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  1. Home
  2. Computing skills
  3. Acquiring a computer for study
  4. Buying a computer

Buying a computer

OU study does not demand a particularly high specification for computers and many new computers have a higher specification than you will need. You need to make sure that your computer has the right specification for your study. This is for a number of reasons:

  • your module might use activities that specifically require a Microsoft Windows operating system in order to work
  • your module might involve working with software that needs a lot of memory and processing power, and
  • some modules (for example languages) might require a microphone.

It can be helpful to take a knowledgeable friend with you when you go shopping for a computer.

The basic specification for OU study

You should check the requirements for your module at the Study at the OU website before buying. Simply search for the module you want then look for the computing requirements. It is also worthwhile to look at modules you may study later.

As a rough guide, we suggest buying a machine with at least the following basic specification.

  • Processor: 3.0 GHz processor
  • Memory: 2 GB of RAM
  • Drives: DVD-RW which can read and write both DVD and CD discs
  • Hard disk: at least 100 GB hard disk drive (typical sizes usually 300 GB and up)
  • Screen: 17” LCD screen (desktop) or 15.4” (laptop).

If you are buying a PC, try to get a recent version of the operating system (e.g. Windows Vista or Windows 7).

A few tips

  • Decide how much money you want to spend – you can get an idea by looking at prices advertised in shops and magazines
  • Shop around – don’t buy the first computer you come across
  • Try using a computer in the shop before you decide to buy
  • If possible, ask a knowledgeable friend to accompany you to the shop
  • Ask a shop assistant for advice and opinions, but don’t be persuaded to buy a more expensive computer than you need
  • Look for a ‘Genuine Windows’ or ‘Windows Vista’ sticker on the case, manual or discs
  • Find out whether the computer comes with any other software
  • Check the warranty offered and whether it is ‘on site’ or ‘return to base’ (meaning you have to get the machine back to the supplier for any repair)
  • Find out what else is included in the price, such as a printer, cables and delivery to your home
  • Ask about after-sales support and how much it costs
  • Find out if the supplier will help you to set up the computer and access the internet

If you are buying a PC, try to get a recent version of the operating system (e.g. Windows Vista or Windows 7).


Remember to ask about security software for your computer. You will need.

  • anti-virus software, which will neutralise any viruses that your computer might have acquired.  Antivirus software is also available for free download from the internet
  • a firewall, which will prevent other users accessing your machine via the internet without your permission.

These are often integrated into a single ‘security suite’. For further information go to Computer Security.

Buying second-hand

If you decide to buy a second-hand machine make sure you go to a reputable company as there are a lot of stolen machines on the market. The value of computers depreciates quickly, so check the price of a new machine for comparison.

Second-hand machines might come with limited warranty or no warranty at all, and might be less reliable than a new computer.

Double-check the computer against the specification for your module and don’t assume that a lower specification will be sufficient. However if your computer doesn’t meet the specification you might be able to upgrade it by taking it to a computer shop.