With the end of support for Windows XP last month, there are a lot of people looking to buy new computers. If you haven't looked at computers in the past few years, you might be shocked by how much power you get for the price. The budget computers of today were the high-end computers of just a few years ago.
Of course, even a budget computer will set you back $350 to $500. That's not bad when you consider the speed you're getting and figure you'll have it for at least four years. Go to http://bit.ly/1fG2NHP to learn more about buying a budget computer.
But that's still a bit much for some. You could spend $250 or so on a tablet or Chromebook, both of which will cover most of the basic things computers can do: Web surfing, email, Facebook, watching videos and such.
But what if you only have $100 to spend? Well, you still have options.
1. Refurbished models
You can find refurbished office PCs online and in local thrift stores for around $100. These usually have hardware from the early 2000s.
There's a catch, though. They mostly run Windows XP, and XP isn't a safe operating system to be running anymore. Go to http://bit.ly/R6Mgnh if you missed the news about why you must upgrade your XP computer.
Still, you can put another operating system on a computer. I once tested Windows 7 on a Pentium 4, which many of these computers have, and it ran fine for basic tasks. (Vista won't, though, in case you're thinking of trying.) Of course, a Windows 7 license will set you back $100, so you're not saving as much as you'd hope.
Then there are operating systems based on Linux. These are free, come with everything you need for basic computing, and will run great on older hardware. If you're going to give this a whirl, check out Linux Mint at www.linuxmint.com. The MATE edition should run better than XP, in fact.
2. DIY computers
DIY computers are great basic systems if you like tinkering. They don't run Windows and you don't get a monitor, keyboard or mouse. Some don't even have a case! But don't let that put you off.
The flagship computer for this category is the $35 Raspberry Pi. It was designed for students to practice programming, but it was a huge hit with the DIY crowd.
And in the past few years, it has been made easier for beginners to use, thanks to its whimsically named New Out of Box Software, or NOOBS, system. This helps you install a few of the various operating systems it runs, which are based on the free Linux.
You might still end up doing some tweaking, but fortunately, the Raspberry Pi site, www.raspberrypi.org/, has excellent tutorials for beginners.
Via's APC Rock ($79) and Paper ($99) are similar systems with a bit more oomph.
When you're poking around for DIY computers, you might come across the Arduino board. While this is a fantastic system for hobbyists, it won't work as a computer.
3. Android computers
Android isn't just for smartphones and tablets. Although, if you can find a last-generation smartphone or tablet running Android 4.0 or higher for $100 or less, it would make a good portable computer.
There are a few companies making Android "sticks." These are the size of a USB and plug right into the HDMI port on your TV, similar to a Chromecast or Roku Streaming Stick.
However, these run a full version of Android, which means you can surf the Web, install apps and anything else you'd do on an Android tablet.
These use similar ARM Cortex processors and include a USB port, Wi-Fi, internal storage that's expandable with a memory card and high-definition HDMI output.
Look in the $50 to $90 range for ones based on the MK802, MK808 and MK809. Higher numbers are generally faster. You'll want to make sure the stick has Android 4.1 or later.
If the stick has a USB port, you can plug in a USB hub and then a keyboard and mouse.
Otherwise, you'll need a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, which will set you back. So be sure to check before you buy.
Bonus advice: If you already own a decent smartphone or tablet, you could try using that in place of your computer. You might find it's all you really need.
Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. Hear it locally at 94.3 WSC News Radio noon-3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, go to www.komando.com.
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