Are you in the market for a new computer? With all the geeky jargon and specs being thrown around, it can be quite confusing. That’s why we wrote this computer specs recap for anyone who can’t make heads or tails of the many laptops on the market.
In this tip, we’ll break down all the complex facts about modern hardware into easy-to-digest nuggets of knowledge. This way, you can find the best computer for your needs without draining your wallet. Take this one-minute quiz to find your perfect laptop.
Choosing the right computer can be challenging, but we’re here to help you. Here are the most important specs and details you need to keep your eye on when making a computer purchase. We’ll explain what operating systems are, how a processor works, which screen size is best and more must-know tech tips.
Let’s start this computer specs recap with a review of what RAM is
RAM is short for Random Access Memory. Not to be confused with storage, RAM is where active data from your applications and system processes are stored. Think of RAM as the temporary canvas or scratchpad where a computer does its real-time calculations and operations.
With today’s memory-hungry applications and web browsers, computers need more RAM than ever before. If you tend to use multiple open apps at the same time, then the more RAM your computer has, the better.
With enough RAM, you can run more applications simultaneously and have more open browser tabs before your computer bogs down.
Although Windows 10 requires a minimum of 1GB on 32-bit and 2GB on 64-bit (macOS requires 2GB minimum), that’s not nearly enough for a smooth experience. If you’re shopping around for a new computer, always go for at least 8GB of RAM.
If you’re planning on multitasking and doing more on your computer than everyday tasks, shoot for at least 16GB.
Processors keep getting more efficient and powerful with each yearly upgrade, but Intel always has easily recognizable performance tiers to choose from, depending on your needs.
As usual, Intel’s entry-level Core i3 chips are the cheapest but least powerful processors available. If you’re looking for a sub-$500 computer that will do basic computing tasks, then the Core i3 line should be ample enough.
The mid-range Core i5 chips are suitable for people who want a good balance between performance and cost. If you’re on a budget but you still need ample speed for power usage, shoot for a computer with an i5 chip, at least.
Computers with Core i7 and i9 chips are more expensive, but professionals who don’t have the time for loading and rendering screens will appreciate the power that these processors bring to the table. If money is no object and you’re looking for the absolute best computer you can buy, don’t settle for anything less than a Core i7 chip.
Also, keep in mind that the latest generation chips are typically more powerful and efficient than their predecessors. For example, Intel’s current 8th generation chips have at least four cores so they’re faster (but less power-hungry) than their equivalent 7th generation counterparts.
Currently, there are two types of computer storage types to choose from: HDD (hard disk drive) and SSD (solid state drive).
HDDs still use rapidly spinning magnetic disks called “platters” to store information while SSDs use flash memory (similar to what smartphones and tablets use).
Computers with SSDs are more expensive but their read and write rates are much faster than computers with conventional HDDs. SSDs don’t have moving parts too so they’re lighter, cooler, quieter, more efficient and are harder to damage than a conventional drive.
With these advantages, always choose a computer with an SSD over one with a conventional hard drive. They might be more expensive but their speed and efficiency are definitely worth the difference.
Some computers combine the best of both worlds with hybrid drives. These combine a small SSD and a large HDD in a single package. While hybrids aren’t as fast as a true SSD, they are less expensive and hold more. Of course, as SSD prices continue to drop and sizes increase, hybrids will eventually disappear.
On the other hand, storage capacity depends on your needs. As usual, the bigger the drive, the more expensive a computer will be. The good news is that you can always expand your storage space with a memory card, external drive or even replace the entire drive if needed. You could also use cloud storage in addition to your local drive.
Screen size is mostly a decision you’ll have to make if you’re buying a laptop. Laptop displays typically range between 11 and 17 inches and if you’re planning on running multiple windows, the extra screen real estate will make a big difference.
However, keep in mind that the bigger the screen, the less portable a laptop will be. Bigger screen laptops will also have less battery life, so take that into consideration when choosing one.
With desktops, portability and battery life obviously don’t matter but most people choose 24-inch or larger monitors.
It all depends on your preferences (and budget), but no matter what the size, your display’s resolution will determine how sharp your screen will appear.
Most budget laptops only come in 720p, decent enough for smaller display sizes, but aim for at least a 1080p (1920 x 1080) display.
High-end computers typically come with Ultra HD/4K displays but as usual, they are more expensive.
Size and weight
Obviously, the size and weight of desktops don’t matter that much, but for laptops, portability can be a big factor. Lugging around a big and heavy laptop can be a hassle, so if you’re planning on taking your laptop with you all the time, pick one that has a 13-inch screen or smaller.
Looking for the ultimate in portability? Some high-end laptops called ultrabooks can be amazingly slim and light. However, if you’re on a budget and still prefer performance over portability, a thicker and heavier laptop will typically give you more bang for your buck.
You’ve had a question on your mind for years, maybe even decades: PC or Mac? The good news is that both operating systems have improved over the years and it just depends on how you’re using your PC or laptop. If you ask me, the line between the two operating systems keeps blurring with each update.
Creative professionals have traditionally used Macs for years and they tend to stick with the programs that they’re familiar with, so Apple computers are more popular with video and graphics editors. If you’re deep in the Apple ecosystem and use an iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch, you’ll also appreciate how all these gadgets work together.
However, you can get a similarly spec’d PC for a much lower price point and that’s one thing that Windows machines have — cost. Windows is still widely used in the workplace too and a lot of people are comfortable with it. Again, it all depends on what programs and user interfaces you prefer.
Alternatively, if you feel adventurous, you can explore other operating systems like the Chrome OS on Chromebooks or even Linux.
Psst… if money is no object, here are the absolute best laptops you can get in 2018. Spoiler alert: they’re expensive.
There are tons of connection options nowadays and they keep evolving, so it can be quite confusing. To future-proof your purchase, look for USB-C, USB 3.1 ports and at least 801.11AC on the Wi-Fi side.
Computers with these options may be more expensive but you’ll be set for years to come. And as usual, the more ports a computer has, the better.
No computer specs recap is complete without mentioning price
At the end of the day, it still all boils down to how much you’re willing to spend. If you’re only planning on using your computer to browse the web, send emails, and watch the occasional video, then you can get away with a cheaper computer. Remember, nowadays, even the cheapest ones are powerful enough to run everyday tasks.
If you will depend on your computer for work, aim for at least a mid-ranged one. They might cost more, but you’ll appreciate the speed and the time you’ll save. As a general rule, the better the performance, the more expensive a computer will be. Assess your budget and how you’ll be using your machine, hopefully with these tips, you’ll find the right balance between price and performance.
Click here for our picks for the best laptops under $500.
Our top pick for the best budget laptop is the Asus VivoBook F510UA. Check out this laptop on Amazon.