Buying a new computer - understanding the jargon

Published on: 29 Jul 2013

So you’ve decided to buy a new desktop or laptop PC but the bewildering array of facts and figures are making the job of choosing the right machine for you a real headache. Have no fear, we are here to cut through the jargon.

Hard Drives

The two key things to understand with hard drives are type and size. There are currently two types of Hard Drives being put into home computers. HDDs are the more traditional types of hard drive and have a magnetic disc that spins and is read and written to by an arm. The benefit of HDDs is price as you will get more storage space for your money. SSDs (or Solid State Drives) work like a USB memory card and have no moving parts at all. The benefit of SSDs is faster read/write times and reliability but you won’t get as much storage space.

If your new computer will be your ‘main’ machine then we would recommend a minimum of 500GB (Gigabytes) of storage space for your documents, music, photos and films. If you are buying a laptop for occasional use then you can get away with less storage space and a SSD might well be better for you.

It is possible to have the best of both worlds and some PCs will have a small SSD that will let your computer start up in a matter of seconds whilst a traditional HDD is used to store your data.

Processor

The processor (or CPU) is the ‘brains’ of the computer and is the key component used to measure the performance of a PC. Ideally you should be looking to get as good a processor as you can afford. One figure to look out for is the processing speed (usually measured in GHz). Nowadays you can get dual and even quad core processors. These are exactly as they sound. With two cores a processor can perform twice the number of tasks at the same time. With four cores you get four times as many tasks running at the same time.

RAM

Think of RAM as the ‘working memory’ of a computer. Whereas a hard drive stores data even when the computer is switched off, the RAM stores information only whilst the computer is running. This memory is accessed by the Processor to speed up computing tasks and so the more memory it can store at once, the quicker a computer will be. Right now most PCs will be running upwards of 2GB but RAM of 4GB or more will get the most out of modern software.

Of course there are many more components to consider when choosing your new computer such as screen sizes on laptops, USB and SD card slots and so on but the three components mentioned here are the key things to look out for when shopping for your new PC.

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