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Home » The Beginners Guide To Buying a Computer

The Beginners Guide To Buying a Computer
All the techie stuff made simple!

Our essential guide on what to look out for when buying a laptop. More people are now buying laptops than big desktop computers. But for the novice how to choose what specification is right for you?

What will you be doing on the computer?

Below you will see a chart showing a lot of figures but these will be explained further in this article.  The figures in the box are all recommended minimum specs. If you can get more you will be able to do more a lot quicker.  And pricing information are only recommended price guides to what you should expect to pay for a machine.

Use Processor Core's RAM Hard Drive Graphics Price Range
Internet & Emails 2.6GHz 2 / Dual 2GB 160GB Integrated - 256MB 300-450
Family Multimedia 2.8GHz 2 / Dual 3GB 320GB 256MB - 512MB 450-600
Design + Gaming 2.6GHz 4 / Quad 4GB 500GB 512MB - 1GB 600-1000
Gaming Performance 3GHz 4 / Quad 6GB 1TB SLI 1000-3000

From the above table you will really need to decide how you are going to be using the machine. If it is simple tasks like using office software or sending e-mails, then a low to mid-price machine might be suitable enough.   If videogames are more your thing, then aim for a top spec gaming machine. If you plan to take it on the road, a small light laptop might be more your style. But when you go for a slim light laptop the future component upgradability is restricted.

Central Processing Unit (CPU) aka the Brain of your Machine

The standard machine speed you will come across would be a Dual Core Processor 2.6 GHz.  However there are new fast CPU's coming on the market every day.  For basic Internet and Email and Office work the above 2.6GHz Dual Core Processor will be more than sufficient.   The bigger the brain the more you can do with it.  It's like comparing a formula 1 driver vs a person driving a Go Kart.  If you only need to drive around a track at 30-40 MPH then a Go Kart is more than sufficient.  However if you need to get around a track at 200MPH then you will require a formula 1 car.    So if you only need a basic machine to perform basic tasks such as Internet, Email and Office Programs then the basic machine is what you will need. 

As you come up the above spec chart the processing speeds will be similar but what will change will be the number of Core's.  In previous years the brain of a PC was only one processor which meant it could only do one thing at a time.   Hence the old antivirus scan you would need to leave your machine concentrate on running the scan and not touch anything till it has finished.   Now computers come with up to 4 core brains which means you can be running an antivirus scan, burning a cd,  reading this article and listening to Andrea Bocelli on your itunes without any problems.  So if you want to do a lot of multi-tasking then consider spending a bit more money on the machine and you will enjoy the long term benefits.

Hard drive aka the stomach of your machine

The hard drive is where all of a user's data is stored.  For standard PC's If you run out of space, you can add an extra drive as a slave and use it for backing up your data.  For laptops the easiest method of having extra space is to buy an external usb powered hard drive.  The capacity of these small external drives have increased to 640GB which is larger than the standard hard drive in most people's computer. 

The unit has only one usb lead which it uses for power and connection to your computer.  This makes it mobile as it has no need for a electrical plug.  These usb mobile devices are compatible with both normal PC's and Laptops and offer a user a place to backup all their favourite photos, music etc.  I always say do not take a chance on backup.  If you have valuable data, back it up, back it up and if you are in doubt back it up again.

Random Access Memory the muscles of the machine

In its most basic form.  When you try and run a program on a computer the computer copies the program from your hard drive into your RAM memory and it runs it from there.  If you have only a small amount of RAM then there wouldn't be enough space to contain all the program so your computer would be swapping information back and forth instead of concentrating on what you are doing.  The minimum RAM I would recommend for Vista or Windows 7 based machines is 2 GB - 3 GB.  But ideally you would need 3GB to be comfortable. 

Again the more you ask of your machine the more RAM it will require hence that the design machines and gaming machines require a lot more.  RAM is very easy to upgrade but is limited to what your Motherboard can handle.  Some computers and laptops have a maximum RAM of 4 GB.  So it is important that if you are going to do a lot more with your machine in the future you need to plan ahead for this and get a machine that can take more RAM.

Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) the eyes of the machine

If you are only doing basic tasks then the graphics needed are very basic.  Some low end machines and laptops have onboard basic graphics as part of the motherboard.  This onboard graphics is easily overwhelmed so wouldn't be suitable for any high resolution video or gaming.  Graphics and RAM in my mind are the most important factors. 

As you increase the cost of your machine you will move from onboard graphics to specific stand alone graphics cards which specialise in different tasks.  You get the added advantage of having two screens and move items from one to the other offering you unparall multi tasking comfort.  Some of these graphics cards even have a HDMI output which allows you to connect your computer to your large LCD or Plasma TV.  (Great for watching movies).

Advise

If you need a computer for a specific function I always recommend that you purchase a machine in the higher end of that scale.  (ie.  if you are purchasing a basic machine for 300 - 450 then I would recommend getting a machine closer to the 450 mark).  Think ahead always and beware that these slim line machines,  pc in a screen, and micro laptops are great to look at but they will not have much upgrading ability down the line which means they will age very quickly. 

A standard tower pc will have the room to add more RAM, bigger and multi hard drives, better graphics cards and much more.  But don't over pay for just a brand name.   I have had great experiences using HP and DELL machines and would recommend them any day.  For laptops DELL and TOSHIBA are very solid machines.  Although the new ACER machines are offering some great specs at affordable prices. 

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