computer specsWhat’s the difference between a hard drive and memory?  What kind of processor should I buy?  Reading and understanding a list of computer specs is a challenging task in itself.  Add that to the fact you’re still trying to figure out what type of system you need exactly, and the whole computer shopping process can turn into an overwhelming headache.

Hopefully this guide can help ease the pain, as we are going to discuss the role that every computer component plays, and what you should look for when purchasing a computer.  A lot of times consumers end up paying tons of money for a system that is considered “over-kill” in relation to the tasks they are performing.  So yes, this article can not only help you understand computers better, but you can also save money! Learn how to build a computer here.

Processor (CPU)

The CPU is one of the most important components in your system, as well as the most expensive.  It’s mainly responsible for the speed of the computer.  The type of processor you choose is also going to determine your computer’s shape and size.  A computer with a Core i5 Processor will be faster than a computer with a Core i3 Processor, but you’ll also have to pay more it.  So it’s really up to you on whether it’s worth the extra bucks to have a faster computer.

Compact PCs and some all-in-ones use smaller netbook or notebook processors.  These CPUs are weaker in performance than desktop processors, but they are smaller and generate less heat.  It’s important to note that when purchasing a CPU, you need to find the right motherboard and socket to support it.  For example, if you purchase an Intel CPU with a LGA 775 socket, the motherboard you buy must have the same socket in order for it to fit.  If you are buying an already-built computer or notebook though, you won’t need to worry about this.

The Intel Core i3 CPU will get the job done for basic computing tasks such as surfing the web, playing music, streaming movies, and typing up documents.  The i5 and i7 are recommended more for users who are playing high-end games or editing hours of audio or video clips.


Motherboards have definitely improved as of lately, and because of this you will probably have two less things to worry about;  video and sound.  The integrated graphics built into most motherboards are more than capable of handling most jobs on the computer, unless you are playing high resolution video games or running video-editing programs.

The same thing can be said about your sound.  Before you would have to purchase a separate sound card in order to plug your speakers in, but now the built-in sound will suffice for most speaker setups.

If you are building a PC and need some advice on motherboards, the most important tip is to get one that fits the case and the CPU.  Also make sure it has enough PCI and PCIe slots for your peripherals, and having extra RAM slots for future expansion can never hurt either.

Desktop Case

When building a desktop PC, having a good case can make a world of difference.  A well-designed case means having tool-less access to the interior, hard drives can be mounted on easy slide-out trays, readily accessible USB ports and memory slots, color-coded cabling, ample interior space, and cable ties.

For a gaming PC, you will want to focus mostly on the cooling aspects of the case.  Since a lot of the newer computer games are extremely demanding on the system, overheating is an issue that arises more often than not.  How many case fans can be installed in the case?  Is there a cooling system?

There are also Micro-ATX cases which are smaller than the normal sized ones.  These are ideal for people who are building a home theater PC (HTPC).  They follow the basic ATX specifications, but include fewer expansion slots and sometimes require Mini-ITX motherboards.

Memory (RAM)

The more memory your system has, the smoother your programs will run.  If you are someone who always has multiple programs and web browsers running simultaneously, you will want a sufficient amount of RAM to make your life easier.  With that said, 2 GB of memory is the absolutely minimum you should have.  Typically you will want 4 GB or even 8 GB if your budget allows for it.  Just remember that only 64-bit operating systems can support more than 4GB of memory.

In regards to the types and speed of memory, here’s a quick pointer.  There’s currently DDR2 and DD3 RAM and the latter is the faster of the two.  There is also clock speed that is presented in MHz, and the higher the number the faster it is.  So when it comes down to priority, which one should you choose first?  The amount of RAM (2 GB, 4 GB,etc) should be your main concern.  So if you have a choice between 2 GB of DDR3 or 4GB of DDR2, you should choose the second option because you will see better results in system performance.

Hard Drive

Most drives are Serial ATA-300 models, which spin at 7200 rpm.  Unless you plan on doing a lot of disk-intensive tasks, the speed of the hard drive should not really matter.  Your main concern will be with the capacity of the hard drive.  Now that the cost-per-gigabyte has gone down so much in recent years, you shouldn’t have to break the bank to get a decent sized hard drive.  I would recommend getting a 500 GB hard drive at a minimum, but ideally 1 TB or more should suffice for your basic computing needs.

Solid state drives are another option for users who are concerned about hard drive speed.  These drives cost a lot more, but prices have gone down lately and performance has improved.

Shopping Tips

So now that you have a better understanding about computer specs, let’s end this article off with a few pointers so you get the best computer possible for your needs, at a great price:

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