Buying a computer can be a daunting process. There is so many questions to be answered. Windows or Macintosh? Should I get AMD or Intel? Should I get the 2GB or 4GB model. Should I get the one with the flashy case or the one that’s plainer? So many questions which the sales people are quick to exploit and without ever answering many of the important ones. For many people they have already answered the first question do I get a Window’s PC or a Macintosh PC. This question is usually answered by preference, the software you want to run or your budget.
Macintosh PC’s and laptops generally cost more for pretty much the same hardware. But regardless of whether you choose to go with Windows or Macintosh there are still a number of questions that need to be addressed. This guide will deal with as many as possible and if there are any questions regarding anything I have missed I will update this guide to reflect those questions.
Desktop or Laptop
This is perhaps the greatest question but many people will immediately know the answer to this. It is also the simplest to answer. If you plan on being mobile and using the computer in many places then purchase a laptop version. If you plan to be mostly stationary then purchase a desktop or tower computer. Following on from that question are the other more difficult and thought provoking questions.
Which Central Processing Unit, otherwise known as the Processor, to get is in my opinion this is the single most important question after which OS to go with. This is the most important piece of hardware in computer. It is still one of deciding factors whether a program will run or not despite recent advances in processor technology, software has advanced as quickly or in some cases quicker than the hardware. Processors can be purchased with between 1 and currently 8 cores. How many cores you need will depend on both your budget and the software you intend to run.
As a minimum I would recommend a dual core CPU although in the near future many more programs will be looking for more than two cores. So if you intend to keep your computer as long as possible without any major upgrades before purchasing another a quad core CPU within your budget would be a prudent investment.
Whether to go with Intel or AMD is a difficult question to answer as it has no clear answer. Both produce equally powerful, efficient and comparable processors. Which one you go with will probably depend on other factors and has minimum impact on the everyday running of the computer.
My recommendation is to spend a large chunk of your budget on the processor as this is the most difficult part to upgrade and in the case of the laptop is more than likely going to force you to purchase a new laptop. The processor is like a car on a motorway or highway for the Americans once you turn the computer on it runs at a constant idle speed even when you are not doing anything. The processor idles along at this speed until you need it to do something. This is the equivalent of having to overtake another car on the motorway and to do so both the car and the processor has to work harder or faster for a time before returning to its idle speed. The more powerful processor or car is able to do this quicker and return to the idle state thereby saving petrol or battery/electricity. In a laptop it is much more important that the processor returns this idle state to preserve the battery which allows it to run for longer without needing charged.
The next question that is asked if you are building your own computer is which Motherboard to get. This question depends upon
and at the same time limits your choice of processor. When choosing the Motherboard it is best to choose the one that will give you the longest possible time before needing replaced. If possible choose the one that matches the latest socket architecture as determined by the latest CPU’s from either Intel or AMD depending on which companies Processor you have chosen to purchase.
After this you should check how much and what configurations of RAM are available. Is it the latest Ram architecture (currently DDR3) and does it have more than one bank of slots? Many micro ATX Motherboards come with only one bank of memory slots which limits the amount of RAM you can have. It is much better to have more than 1 bank of memory slots as this allows you to upgrade the memory much more.
After this is questions relating to the chipset this will answer a number of other questions such as the type of hard drive connection or USB etc. My only recommendation here is to try and get the latest chipset released by AMD or Intel. In most cases the connectors for the Hard drive and USB etc will be the same on most motherboard the only difference will be the number of connections available. Some motherboard might have 8 or more USB connections and another might have 6 or more SATA connectors. All motherboards currently have the same PCI Express connection for graphics but unless you plan on building a computer primarily to play games then multiple PCI Express slots are not required.
Random Access Memory or just memory is important to the overall running of the computer but in terms of cost it is one of the least expensive and least difficult parts of a computer to upgrade regardless of whether it is a desktop/tower style computer or a laptop. Even if you purchase the minimum amount of RAM available when purchasing a prebuilt computer from the likes of Dell, HP, Asus etc the cost to upgrade it after purchase is usually less than choosing the next RAM option when customising your computer. I have another article which goes into more detail on RAM and why it’s important to have and why you should have as much as possible but when purchasing the computer the amount of RAM should not be a major concern as it can be easily and more cheaply upgraded.
The Hard Disk
When purchasing a new computer the hard disk is also not a major concern. Unless you have a specific need for a large hard drive I recommend purchasing one of at least 120GB to hold your operating system and programs. I recommend the purchase of an external or secondary Hard Disk in almost all circumstances. Keeping your main Hard Disk limited in size makes it very easy to keep this disk running as quickly as possible. Also keeping your own files on an external or secondary disk makes it easier to replace the primary hard disk in case of failure. Recent advances in Hard drive technology have also made available supremely fast Solid State Disks (SSDs) which although currently available in lesser capacities than normal Hard disks the improvement in speed more than makes up for their limited capacity. I would recommend where your budget allows you purchase a new computer with an SSD and use an external or secondary hard disk for data storage. Again I recommend a size of at least 120GB to provide enough capacity for the Operating System and your main programs.
The Graphics Card
The graphics card or often called the GPU these days is depending on your requirements could be equally as important as the CPU or as important as a hard drive. In so much as long as you have one then there is little importance to be placed on it. Most laptops and a lot of computers these days come with a graphics chip either embedded in the Motherboard or the processor in the case of recent Processors from both Intel and AMD. In almost all cases I would recommend purchasing a computer with a dedicated Graphics card from either AMD or Nvidia. On board or embedded graphics chips in almost all cases are underpowered for much of the tasks required of a modern computer. Low powered laptops and netbooks are the only place an embedded Graphics chip makes sense as these devices are not designed to do all the tasks required of a modern laptop or desktop. Most of the embedded Graphics chips will struggle with HD video unless paired with a high powered processor. Purchasing or choosing a relatively inexpensive dedicated Graphics card will provide a significant improvement over the embedded Graphics chips. If you intend to play games, even casual games I recommend purchasing or choosing a slightly more powerful and more expensive dedicated GPU. When building a machine which will be dedicated to games it is advisable to purchase a GPU that is much more powerful and will likely cost on par with the CPU.
Laptop Screen size
The size of the laptop screen determines not only the maximum resolution that can be displayed but also the size of your keyboard. Smaller screens coming with less than a full sized keyboard whereas 17” and above tend to at least come with all the keys including a number pad. Other than that there is not much to be said on a laptop screen. Some have high resolutions but mostly the same sized screens will have the same resolution. Currently Apple had adopted a higher resolution screen on their laptops but I expect the other manufacturers to start producing laptops with similar screens in the near future.
When purchasing peripherals including the keyboard, mouse, monitor and speakers, it is often much cheaper to purchase these separate from the main computer. Sometimes you may get a deal when buying them together but shop around and check you might find it a lot cheaper elsewhere. All of these parts are not required to be purchased with the rest of the computer and can be easily replaced when required. In fact a good set of peripherals can possibly last longer than the computer itself.
So in summary regardless of whether you decide to buy a Laptop or a Desktop your important choices will be the Operating System, laptop or Desktop, CPU and GPU if you plan on playing games. All other aspects of a computer can be chosen or upgraded later. All the answers will come down to either personal taste or your budget. A laptop for games s going to cost you a pretty penny whereas a computer for surfing the internet is going to cost you a lot less.
Hopefully this guide has helped you if you are thinking of purchasing a new computer. If you have any questions or comments as usual I encourage you to get in touch using the comments section below or the Facebook page.
Thank you for reading
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