Buying a computer is a lot like buying a car. You need to know what your price range is and what features you want/need to have. You need to have a clear idea of what you want to be able to do with your computer and how others who use your computer will use it. You also need to figure out often you want to upgrade your computer.
Do you want a computer for word processing? gaming? business? mostly email and surfing the web? listening to music? working with computer graphics? for creating comics or art works? making phone calls or Skyping? don’t know yet but want to keep your options open? Do you want your computer, music player, tablet and phone to all communicate with each other?
Depending on your answers, you are going to want to be aware of the different requirements needed by different tasks. If your primary use is to create documents, spreadsheets, and databases then you won’t need anything fancy and probably a cheap computer will do. If you want to stream videos on your computer or on your computer to your television, you will want a lot of RAM and a fast processor as well as good graphics capabilities.
You also need to know some terminology before you can begin to purchase a computer to fit your needs.
Terminology you will need to know as defined on Computer Hope:
RAM (random access memory) – Short for Random Access Memory, RAM, also known as main memory or system memory, is a term commonly used to describe the memory within a computer. Unlike ROM, RAM is a volatile memory and requires power; if power is lost, all data is also lost. ROM is read only memory and is not a variable used in choosing a computer.
CPU (central processing unit) – The computer CPU is responsible for handling all instructions and calculation it receives from other hardware components in the computer and software programs running on the computer.
Hard drive (HD) or Hard disk drive (HDD) – The computer’s main storage media device used to permanently store all data on the computer.
Solid state drive (SSD) – Short for Solid-State Drive or Solid-State Disk, SSD is a storage that uses non-volatile memory as a means of storing and accessing data. Unlike other storage devices such as hard disk drives, an SSD has no moving parts, which gives it advantages such as accessing stored information faster, produces no noise, much more reliable, and consume much less power then the traditional hard drive found in computers.
Video adapter – Alternatively referred to as a graphics card, video card, video board, or a video controller, a video adapter is an internal circuit board that allows a display device such as a monitor to display images from the computer.
Sound card – Alternatively referred to as a sound board or an audio card, a sound card is an expansion card or integrated circuit that provides a computer with the ability to produce sounds that can be heard by the user either over speakers or headphones.
You also have a choice of form factors: desktop, laptop, or all-in-one. Desktops are easy to upgrade in the future but require a fair amount of space. They are heavy and bulky. You won’t want to move it once you have it set up.
Laptops are much lighter, portable and meant to be carried from place to place. Not only to you want to look at the amount of RAM, CPU speed and hard drive size, you want to look at the weight. Generally the lighter it is the more you compromise on screen size and components. For instance an extremely light laptop like the MacBook Air you don’t get a DVD drive and you get limited storage, only 64 GB instead of the 250 to 750 you will find on other laptops.
Do you want a Microsoft Windows, Apple, Chrome or Linux based computer? Microsoft Windows is used by over 86 percent of the population worldwide. Apple is the second most popular with over 5 percent of the market. Android (Chrome) and Linux come in at about one percent each. As a general rule, Apple computers cost quite a bit more than Windows based systems for the same amount of RAM, CPU speed and hard drive.
Most computers come with some form of audio and graphics capabilities and with web cameras. All will have some amount of RAM, a CPU, DVD Read/Write player and some form of data storage like a hard disk drive.
Another consideration is the number of ports the computer has. A computer port can be a dedicated printer or monitor port where you attach those peripherals to use them. Other ports are USB, and Firewire where you can add a wide variety of accessories like keyboard, mouse, jump drives. memory cards from your camera and phone, and printers.
The more ports the more peripherals that you can have plugged in at the same time. This is especially crucial if you have multiple items you want plugged in at the same time like keyboard, mouse, printer, and jump drive. You can get a separate multiport add on but that is one more piece of equipment to keep up with.
Many computers also offer you the option of connecting an HDMI cable so that you can stream video from your computer to your flat panel HD TV. Not all computers have this so if you want to use your computer to expand your TV options, then you will need to check for this option.
For people who only want a computer for limited word processing, surfing the web, and email, a low end computer with only two to four gigabytes of RAM, a slower CPU and 160 to 250 GB hard drive will be fine. You won’t have the best graphics or audio, but it should be fine for viewing photographs and listening to YouTube and communicating over Skype type programs. Skype allow
Computers designated for “business” usually have limited graphics and audio capabilities. They are excellent for word processing, and using other business programs but are pretty bad with graphics intensive programs or gaming. They tend to have middle of the road speed and RAM (two to six gigabytes). Their hard drives tend to be larger from 500 GB to 1TB (terra byte) depending on the size and number of programs they use.
For graphics work, photo editing and video streaming you want a good graphics card and a lot of RAM (four gigabytes to 8 gigabytes) fairly fast processor will also be needed. Graphics files tend to be extremely large so if you will be creating or manipulating a lot of photos or graphics, you will want a large hard drive 500 GB to 1 TB.
If you are an audiophile or musician, you will want a high end sound card. You will also want a large hard disk drive for your music files. If you love music, it doesn’t take long to fill up a 250 GB HD.
Good gaming computers need a lot of RAM, a fast CPU, good graphics cards and audio cards, and a large hard disk drive. Expect to spend a lot of money for a high end gaming system. Expect to pay a lot for peripherals like gaming handsets, sound systems, headphones, gaming keyboards and gaming mice.
Computer specs change quickly so some of the numbers that I have quoted here like the amount of RAM or hard drive size requirements may change as computers continue to evolve. Most computers will begin to wear out within three to five years. Some will start developing problems within a few months.
One way to determine if you are getting the latest and greatest in computer hardware is to follow online reviews of computer hardware, manufacturers and models. Some sites that will help you with your research are: Blorge, PC Magazine, Consumer Reports, Extreme Tech, PC Gamer, CNET, PCWorld, Computer Shopper, G4TV, Top Ten Reviews, Geek.com, Engadget, Computer World, Apple Reviews, MacWorld, Apple Insider, and eWeek.
Let’s be clear about something. Computer technology is still changing rapidly. Whatever you buy today will be superseded within the next six months so don’t get upset when that happens. Decide if you want to purchase a desktop that is much easier to upgrade, an all in one that has limited upgrade options but uses less space or a laptop that is portable but has very little room for upgrades. Remember you can’t by a Cadillac on a Ford Fiesta budget, but by looking at computer reviews and brushing up on the lingo, you can buy the best computer in your price range.