3 things you absolutely need to know before buying a computer
Buying a desktop computer or laptop? Stop right now or you may end up paying for it later, literally. You need to check these 3 parts first and ensure that they meet the recommendations I am about to give.
Know the terms
I’ll try my best to simplify the computer terms I will use. You don’t need to be an expert on them but having a basic understanding of these concepts and terms will help you in the long run.
I’m going to list the terms here and then explain. It may seem unclear at first but I’ll get into detail in a bit.
- CPU - think of this as the brain of a computer, it runs all the code and does the ‘thinking’, the speed of the CPU is the biggest determining factor in how fast your computer operates.
2. RAM - Think of RAM as like a desk. You have the top of a desk and a drawer. The drawer is your hard drive (where all your programs and files are stored), the top of the desk is your RAM. When you open a program or file, you take it out of your drawer(hard drive) and put it on the top of your desk(RAM), so if you have a small desk(small amount of RAM), the more things you pull out of your drawer(hard drive) the top of the desk starts to run out of space. It would become pretty hard and inefficient to do tasks with all of your desk space running out. The same goes for your computer.
3. SSD - SSD stands for Solid State Drive, it's the successor to the hard drive. To understand what an SSD is let me explain what a hard drive is first. Going with the desk example from above, the drawer was your hard drive which looks like this:
See that circular disk? Your data is physically stored on specific parts of that disk. When you open a program or file the disk will spin and the metal arm you see will swing left and right to read/write files. So how fast a program or file opens is determined by how fast the disk and arm can move.
So in order to access your data the disk has to physically move. With an SSD there are no moving parts. So opening files and programs, starting your computer, etc, is significantly faster, like ridiculously faster. Below is what a SSD looks like.
To put this in an easier to understand example, a hard drive is the equivalent of you walking across a room to get an item and walk back to where you started. An SSD would be like snapping your fingers and the item would appear in your hand.
4. GB & TB - these two terms represent gigabytes and terabytes which are units to measure memory or storage. You’ll see them listed when looking at hard drives, SSDs and RAM. 1 TB is 1000GB, 2 TB is 2000GB and so forth.
Ok so we’ve gone over the terms now let's get into detail on why they are important. Remember don’t worry if you don’t have a complete understanding of them yet.
Figure out your use case first
Before you even look at a computer as yourself what you will be using it for? School work, online shopping, video editing, gaming, etc. Knowing this will help you determine what kind of specs you need for your computer because different tasks will require different specs.
Minimum spec recommendations
If your use case is simple, online shopping, Facebook, YouTube, word docs, etc... then these specs will be fine.
CPU: 4 Cores and up, 3ghz
Don’t worry exactly what ‘cores’ mean, just know that more cores, most times, means better multitasking and performance for apps that can use more cores. Ghz is the unit that is used to measure the CPU’s speed.
You're bound to have at least two programs open with a number of background tasks going so 8GB of RAM is the least I would recommend. Don’t buy a computer with less that 8GB.
Storage: SSD with 500GB capacity
If you're using your computer lightly doing web browsing, school work it's not likely that you’ll need more than 500GB of storage. Word documents, pdf files, take a small amount of storage, pictures and videos on the other take a huge amount of storage.
Okay let's have some practice at looking for a computer for a light use case.
Okay take a minute, look at the specs and pick an option.
I hope you chose option #2. Why? Let's look at both options specs in a condensed form.
CPU: AMD Ryzen 3 3200U Dual Core Processor (Up to 3.5GHz)
RAM: 4GB DDR4 Memory
STORAGE: 128GB PCIe NVMe SSD
CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 4700U Octa-Core Mobile Processor (Up to 4.1 GHz)
RAM: 8GB LPDDR4 Memory
STORAGE: 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD
See the difference yet? Option #1 meets the CPU speed requirements (3ghz and up) but it doesn't meet the core count. Its a dual core CPU which whereas Option #2 has an octa core CPU and a higher speed.
