The time has come to purchase a new computer. You know that you want something fast, reliable, and within a specific price range. But when it comes to reading the computer specs, it almost feels you’re reading a foreign language. There are probably more acronyms mentioned than you can count on your fingers, and they don’t even bother telling you what they stand for!
Today, we are going to change all of that. Our goal here is to make sure you can read through every specification listed and know exactly what you want out of each. So if you’re ready to be “techy” for the next few minutes, let’s begin!
CPU / Processor
The central processing unit (CPU) is the brains of the computer, which means this is the most vital component of them all. The speed at which the computer can run applications, referred to as hertz (Hz), is determined by the CPU. The higher the processing speed, the faster the computer will be able to run multiple programs, imaging software, video games, etc. The CPU is usually small and square-shaped with many short, rounded metallic connectors underneath. The CPU attaches directly to a CPU socket, which is connected to the motherboard.
Intel vs AMD
The two main brands that produce CPUs are Intel and AMD. Both companies offer great products that will satisfy your computing needs. When comparing their CPUs side by side, AMD tends to be on the cheaper side, but not by much. From a performance standpoint, you can always read benchmark reviews and write ups since AMD and Intel CPUs tend to perform differently depending on the task at hand. And if you are building a computer, keep in mind that the type of brand you go with will influence the type of motherboard you purchase since they need to be compatible with each other.
CPU Socket Type, Compatibility and Cores
The CPU socket is where the CPU will be installed. It’s important that you match the motherboard socket type with the CPU socket type, otherwise they won’t connect. AMD processors and motherboards mainly use AM2, AM2+ and AM3 sockets. Intel on the other hand uses pin-count based sockets such as the LGA 775, LGA 1156 and LGA 1366. Matching the socket type doesn’t necessarily guarantee compatibility either, as the Intel 775 socket doesn’t support quad-core processors based on the Yorkfield core.
When speaking about cores, it’s indicating the type of core the CPU is based on. More recent cores bring increased performance and reduced power consumption for the same performance compared to an older core. The core is a good indicator of performance, before considering other factors such as the frequency and cache. Nowadays, most processors are built with multi-cores (dual, triple or quad). Each core supports one or two threads, which enables your programs to run on several cores simultaneously without slowing down computer performance. So basically, the more cores there are, the better.
This will only be a concern if you are building a desktop computer or thinking about upgrading one. The motherboard is the central unit where everything is connected to. When purchasing one, you will want to make sure it’s compatible with the CPU, has enough RAM slots, contains SATA ports, fits inside your case, and can support all of your drives and other components. You will also need to check that the power supply has the right connector for the motherboard, as the number of pins in the connector can vary.
Random Access Memory (RAM)
When it comes to running multiple programs smoothly, RAM is going to be your best friend. RAM represents the memory available to run applications on your computer, like websites, word processors, music players, etc. The more RAM your computer has, the more programs you can run at once without affecting performance. Otherwise, you can expect to have delays with opening documents, and your computer could even freeze temporarily.
RAM is simple and relatively cheap to upgrade in both desktops and notebooks. Most computers either have two or four slots to install RAM. They are usually installed in groups of two, and come in sizes of 1GB, 2GB, 4GB and 8GB. To run a computer with Windows 7 smoothly, you will want at least 4 GB of RAM. If you are doing video editing or playing computer games constantly, you may want a minimum of 8 GB in your system.
Hard Disc Drive (HDD)
Also known as the hard drive, the HDD is where your computer stores all of its data. This includes your music, photos, documents, videos, and various other files. The storage capacity of hard drives is measured in bytes. The bigger your hard drive is in terms of bytes, the more files you can store.
Most hard drives are also connected by serial ATA (SATA). IDE was the older model to SATA, but they required separate cables for data transfer and power. Most motherboards now have multiple SATA ports, so you shouldn’t have to worry about compatibility.
Since hard drives are also pretty cheap these days, you should buy more than enough space than you’ll need. But even if you run out of hard drive space, you can always purchase an external hard drive to save more files, or to use as a backup.
Unless you are a hardcore gamer or need to run video editing software on your computer, the video card can be considered optional for your needs. Now that motherboards are coming equipped with built-in video adapters, or graphics processing units (GPUs), your computer will hardly need the support of a separate video card. This results in poorer graphics performance, but as a normal computer user, you will hardly notice any difference.
If you are planning on playing computer games or running software that demands high end graphics or 3D rendering, you will want a separate video card in your system. This will help spread out the workload the RAM endures, giving you better speed and performance. PCIe video cards are the most common out there, as most motherboards support them.
CD / DVD Drive
If you are only concerned about your optical drive reading CDs and DVDs, then you will only be concerned with the reading speeds. However, since it doesn’t cost much more to get a drive that writes also, I would suggest getting that instead. These drives are usually called “CD DVD R/RW+/- Burner Drive”. A good speed to have for both reading and writing is 24X. Most of these drives are connected via SATA.
Other Notable Specs
USB ports – It’s important that you have USB ports accessible to plug in your mouse and keyboard at least. You may have other peripherals that require a USB port, such as a wireless network card, flash drive, external hard drive, printer, web camera, phone cable, etc. There’s USB, USB 2.0 and now USB 3.0 ports, and each step up can make a big difference when transferring documents. To take advantage of USB 3.0, your device needs to be USB 3.0 compatible, as the plug is different than the other USB ones.
Network Card – It is difficult to find a system that doesn’t come with a network interface card (NIC), but not all them come equipped with a wireless network interface card (WNIC). As long as you purchase a WNIC that fits the IEEE 802.11 standards, you should have no problems connecting to any network wirelessly. You can also buy a USB WNIC that you can plug into any system, and they can be found for as cheap as $15 at most stores.
Sound Card – Motherboards come with built-in sound (like the video card), so that’s one less thing you need to worry about. However, if you have an expensive speaker set or are using your system for sound editing and recording, you may want to look into a separate sound card with more features and functions.
Screen Size – The size of the screen that is shown in the product is the actual viewing size of the screen. For example, if the monitor is advertised as 17 inches, the diagonal measurement of the viewing size is going to be 17 inches. In regards to laptops, 15.6 inches seems to be the standard size.
Build Your Own Computer
Now that you have a clear understanding of all the different components of a computer, why not learn to build your own? You can save money, customize it to your needs, and have fun doing it! Ty Price’s online course has over 5 hours of content on how to build a computer. He also breaks down how much money you’ll most likely spend, where to buy your parts, and how to install your essential programs such as Windows and anti-virus software. And if you aren’t satisfied with the course, he has a 30-day money-back guarantee so you basically have nothing to lose!