Sunday, March 10, 2013

Looking for a New Computer?

Looking to buy a new (or used) computer?  What should you get?  And as for computer specs what does that mumbo jumbo of numbers mean?  Please note that most opinions in this post are my biased opinions…!

First things First

When the looking for a new computer the first thing you want to decide is what type of computer do you want to get?  A desktop, a laptop, or now a tablet?  One major question I always ask at this point is if the computer needs to be mobile; if not, then you should get a desktop, no ands buts or ifs – get a desktop!  If on the other hand you need to be mobile then the question is whether you want to get a laptop or tablet.  In my opinion at least at this point unless you want extreme mobility, or just need email and internet access, a laptop is always the better choice!  The main reason I do not recommend tablets is for the software, while there may be thousands of apps for a tablet most of these apps are not worth a [beep], about the only “good” use for tablets at this point are email and browsing the web (yes, the web does include Facebook and Twitter!).  Although (allow me to bash Apple for a moment!) for web browsing on a Apple device they either need to allow Adobe flash content or web designers need to stop making websites that use adobe flash, really annoying when I run into this!  I haven’t used an Android based tablet, but I believe they are the same way?.  On a side note, Microsoft’s new Surface Pro tablet does support flash player and runs the full Windows operating system.

Second - Price Range

Ok back to looking for a new computer (enough bashing Apple – at least for now).  The second step I recommend is to determine the price you are willing to pay.  Now if you are planning on getting a tablet you are not going to have much of choice, especially if you want an Apple iPad.  Generally speaking Android based tables are cheaper along with a larger variety although quality might be in question.  You also have the Windows surface tablets, again not much in the way of customization.  A couple more things to keep in mind as well is a desktop will always give you the most bang for your buck, which is the reason I always recommend getting a desktop if you do not need to be mobile.

What do I recommend?  I always recommend spending as much as you can, you can probably guess what I am going to say next, the more you spend the better computer you will get.  While that may seem like a doh statement, there is a reason for spending more other than bragging rights or just for wasting money!  Spending the money to get a better computer will pay off in the long run with a computer that will last longer (years).  Buying the cheapest computer means the computer is mostly likely already outdated and you may have trouble running certain programs – such as video editing software, games, ect.

Third – Components

First off, I just want to note that there is a difference between desktop components and mobile components.  Mobile components tend to be more expensive and slower.  Mobile components also need to be smaller and produce less heat.  For the most part you are limited with laptops and tablets as to what you can get.  Also replacement can be a problem since you probably have to replace the whole device instead of just the offending component like you can in a desktop.

For the first component, we will talk about the CPU.  The CPU is possibly one of the most important component of a new computer.  A better CPU will be faster and thus result in a faster computer that will last longer before being outdated.  The important numbers to look at for the CPU is the number of cores and the speed of the cores usually in GHz.  Now I have mentioned this in earlier post already, but when I figure the speed of a CPU I simply multiply the number of cores times the speed (GHz).  Now this isn’t the best way to determine what CPU is better but it is the simplest without getting into some of the more complicated specs.  For example the CPU on my desktop has 4 cores (usually referred to as quad core) at 2.9 GHz, multiply that together and you have 11.6 GHz.  Most tablets now also come with quad core CPUs.

The next component is the RAM.  More RAM is better; although, now days you can put ridiculous amounts of RAM into a computer, my new desktop for example can hold 64 GB’s (64 Gigabytes, what in tarnation would I do with all that RAM?) of RAM.  RAM is basically really fast memory that is used by the CPU to store data that it is using.  For the most part 8 GB is more than enough RAM, about the only reason you would want more RAM is if you work with Photoshop or do video production.

The next component is the storage, in this case I am talking about hard drives not RAM (yes there is a difference, although they are usually both ranked in Gigabytes).  The only real choice you have for hard drives besides the size is the regular spinning platter HDD or the newer, faster, more expensive solid state drive SSD.  I do not have much to say about storage other than to make sure you get enough, and I recommend going with 2 hard drives so you can use the second hard drive for backups.  With a laptop of course this might not be possible, although some of the larger laptops will come with dual hard drives.  For tablets you are extremely limited, the largest tablet at the moment has a 128 GB hard drive, which compared to desktops is ridiculously small.

The next to last component is Graphics, just to note at this point as well that computer specifications might not be in this order.  If you plan on playing any games on this computer or if you want to do video production you will greatly benefit from have a dedicated Graphics card!  The Graphics card will take the graphical load of the CPU, leaving the CPU open to do other tasks.  Most laptops do not come with dedicated graphics cards unless you get into the more expensive models, especially the ones that have a 17 inch or bigger screen.  Tablets – just forget about it, dedicated graphics card produce way too much heat and suck way too much power.  Just another note as well, that all computers come with graphics, the difference is dedicated (better) verses integrated either on the chipset or in the CPU (not so good).

The final components are the peripherals (the odds and ends).  Not much to say here, most new computers come with USB 3.0, Video ports (VGA, DVI, HDMI, or Display port), and Ethernet ports or wireless for all your connection needs.  Obviously if you have a tablet or laptop you are going to want some form of wireless access such as Wi-Fi.

Operating Systems

Not much to say about operating systems, just thought I would quick mention it.

If you buy an Apple device, you only have one choice, so nothing to worry about here!

Most PC’s and Laptops run Microsoft’s Windows operating systems, the latest greatest of which is Windows 8, some cheaper models may come with Windows 7 (which is a good indicator that the computer is outdated).  I should note here, that if you but a Windows 8 device, Windows 8 is drastically different than any other Windows operating system, especially if you are coming from Windows XP.

Final Thoughts?

What are my recommendations?  For desktops I recommend spending around $500 for a half way decent computer and if you want something a little better then I recommend going for the $1000 price range and definitely get something with a graphics card and 2 hard drives.  For rock bottom you can pickup a desktop for around $200.  For laptops I recommend adding $100 and $200 to the previous numbers, so $600 for a decent laptop and $1200 for a good laptop.  Again you can scrape the barrel and get a laptop for around $250-$300.  As for tablets I do not have any recommendations, you basically have 3 choices at this point – an Apple iPad, and Microsoft Surface tablet, and Android based devices of which there are quite a few!

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