Technology is here to stay. It’s advancing daily. Some eagerly embrace technology while others shy away from it. They let others navigate the waters of technology for them.
For those who aren’t tech savvy, purchasing a desktop computer or laptop can be a chore. With so many options available, what is one to do?
If you don’t have someone available to give you pointers for free or to explain the specifications or features in understandable terms, I can help you overcome that issue.
Table of Contents
Why Do You Want a Computer?
So, you’re in the market for a computer. Should you buy a new, refurbished, or used one? Your decision depends on your needs and budget.
A refurbished computer is a reconditioned or remanufactured used computer. The previous owner may have returned it for a minor reason. Then, the retailer or manufacturer examines the computer for functionality and makes adjustments. Afterward, it’s listed for resale in a like-new condition and may include a warranty and support. Support may not be available if it’s a discontinued item.
If you’re an occasional internet browser and only check emails or watch a few videos, you may opt for a lower end computer or laptop. However, if you’re a gamer, a small business owner, or watch a lot of movies via online streaming, you may want to spend a bit more money to make sure you have a computer with the power and speed to meet your computing needs.
Types of Computers
- All-in-One Desktop Computer: Computer and the monitor are in one case.
- Full-size Desktop Computer: Requires more room under or on top of your desk.
- Compact Desktop Computer: Smaller than a full-size thus requiring less room.
- Computer Tower Desktop: Designed to stand upright.
- Gaming Desktop Computer: Primarily used for gaming. Features faster processors, sophisticated graphics cards, multiple large hard drives, and plenty of RAM.
- Convertibles and Detachables: These look like a regular laptop but the display either pulls out of the keyboard or twists around and lays flat to use as a tablet.
Desktop Computers give more performance for the money and are less expensive to repair than laptops. They have better speakers and a larger screen. However, the portability of laptops is a desirable feature.
Other Devices to Take Into Consideration
Besides using a smartphone, there are other devices, which allow you to access the internet. Some of these include a Chromebook or a tablet. Chromebooks use the Chrome Operating System. They’re designed for users who like working and storing their files online. Tablets are multifunctional. They serve as a web browser, eBook reader, movie viewer, and music player. Plus, they’re easy to carry. Some allow you to add a keyboard to them. However, they’re not ideal for office productivity tasks.
A processor is a chip inside a computer that processes computer data. The clock speed of the computer is measured in gigahertz (GHz). The higher the clock speed, the faster the processor can process information. Clock speeds start at 1 GHz for mobile processors and can exceed 5 GHz for desktop processors.
The two primary manufacturers of computer microprocessors are Intel® and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Getting the fastest processor you can afford gives you several more years of computing time for the money spent. Processors become obsolete quickly.
Lower power consumption equals a longer battery life. If you plan to watch high-resolution videos or play mainstream games, you should consider a computer with at least Intel® Core™ i5 or AMD Ryzen™ line of processors.
Computer memory stores computer data. It can be temporary or permanent. The higher the computer’s memory, the faster the transfer of information. It’s measured in gigabytes.
- RAM (Random Access Memory): Temporarily provides space for your computer to read and write data that the CPU (Central Processing Unit) accesses. It’s also known as the computer’s memory.
- GB (Gigabyte): It’s a measurement for data storage and equals 1 billion bytes. A byte is one of the smallest units of measurement in digital storage. In RAM, a gigabyte is larger than 1 billion bytes.
- TB (Terabyte): It’s a unit of digital information storage and equals 1,000 gigabytes.
8 GB of RAM should be sufficient unless you regularly have multiple large apps open at the same time.
It’s software that supports a computer’s functions by executing applications and controlling peripherals. Simply put, your computer won’t run without the operating system.
The three most common computer operating systems include Microsoft® Windows, Apple® Mac OS X, and Linux. They’re usually preloaded on your computer. Windows 10 is used across a variety of devices. Macs are more expensive but are less prone to most viruses and spyware.
GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)
Also known as the video card or graphics card and is responsible for drawing what you see on the screen.
- Can be integrated into same chip that runs the rest of the computer or it can be run on a discrete piece of equipment.
- Most computers have integrated graphics. This is a less expensive and lower performing option. It’s not for serious gaming.
- You need a discrete graphics card to edit video, especially for HD and Ultra High Definition (Ultra HD).
SSD (Solid State Drive)
Has no moving parts. Stores information in microchips and uses NAND-based flash memory, which is non-volatile. After you turn off the disk, the information stays intact.
- Uses less power.
- Works quietly.
- More resistant to damage and less likely to fail mechanically.
- Quicker access to data.
- Preferred over hard drives.
Hard Drive or Hard Disk Drive (HD or HDD)
This memory hardware device permanently stores and retrieves data on the computer and uses a mechanical arm.
- Uses more power and slower than SSD.
- Hard drive sizes are measured in gigabytes and terabytes. They range in capacity from 250 GB to more than 1 TB.
- Speed is measured in rpm (revolutions per minute).
- A slow hard drive takes longer to start up the operating system and programs.
- A desktop with at least a 7200 rpm hard drive or a laptop with at least a 5400 rpm hard drive gives the best performance.
