Friday, March 29, 2013

Buying A New PC?

One question that I get asked often is something close to "What should I look for in a new computer?" I figure it wouldn't be a bad idea to share my opinion on it.

It is a fair question and the answer is going to vary depending on what you intend to do with the device. For instance, if you are just a casual web surfer who wants to check e-mail, use Facebook to stay connected to family and friends, and have fun watching some YouTube videos once in a while - you won't need as nice of a rig as the one who wants to do lots of photo and video editing or play graphics intense games.

Nonetheless, there are two components that will need to be looked at. Hard drive storage and  memory. After that, you can look at the other bells and whistles. Let's take a look at each one of them from the viewpoint of both laptop and desktop.

Hard Drive Storage

Certainly, how much you actually need might be subject to debate depending on who you ask.

Laptops will traditionally have a little less storage than a desktop. Lower end laptops will likely have 320GB or 500GB of storage. Really cheap ones might even be found with 250GB. Higher end Laptops will have 750GB or 1TB of space.

Desktop units will very likely have 1TB or more with cheaper units having less.

Your operating system and some programs will probably not make much of a dent in this if you don't plan to use this for much more than browsing, e-mail, and Facebook. In this case 500GB should be plenty and if you get more that is fine too.

If, however, you plan to do some serious picture collecting and archiving, you should beef this up considerably. Also if you are a major gamer - you know that some games can consume several gigs of storage. If you have lots of games, with expansion packs, etc - you will want storage. Shoot for at a minimum, 1 TB of storage and I would even recommend an external hard drive for you picture hoarding types so that you can have them backed up in case of a computer failure.

Cheaper units will have hard drives in them that operate at 5400 RPM. If you can, try to get one that runs at 7200 RPM. This will give you some better speeds out of the machine. As you move towards the higher end computers you will notice that some will have a Solid State Drive or SSD. These are much faster but more expensive and usually have less storage. Many computers will have an SSD for booting the operating system and a standard hard drive for the rest of your data.

Memory

While you can find some cheap computers with less than 4GB of RAM still out there, I wouldn't want one with anything less than that, even for the casual user. I don't think memory is something you should skimp on so go for 6GB or 8GB if you can. High end users - shoot for 12GB or 16GB - though this might be challenging to find at retail stores. If so, get one with 8GB and room to expand to 16GB and then add the extra memory on your own. Four years ago, I built a desktop with 12GB of RAM and am really glad I did. It is still hanging in there with the best of them.

A desktop will be much more likely to have room for more memory than a laptop. A laptop will generally have two slots for memory and desktops can have many more but anything you pick up at Wal-Mart is not likely to have more than that. You might have to do some research online before purchasing that desktop from a place like Wal-Mart in order to find out if you can simply add extra memory in without replacing what is in there to begin with.

Other Bells and Whistles

Graphics Card

For the casual user - whatever the system comes with should suffice but for the heavy editor or gamer, you should have a discrete graphics processor with at least a gig of dedicated memory.

USB

Other things you might want to look for would be the number of USB ports on the unit. On a laptop, you likely find two or three but snag four if possible. On a desktop I would shoot for eight of them with four in the front for easy access. I would also expect half of them to be USB 3.0 compatible.

Processor

In my opinion, the small differences in speed won't be noticeable for most people but if you are looking for quality and speed, you'll need to keep an eye out for a couple things. First, there are two main processor brands out there with many different models among them - AMD and Intel.

Now, I have run plenty of AMD processors in my time and have not had any issues with them - same for Intel processors. Computers with an AMD processor in them will often cost a bit less. Many at the stores will be dual or quad core but some real cheap ones might have a single core in them. I would avoid the single cores - dual core is gonna be OK for the casual user but high end-users will want at least a quad core but I'd go for eight.

Card Reader

Yeah, you pretty much gotta have one of these if you use them in your camera.

Optical Drive

Be sure to look for one of these if you need one. It is pretty standard now for an optical drive to be able to read and write DVD but some of the newer devices you can find out there like the netbooks and ultrabooks don't have one at all. Getting it out of the box and realizing you can't install something would not be cool. If you want to use your device to watch movies, I would suggest getting one that was Blu-Ray compatible.

Display

Personal preference here, really. Are you OK with a small monitor or display - or would you prefer a larger 22" or 24" display? Laptops can offer a nice 17" display and full keyboard but it is about what you like on this one.

Wireless

This is pretty standard now on any laptop style device. Just be sure that it is compatible with N at a minimum.

For desktops, some are coming with Wi-Fi capabilities. This is especially handy if you want to place the desktop away from where the router sits.

Conclusion

Certainly, the casual user could get by on less than what I would suggest here but even the casual user will experience some frustration in short order as software and Internet requirements start placing heavy demands on the system. Always good to pad a little for the future. With technology, you often get what you pay for and there is a reason that the $250 laptop at Wal-Mart only costs $250. Again, these are just some suggestions based on my opinion and I know there are other things that can be included but I hope this is at least a little helpful as you go shopping.

Don't forget to install anti-virus and malware protection on your machine. Avast! and Malwarebytes are excellent choices for free.

Have an awesome day!

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