People ask me all the time what products I recommend. Here is my list of different computer and software recommendations. This list was last updated July 1, 2020.

Antivirus

  • Recommended: Eset
  • Good enough: Avast/AVG (free or paid), Kaspersky, Norton, Trend Micro
  • Avoid: F-Secure, McAfee, Webroot
  • Not enough experience to form an opinion: Adaware, Sophos, Panda
  • Note: McAfee is free with your Centurylink internet service. It is very confusing to install. I also personally think free is still too expensive for McAfee.
  • Note: Kaspersky has excellent detection, but tends to slow a computer down.
  • Note: Avast/AVG (same company now) will constantly try to upsell you. Just ignore it and you will be fine.

Computers

The order of the parts below are from most important to least important.

Brand

  • Recommended: Dell, HP, Lenovo, Apple iMac, Apple Macbooks made after 2020
  • Good enough: Asus, Compaq, Gateway, Toshiba
  • Avoid: All Apple Macbooks with the butterfly keyboard, eMachine, any pre-2019 model Microsoft Surface, Sony
  • Note: AVOID CERTAIN APPLE LAPTOPS AT ALL COSTS! Until 2020, Apple Macbook laptops had a butterfly keyboard which was very flimsy and broke under normal use. Worse, it was riveted to the case. From personal experience, these keyboards are very uncomfortable to use. These same Apple laptops also have a chip — called the T2 chip — whose primary purpose is prevent you from repairing the product and to make sure their software is only being used on Apple hardware. The T2 chip, which has a high rate of failure, is programmed specifically for each individual machine; it cannot be replaced, ever. If this chip goes bad, you will have to replace the whole machine. These laptops also have the hard drive soldered in place, which makes recovering your file impossible. Never ever under any circumstance and for any reason buy an Apple laptop. The Apple iMac is different and not subject to these unforgivable design flaws and thus a product worth owning. However, always remember that Apple goes way way out of their way to prevent anyone but them from repairing their products because they do not want you to fix, they want you replace. The third party Apple replace program is designed to force you to use Apple repair because you must always order parts on-demand and cannot keep parts in stock.
  • Note: The Microsoft Surface is a very nice product, but older models are literally impossible to repair. Like the Apple laptop, if any part goes bad you will have to buy a new machine and your files are unrecoverable. The models released late 2019 are much easier to repair and thus are no longer on my avoid list.
  • Note: Most modern laptops have a touchpad that prefers to be pretty rather than useful. And most laptops sold in stores prefer to be pretty than repairable. Thus, I always recommend spending more for business class products, which sacrifices beautify for reliability and repairability.

Memory

  • Recommended: 8 GB or more
  • Avoid: Anything less than 8 GB
  • Note: Your computer will work better if it uses two memory modules of identical size instead of one. For instance, two 4GB memory modules gives you better performance than one 8GB memory modules. For this reason, it might be a good idea to buy an extra memory module and install it manually. This isn’t very difficult on desktops and usually not difficult on business class laptops. Some luxury models, such as Apple laptops, have the memory soldered inside, and so cannot be replaced or upgraded.

Hard Drive

  • Recommended: Solid State drive (SSD) — sometimes called M.2 or NVMe
  • Good enough: everything else
  • Avoid: Any product with Intel Optane
  • VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure your hard drive is at least 128 GB. Anything less will cause problems sooner not later.
  • Note: If you can afford a SSD, you should get one. These last longer are much much faster than traditional hard drives. Avoid at all costs Intel Optane. It is very expensive, I have read little good about it, and for technical reasons you will probably not understand, it cannot be as fast as a SSD. Intel Optane is only good for very high-end servers. Another option is to let me install a SSD. I can put in a SSD hard drive with a 5 year manufacturer warranty for less than it would cost you to have pre-installed from the factory. If you have enough money, I can still buy a SSD with a 10 year warranty.
  • Note: Be aware! Some hard drives 2 TB and up are using a new technology. These are called shingled hard drives. DO NOT buy these hard drives! Most especially for servers and anything like it. These hard drives have only one use: archiving. The performance on them is so horrible that you will regret it.

