buying computers

Beginner’s Guide to Buying a Computer

Computers are all around us. At home, work, commuter vehicles, in our hands as a smartphone. We are basically surrounded by computers from all sides. We are very much familiar with the computers in today’s world. Or are we? You only understand the complexity of computers when you embark on a quest to buy one. Buying computers is no easy task. The difficult feat that it is, I am here to help you with a short but comprehensive guide to buying computers.

Being a girl, I’m very familiar with this joke.

A girl goes into a computer shop wanting to buy a new laptop. The salesperson asks, “What kind of laptop do you want, Madam? How much RAM, storage…..?” The girl looks at the salesperson and replies, “A pink one with a pendrive port and should support internet.”

Yeah! But what if it isn’t true about all girls? What if some girls didn’t want the pink laptop? Maybe some want…. a GREEN one. 😀

Okay, jokes apart. Since not all computers are created equal, you need to take care of a few things when investing in one. Color can be one of them. And if you are reading this seriously, you’re probably not well-versed in the terminologies hardware can possess. Let’s get to the basic things you need to know if you’re about to or plan to buy a computer in the near (or far) future.

1. Desktop or Laptop?

tablet desktop laptop


This is a question to which almost all of you must have an answer to. Choosing whether you need a desktop or laptop is completely dependent on your needs and is the simplest choice to make. But it is a crucial decision that determines how much money you spend on your newest investment. The rule of thumb is, if a laptop and desktop both possess the same or similar specs, the desktop will be the cheaper alternative. Considering the fact that the desktop is actually much bigger in size, it might seem awkward. But a laptop has much lesser space and the engineers have to work their brains hard to figure out a way to cram all the components in the limited area in addition with a sizeable battery makes a laptop cost much more.

If you are buying computers for your office, need a steady workstation that doesn’t require much portability, a desktop would be a much better option. You could save some money doing that. Even better, you could invest whatever remains in getting a computer with better features.

A laptop is the obvious choice for you if you are constantly on-the-go. A laptop is definitely easier to carry around, isn’t it? But if you only travel around sometimes and you don’t need high-end software to work in when you’re out and about, it would be a better choice to get yourself a desktop. For traveling, you could get a tablet or a notebook, one you can maybe get in the money you save by buying a desktop instead of a laptop.

2. Understand Your Processor

The processor is your computer’s brain. If you want your computer to do your tasks efficiently and not lag, you’ll surely want the best processor available.

Basically, all you need to look at, at first, is the number of cores and the speed (GHz or Gigahertz) of the processor. The speed of the chip will tell you how much data it can process in a set time. So the higher the number is, the better. The number of cores multiplies the workability, as the processor is actually a stack of cores that each run at the listed speed. So, a single-core 2GHz processor is a lot slower than a dual-core 2GHz processor. Here’s a cool infographic I found on 9GAG that explains the processors very easily. If you’re a complete newbie to processors, this article can help you understand it better.

Processor infographic

Multiple cores help you to multi-task better as each can be working on different tasks at the same time. If you’re not a heavy user, just one or two cores could suffice you. When buying computers, make sure you ask how many cores are on the chip and what the clock speed is. Two computers might both say they have an Intel i5 chip, but there are numerous models and they can have completely different speeds. So make sure you keep these things in mind.

3. RAM is a Whole Another God When It’s in Your Computer



The Random Access Memory or RAM in your computer can affect the ability to multi-task and how fast the computer will be. RAM is mostly measured in Gigabytes or GB, and here too, the higher the number the better. When buying computers, it’s better to have more RAM as it increases it’s ability to keep more data close at hand, rather than having to go digging around through the slower hard drive for the information it needs. Since RAM is smaller, there is only a limited room for data. That’s why, if your way of working involves keeping multiple tasks going on at the same time, it’s useful to have more RAM. That way, you can jump between programs easily.

Additionally, if you can be charged guilty of having too many web browser windows open at the same time, having more RAM will take care of the lag the computer faces.

Moreover, if you want to dig deeper, check out the specifics of the RAM in a computer. If it is a DDR2-800, you can quickly deduce that it is faster than a DDR2-400. The digits at the end signify how many millions of data transfers the RAM can make each second. Similar to processors, RAM also has clock speeds, and the faster, the better. However, that speed is limited to the speed of your computer’s motherboard. So, if you’re buying your RAM separately, find out the speed of your motherboard. Don’t buy one that’s either faster or slower than your motherboard as buying a faster will only cost you more for no work. And buying a slower one will cause your motherboard to work slower. You can also look at the module name. It will be something like PC3-8500. It indicates that the memory can transfer around 8,500 MB data per second.

4. Choosing a Hard Drive Isn’t Hard

hdd and ssd


If you’re buying computers, you surely know that your computer will need a data storage medium. Although the RAM stores some data, the majority of the data is stored in your hard drive.

If you only want your computer and don’t plan to have peripherals, you can choose the biggest hard drive you can afford to. All of your files and programs will be stored on the computer. If you don’t use a lot of applications and won’t store any media, then you can opt for a smaller hard drive and save some money. If you don’t mind having a smaller hard drive but want to it be extra fast, you consider going for a solid-state drive, or flash hard drive. If you have the money for it, considering those things are extra costly.

