I have been buying, studying and browsing computers all my life, yet you never see me at a Best Buy or Costco. I browse and do my research all online. When I walk into many popular Technology Stores, except for local computer shops and Microcenters, the computers are aimed to seem to be fast so they can get people to spend more money on the computer than its actual value.
What many companies want is for you to be satisfied with your computer, but not too satisfied. What they want is for you to spend the maximum amount of money for what you think will be a large upgrade and have you come back and do the process all over again the next year. They do this by making you think what you are buying is a big upgrade, but in actuality, it is not.
When most people look at a computer the first thing they do is look at the little stickers as soon as you open it that says something flashy like I7 or I5 and assume since I7 is a higher number it must be better or it is the newest generation so it must be faster than the previous. Most people go into the store with these basic assumptions. I am here to tell you how you should buy a PC.
Photo Credit: Walknboston
When looking at a processor pay little attention to the front number I7, I5, I3, instead, look at the numbers that follow it. For example, I7-6700, or I7-4720HQ. The first digit stands for the generation. The bigger it is the newer it is; in this case, the 6000 series is newer that 4000 series by 2 years or generations. The following number indicates the processors family and speed. In general, the higher the number the faster family it is. In this case, the 7’s in 6700 and 4720 represent its family. The number following this is how fast the processor is compared to the rest of its family. In this case, the 0 just means it is the basic processor and often the most common and the 2 from the second example means it is a little faster than the 0 of its family. The letters after can represent if it is the laptop version (represented by HQ in the example) if it is a special edition (normally represented as an E or X for extreme), or unlocked edition (often represented with a K) and most desktop processors do not have letters after the numbers. You cannot really compare these two processors just by looking at the numbers because they are from two different generations. From one generation to the next there can be significant technological advances in the architecture that allow for certain aspects of computing to be utilized or more efficient. The dies also tend to shrink from one generation to the next, but that is another topic in itself.
I find the best way to compare two processors is to look up the full ID of the processor. From the previous example, they would be I7-6700 or I7-4700HQ. There are many websites that will do a side by side comparison of both parts, including many benchmarks for the processors that test its individual aspects. A few examples are, cpu.userbenchmark.com, CpuBoss.com or GpuBoss.com for Graphics cards. You can also search them individually and make sure to note the speed the processor runs at (normally measured in GHz), the number of cores it has if it is hyperthreaded (which is almost always the case). Sometimes the Company will say the number of cores it has then the amount after it is hyperthreaded so it would look something like “Cores 4/8”. The actual processor contains 4 physical cores but can handle 8 threads at once due to hyper threading and the more threads the better performance your computer will have. The speed will also be listed in base and turbo. It is most important to focus on the base speed unless you plan on overclocking. The faster the clock speed of a computer the more times the processor does an operation, so the faster your computer. The only issue is that the more cores a processor has the lower the clock speeds get, so which should you have Clock speed or threads?
This is when you need to consider the purpose of the computer you are using. If you are running lots of programs at once or the program is designed to run on multiple threads, then more cores/threads are the better option. If you are not running many at once and the program runs on a single thread, such as many video game, then the clock speed will be more important. It is also important to note that most people will note need over 8 threads and there is a noticeable clock speed drop off when you go over 8 threads.
Photo Credit: Sinchen Lin
Next is the graphics card, which is much simpler than the processor or Storage. If you all you plan on doing on your computer is browsing the internet and answering emails, then most integrated graphics cards that are built into many processors will meet all your needs as long as your display is not at 4k resolution and you can skip to the next section. If not and your purpose is very graphics intensive such as CAD programs, gaming, or UHD, then you will want to get a graphics card that excels at the programs you will be running. Nvidia designs two types of cards to fit the work and gaming environment called Quadro and GTX respectively. However, the gaming cards seem to be pulling ahead when it comes to performance per dollar ratio. Comparing graphics cards is very similar to comparing processors.
Graphics cards are similar to processors on how you can differentiate between cards. The first number stands for the generation. The second the family and its speed corresponding to how big the number is and the third digit being how fast it is compared to the rest of its family. An example would be AMDS R9-290, in this case, R9 would stand for the same thing as I7 would and has little relevance compared to the numbers that follow it. The 2 stands for its generation. The 90 stands for its family and in most cases the last digit is always a zero. This also goes for processors. Graphics cards do not have as much distinction in its family as processors and will sometimes add letters at the end to differentiate cards of different speeds in the same family, for instance, the r9 290 vs the slightly faster r9290X. Recently, Nvidia has moved onto the 4 number combo with its new 1000 series of cards, which will allow them to make more distinction in the families of each card.
Photo Credit: Joel Cotto
Another aspect you will have to look for is Storage. The nice thing about storage is that many PCs, including some laptops, can have multiple storage devices, so you can mix and match to the combination that fits your purpose best. Storage is broken down into two main current categories: Solid State Drive (SSD) and Hard Disk Drive (HDD). SSDs are much faster that HDDs, but cost more per gigabyte of storage and have a short lifespan. HDD are cheaper and tend to be more reliable, but are very slow. What I do and suggest is getting two storage devices. One SSD for your operating system and important/daily programs and one HDD to back up your SSD and to store any non-crucial information. It may also be wise to get some cloud storage as well as an extra precaution for your data but often comes at a flat monthly rate.