Combines a hard drive with a solid state memory drive. Accesses the computer system and program files with the speed of a solid state drive while providing storage capacity of a magnetic drive for other files. They don’t have much SSD storage.
Blu-ray is an optical disc format that displays high definition video and stores large amounts of data. A Blu-ray drive is capable of playing movies and can store large amounts of data.
Many laptops come without an optical drive and most software distribution occurs via download.
Laptops use a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery (Li-on battery/LIB) for power when not plugged into a wall outlet. They intermittently go into sleep mode, which extends the time between charges. You can lengthen the battery life by dimming the display, turning off WiFi when not needed, and using basic applications.
Monitors and Displays
What is a computer system without being able to see what’s inside the computer? Here’s where you need a monitor or a display. Desktops use monitors and laptops use displays. You measure monitor screens diagonally. They range from 15″ to 24″. The most common sizes are 19″ and 20″. Usually, the bigger the better.
15″ and 16″ displays suit most people. However, it’s common to find 13″, 14″, and 17″ displays. Most are glossy instead of matte. Glossy screens have more saturated colors and a deeper black. Also, they’re prone to glare.
A touchscreen is a computer display screen that allows interaction with the device by using a finger or a stylus. A stylus is a pen-shaped instrument.
Apple® has custom, touch-enabled multimedia apps and include multitouch capability. This allows your finger to zoom, turn, and scroll.
How do you input text into a computer? Well, you’ll need a keyboard to accomplish that task. You have different types to choose from which include the mechanical keyboard, chiclet keyboard, virtual laser keyboard, membrane keyboard, flexible keyboard, a chorded keyboard, laptop keyboard, and an ergonomic keyboard. They’re connected via USB port or wirelessly.
- Mechanical keyboard: Has mechanical switches under the keycaps, which makes an audible click. They’re long-lasting and resistant to repetitive keystrokes.
- Chiclet keyboard (island keyboard): It has keys in the shape of small squares or rectangles with straight sides and rounded corners. They’re popular in laptops, netbooks, and used in Apple® MacBooks.
- Virtual laser keyboard: Uses sensor technology and artificial intelligence, which projects a keyboard image on any surface. This allows the user to input data by typing on the image.
- Membrane keyboard: The keys aren’t separated and covered by transparent soft plastic. It has little movement, is portable, and protects against damage and dirt.
- Flexible keyboard: It can be rolled up for storage, is water-resistant, and almost indestructible.
- Chorded keyboard: This keyboard has a small number of keys that generate a letter or word based on the combination of keys pressed at the same time. It’s similar to playing a musical chord on a piano.
- Laptop keyboard: Most have the chiclet keyboard design. Others may have the traditional style where the keys are close together and each key slopes off. The entire keyboard sits on a replaceable tray.
- Ergonomic keyboard: Designed to provide comfort, ease of use, and reduced strain to the user. They may be contoured with a wave-like shape, split in the middle, or angled by creating a slight slope from the front of the keyboard to the back.
This handheld device moves the cursor on the computer screen to select text, icons, files, and folders. You can choose from three types of computer mice, which include the standard mouse, trackball mouse, and gaming mouse. The standard mouse has two buttons and a scroll wheel as the third button. It uses either a LED or laser sensor to track movement and are usually included in desktop bundles. A trackball mouse doesn’t use optical sensors and has at least two buttons. You roll the ball to move the cursor. It’s a good choice for a desk with limited space. The gaming mouse has numerous buttons. Some are designed for use with specific games.
These computer mice are wired or wireless. You don’t have to deal with a cord with a wireless mouse. However, you’ll have to recharge or replace the batteries every few months.
- Ethernet: A system used to connect computers to form a local area network (LAN) and access the internet. An Ethernet port allows you to hook your computer up to another computer, LAN, or to an external DSL or cable modem. A modem is a network device that sends and receives digital information between personal computers. Once the computers are linked, you’re able to share files, a printer, or a broadband internet connection.
- You can run a cable between your desktop and your router. A router is a device that analyzes the contents of data transmitted within a network or to another network. If you can’t run a cable through your home, you can use a WiFi adapter. Many desktops have this built in. If not, you can buy one and plug it into a USB port. Also, you’ll need a wireless router. Laptops come with wireless built in and some have a port for connecting an Ethernet cable.
- HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface): It supports the connection between high-definition video devices. An HDMI output jack lets you run a video cable from the computer to a television. You can use the computer’s DVD drive to view a movie or stream from an online service.
- USB (Universal Serial Bus) port: It allows communication between USB devices over USB cables. When ports are located at the front of the desktop case, it makes connecting devices more convenient. A USB-C port is reversible. You’ll never have to worry about inserting a USB-C plug in the wrong way. An adapter allows it to be compatible with earlier versions of USBs.
- Thunderbolt port: A fast data transfer port, which uses a USB-C connector.
Major Computer Brands
It’s Time to Shop
Now, that you have a little background information on some of the computer terms you need to assist you in purchasing a computer, it’s time to shop. Do comparison shopping. Read customer reviews. Have a little fun with the selection process. Happy computing.