Terms to Understand when Purchasing a New Computer

by on September 15, 2008

Q: I am looking at purchasing a laptop for personal and work use. I only need basic MS office functions and internet. I am confused with all the terms thrown around at me. What features do I need? What does Intel Centrino 2 Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz, 4GB RAM, 640GB HDD, DVD Burner, 512MB Graphics, TV Tuner, 17″ Screen, Windows Vista Home Premium mean?

A: I find that the best way to prevent confusion when shopping for a new computer is to divide the computers into categories:

  • Both Intel and AMD make good processors. So it really doesn’t matter which brand you choose. I recommend that you purchase a laptop that has a 64-bit processor. Most processors today are 64-bit. Also, many of today’s processors feature multiple “cores”. A core is sort of like a brain within a processor. So dual-core means two brains, quad-core means four brains, etc. I feel that dual-core technology is probably the best option for you.
  • You need to purchase a laptop that has at least 2 GB (gigabytes) of RAM. Furthermore, be sure that any laptop with 4 GB of RAM or more includes a 64-bit operating system. Microsoft clearly labels the 64-bit versions of Windows.
  • HDD is an abbreviation for hard drive. The two main considerations with hard drives are size and speed. I advise that you purchase a laptop that has a 160 GB or larger hard drive. You might run out of space for your computer files with a smaller hard drive. I also recommend a hard drive speed of at least 5400 RPM, as slower speeds will impede your laptop’s performance. I recommend that you avoid so-called “solid state drives” at this time, because they are very expensive yet they hold less data than normal hard drives.
  • DVD burners are standard equipment on most laptops today. Stay away from laptops that only include CD burners. If you have lots of money you may want to get a BD burner in you laptop, which will allow you to burn Blu-ray disks in addition to DVDs.
  • There are two kinds of graphics solutions in today’s computers. Shared/Integrated graphics are inexpensive. But they don’t work with some games and will decrease the available amount of RAM in your computer. Discrete graphics are more expensive. But the work with most games and don’t decrease the amount of RAM that your computer can use.  Discrete graphics come in sizes. I recommend a minimum size of 256 MB. Whichever kind of graphics you choose, you will need to make sure that your new laptop is fully compatible with Microsoft’s DirectX 10 technology. The laptop’s manufacture can give you more information on that. NOTE: Unlike a desktop computer, it is not possible to upgrade a laptops graphics after you buy. So when in doubt, purchase the best graphics you can afford.
  • Unless you want to watch and/or record television on your laptop, you do not need a TV Tuner. If you decide to include a TV as part of your laptop, be sure that the tuner supports high definition.
  • Screen size is a personal decision. I personally feel that laptops with screens in the 15″ to 16″ inch range offer the best combination of viewing and portability. Smaller screens are often difficult to read. Laptops with screens 17″ and larger don’t fit well on laps, and require special computer bags.
  • Windows Vista is the successor to Windows XP. There are many more versions of Vista than there were of XP. Vista Home Premium is probably the correct choice for you. You may wish to click here for Microsoft’s official comparison of Vista editions.

TIP: Much of the above information is also applicable to Apple Mac computers.