Non Techy Guide To Computer Stats
Posted: Wednesday, May 07, 2014 - 12:32 PM
Let’s face it. Computers are important. We use it in our daily lives. In fact, you are probably using one right now. (If not, you are likely on a phone or game console’s web browser)
Now, answer me this. How old is your computer? If it is over 4 years old, you should seriously consider upgrading.
“Why should I get a new computer?” You ask. “My computer has served me well all these years.”
I’m glad that you asked, hypothetical reader who asks convenient questions. The answer is simple. Technology is constantly improving, and as technology improves, programs that are developed for computers also increase in complexity to meet those new specs. That means that the computer which was considered top-of-the-line when you bought it is starting to fail meeting the minimum specifications for programs. This is inevitable, and will happen to EVERY computer at some point.
Now that you know that change is inevitable, what should you look for in a new computer? There are several things, and I’ll break them down in simple, non-techy terms.
This is the most important spec on the computer. This is like the computer's brain, and determines the speed that the computer can process information. For standard computers, you should aim for a high 2 or anywhere in the 3s. For a gamer, high 3s would be ideal to keep up with games that have increasingly more sophisticated graphics. Furthermore, the more cores that the processor has, the more things that it can process at once. Go for a dual core at minimum (i.e you only need it to check E-mails and occasionally browse the web), and a quad core processor if you plan on using the computer for anything important. If you find something bigger at a decent price, go for that.
This is how much data can be moved around at once. Imagine it like the computer's arms. The bigger and stronger that it is, the more information it can carry at one time. This includes things that the computer processes, such as that tax program that you use to calculate your taxes or that DVD that you are watching, and things that it moves from one location to another, such as transferring that funny cat picture that you just downloaded from your Downloads folder to your Pictures folder. This is an important stat, and you want this number to be high. 4 GB is acceptable for regular computer use, but if you plan on gaming or doing anything graphics-heavy, you will want 8 GB minimum, and 16 GB for higher end PCs.
This determines how well your computer can process graphics data (pictures and videos). An otherwise good computer can be crippled by a bad video card. However, there is no simple numbering scheme that can be used to determine how good or bad a card is. Although graphics cards within the same brand are generally better than others if their number is bigger, that big number may not be as good as a much lower number on a competing brand. For regular use, the standard card that the computer comes with is generally good enough, though. If you are unsure, ask online for people’s opinion, clearly naming the card, including the numbers after the name, and stating what you need the computer for.
This number tells you how much information you can save on your computer. A small portion of the hard drive is pre-reserved for system files, but the rest is available for anything that you want to use it for. This includes computer programs, documents, funny cat pictures, and games. If you don’t use your computer too much, 500GB is good enough. Gamers should aim for 1 or 2TB, because games can take up a lot of space very quickly. For reference, 1TB equals 1000GB. Don’t worry about filling this up, though, because you can always buy an external Hard Drive to store your 500GB of extra funny cat pictures.
An External Hard Drive is, as the name implies, a Hard Drive that is located outside of the computer. They are not very expensive, and can be used to store extra images and documents that you don't use regularly. It is connected to your computer with a USB Cable, has its own electric plug, and has a power switch for when you do not need to use it. You won't want to install any programs here, because the USB cable can't transfer a lot of information at once, but it is a good place to store files and pictures, because they are a lot smaller than programs.
This is the framework that your computer uses to let you interact with your programs. Generally, the newer operating systems are better, because they will last longer. Sure, you may love Windows XP more than Windows 7, but as an operating system gets older, the developers will stop providing updates for it. Once that happens, hackers will have an easy time stealing your data, because the holes that they find will no longer be closed. If you pick the most recent operating system, your computer will have protection for longer.
PC vs Mac (vs Linux)
This is another aspect of the operating system. There are two major types of operating systems. The ones made by Microsoft (PC), and the ones made by Apple (Mac). Generally, programs are not cross-compatible, so if you have a huge library of Mac programs, you won’t be able to use them on the PC. Similarly, if you have a whole bunch of PC program install disks in the shoebox under your bed, you won’t be able to install them in your Mac. If you want to run the same program, you will have to re-buy it in the correct version. And then there is Linux. It is free, open source, and has an active, friendly, and helpful community, but many programs (especially games) are not compatible with it. There are also many, many different versions available, which are optimized differently. This means that there is less uniformity, so you can't just ask your Linux-using neighbor how things work and get a perfect answer for your own setup. Make sure to do your research and determine that the types of programs that you need are available on the operating system before choosing.
32 Bit vs 64 Bit Operating System
This is another number that determines how much your computer can process at once. A general rule of thumb is that if your computer has under 4GB of RAM, 32 Bit is good enough. Anything higher, and a 64 Bit operating system will improve performance. Don’t even consider a 16 Bit operating system, because that has been obsolete for 20 years now.
If a program says that it is for a specific Bit operating system, pay attention. Generally speaking, a higher Bit operating system can handle anything that a lower Bit operating system can, but a lower Bit operating system will not be able to properly process a higher Bit program. So, your 64 bit system can run a 32 bit program, but your neighbor’s 32 bit system can’t run the 64 bit program.
Disk vs RAID vs Solid State Hard Drive
The type of hard drive that you have determines how quickly your computer can find and retrieve information. Most computers have a Disk-based operating system, and for most people, it is good enough. Solid state hard drives are considerably faster, but also a fraction of the size… and more expensive. These are useful for high-end multi-player gaming, but the average user won’t notice any difference besides the lack of storage space. RAID hard drives are another Hard Drive format that only gamers would really care about. In simple terms, it is a whole bunch of hard drives that are hooked together to make a super hard drive. It can drastically speed up the computer’s memory speed. However, if one of the hard drives goes bad, all of them break. And they have a reputation of failing more often than regular hard drives. There are various set-ups for RAIDs that focus on stability or speed, but if you are not a competitive gamer, none of these choices are really for you. For the average computer shopper, go with the standard format for the hard drive.
Fan vs Liquid Cooling
As your computer runs, it generates heat. If it gets too hot, the insides melt and your computer becomes an expensive paperweight. Luckily, standard computers have a fan-based cooling system to stop that from happening, as well as heat skins (think of them as sponges that soak up heat, so that the rest of the computer is cool). This is good enough for the standard user. The down side is that you have to listen to the light buzz of the fan while your computer is on, and your computer is constantly spewing out hot air (free heating in the winter). On high end computers, you can have the option to upgrade to Liquid Cooling. This system is extremely loud on start-up (imagine a jet engine), but after that, it is absolutely silent. Furthermore, your computer will not spew out hot air (making summers more bearable). For the average user, fans are good enough. If you want the finer things in life (and the manufacturer offers it), Liquid Cooling is pretty cool.
There are, of course, other specs that you can look at when picking your computer, but these are a good place to start. I hope that this has helped you decide on what to look for in your new computer.