If your PC is about to die, then you'll probably start thinking about a new machine. However, with the appearance of laptops, netbooks and tablet PCs, you're not restricted to another desktop machine. But before you dig out your wallet, here's seven questions you need to ask to determine what's right for you.

Your old PC is about to die and it's time to buy a new one. Or is it? These days, we're fortunate to have a plethora of computing devices that can handle everything from sending an email to watching a movie or writing a thesis. A PC (or Mac, for that matter) is no longer the only choice.

Smartphones aside, you have three categories of products to consider this year: Full-fledged laptops, netbooks and tablets.

Because Apple's iPad has been out long enough to have a track record, I see it as a proxy for the entire tablet category. That will change next year as manufacturers bring out competing devices.

Netbooks are generally defined as Windows- or Linux-based computers with screens of about 10in and smaller, equipped with a low-power processor. The category has been battered by the introduction of the tablet, but the netbook's low price and low weight make it a good choice for some of us. (You'll notice I haven't included desktop PCs in my list. That's deliberate. There are specific circumstances that call for a desktop, but by and large, there's no longer a reason to be anchored to a box. )

As always, your buying decision should be based on the optimal combination of price and the features you really want and need. Here are seven key questions to ask yourself before you start shopping.

1. How much do I want to spend?

There's no short answer to what you'll pay for each class of device; the brand you choose, and more importantly, the features you want, will determine the price. Consider the iPad: Prices range from £429 for the 16GB, Wi-Fi only model to £699 for the 64GB, Wi-Fi plus 3G version. And remember, to connect via 3G you'll have to buy a wireless planfrom a mobile network.

You can certainly find a more-than-serviceable netbook for much less than the price of the cheapest iPad; in fact £250 is a reasonable price point. Even if you load it up with features, you'd be hard pressed to spend more than £400 on a netbook.

Laptop prices are all over the map. You can find a decent Windows laptop for less than £450, but it will probably be rather heavy and may not have as much memory, storage or processor power as you'd like. Get up to about £600 and you can take home a very good machine, although the thinnest and lightest cost significantly more.

2. Do I want to watch movies when I fly?

If so, the hands-down choice is an iPad. The screen is big and bright, the battery life will let you watch hours of movies that you've downloaded in advance and the iPad doesn't weigh much. Of course, you can't just pop in a DVD from your collection since there's no optical drive. But you can rip a movie DVD and transfer it via iTunes. (There are a number of utility programs that will help you do this.)

A good netbook has better battery life than most laptops, so it's your second choice. You'll also have to download the movie in advance or tote along a plug-in optical drive.

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