If you’re not technologically inclined, it probably doesn’t take too much talk of computers to make your eyes glaze over and your brain feel fuzzy. Unfortunately, if you’re in the market for a new computer, it’s a good idea to have a general idea of what to look for, so you know where your money is going. A close friend of mine recently purchased a computer, and she found the endless lists of hardware specifications and strange numbers to be a little intimidating to say the least. Even if you’re not technologically-savvy or a huge fan of computers, you can know what to look for ahead of time so you can make a more informed decision. No matter where you’re purchasing a computer, what brand you’re considering, what you want to do with it, or how much money you have to spend, there are three thing you should always consider, and three numbers on that spec sheet that really do matter.
First-Time Computer Buyers Must Know: The Hard Drive
Put simply, the hard drive is your computer’s storage system, and the size of your hard drive determines how much you can store. Most computers intended for home or office use have hard drives ranging from around 150 GB (gigabytes) to over 2 TB (terabytes). One terabyte equals 1000 gigabytes. I like to think of my hard drive as my closet – it’s where I store everything, large or small. If your hard drive is your closet, the programs, games, songs, movies, pictures, and other things you store on your computer have to fit in your “closet,” so the larger your hard drive is, the more you can store. To decide what size of hard drive is right for you, think of how much stuff you’ll be storing in your “closet” and go from there.
First-Time Computer Buyers Must Know: The Memory
Not to be confused with “storage,” memory is also known as RAM (random access memory) and affects how much your computer can work on at once. If my hard drive is like my closet, RAM is like my kitchen counter, and how much workspace I have in my kitchen affects how much I can work on at one time. Even if I have a gigantic closet (hard drive), I need a large workspace to keep out all the things I’m working on at the moment without being over crowded (RAM). Memory is also measured in gigabytes, and most computers on the market today have between 1 and 6 GB of RAM, though some specialized computers have a lot more. Think of what types of programs you’ll be running, and how many programs you’ll be running at the same time.
First-Time Computer Buyers Must Know: The Processor
A computer’s processor determines how much it can do or process in a given amount of time. If your hard drive is your closet and your memory is your kitchen counter, your processor is the cook. The speed of the processor determines how fast the cook can get something out of storage (the hard drive) and work with stuff on the counter (RAM). Many processors today have two or more “cores,” and every additional core is like another cook in your kitchen, each one handling a different task. Processor speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz), and most on the mainstream market are between 1.5 and 3.5 GHz.
My friend ended up buying a desktop with a 1 TB hard drive, 6 GB of memory, and a 3.2 GHz four-core processor, which will last her a long time and allow her to do pretty much anything she’ll need to from home. There are dozens of other computer hardware specifications, but chances are good that if you’re a first time buyer looking for a computer for personal use, they won’t matter to you or you would already know about them. With these points in mind, good luck finding a great deal on a new computer!