The size sure matters but the speed is also important. Understandably, the faster your hard drive disk is spinning, the quicker information can be gathered from it. So, if two hard drives are 5400rpm and 7200rpm, the second will be faster. If it’s possible for you to install only a few large programs and store everything else on an external drive, you can get an SSD to keep your computer super fast at all times. Or get a dual-drive hybrid system. Also pay attention to the data transfer bandwidth. Here too, the higher the number, the better.

5. Peripheral Check

laptop with connected peripherals


You know what you want to use your computer with. If I was buying a new one, I really wouldn’t care for a DVD drive anymore. So the peripherals will be specific to your own needs. When buying computers, you’ll want to think about these peripherals:

USB: Most computer peripherals use a standard type of USB. You can plug in anything using a USB port, be it a mouse, keyboard, disk drives. You can also plug in a musical instrument, like a guitar, to your computer using a USB cable. USBs have had their own evolution. There’s a modern version, called USB 3.0, that’s faster compared to the old ones. A more advanced version, called USB Type-C offers gigabits of bandwidth and the ability to handle enough current to power a laptop. USB Type-C is said to be the one technology we’ll use to connect all our devices in the not-so-far future. So having a USB Type-C port will sure come in handy.

HDMI: Do you plan to use your computer for entertainment? If yes, you may want to have an HDMI output. An HDMI output allows you to connect your computer to most modern televisions and projectors for a high quality visual display. It will also run the audio out if you want to use the TV for sound.

SD slot: Do you take a lot of photographs? If so, having an SD slot can come in handy to transfer your photographs to your computer. An SD card can also be used to add up to the device’s memory given that SD cards come with pretty large storage these days.

Wi-Fi: This one needs no explanation since you want your computer to be able to connect to the internet using Wi-Fi. But if you’re opting for a desktop, you may be able to skip it and use an ethernet cable for internet.

Bluetooth: Like Wi-Fi, you can get a built-in Bluetooth receiver with your computer. Whether it’s for sending audio to headphones or to a 7.1 channel surround sound set up that will keep everyone around you on their toes, Bluetooth is a handy way to make those connections easy and tangle-free. If you’d like to do those, it’s fun having Bluetooth. Otherwise, just save yourself some money.

6. Ouch… OS!

OS types


Let’s make it easy. When buying computers, stick to the Operating System you’re comfortable with. Having to get familiar with a new OS needs some work and unless you’re prepared to make the change, it’s better to be in your comfort zone.

To be honest, if you know what Linux is, you don’t even need to read this. If you don’t know what Linux is, you’d better stay away from it.

If you want to keep things basic and easy-to-use, check out Mac. Want a bit more control of your computer’s nitty-gritty? It’s easier to do that on Windows. The best thing is to stay with an OS that you’re familiar and comfortable with. However, not all software is available for every operating system, so if you need to work with software like Final Cut Pro, better not expect a Windows computer to run it.

7. Graphics Are More Than Just Images

nvidia graphics card

These days, almost all computers come with stickers that boast their AMD or NVIDIA graphics cards. But how do you tell what the stickers really mean?

When you’re in a store looking at buying computers and want to know which one has a better graphic card among the ones in front of you, run a quick search on PassMark’s website. The graphic cards also come with words such as “integrated” and “dedicated”. Understanding these can help you understand the cards better. An integrated graphics card is built in the computer’s processor and relies on the computer’s memory. A dedicated graphics card includes its own processor and memory. Generally, dedicated and will tend to be higher-performing than integrated but it will depend on how modern it is.

If you want to delve deeper into graphic cards and graphic processors, think of them like their own pair of a RAM and processor. Here too, the more, the merrier. A higher speed, higher capacity RAM in the graphics card will let it handle a more intense graphic load more quickly. You’ll get better and more fluid visuals. The card’s processor speed will be similarly important and can be looked at much the same as a computer’s processor. You can dig into the details and see what its core speed is or how many shaders it has. But probably you can just check out the benchmark score that has evaluated its true performance.

Ready to Buy?

You read about all that is important to look at when buying a computer. But here’s another important thing. Be very patient. Buying computers is making an investment.

Additionally, technology evolves lighting fast in today’s world. Maybe a better model is out for release tomorrow, and you unaware of the fact, bought one today. Had you known, and waited, maybe the new one would’ve cost same as the one you bought. Or, the way it is with gadgets, after the newer model arrived, the one you bought could’ve become cheaper.

Nevertheless, you should know when to buy one. Or you may be kept in a never ending loop of waiting for the best deal. Do your research and stay familiar with refresh cycle for products.

In conclusion, buying computers is such a big step, it’s best to do all the research and homework you can before jumping into one. Take care of the 7 key tips given above to make sure you make a choice that’s the best for you.

If you’re a beginner at computers or have only used computers for multimedia and a little bit of gaming, I hope this article helps you understand a bit more about the nitty-gritty of computers.

Have you bought a computer recently? if yes, what kind and how was the experience? Feel free to share your views and experiences with us in the comments.


References: Consumer Reports, Cheat Sheet