Help Buying a Computer Guide – 2011


This computer buying guide is intended to help the average PC user ( that’s you ) know what to look for when buying a new computer in 2011.  After reading this guide, you will have a general understanding of how to choose the right computer for you.  So let’s get started.

First some basic computer terms:

You may have asked yourself the following questions.
What is a CPU? ( aka Processor )
The CPU is the brains of the PC.  When you watch a movie on your computer or type a document, everything you see on the screen has to go through the processor.

What is RAM? ( aka memory )
RAM is high-speed memory the computer needs to do real-time functions.  Basically, data has to be loaded into RAM to become usable to you ( the user ).  RAM is not an archive or repository.
Pretend you are a computer.  Whatever you are actively thinking about right now, that thought is currently loaded in your RAM.

What is a hard drive? ( aka Hard Disk )
The hard drive IS a repository.  It is a physical disk inside your computer that stores all of the programs, files, folders and data.  Everything from Windows ( the OS or operating system ), to documents you’ve typed, to your favorite pictures and videos.  Everything.

The difference between RAM memory and hard drive memory.
Now here is the confusing part, technically the hard drive is memory too; but it is much much slower than the RAM.  Also, the hard drive is a physical disk that spins and has mechanical parts; while RAM is made of computer chips with no moving parts.
The reason there are two types of memory is because, the hard drive can hold a huge amount of data; but is far too slow to be interactive.  In contrast, the RAM typically cannot store much data at one time, but has the blazing speed needed to keep up with you and your CPU.
So if you hear a computer geek or a sales person at a big box store say “How much memory do you need?”  They are always referring to RAM.  That’s just how the jargon shook out in the end 😉

Okay, so now that the basics are out of the way.  Let’s show an example of what you might be faced with in a typical computer ad.

You pick up your local “Best-Mart,” weekly ad and see:

The Brand X Computer 5000 – Brand X!!!  The best brand since ACME.
Intel Core i7-2600K Sandy Bridge
Wireless A/B/G/N
1Gbps Fast Ethernet

Okay, this can at first look intimidating.  So let’s dissect it piece by piece and you will see it’s not that bad.

Let’s start with the CPU.  That is the line with “Intel Core i7-2600K Sandy Bridge. ”
Intel – is the manufacturer
Core i7 – is the edition ( or series ) of the processor
2600K – is the specific model ( generally the higher the number the faster the processor )
Sandy Bridge – is just the nickname of the chip’s architecture…nothing you’ll ever need to know as a normal human being.

For most people, you should not get overly concerned with technical details. All you really need to know is that Intel currently makes a few different editions of processors that range from not very fast to very fast.

Here they are:
Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 – Each of these are good. The higher the number the faster the processor can do things; and the more multi-tasking it can do without slowing down.
Core 2 Duo
– Pretty good, but sort of yesterdays news.  Also, it’s close in price to the i3; so only buy the Core 2 Duo if the price is just amazing.
Pentium and Pentium Dual-Core
– BAD!!! Bad bad bad.  In my opinion these are never a good buy.  They are as slow as molasses when running current day software and will make your life worse than it currently is.  If you are on a budget, spend just a little bit more and spring for at least the i3.  It doesn’t cost much more and you won’t want to toss it out a window ( pun not intended ).  Did I mention it was bad?

It should be pointed out that AMD is another CPU manufacturer that makes very good processors and is a completely viable alternative to Intel.  If you decide to get a computer with an AMD processor, just make the sales person verify that:
A) – It has at least two processing cores or more and
B) – The clock speed is 2.2GHz or higher.
I know those aren’t terms that I have covered and I want to keep this simple for you; so if nothing else, write that down and take it to the store with you.  If the sales person asks “Why?” tell them you need something that will last you awhile without slowing to a crawl.  And that is the reason.

Okay, onto the hard drive.
That’s the 1TB HD part.  To keep this simple, I will tell you two things.  1TB is very big ( can hold 250,000 songs ).  And 500GB is ½ of 1TB ( in other words 1TB = 1,000GB ).
The rest is pretty easy to figure out just by looking at how big the number is and comparing it to what you just learned.  For most people 250GB is more than enough for all their individual needs.  If you are buying a family computer and have a few teenagers, you’ll be getting the 1TB :D.

Now for the RAM ( the 4GB part ).
Just make sure you have a minimum of 4GB.  I would consider 8GB to be ideal for the life of the computer.  Anything beyond that is gravy.  One note here, you may see another number with the RAM…something like PC3-1333.  This is just telling you the speed of the RAM. The higher the number, the faster the RAM.  After looking at a few PCs you will get a general idea of what is slow and what is fast.

Network connections.
As far as you’re concerned, there are two types of networks, wired and wireless ( wifi ).  For wireless, there are different speeds.  The A/B/G/N is just telling you all the different speeds of wireless that computer supports.  The only two that matter to you are the G and the N.  G is good enough for most people and N is about six times faster than G.  That’s it.
Something else important for wireless, you need a wireless router at home connected to your internet for the computer’s wireless to work.  The modem from your internet provider might have this built-in.  You should find this out before you go shopping.
For wired network connections, just make sure the computer has one.  Wired is generally more reliable because it is not as susceptible to all the radio interference in the air from cell phones and other electronic devices.

Honestly, there isn’t much else that really matters for the average computer user.  The only other thing is a video card.  The video card is the part on the back of the computer that your monitor cable plugs into.  You might see “onboard video.”  This just means the video card is part of the motherboard and is not as powerful as having a true separate video card.  And unless you are doing professional video editing or something like that, you don’t need the separate video card.  Although it should be mentioned that junior can’t blow up zombies in high-detail with onboard video.  So if you need the computer to be able to handle high-powered games, then you may need a separate video card.

Beyond that, just ask as many questions as you need to be comfortable with your purchase.  Don’t be afraid of sounding silly or anything, if you knew all about computers, the salesperson helping you wouldn’t have a job.  So ask away.

If you have any questions relating to this topic or things to add.  Leave a reply below or contact us.  Happy shopping from your friends at Smart Computing.

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