buying a computerBuying a computer can be tricky, especially if you’re not familiar with computer terminology. Plus, computers are expensive, so when it comes to choosing the right machine, you want to make sure it will continue to meet your needs for years to come.

Hopefully our guide will make buying a computer a little easier by clarifying what some of the important specs mean, and how you can pick a machine to meet your specific requirements. Let’s get started.

1. Laptop or Desktop

Here’s a good place to start. Deciding whether you want a laptop or desktop will have an impact on the cost of your new machine now and in the future. As a general rule, a laptop with identical specs to a desktop will be more expensive, because laptops cram all their hardware into a much smaller space (a partial explanation as to why slim Apple products come at a premium price).

If you have no plans to move your computer, consider a desktop. You can save money and end up with a better performing machine. Desktops are also easier to customise and upgrade, which may prevent your computer from becoming outdated quickly. Do keep in mind that you will probably have to buy a monitor separately.

On the other hand, if you need a multi-purpose, transportable device, go for a laptop. There are cheap laptops on the market, which are perfect for those who rarely use anything more than a web browser and word processor.

2. Find Out About the Processor

Think of the computer’s processor like a brain – a computer with a strong processor will boot up in a flash, run programs no problem, and won’t keep you waiting. So how do you tell a strong processor from a weak processor?

In basic terms, processor specs are labeled in terms of the number of cores, and the speed (in GHz or gigahertz). The speed of the processor chip indicates how much data can be processed in a specific amount of time – the bigger the number, the better. The cores act as multipliers. For example, a 2GHz processor with a single-core is four times slower than a four-core 2GHz processor.

If you want a more advanced look at the processors in computers, check out CPU Benchmark. The site allows you to compare the CPU’s of multiple machines, so you can ensure you’re getting the best processor for you money.

RAM3. Know the RAM

Similar to the number of processor cores, RAM (Random Access Memory) affects a computer’s ability to run quickly and multitask.

RAM is usually measured in gigabytes, and the more you have, the better. A computer with more RAM is able store more information at hand, so won’t need to spend time trawling through the hard drive looking for data. RAM is especially important for those who tend to multitask. Lots of RAM will help your computer cope with running multiple programs at once, or having a ton of web browsers open simultaneously.

Not all RAM is created equally. RAM in one computer labeled DDR2-400 is going to be slower than RAM in another computer labeled DDR2-800. That last number shows how many millions of data transfers RAM can perform every second. So once again, the bigger the number, the better.

4. Check the Hard Drive

The hard drive is where the computer stores the majority of its data. When it comes to deciding which hard drive you need, consider how you plan to use your machine.

  • If you don’t plan on using peripherals (such as an external hard drive), go for the biggest hard drive you can afford. This will be measured in gigabytes or terabytes.
  • If you do plan on using peripherals, then consider saving money and opting for a smaller hard drive.
  • If you don’t plan on installing a bunch of applications on your computer, and you’ll be using it for little more than browsing the web, go for a smaller hard drive.
  • Lastly, if you don’t think you need a huge hard drive, but you want a super fast hard drive, consider a solid-state or flash drive.

5. Which Peripherals?

Ideal peripherals differ from person to person depending on their wants and needs. Some may need 8 USB ports, other may need a DVD drive. These days, machines with as few ports as possible have become popular – I guess that’s just one less hole to spill your coffee into!

Let’s have a look at the main peripherals you should consider.

USB: USB ports are really handy – they are the standard connection for mouses, keyboards, monitors, phone chargers, and external hard drives. If you plan to transfer a large amount of data via USB, go for a computer with a fast USB port (the modern USBs are called USB 3.0).

HDMI: If your new computer is going to be incorporated into your at-home entertainment set-up, you’ll need a HDMI output. HDMI outputs allow your computer to connect to modern TVs for both visual and audio purposes.

SD: If you work with photography, an SD slot is a simple way to transfer images from your camera onto your computer. You can purchase USB SD card readers if your machine doesn’t have an SD slot, so this isn’t a deal breaker.

6. Mac OS, Windows, Linux?

3Wondering which operating system to opt for? It’s usually best to stick with what you know. If you’ve heard of Linux, you’re probably already set on your operating system. If you haven’t, trust us, you don’t want it. Mac is a more basic operating system that offers an excellent user-experience, but if you like to mess around with your computer, you may prefer Windows.

If you want to read more about the benefits of both Mac and Windows operating systems, check out the following two blog posts: 10 Reasons Why PCs are Better than Macs, and 10 Reasons Why Macs are Better than PCs.

7. What about the Graphics Card?

It can be tricky to compare the graphics card in one computer to that in another. If this is important to you, we suggest doing some comparative research on GPU Boss.

There are two buzzwords to be on the lookout for when it comes to graphics cards: ‘integrated’ and ‘dedicated’. Integrated means the graphics card is built into the processor, which usually results in a low performing graphics card. Dedicated means the graphics card has its own memory and processor, which usually results in a high performing graphics card.

8. Do you Game?

The latest games take up a huge amount of space, and require excellent graphics cards. If you do plan on using your machine to game, you’ll need to look into purchasing a truly powerful computer, with a large, fast hard drive and super strong processor.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Steer clear of integrated graphics cards, unless you want to play with the visual settings on low. You’ll need a really good dedicated graphics card with plenty of VRAM.
  • It’s also best to go with Windows. If you aren’t running Windows, there will be many games you simply cannot play.
  • Lastly, it’s probably a good idea to opt for a desktop. You’ll pay much more for the high-end hardware gamers need if it’s shoved into laptop. You can also easily upgrade things like RAM and the graphics card in a desktop, so your computer can keep up with rapidly advancing gaming software.

9. Decided? Buying a Computer

Once you know how your needs translate into computer specs, be patient. Technology changes fast, so if you’re in the market for a new machine, look out for upcoming release dates. There’s no way you can guarantee you’re buying the latest and greatest, but a little research can ensure you take the plunge at the perfect time.

Also consider sales and promotions that are coming up in your local computer stores and online (that’s right – online shopping isn’t just for cheap shoes).

Lastly, know what you need and stick to it. Don’t fork out extra cash for a feature you’ll never use, no matter how convincing the salesperson is.

Need Help?

If you’d like help deciding on the perfect machine, or fixing your current computer, don’t hesitate to get in contact. Phone us on 1300 553 166 or fill out the form on this page.