Processor (Desktop)

  • Recommended: AMD Ryzen
  • Good enough: Intel Core i3/i5/i7/i9
  • Avoid: AMD Athlon, AMD A-series, AMD E-series, AMD Threadriper, AMD Epyc, Intel Celeron, Intel Pentium, Intel Xeon
  • FYI: Processors will have a single number (3, 5, 7, 9) followed by a 4 or 5 digit number. That first number indicates performance class, where the higher the number the more powerful the processor. The first digits of a second group typically indicate its generation. For example, AMD Ryzen # 3### is 3rd generation; Intel Core i# 10### is 10th generation. Of course, just to be confusing for no good reason, there are exceptions.
  • Note: AMD Threadripper is a high-end CPU that most people will never need. The AMD Epyc and Intel Xeon are server processors, they are not meant for your needs. I do not recommend Intel Core i9 except for gamers with an unlimited budget.
  • Note: Gamers with unlimited budget should target certain Intel Core i9. But for everyone else, dollar-for-dollar the AMD Ryzen provides the best performance.
  • Note: Do NOT forget about energy usage. This also applies to laptops. The more energy a processor requires, the more expensive your power supply and cooler must be. Energy is stated in Thermal Power Design (TDP) and in watts. The higher the TDP, and thus watts, the more energy it uses and the hotter it gets. Intel and AMD define this number differently. Intel defines TDP essentially as the minimum amount of power the processor needs and AMD defines it as the typical amount of power the processor needs. What this means is that Intel processors can require 250% more energy to get their maximum performance whereas AMD requires about 50% more energy to get maximum performance. Remembering energy usage is much more important in the hot summer months.

Processor (Laptop)

  • Recommended: AMD Ryzen 4xxx series
  • Good enough: Intel Core i3/i5/i7/i9, AMD Ryzen 3xxx or 2xxx
  • Avoid: AMD A-series, AMD E-series, Intel Celeron, Intel Pentium
  • Note: The Intel Core i3/i5/i7 10xxx or earlier provides better laptop battery life than the AMD Ryzen 3xxx or 2xxx processors but not better battery life than the AMD Ryzen 4xxx processors.
  • Note: Still do not forget about energy usage and processor generations. Read this note above in the desktop processors.
  • Note: About that power draw … For laptop CPU’s, if the processor ends in U (for ultraportable) then the TDP rating (see above) is 15W or, starting with Intel Core i-11xxx series, 28W. If the processor ends in H then the TDP rating is 45W. If the processor ends in HS then the TDP rating is 35W. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the wattage the better the performance but the worse the battery life, and vice versa.

Video Card (gamers or multi-monitor needs)

  • Recommend for high-end: NVidia GTX 1xxx/2xxx series
  • Recommend for mid-range: AMD RX 5xxx series or RX 5xx series
  • Recommend for low-end: All other AMD Radeon
  • Avoid: AMD Vega, Lower tier NVidia
  • Note: AMD is far better for multi-monitor set ups than NVidia. The AMD Vega is the best video card for bitcoin and professional tasks, but it is not good for much else.
  • Note: As of March 1, 2020 the AMD RX 5xxx series video card is having driver problems. These are being fixed, but the process is slow. This is part of the growing pains because it was a redesign almost from the ground-up. If I had my choice, I would save a few extra months and go with NVidia.

