< Computer Buying Guide



Computer Buying Guide



Reading the Computer Catalog

Buying a computer can be a very confusing process, especially if you are not tech savvy, and don't understand all the jargon. More expensive means better performance. But what about if you're looking at two similarly priced computers? Is it worth spending the extra $25? Our guide below will help you decide.

There are two key questions you should ask yourself when you buy a new computer:

1.) What are you planning on using the computer for?

2.) How much are you looking to spend?

With these two questions in mind, it will be fairly easy to determine the best computer for you.


The Processor

Think of the processor as the "brain" of the computer. The processor of the computer is one of the most vital parts, as it performs all the operations necessary for your computer to run.

There are three key things to be looking at when considering processors: brand, clock speed, and the number of cores.

Processor Brand

There are only two brands used in modern Windows computers: Intel and AMD. Normally, Intel's processors perform slightly better than AMD processors in general everyday tasks. However, if heavily multitasking, such as having many windows open at once, AMD processors tend to perform as well as, and sometimes even slightly better than Intel processors.

Of course, this is a general guideline, and will not always be true. In the past two years or so, the difference has become much less stark, and there is little difference for the average consumer between an Intel processor and an AMD processor.

Clock Speed

A processor's clock speed (or just speed) is measured in hertz. One hertz means that the processor can perform one operation per second. Of course, any computer performing only one operation, or even a hundred operations per second, would be incredibly slow. As such, most processors run at a speed of greater than 1 Gigahertz (GHz), meaning greater than a billion operations per second. The faster the processor is in GHz, the faster the computer will be able to perform tasks.

Cores

A core of a processor is essentially a mini processor within the processor. Each core can do operations independently of the other. Thus, a quad-core processor with four cores can be doing four operations at once. So, a multi-core processor will perform significantly faster than a single core processor. But will a dual core processor always be twice as fast as a single core processor of the same speed? Unfortunately, no, because not all workloads can take advantage of multi-core functionality. Some of those that are able to don't perform as efficiently as they theoretically can. The operating system has to expend some performance delegating tasks between the cores, which uses a surprising amount of power. Thus, while more cores are definitely better than fewer cores, do not always significantly increase performance.




RAM

RAM, also referred to as Memory, is where the computer stores files that it currently is using. While the computer stores the vast majority of files on the Hard Drive (see definition below), it stores files that it is currently using in the RAM. If there is a file which the computer needs to access, but won't fit in the RAM due to there not being enough RAM available, the computer will be forced to access that file directly from the hard drive, which is several orders of magnitude slower.

The best analogy for this is to imagine you are working with a bunch of files. You have a table that you can spread these files out on, and quickly grab files from when you need them. The files you do not need to access are stored across the room in a file cabinet. Every time you need to access a file you do not have room for on the table, you must trek over to the file cabinet, find it, and pull it out. This is considerably slower than grabbing the file off of your table. The larger the table, the more files you can fit on it, and the more efficient your workflow will be.

Your RAM is like that table, and the hard drive is like that file cabinet. The more RAM you have, the faster your machine will be when you are trying to do multiple things at once.

For the average person who just wishes to browse the web or type an email, 4GB of RAM is plenty. However, if you wish to multi-task and write a paper while watching a video and browsing the web, you're going to need more. 6GB will be enough, but 8GB will give you enough room to do most tasks you wish to do. For gamers or power users who wish to have a dozen web tabs open and many large programs running at once, 16GB is necessary.

While 4GB will be enough for the average person, we recommend 8GB to not only allow your computer to feel snappier, but also to give you room for the future, and to extend the productive life of your computer. Most of our computers can be upgraded from 4GB to 8GB (for a fee) to increase your productivity.




Storage

The idea of storage is pretty simple: storage is where your computer stores its files. However, in recent years, a question has emerged: which type of storage is best for you? There are two types: standard Hard Disk Drives (HDD or HD) and Solid State Drives (SSD). While both perform the same basic function, they do so in two different ways.

