5 Tips for Buying a Computer

Many of you may soon be in the market for a new computer.  Black Friday & Cyber Monday are coming up.  Before you make a buying decision while mentally and emotionally impaired at 2:30 AM on Black Friday morning, let me give you some tips before buying your next PC or laptop deal.

Let’s talk Windows operating systems:  Windows 10 Home Edition if you’ll only use the computer on a home network without connecting it to a server. You’ll know what I’m talking about if this applies to you.  

For business users who may connect their computer to a Windows server, look for Windows 10 Professional Edition.  You can purchase the Home Edition and later upgrade to the Professional Edition online for $100.  If you have a network server (Active Directory or a traditional domain), make sure to get the Professional Edition as it will save you time and money.  

Buying Tip #1:  What version of Windows?  Windows 10 Home Edition for the home user… or Professional Edition for the business user who connects to a Windows Server.

Let’s talk about hard drives and storage devices:  Traditional hard drives have platters and spin at different speeds.  Today’s modern “hard drive” technology doesn’t spin and is much faster and becoming more affordable.  Windows 10 software also runs much better (understatement) with a Solid State Drive, or SSD for short.  SSDs are similar to USB thumb or flash drives, but very different. It’s also the same type of storage technology found in your smart phones.  Your next computer should have a Solid State Drive with at least 500 Gigabytes of storage. This will give you enough storage space for Windows 10, your installed programs, games, data files, etc.  Any solid state drive is going to outperform a traditional spinning hard drive.  The main intent for SSD is to keep your operating system, installed programs or games on a fast storage device so they load quickly into working memory.  If you need more than 500 GB’s, then purchase an external USB hard drive or get a cheaper USB flash drive for storing documents.  You can get larger size SSD’s but they cost more.  Just make sure you have a good data backup plan in place!   (See my article on data backups)

Buying Tip #2: Type of hard drive or storage device?  Any kind of Solid State Drive (SSD) with at least 500 Gigabytes of capacity. 

Let’s talk memory:  People often confuse memory, RAM, hard drives and storage probably because they both are commonly measured in Gigabytes (GBs).  

Memory, system memory or RAM all refer to the same thing.  RAM is the computer’s temporary storage space.  Hard or SSD drives and other storage devices like USB thumb/flash drives are permanent storage spaces.  When you turn on your computer, the Windows Operating System is read from the hard drive (or SSD!) and copied into system memory/RAM.  The data that makes up your Windows system and other programs (like Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, etc.) is copied from a slower storage device to a high speed storage space where you can manipulate the data much quicker.  

The amount of RAM is important depending on what you’re using your computer for.   Most of us will be just fine with 8 Gigabytes (GBs) of system memory.  If you are working with popular online multiplayer computer games, or working with Adobe Creative Suite, or audio/video editing software, will likely need upwards of 16 GB’s of system memory, in addition to other specialized PC hardware (we’ll discuss CPU and graphics cards in a minute).

Buying Tip #3:  How much system memory/RAM?  8 Gigabytes for most users.  16 GB’s if you’re working with games, graphics design or movie making software.

Next up:  CPU or Processor Speeds.  There are two main “specks” you want to pay attention to.  Clock speed and number of processor cores–in both cases more is better.    Clock speed is measured in Gigahertz (GHz).  Most modern software is going to run better with more cores instead of higher clock speed.  Clock speeds for desktops are usually faster than laptops or mobile devices.  Here’s what to look for: At least 2.4 GHz speed processors and 4 or more cores (also referred to as Quad Core).   

Buying Tip #4:  How fast of a CPU or processor?  2.4 GHz or higher and 4 or more cores (aka Quad Core)

Get yourself connected:  Wired and/or wireless connectivity.  Most of us are going to connect our computer to the Internet.  We’re going to do that with a hard wired connection or a wireless connection.  Most modern PCs are going to have a wired network port.  Most mobile devices are going to have a wireless radio to connect to a wireless access point.  Some devices will have both.  Here’s what to look for:

  • Wired capability
    • 1000 Mbps (aka Gigabit) Network Adapter
  • Wireless capability  (these specks can be hard to find when buying and difficult to interpret)
    • Dual Band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radio capable)
    • Wireless protocols:  Wireless-N and Wireless-AC
    • At least 2 antennas OR may be indicated as 300 MBps speed

Buying Tip #5: What kind of network connectivity?  Wired gigabit connection and/or Wireless-N/AC with at least 2 antennas rated for 300 MBps speed connection minimum

There are many other technical aspects to consider when buying a computer depending on your needs.  Here are a few more considerations:

  • Audio port connectivity
  • Type of graphics card or GPU
  • Expansion port capabilities (add-on cards)
  • Number and type of video displays & connections
  • Screen size
  • Size or form factor of computer:  tower, small form factor (SFF), all-in-one (AIO)
  • Type of peripheral ports:  USB 3.0, USB 3.1 (Type C), Thunderbolt, E-SATA, 1394 (aka FireWire), network/LAN ports
  • Other wireless connectivity:  Bluetooth, NFC, LTE
  • Webcams & microphones
  • Optical drives:  CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, DVD-RW, etc.
  • Wireless keyboard or mouse

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below or if there’s anything I missed that you would like me to write more about.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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