The question of what to look for in a new computer comes up a lot after computer prices dropped so much last year. Happily, the answer is a short list of things to look at when you’re shopping for a new PC.
Start with the simple stuff: type – Windows or Mac, form – laptop or desktop, and price.
Mac or Windows? Go with what you like or are used to. Or, if you don’t already have a preference, ask your friends or family what they use and go with that. Neither one is inherently better than the other, but they are different, so it can be handy to stick with your friends-&-family support group.
Laptop or Desktop? Again, one is not better than the other. Laptops are portable, but they can cost around 25% more than a similarly equipped desktop. And desktops will, in general, last a couple of years longer than laptops, partly because they don’t get moved around and/or banged around, and partly because, down the road, desktops are usually easier to upgrade.
On the other hand, desktops are always far away when you want them and laptops can follow you around.
There are other forms too. The “all-in-one” desktop form is one where the entire computer is built into the monitor frame. This saves a lot of room in your workspace. Another new form is a “slate” – like the Apple IPad, essentially a piece of magic glass in a frame, with no keyboard or mouse. You control it all by moving your fingers on the glass, including tapping the keys of a “virtual” keyboard displayed there.
With the exception of Apple’s iPad, which is in a universe of its own, once you’ve decided on the type and form, you can get down to price and a small set of technical details.
When you’re looking at new computers, online or at the store, you’re often confronted with a line of mysterious specifications that looks something like these:
Intel® Pentium® i5 / 6GB Memory / 1TB Hard Drive
Athlon® dual core, 2.2Ghz, 6GB, 350GB
Or, the really mysterious,
Powered by an Intel® Pentium® Processor T4500, 3072MB DDR3 Dual-Channel Memory, 320GB 5400PM SATA Hard drive,
Here’s the quick decoder for that gobbledygook.
|CPU or “processor”
|In a current computer, look for either “Pentium” or “Athlon”, often adjacent to a term with the word “core” in it; like “dual core” or “core i3” or “quad core”.
Try to avoid bargain units with the CPU names “Celeron” or “Sempron”. These scaled down chips, in this writer’s opinion, will succumb in a year or so to the constantly increasing demands of software technology. (You will never see these in Mac’s.)
The CPU will have a speed value as some number of “GHz” (gigahertz). The higher this number, the better, but any multi-core that runs 1.5Ghz or higher is OK. Faster is more important for some tasks. Call me if you’re not sure.
|RAM or “memory”||A number usually between 1GB and 6GB. The larger, the better. Rarely is it written in thousands of “MB”, as in the third example above, “3072MB”. That’s really “3GB”.
You may see terms, as in the example, like “DDR3” or “dual channel”. These are actually standard features of most computers, and you can ignore them, whether they’re present or not.
|A value usually 200GB (gigabytes) or greater. May also be stated in “TB” (terabytes). 1TB = 1024GB. Again, the larger, the better.
Hard drives also have extra terms like “SATA”, “serial ATA” or list a disk speed in RPM, but again these are pretty much standard features of the innards that can be ignored for all but the geekiest of users.
With few exceptions, any Mac or Windows consumer computer will be able do any computer task that a home user or small business will require. So that means that you can be pretty confident picking out a computer that you like and that fits your budget. But, if you get out shopping and have a question; please give me a call anytime. I’ll be delighted to help out.
Mike Pepper ~ Computer Guy
This article is sponsored by a generous donation from M&S of Pawling. http://www.mandsofpawling.com/