Other computer notes

  • When you do buy a Windows computer, it is very important to not connect the internet until you sign in the first time. Under no circumstances should you ever give Microsoft your email address. The purpose of Windows 10 is to make money off you after the first day, don’t make it easier for Microsoft to do that.
  • I strongly recommend you pay extra for business class products. Yes, they cost more. But they are more reliable and easier to repair.
  • Don’t forget to check the manufacturer’s outlet stores. You can get a good deal on a returned computer, a discontinued model, scratch-and-dent models, or excess inventory. You can order from Dell’s outlet online (with sometimes very good coupons) and also from Lenovo’s outlet. To order from HP’s understaffed outlet, you must call them at 888-385-5408 where they will give you an email address. I do not want them to be spammed, so I am will not post the email here. Include in your email your name, phone number, and address. Someone from a 505 area code will call you back in a day or two.
  • Beware of hidden extras. Stores play on the ignorance of most computer users to sell them extras they do not need or can get cheaper somewhere else. For example, most printers no longer come with a USB cable. If you buy a new printer, the store will try to sell you one, sometimes without asking if you already have one. All cables are a high-profit item for stores and they can be purchased for as much as 90% less online. For example, a $50 HDMI cable can be bought at amazon.com for $10 shipped. Stores will also try to sell you software you do not need or want. The employees are trained to be convincing; make it clear you do not want any extras. The best way to avoid extras is to buy online and pickup in the store. A new trick stores have is to “pre-optimize” a computer. You see a good price on a computer and the only ones they have left are “pre-optimized” and cost $100 more. Be firm and be clear; do not pay for a pre-optimization service, no exceptions. If you politely stand your ground and make the store honor their advertised price, you can usually get them to drop the unwanted fee.
  • On the other hand, if you can get an extra that you wanted anyway at a discount, go for it. The key is if you already wanted it. Do not let the store talk you into an extra. But if you had already planned to get it anyway and you can get a discount, go for it. Except for cables.
  • Extended warranties are a waste of money. 9999 times out of 10000, an extended warranty will never be used. Just like the unwanted “pre-optimization” service, it is pure profit for the store. Make it clear you do not want an extended warranty no exception.
  • Always shop around and always ask the store to price match. Stores may have sales or outlet computers that may save you a lot of money. And if a computer is not on sale but priced lower somewhere else, ask the store to price match. The worse they can say is no. Remember also that sometimes the price for the same item may be different on the website than in the store. It never hurts to ask for any discounts, you may get one.
  • Choose features based on needs. Do not pay for more computer than you will need.
  • Don’t forget to search for coupons online.
  • All pre-built computers are loaded with junk software. It is called trialware. Manufacturers are paid to put trialware on the computer. On a budget computer, trialware can significantly slow down your computer. On all computers it is an annoyance and waste of hard drive space. Business class products tend to have less junk trialware. And don’t forget that Microsoft pushes out junk apps from time-to-time.
  • Some computers support Blu-Ray Disc. Those that do can play Blu-Ray movies on your computer and HDTV. Most Blu-Ray computer drives do not support 4K ultra HD movies. Quite honestly, I am having a hard time finding a reliable 4K UHD Blu-Ray player for the computer.
  • Many computers no longer have a DVD or Blu-Ray drive anymore. Please keep that in mind before buying.
  • Sorry, you must get Windows 10 or an Apple. I realize Windows 10 is, by trillions of miles, the worst Windows ever made. But that is all I can get.
  • I can make a computer, but it will not be cheaper. Because of that, I only recommend this route for gamers or people with special needs. Example: Someone who needs 3 or more monitors.

Routers

  • Recommend: Asus, Netgear Orbi (very large homes only)
  • Good Enough: Netgear, TP-Link
  • Avoid: Linksys, Google Wi-Fi, any generic brand

Monitors

  • Recommended: BenQ, Dell professional, LG
  • Avoid: Anything less than $100
  • Note: Before you buy a monitor, turn it on and off to see how long it takes to power on. Some monitors can take over 5 seconds to power on.
  • Note: There are four types of common monitor connectors now — VGA (also called D-Sub), HDMI, DisplayPort, and USB-C. The last two are found on the best monitors but might not be found on your computer. Make sure you have the manual for your computer so that you know which connectors to look for. With very few exceptions, any monitor you buy in the store will almost certainly be compatible with your computer.

Printers

  • Recommended: Brother, Epson (specialty photo printers only), HP (laser printers only), Lexmark (laser printers only)
  • Avoid: Any printer less $150, all Epson printers except for their specialty photo printers
  • Note: The only Epson printer I recommend are the expensive photo printers that are not available in stores. Epson specialty photo printers on Epson paper will produce the best pictures. If you do a lot of high volume printing, you absolutely need a laser printer. If you hardly ever need color, then you can save a lot of money on your printing costs by buying a black and white laser. Before buying a printer, make sure you find out how much the ink or toner costs and then divide that by the claimed number of pages to determine your approximate cost per page.

