often pick up some fantastic deals, just don't always expect all of the games and accessories to be in full working order!

Looking into the PC camp, prices of new PCs are dropping daily and hardware is becoming more reliable. While this is great if you are buying new, it makes buying second hand systems harder when you are looking to get a PC that will be able to run more contemporary software and nigh-on-impossible if you're on a shoestring budget.

The first thing to always bear in mind when shopping for a second hand PC is what you're going to need it for. I know this sounds like an obvious question to ask but it's something that a lot of people don't always think about and just decide that they want a PC and nothing else. If all you are looking for is a PC for simple home use (word processing etc), basic games and using the internet then you are not going to need a state-of-the-art computer and as such your budget will stretch a lot further.

While most retailers will push you into buying the latest all-singing, all-dancing PC running Windows Vista, you're not going to need this if your needs are fairly simple. You should be able to manage with an older PC running Windows XP, a 64Mb or 128Mb graphics card, and an 80Gb hard drive. In terms of memory, 512Mb would be more than enough to suit pretty much any user for most casual games to keep the average family happy.

While a flat screen monitor would be a great addition to this sort of set-up, most of the more affordable deals would be likely to come with older style CRT screens but all of this shouldn't set you back more than ?200, possibly even with a printer thrown in from the right seller! If you do find a PC with lower specifications than those mentioned, it's not too hard to upgrade cheaply.

For the serious games player who is looking for something capable of running more contemporary games then you are really looking at having to spend a lot more and despite its flaws, will have no choice but to look for a PC running Windows Vista. Whatever PC you go for here, you are going to need something with at least 1Gb of RAM, 256Mb graphics card and a 120Gb hard drive or larger. Anything less than these and - to be perfectly frank - it just isn't worth trying to run Vista properly.

Laptops are a different matter altogether. They DO seem to hold their value better but you have to remember that if you want to run games, you are better off buying a desktop that you can expand as most laptops aren't really suited for gaming other than casual or older games.

The obvious drawback with laptops is that once you have bought it, you can't upgrade it so you have to be certain that the specifications of the machine you buy is exactly what you need from the start. Equally, from the start laptops are generally behind desktop PCs in terms of their capabilities in relation to the price you can expect to pay so you are already at an immediate disadvantage so if you even think that you may want to do more with your PC in the long term, then a desktop will always be your best option. Price wise though I'd say you're going to be looking at about 25-50% more than the cost of the equivalent desktop PC including monitor.

Another point to bear in mind with laptops is how you intend to use it. If is meant to be your main day-to-day PC then you have to take into consideration that laptops can overheat very easily so they need plenty of ventilation, need to be used on flat surfaces and shouldn't really be used for more than a few hours at a time without a break. This applies even more so with older models that have seen plenty of use as the components can wear out all-too quickly. Some brands are more susceptible to this than others but I have only found a few that seem to be able to cope with being left on for hours on end and work as a desktop replacement.

To be perfectly honest, if this is something that might be of concern to you then you might want to reconsider laptops as laptop repairs can be frighteningly expensive - especially if it is a fault caused by overheating - and will almost certainly cost more than the price of a second hand laptop!

I've barely scratched the surface with games consoles and PCs and haven't even looked at PC software and accessories - those two would cover another article of their own - but hopefully this will give you a few pointers and steer you in the right direction when making some of your second hand computing / gaming purchases.

One thing I can't stress enough is that when you do buy a second hand PC or games console is to try to see them working before handing over your money but as long as you can do that and just be aware of what you are buying and how much you're paying, you should be able to develop your hobby further without having to break the bank.

Have fun!

Top Searches on
Gaming
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Gaming