How to Choose a Computer
Buying a new computer is always exciting, but it can also be a daunting task, especially if you don’t know what you are looking for. Whether it is your first computer, your tenth computer or an upgrade, you need to be sure you are picking the right machine to meet your needs. In our computer buying guide below, you’ll find the things you need to consider and break down the jargon.
Your operating system (OS) is the brains of your computer. It enables you to interact with your computer and provides an interface for applications and programs, as well as organising files and so on. It controls your computer’s functions.
The most popular operating systems are Windows and Mac OS. Essentially, if you are buying an Apple computer, it’ll come with a Mac OS and for pretty much everything else, it’ll be Windows. There are other OS options, such as Linux, but they are a bit more complex to use.
While Mac OS has been lauded for its easy to use interface and intuitiveness, it is restrictive when it comes to programs and apps as most need to be pre-approved by Apple. Windows has been trying to compete with Apple’s interface for years and has improved massively, and comes with more games and applications. Windows is the most popular operating system in the world, so while it may lack usability, it makes up for it in support, accessibility and functionality.
Windows’ newest version, Windows 10, is designed to be cross-platform and comes with Cortana (your own virtual assistant), the Microsoft Edge web browser, compatibility with all Windows 8 devices, voice control, and a variety of other new functions.
The latest Mac OS, Catalina, from Apple allows seamless activity between Apple devices, the ability to make and receive iPhone calls and send text messages, enhanced voice control, smarter working with the virtual assistant Siri, facial recognition to organise photos and faster filing, and dedicated Apple applications bundled together for music, video, and podcasts that together replace the iTunes.
RAM, which stands for Random Access Memory, is what your computer uses for its memory. If the OS is the brain that makes things happen, RAM, alongside the processor, is the power that feeds it. When you do pretty much any activity on your computer, whether it is open a program or read a document, that task is loading into the RAM. The more RAM you have, the better that task will process and the more tasks can run at the same time.
Alongside the processing power your computer has, RAM helps your computer run more efficiently, especially if you want to do high-volume activities such as gaming. RAM is measured in gigabytes (GB) - not to be confused with storage - starting at 2GB, which is the bare minimum. 2GB won’t give you much to work with. 4GB provides enough RAM for everyday use, such as browsing the website or using Office applications, however, 8GB and up is where you’ll get the best performance for gaming and power-heavy applications. For high-end performance, go for 16GB of RAM. The good news is it is easy to upgrade RAM if you feel like you need more of a punch.
As a rough guideline, see this:
- 2GB - the bare minimum
- 4GB - for basic use
- 8GB - good for running Windows and Mac OS, as well as games
- 16GB - great for professional software and more intensive gaming
- 32GB+ - suitable for hardcore games and multiple apps
The processor is a chip that carries out the vital operations and calculations that drives your computer. Unlike RAM, it’s very difficult to upgrade your processor, so it’s important to get this right. Your computers speed and performance is counting on it. Processor power is measured in gigahertz (GHz), and the higher is usually the better. In modern computing, the basic is 2 GHz or above, but similarly to RAM the more intensive computing requires more powerful processing.
Most of today’s processes are multi-core, meaning several working at one time. That enables the processor to handle more demanding tasks. Quad-core and above are more suited for gaming, but the two main options are Intel and AMD. Intel has been the market leader for years and the most popular processors are the i5 and i7. The Intel i7 is the most premium of the range but it does also impact battery life and the price point reflects it too. AMD chips typically offer more cores but slightly less speed. To most users, the i5 or similar is more than enough. Some processors also come with a turbo boost feature to allow them to handle complex tasks for a short period of time.
Your computer storage is where all your files, programs and games will live. The more you have, the more you can store. The typical amount of storage for a computer is around 500GB, but more modern computers come with storage 1TB and above. Storage is measured in gigabytes (GB) and terabytes (TB), with 1TB equalling 1,000 GB.
The two main types of storage are hard disc drives (HDDs), which are built in, and solid-state drives (SSDs). HDDs typically come with longer loading times and slower boot times, but they are cheaper. SSDs are extremely quick but come with a much more expensive price point.
Graphics card: Your graphics card basically calculates the colour, sizing and positioning of objects on your screen. This is the technology that provides great visual performance for your computer, particularly when playing games or watching videos. Advanced, or dedicated, graphics cards simply mean you can run more complex games better. They also often come with built-in RAM for more power. The two leaders are the NVIDIA GeForce range and AMD’s Radeon HD ‘M’ series, while 3D cards are becoming more popular for modern gaming.
Mouse and keyboard: These two provide the traditional way of operating a computer. Desktop computers often come with a generic mouse and keyboard included from the manufacturer, and for most that fits the bill perfectly. However, there are more advanced options available, particularly for dedicated gaming or editing. Mice normally include trigger buttons that perform certain actions and with adjustable sensitivity. And, of course, wireless keyboards and mice have become much more popular if you want to operate your computer from distance.