Cellular Phones/Tablets

  • Recommended: Anything not too cheap that is not in my avoid list
  • Avoid: Every Apple iPhone except the 8 or earlier, Google Pixel, any phone with a notch in the upper corners of the screen, or any phone without a headphone jack
  • Note: Hold the phone in your hand before buying it. And touch the phone quite often too. Make sure you understand how to use it before you decide to buy it.
  • Note: Never ever ever without exception use your fingerprint or face to unlock your phone or device. Always use a pin code to unlock because it is more secure. (This is also true with your computer.)
  • Note: Never ever ever without exception buy a phone that removes the headphone jack. Wireless headphones cannot offer as good of quality as wired ones (even inexpensive ones) and wired ones never need to be charged. Plus, with a headphone jack you can guarantee that your car’s stereo will be able to play music off the phone. And it will be easier to do too. Remember that the only reason why the headphone jack is removed is to force you to buy an expensive replacement; the decision had absolutely nothing to do for what is best for you.
  • Note: Avoid any Android phone without a microSD card slot. This feature is more important than you realize. Especially for your pictures. One of the first things you should do is put a microSD card in the phone and configure the phone to save all your pictures to it. Now your pictures will be safe from accidents.
  • Note: The newest iPhones have an user-interface that is a gigantic step backwards. And that might be too generous. They have a more powerful interior and better camera, but what does that matter if it is harder to use? It also takes away the headphone jack because Apple wants you to buy overpriced headphones instead of using the very good and very cheap generic ones. And it has a notch in its design, which is perhaps one of the dumbest product designs in all of human history. Seriously. And for all that nonsense, it will cost more than 3 months of a cable bill. Every person I know who has one does not like it as much as their previous ones. Also, the newest iPhones purposefully sabotage themselves if you do not use an Apple store replace the battery. The purpose is to make sure you do not use legitimate parts for which Apple cannot profit from; it is anti-consumer and anti-independent repair shop. Because of Apple’s abhorrent treatment of customers, I do not recommend their phones.

Phone Service Providers, Cellular and Home

First, remember that pre-paid cellular services use another company’s towers. So the coverage area and service quality is related to the company’s towers they use. And also remember that pre-paid service likely does not have access to the latest and greatest on those towers. Don’t expect 5G (5th Generation) on pre-paid for a long time.

This list is not exhaustive. And it is only my opinion.

  • Altice Mobile – Uses Sprint’s towers.
  • AT&T landline – Expensive but reliable. Some service does include robocall blocking.
  • AT&T wireless – Probably the fastest service and second largest coverage area. But they are deceptive and require you to buy their phones to get all the features. I neither recommend or not recommend. Coverage in rural North Carolina is lacking.
  • Boost Mobile – Now owned by Dish Network. Uses Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s towers but will be installing their own towers.
  • Centurylink – Expensive but reliable. No robocall blocking.
  • Consumer Cellular – Uses AT&T’s towers.
  • Cricket – AT&T prepaid service.
  • Jitterbug – Uses Verizon’s towers.
  • Kajeet – Uses Sprint’s towers.
  • Metro – Uses T-Mobile’s towers.
  • Ooma – Great prices, horrible customer service. But their call quality is good. A VoIP service. The $10/month premium service includes robocall blocking. I recommend this for anyone who wants a home phone and with 20 MBPS or faster internet.
  • Page Plus Cellular – Uses Verizon’s towers.
  • PlatinumTel – Uses Sprint’s towers.
  • Sprint – Horrible customer service, horrible cellular service. Personal opinion: free is still far too expensive for Sprint and for any service that uses their towers.
  • Straight Talk – Uses all 3 (formerly 4) major provider’s tower, depending on which phone you have.
  • Suddenlink – Better prices than Centurylink, but not as reliable. Still expensive. No robocall blocking. Horrible customer service.
  • T-Mobile – Coverage increased drastically recently. Excellent customer service, excellent prices. But their coverage is smaller than the rest. Merging with Sprint, so expect the customer service to become really really bad.
  • TracFone Wireless – Uses all 3 (formerly 4) major provider’s tower, depending on which phone you have.
  • US Cellular – Excellent rural coverage. Okay prices and okay service.
  • Verizon landline – Expensive but reliable. No robocall blocking.
  • Verizon Fios – Expensive. Includes robocall blocking.
  • Verizon Wireless – The best, with a price to match. Speeds are probably not as fast as AT&T, but their coverage is definitely better.
  • Visible – Verizon’s pre-paid service. Excellent prices. If you can do without some advanced features, I recommend this above all others.
  • Xfinity Mobile – Uses Verizon’s towers.