Hard Disk Drives

HDD's have been forever. Their operation is pretty simple: a series of magnetic platters are spun at thousands of rotations per minute, and a magnetic arm reads the data off of them. HDD's can be found in capacities as small as 120 GB, and as large as 14 TB, which is 14,000 GB's. Their primary advantage is how inexpensive they can be compared to SSD's, as well as the enormous capacities they can be found in. However, they are considerably slower than SSD's.

Solid State Drives

SSD's are a new technology. While HDDs utilize a series of spinning platters to read data, SSDs rely on flash storage, reading and writing data through electrical signals. Electricity is significantly faster than platters, often five to ten times as fast, meaning that computers with SSD's are much much faster than those with HDD's. A boot time for a machine with an SSD is often under 20 seconds, and the loading of programs is incredibly fast.

SSD's do have a major downside. They cost significantly more than an HDD for the same amount of storage. However, for most people, the increased speed in the everyday usage is a worthwhile tradeoff for losing storage capacity. Adding more storage that is slower (in the form of an external hard drive) is also a fairly easy upgrade.

External Hard Drives can be found fairly cheaply, and can store your photos and videos which do not fit on an SSD. Most desktop computers can actually fit both a HDD and an SSD, with the operating system and programs being installed on the SSD, and data such as pictures and videos being stored on the HDD. Some laptops also allow for this as well; however then tend to be more expensive.

For many people, the increased cost of an SSD is worth it. If you find a computer in our shop that does not have an SSD currently installed, we can swap out the existing HDD (for an additional fee) which will greatly increase the speed of your machine.




Operating System

A computer's operating system is the underlying software that other pieces of software run on. The most common is Windows in all its variations (XP, Vista, 7, 8, and most recently, 10). Another is MacOS X which runs exclusively on Apple's Mac line of computers. Without an operating system, your computer simply would not run.

Almost every computer we sell comes pre-loaded with our custom Windows 10 image, which comes preinstalled with open source (free) office software, Google Chrome, and all of the necessary drivers for your computer. While in past iterations of Windows, Microsoft has released a large variety of versions of Windows with confusing names such as Home Basic, Home Premium, Pro, Enterprise, and others, with Windows 10 Microsoft has simplified this, and offers only two versions to consumers: Home and Pro.

For most people, Home will be best option. Home allows for you to not only use Windows and run any program you wish, but also to perform any necessary administration on your computer. Anything that the average personal user would want or to need to do, can be done in Windows 10 Home.

For users who need more security, and need to have more control over their machine, Windows 10 Pro may be necessary. Windows 10 Pro enables increased security options, which can prevent the computer from booting without a BIOS level password and encrypts your entire hard drive to protect all your data.


There is one more operating system that you should be aware of: ChromeOS, which is only available on Chromebooks. ChromeOS is essentially a bare-bones operating system which runs everything out of the Chrome browser. It is extremely light-weight, and allows for low cost machines which run very quickly with a long battery life. However, everything is done through the Chrome Browser. If all you do is browse the web, send emails, and are comfortable with using Google Docs, and are on a tight budget, then getting a "Chromebook" may be your best option. While we do not always have them in stock, when we do, they are most often under $200. They are very budget friendly--but also useful--machines.




Graphics Cards

Graphics cards (also known as Graphics Processing Units, GPU's, Video Cards), handle the display of data on your screen. Whether that data be a spreadsheet, a website, a game, or an actual video, it is the job of the Graphics Card to display it on the screen. For gamers, a "dedicated" Graphics Card is a must, as most games simply cannot be run smoothly on the standard Graphics Card "integrated" in to the processor.

So what is a dedicated video card vs. an integrated one? On every computer, the processor has a sort of "built in" video card that is able to handle basic tasks, such as displaying websites or videos. These are perfectly fine for many users. However for those who wish to play games, the integrated graphics simply will not cut it. Why? That's because your processor is very good at performing algebraic tasks, involving numbers, but not so good at geometric tasks, involving shapes. The Graphics Card on the other hand is very good with shapes, but not so good with numbers, meaning that it is excellent for displaying the complex and detailed scenes in modern games.

Unless you are a gamer, or someone who must run heavy weight programs (such as CAD programs), then you most likely will not need a dedicated Graphics Card in your computer, and would be much better served spending your money on enhancing other aspects of your computer, such as adding more RAM or an SSD.