As for the RAM option #2 is the only one that meets the recommended 8GB. Again I strongly recommend at least 8GB, do not get a computer with just 4GB. Even if you don’t do multiple things at once the operating system can easily take up 2 - 2.5GB of RAM by itself.
Both options have an SSD but only option #2 meets the capacity requirements of at least 500GB.
Heavy use cases
Now if your use case is more heavy like video editing, gaming, heavy multitasking the requirements jump up a bit.
CPU: 8 cores, 4ghz
As stated before the number of cores really helps out with multi-tasking and applications that are designed to use more cores. The extra speed helps out too!
RAM: 16GB and up
In heavy use cases and multi-tasking RAM is eaten up faster than I can eat a mushroom burger. Remember RAM is what your computer uses to temporarily store files and applications that you are currently using and running out of it or getting low can have dire consequences in terms of performance. Most of the time when your computer suffers from freezing or stutters its most likely caused by the low amount of RAM available.
Storage: SSD 1TB capacity and up
Remember that 1TB is 1000GB so it's quite a lot of storage, which should be more than enough for typical heavy use cases. Although if you work with a lot of photos or videos you may want to get a 2TB SSD.
You could always add another internal SSD if the computer you're getting supports it or get an external SSD that you connect to with a usb cable.
A real life example
Let's take a look at my own work computer specs to give you an example.
First my use case; Web development, mobile app development, word docs, web based apps (multiple browser tabs open), multiple remote desktop connections, gaming, big file transfers, lots of different applications, photo storage. It's quite a lot…
Normally I build my own computer like I did with my old one but due to the pandemic there's been a shortage of parts so I had to buy a pre-built. However I customized the parts to my needs.
CPU: 10 cores, 5.1ghz
Storage: (2) 1 TB SSDs
As you can see for my use case I required a bit more than a typical use case. Not everyone does though. However I suggest going with the specs that I recommended that best fits your use case.
Desktop & Laptop Recommendations
I’m gonna leave some links below that go to desktops and laptops that fit light and heavy use cases. I only recommend products that I would use myself.
Also, if you ever wondered what's the difference between all the computer brands out there (Dell, HP(don't recommend HP, terrible build quality), Acer, Lenovo, etc), it basically comes down to the amount of bloatware (apps made by the computer manufacturer that are most likely unnecessary and serve no real purpose other than to advertise the manufacturer, sometimes they can cause your computer to slowdown) comes with.
An easy way to deal with bloatware is to just uninstall them when you receive your computer or do a clean windows 10 install.
Anyway here are my recommendations:
Light use cases
Note: the cpu is 4 cores
Heavy use cases
Note: see pricing with coupon below $1219.00, thats $780 off
Custom built computers & personalized recommendations
If none of these really fit for you then I also build custom computers. If you're interested in that then send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Just give it a subject of ‘Custom Built Computer’ and then try your best to describe your use case. I’ll come up with a parts list and get back to you.
If you want just a personalized pre-built recommendation, just let me know.
Some important notes
There are some other factors that come into play when buying a computer but I left them out as I felt these 3 are the most important. One thing to note is that if you plan to do any graphically intensive tasks such as gaming, auto cad work, 3d modeling on your computer, you will also need a pretty decent GPU (graphical processing unit). That subject however would probably deserve an article to itself. If you need assistance with that please send me an email @ email@example.com.
Remember to look at the specs, not just the price, you will find some computers for as low as $300 but I do not recommend it!
I understand that not everyone has the financial means to get a higher priced computer but if you can save up and then purchase a computer with the right specs. If you really need one now and can’t afford one that has the recommended specs then try to get one that has 8GB of RAM.
Stay away from Chromebooks...I’ll just leave it at that….
Anyway thank you for reading, I hope I didn’t hurt your brain! Have a blessed day and if you know someone that could use this info please share it with them.
Mahalo nui again, John.