Tech Today with Ken May

Ken May

What to look for when buying a computer – Part 1

Buying a computer is no easy task, and with the cost of many of the machines out on the market today, you want to make sure you’re making the right purchase so you don’t blow your money on something that stops meeting your demands within a year. Not all machines are created equal, and unless you’re pretty familiar with computer hardware, you might have a hard time determining just how unequal they are.

This guide should help you get a better understanding of what all the components of the computer will mean for you and make it easier to decide what you want, need, and which elements to prioritize so you get the right computer for you and don’t spend any more money than you must.

  1. Desktop or Laptop?

This is probably one of the simplest choices to make and can have a big impact on the overall cost of your computer, including expenses that might not come right at the time of the purchase. In general, if a laptop and desktop are boasting all of the same performance specs, the desktop will be cheaper. It might not make sense, since it’s a bigger piece of hardware, but the ability to cram a lot of components into a small space and the need for a battery is what ups the price of the laptop — notice the premium paid for Apple’s thinner devices.

If you often need your computer on the go, the choice is simple: laptop. If it’s only occasional and you don’t need much more than a browser or word processor, you may be able to find a cheap tablet or netbook to do the job, and could potentially afford it with the money you save by getting a desktop as your primary computer.

  1. Know the processor and what it means

The simplest way to explain the processor is that it’s the brain of the machine. If you want a fast computer that boots up programs in a flash, completes tasks as soon as you start them, and doesn’t keep you waiting, then you want the strongest processor available — and who doesn’t? You just have to know what you’re looking at when you see a processor’s details.

The short and simple of processors is in the number of cores and the speed (labeled in GHz or Gigahertz) of the processor. The speed of the chip will tell you how much data it can process in how much time, so the bigger the number, the better. The number of cores functions as a multiplier, as the processor is actually a stack of cores that each run at the listed speed (e.g. a single-core 2GHz processor is a lot slower than a four-core 2GHz processor). Multiple cores can also help with multi-tasking, as each can be working on different tasks.

Make sure to ask how many cores are on the chip and what the clock speed is. Two computers might both say they have an Intel i5 chip, but the number of models that go into the group are many and their speeds and core counts can be leagues apart.

Tune in next issue for Part 2!

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