Photo Credit: Blake Patterson
Some additional components to look at would be aesthetics such as the appearance and size depending if you will be carrying it with you or using it in public spaces as well as add some style to your work. The display is important as well but for me, any display that is 1080p and runs above or at 60Hz is more than satisfactory, but you should also consider if it LCD, LED, OLED, UHD. The farther right you go the better picture you will have. LCD-OLED improves the color saturation and UHD is the technology commonly used in 4k monitors. If you are buying a laptop, then it is important to make sure you like your screen because they are difficult to replace and check to see how long the battery lasts between charges. Some people don’t have to worry since a majority of the time they will be able to plug in while others find themselves working on the go and do not get the same opportunities to plug in and charge their laptop. Make sure your battery fits the purpose you are using your computer for. The last component, but equally important to check is Random Access Memory (RAM) because it is important that you don’t run out of it. 8Gb should be plenty for most people, but to be on the safe side I would suggest 16Gb and if you are doing some crazy intensive video editing you can need anywhere from 32Gb-64Gb. I have seen some crazy servers that had 256 GBs.
Buying a computer is similar to buying a car and it is important to be educated in the parts of the car in order to get the best car for your money. Sometimes a brand new car is not always faster than the previous generations but tends to have a few cooler gadgets and luxuries that the previous generation did not. Computer parts act in a very similar manner. Next time you buy a computer make sure you are actually getting you money’s worth and not being scammed by the latest flashy equipment and features.
Photo Credit: Blake Patterson
Blake Patterson, “A Pileof Ram” Flicker.com, September 22 2011, https://www.flickr.com/photos/blakespot/6173837649/in/photolist-apywQH-qeoz5S-5PF4fn-cphpmo-5GWQZu-2Rkyj3-87AcDe-bWcNRW-fu2XpQ-9NC5eF-pzhDHZ-fFUCvv-dib9MC-x6ANR-6MP4Y8-GfYf1-aeMaVN-ysRx-pzhDE2-pzjHkN-2K74dg-7LMbnH-gygFWg-6Tn9Fb-5cnXjL-pzhDBM-9BxLcc-bUVbt7-bAhEoy-pzjHqC-2Rg7S8-bAXv9q-CFeiFs-mM1D5B-2fZiGk-9gGLnU-7r155Z-bv1Ag2-FCg35d-r8Bex6-eSY7hE-ht5Wqt-bsz5f-8THwyS-4T9P6f-9cfXiC-91hRs9-69w749-pPCdNJ-iUNQeb
Joel Cotto, “HDD-SSD” Flicker.com, September 14 2012, https://www.flickr.com/photos/infotosuccess/7983744132/in/photolist-dauLYU-5hgYht-a4qhEB-wy3CnL-a4qhp2-8T1rqf-cLLSMo-keBYCn-8T1qRb-cZ2eMJ-pVNujP-aECEWe-keC3Ac-B1sRqf-69qaHW-69kYki-a4qhJD-8SXmsM-keBkZz-a4qhPv-a4t9cw-69q9Qw-69kZh2-69q981-a4t8E1-69q8WE-69kX4T-5GaGUi-69q9o1-69kWSR-8SXkVT-cLMkiL-keBrwM-a4t931-69kWBK-a4t9eb-a4t92f-keBrWz-a4t8Gy-a4t96Q-fESmuf-fEAw8c-69kXRT-6EHpeN-a4qi12-GKrP1X-GH7AKA-rTmq8w-keBqUz-a4t9fo
Pablo Bigatti, “Escritorio 8Kx8Zc-aaFRA7-8KzTyA-8KzUMd-F9ruy-DGAQm-91XaHY-4r7gtZ-81SMC7-3T4uA5-bHnKqF-6Rs19-9hereP-abL8sg-hjAQLP-uuFEE-8LCSGs-56qkZh-8KA8n9-hjBfH5-7GgGnN-2H1tG-663PTu-8Wc6NB-8KzXPY-8Wc6Q4-8Kx3UV-8KwSr2-6fNEGM-8KzWRA-8KwMdF-8Kwqxc-55cYDf-55cXLj-8KzZu7Sinchen Lin, “ASUS
Senchin Lin, “Strix GTX 1080” Flicker.com, June 14 2016, https://www.flickr.com/photos/linsinchen/27745651773/in/photolist-HECaCk-HECbTM-GRharH-GRa1pu-GRa1EE-HECbuF-HLWdKe-HLWduz-GRa1zj-GRa1vb-HECbax-HECaa6-GRa1Z7-HCfqn7-GRhafv-GRha2V-HECbme-HLWcZM-GRhap8-HLWd9p-HHVSiG-HECatT-HECaUH-GRhaB2-GRhaui-GRhaaa-HECaLX-GRha7K-Js2ggc-MYzqrq-MnddQf-LN2k5W-LN2jJA-LQwLF4-L1oHLU-L1oHjG-LQwLae-LUAbbq-L1oGQq-LXBMX4-LUAarQ-KA9uTN-JgMHCr
Walknboston, “Processor” Flicker.com, October 9 2010, https://www.flickr.com/photos/walkn/5066576096/in/photolist-8HHwyh-5KgC2R-5PZQEZ-dzE9o1-65ZLRz-4uqd7h-9ZvTwH-4nG6ci-6j1zSt-adH5Lk-gjT4Jj-gjT5gb-gjT1Um-gjT3uf-oswZ1s-dSspXi-7xbpVv-gjSFt5-gjSUzg-4baS65-dwFQ27-7g1cP-gjTiap-gjSLsU-5kZBjN-2JSSpz-dsthsR-7RBSUq-pxrpbU-2tstFd-9JXp8H-qunonW-bwFtL7-gjT4nN-gjSSSP-vzXP8-gjSNpF-gjSZRj-8WkjR9-gjSEB5-gjSUtp-bxdRxN-dzVGWE-5Y3bhT-57zrVt-zFx4u-dWS2ti-hef9f-quqYUZ-bwFqPyot