How to buy a computer: all you need to consider
A good computer can completely change your productivity. A computer that’s right for you will get things done quickly without taking too long to load, while providing a comfortable typing experience and a form factor to suit your lifestyle.
Of course, there are hundreds of computer models out there, and not all are created equal. As such, it is important to consider all aspects of a computer before purchasing it, so that you know you are getting one that meets your needs. But even doing this research can take hours.
We’ve got the job done so you don’t have to. Here is everything you need to consider before buying a computer.
Think of your computer’s processor as its brain. The processor, or CPU, is basically the main chip inside a computer that tells all other components what to do and when.
Processor speeds are measured in GHz or gigahertz. The faster the speed, the less time it takes for a processor to complete a task. Most modern processors also have multiple cores, which means they can handle multiple tasks simultaneously.
The most common processor companies for computers these days are Intel and AMD. That said, Apple has started to build its own processors, and Qualcomm does provide processors for some Windows computers.
Usually, desktop computers can offer more powerful processors than laptops. This is because desktop computers can deliver more power without having to worry about battery life.
Random access memory, or RAM, has a huge impact on how many things your computer can do at one time. When you open a file or application, it is loaded into the computer’s RAM until you close it or no longer need it. When you consider the fact that you can have multiple or multiple apps and files open at once, it becomes clear why more RAM is better.
Most people who just want to browse the web, check email, and do basic tasks can probably get away with 8GB of RAM, although upgrading to 16GB doesn’t hurt though. it is on budget. Those with more demanding workloads should consider a computer with 32GB of RAM if possible.
While a computer’s RAM is essentially its short-term memory, storage is its long-term memory. The more storage space you have, the more files and applications you can store on your computer. It may not matter for those who stream their music and videos and depend on cloud storage for their files. But if you like to keep the files saved locally on your real computer, or on your game, then more storage is better.
Most basic computers usually have 128 GB of storage. If you want to keep files on your current computer, we recommend upgrading to at least 256 GB or more.
There are also different types of storage. Most modern computers use solid-state storage, which is faster and more reliable than a traditional spinning-disk hard drive.
A GPU, or graphics processing unit, basically manages everything you see on your screen. Most processors actually have an on-chip GPU, and these on-chip GPUs are usually more than powerful enough to handle viewing basic items like web pages and videos. But as soon as you start doing things like heavier games, graphic design, and video editing, you might want to think about a dedicated GPU on your computer.
High-end GPUs come from NVIDIA and AMD, and they both pushed the graphics performance limits of what you can get from a computer’s graphics.
Typically, a laptop’s graphics are not as powerful as a desktop computer. Desktop computers have more room for a larger graphics card that offers better cooling and more power. That said, laptops can still deliver more than enough graphics performance for most.
Depending on the types of accessories and peripherals you want to use with your computer, you will need to think about ports. Here’s a quick look at some of the more popular ports.
- Ethernet: Allows your computer to connect to the Internet through a wired connection.
- USB-A: The classic rectangular USB connector. USB-A ports can use different USB standards, with different speeds. These range from USB 1.0 to USB 4, but USB 4 ports typically use the USB-C connector standard.
- USB-C: A different connector for the USB standard. Often, Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 ports also use the USB-C connector standard.
- 3.5mm headphone jack: A small circular connector that you use to listen to audio, usually with headphones.
- HDMI: A video connector that can carry a video signal to a display. There are a few different HDMI standards, and sometimes HDMI uses a smaller port called Mini HDMI.
- DisplayPort: A slightly less common video connector that supports screens up to 16K, with the latest standard.
- SD card slot: A slot for the SD card, commonly used in cameras. Allows you to quickly and easily transfer files between devices.
- MicroSD card slot: A slot for the smaller MicroSD card, commonly used in phones, some cameras, etc.
Height and weight
If you are buying a desktop computer that will live primarily on or under a desk, the overall size and weight of your computer may not matter much. But if you want a laptop, you’ll need to make sure you have something small enough to fit your lifestyle.
Of course, there are a few tradeoffs to consider. Generally speaking, the thinner and lighter the laptop, the harder it is for the device to handle the heat generated by the processor and GPU. But companies like Apple have seriously innovated on this front, and you can still get a laptop that’s powerful enough that is light and thin. However, most gaming laptops are still quite thick.
If you are buying a laptop, you will want to consider the display on the device. There are a few metrics to consider for display.
To begin with, you will need to think about the type of display. Most laptops have LED screens, which can get quite bright. However, some newer laptops have switched to OLED, which offers deeper black levels and higher contrast. Learn more about display types here.
Then there is the display resolution. Higher resolution screens look sharper, but they also generally require more battery. You will have to decide which resolution you want. Those who want the edge may want a 4K laptop screen, however, most users will be perfectly happy with a 1080p display.
Last but not least is the refresh rate. Most laptop screens are refreshed at 60Hz, however, in recent years laptops have been upgraded to 120Hz + panels. This will make the animations smoother and generally feel more responsive, but again, it impacts battery life.
The keyboard is a very important part of how you interact with your computer. Unfortunately, of course, it can be difficult to judge what a laptop keyboard will look like until you see the laptop in person. This is where we recommend that you try to find a store where you can try out the keyboard or read reviews.
Ultimately, you can still use an external keyboard, even if you have a laptop. That said, if you buy a laptop, you’ll likely be using it on the go. Carrying a keyboard, in this case, is not very practical.
If you’re buying a laptop to use on the go, you’re going to need something that can last. In recent years, Apple’s MacBook Air and MacBook Pro M1 have delivered incredible battery life, thanks to Apple’s switch to ARM.
Unfortunately, just looking at the base battery size isn’t enough to tell how long the device will last. Things like processor, screen, etc. have a huge impact on battery life. So two laptops with different processors and displays but the same battery size could have drastically different battery life.
This is another area where we recommend that you take a look at reviews. Typically, manufacturers also report battery life in hours, although how they measure it varies from company to company.