It’s confusing, and even a little scary. You’re getting ready to put down hundreds of dollars, and want to be sure you’re getting a computer you’ll be happy with, but… How much should you spend? What should you look for? What do all of those “specs” mean? How many GHz or GB or whatever do you need?
Let’s take away some of the mystery. Just like there are various kinds of cars, and pricing directly reflects the quality of what you get, there are various kinds of computers, and pricing vs. quality (and performance) works the same way. This post will give you some working knowledge about purchasing a new (Windows) PC.
Laptop or Desktop?
First, decide whether you want a desktop or a laptop computer.
Desktops are good because:
- They are upgradeable
- They tend to last a bit longer than laptops (due mainly to better airflow and cooling)
- They stay where they are
Desktops can be bad because:
- They’re not portable
- They take up more space than laptops
- The wires! All those wires!
Laptops are good because:
- They’re portable. They’re self-contained, so you can use them anywhere
- They can run on battery, even when the power is out
- You can hook them into a display, keyboard and mouse and make them act like a desktop
Laptops can be bad because:
- They’re portable, making them theft targets, or something you might leave behind
- They’re not as upgradeable as desktops
- Because they tend to move around, they are more likely to get damaged
How Much Do I Spend?
Price determines what you get. Here’s the breakdown, generally, for new PC’s (not Macs!):
If you spend: You can expect:
$200-400 A low-end system; It’s a Kia.
$401-700 A mid-range consumer system; it’s a Chevy or a Ford commuter car
$700-900 A higher-end system; it has more features, power windows, heated seats
$900+ A high-end or business system; think Lexus, or Cadillac
$1500+ The start of gaming and high-performance systems; sports cars
What About GHz and GB and That Stuff?
The brains of your computer is the processor, or CPU. Typically CPUs are described in terms of “clock rate” (that’s the GHz stuff) and how many “cores” it has. Higher clock rate and more cores are usually beneficial. I like to see CPUs running at 2 GHz or higher, and I like to see either dual(2)- or quad(4)- cores. (My own laptop has a 2.4 GHz quad-core CPU).
Computers have two kinds of “memory”: RAM and disk. RAM is the workspace where things get done. Think of a workbench – a space for active work. Disk is like a filing cabinet, where things get put when they aren’t immediately needed. Think passive storage. Both RAM and disk are described in terms of GB – gigabytes or TB – terabytes. I won’t get all technical here, but just know that a TB is 1,000 times as much as a GB.
More RAM is better. 1 GB is not enough. 2 GB is barely enough, but you will not be happy with the performance of the system. 4 GB is where I like to start, and, these days, I prefer to have 8 GB of RAM. (My own laptop has 8 GB).
More disk space is better, to a point. Since this is the filing cabinet for your system, you want to be sure you have enough room to store all of your important stuff, as well as some room for system maintenance and the Windows system itself. If you don’t store a lot of pictures and/or music on your system, you can go as low as 128 GB or so. If you store an “average” amount of stuff (say, a couple thousand pictures, and a music library with a thousand songs), you’ll be fine with 250-500 GB. If you store much more than that, or lots of videos (which tend to be large), you’ll likely be needing 1 TB or more.
So, What’s the Bottom Line?
For an average use computer, we usually recommend at least the following:
- 2.0 GHz or higher CPU
- 4, or more preferably 8 GB of RAM
- 128 GB up to 1 TB of disk, depending on how you’ll use the system.
Hopefully this post demystifies some of the numbers and terminology that you are subjected to when buying a new computer.
We are always here to help you make your buying decision, even when you aren’t buying a system from us. You can stop in with specs from a couple of different systems you’re considering, and we’ll help you compare the systems to find the best fit for you.
We also help you move your stuff from your old system to your new one, once you’ve made that purchase.
Good luck with your new computer system!