Buying a ComputerThis is the first in a series of three blog posts on this subject. If you would like to receive all of the information now and in one go, just drop me an email and I will send you a pdf file. 

You may be thinking of changing your computer (laptop or desktop), but not be sure of what aspects of the specification are important at the moment. In fact, there have not been huge developments in hardware in the last few years, and you are unlikely to come across programs that definitely need a new computer (albeit they will run more slowly on your present computer than on a new, more powerful, one).

The main aspects of a computer’s specification are listed below. Instead of hyperlinks, I have sometimes included search terms that will probably show you relevant products in www.amazon.co.uk (at least, they did at the time of writing – January 2019). This is because hyperlinks can go out of date very quickly when linking to specific hardware. I have also listed some hyperlinks that may be useful at the end of the document.

I have listed the different aspects in approximate order of importance (with the most important aspects first). As with this guide as a whole, your own requirements and priorities may be different to what is only, after all, my own opinion.

Operating System

Operating SystemsThis should be the first decision to make as you have to get your hardware from Apple if you want to run their operating system (OSX).

If you want a Chromebook, then the specification of the hardware can be much lower than for a Windows computer as the programs being run will not put such high demands on the hardware. Consequently, Chromebooks are less expensive. Chromebooks run a version of the Android operating system to be found on many (non-Apple) mobile phones and tablets. The Chromebook runs “apps” but not full-blown “programs”. Chromebooks tend to be inexpensive, but make sure that they will do everything you need before committing to one. Most major manufacturers (as well as Google) now offer Chromebooks as well as Windows computers.

For most people, though, the logical decision will be for a Windows computer. This will come with Windows 10. Windows XP, Vista, 7,  and 8 are no longer generally available (but you might just find a Windows 7 computer if you look hard enough).

Processor

Processor

Most processors (which we can think of as doing the actual work) are from Intel and they come in three “families”. These are i3, i5, and i7. The higher the number, the more powerful and faster the processor. Other components are likely to be approximately matched with the processor so that, for instance, an i3 processor is likely to be found on a computer with a (slower) hard drive, whereas an i7 processor is more likely to be matched with a (faster) solid state drive. The price of the whole ensemble will also reflect the processor (and accompanying matched components) such that computers with i3 processors are the cheapest and i7 the most expensive (with i5 in the middle). There’s some overlap, but we could broadly classify computers (both laptops and desktop computers) as follows:

  • i3 – light use / “entry level”
  • i5 – average use and performance / “mid range”
  • i7 – gaming, or heavy use / “top end”

Other processors are made by AMD. It is more difficult to classify these along the above lines. We would need closely to analyse speeds of the processors, turbocharging, and other parameters that would send the average user running for the hills. If you are looking at an AMD based machine in a shop then it is worthwhile asking what the approximate equivalent type of Intel processor would be.

Memory

RAMAs always, the more memory the better Do not buy a computer with less than 4gb RAM. Personally, I would not recommend less than 8gb. 16gb is better – both for speed now and for ensuring that your machine will still be able to cope with the demands put on it in 3-5 years time. Again, i3 computers will have less memory than i5 or i7. The current “average” is probably 8gb but 16gb is definitely worth having if the budget will allow. A good “gaming machine” may currently have 32gb or more. Increasing the amount of memory can significantly increase the overall cost.

To be continued…

© 2011-2018 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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