Czar Pino

EST. 2017


An Average Person’s Guide to Choosing a Personal Computer

Are you an average person looking for your next, if not first, computer? This guide is for you.

As an average person with rather average needs. What should you be looking for in your next personal computer?

For the average person, picking a new computer is more about avoiding bad picks than getting the best deals. As long as you don’t get a very old or low spec’d computer, you should have a useful and productive new computer in your hands.

Let’s dive into what you should be considering when buying a personal computer.

The Operating System

As an average person, you may not know what on earth an operating system (OS) is; otherwise, you’re probably not an average person.

An OS is basically an app that runs other apps. That is not actually accurate but that doesn’t matter. What matters is why an OS matters when picking a computer; and OS matters because it determines the availability of apps you can use. Equally important is that, it also determines the user experience (UX) with the computer i.e. how pleasant it is to use.

There are, broadly, 3 different operating systems: Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

Windows is an OS created by Microsoft and probably the most popular, if not most widely used, OS. It can be installed in a variety of computers and is very visual making it ideal for non-technical users. Due to the large market share of Windows, it is the best supported OS by application developers.

MacOS is a special OS that only runs on its own hardware which is manufactured by Apple — maker of iPhones, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air (among other overpriced things). It is as equally well supported as Windows when it comes to applications.

Lastly, Linux is a free OS that typically used by programmers or servers — definitely not average nor people. Application support for Linux is almost as sparse as viruses and malware that target it.

So which is for the average person? Both MacOS and Windows are excellent choices. Both are very well supported by major application developers due to the already large user base they have.

RAM

RAM stands for Random Access Memory. The average person usually knows this. What isn’t usually understood is that the amount of RAM is directly proportional to the amount of information a computer doesn’t have to re-compute. This means the computer can stay snappy fast even with multiple applications running at the same time.

Generally, higher RAM is better. While the average RAM recommended has risen over time, a 4-8GB memory will do well for a while (as of late 2017).  Going by that, avoid computers with under 4GB of RAM — like the plague; you will, otherwise, be spending most of your time waiting for apps to open, run, and even close. You will frustrate yourself doing demos and will have to deal with lots of dead air.

To complicate things, there are also different types of RAM. To keep things simple, stick to mainstream choices. At the time of writing, mainstream options are DDR3 and variants like LPDDR3. You cannot go wrong with a DDR3 type of RAM.

Processor

The processor is popularly known as the CPU. The processor is responsible for performing the computing operations which make a computer what it is — a computer.

Much like RAM, higher speed is better. CPU speed is typically expressed in gigahertz (GHz) but we won’t be talking about GHzs. Intel, which has practically monopolised processor manufacturing, has conveniently categorized processors by processing capabilities: Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7. For most modern computing needs, a Core i3 or Core i5 would suffice.

What can you do with an i5?

Most anything can be run by an i5. Maybe faster or slower depending on other components of the computer. What is certain is that it is more than enough for the average person’s needs.

Storage

Probably the most familiar attribute of any computing system to the average person is the storage. Needless to say, bigger is better.

Storage capacity is typically expressed in gigabytes (GB). This is roughly a 60 min HD movie for a rough reference.

There has been huge leaps in the development of the personal computer’s storage. Back in 2005, it was normal to have 40GB storage. In 2017, that would look pitiful. Instead, storage capacity norms are in the hundreds; normally, a capacity between 200-500GB is provided in most new computers — at least a 5x increase! 1 terabyte (TB) storage capacities are also not uncommon; that is 1000GB of storage.

Capacity is not all there is to look at when considering storage however. At the time of writing, two popular storage types are the hard-disk drive (HDD) and the solid state drive (SSD). The latter is slowly phasing out the former. In a nutshell, SSD is the superior storage medium in all aspects — most notably, speed.

So why is HDD still around? Well, quite simply because SSD is still too expensive per gigabyte. A terabyte of HDD storage roughly cost just 256GB of SSD. That is a whole lot of storage especially for someone who does not care much for speed e.g. HDDs are a cheap way to store large collections of photographs.

In most cases however, always go for SSD whenever its price and storage capacity meets your needs.

Portability

In a nutshell, pick a laptop for portability and a desktop for heavier computing needs. For the same specs, a laptop will typically be more expensive than a desktop. This means that with same budget you can get more computing power from a desktop.

Secondly, desktop computers are highly configurable. It is generally easy to upgrade components individually. It is possible to start with a pretty average desktop and incrementally upgrade components such as the storage, RAM, and even the processor.

Like media to women, laptops manufacturer are all trying to get slimmer and slimmer models. As a result, most components are soldered directly into the laptop’s motherboard (mobo). This results in a more compact form factor at the price of zero future configurability. The specs of a laptop the day you buy it will stay the same till the day it stops working.

If you were lost there, the average you may be wondering: what on this green earth is a mobo? Relax. It’s simply the component that holds all other computer components together. The motherboard.

Now despite all this, the average person will still typically want a laptop.

Budget

If budget is not a factor to you, you are not exactly an average person. Go buy a full spec’d MacBook Pro.

For the rest, let us go over how much you can expect for every price range.

PRICE RANGE

RAM

CPU

STORAGE

LOW - PHP 25k+

4GB DDR3

Core i3

256GB HDD

MID - PHP 50k+

8GB DDR3

Core i5

500GB HDD or 128GB SSD

HIGH - PHP 75k+

16GB DDR3

Core i7

256GB SSD

The table above is my personal lookup table when deciding whether I’m getting a good deal or an overpriced one. It is also important to note, again, that laptops are generally more pricey than desktops and will typically be lower spec’d at the same price. Desktops, however, will require other peripherals such as a monitor, keyboard, and mouse; a laptop will be useful out-of-the-box.

To simplify, computers are categorized into 3 broad price ranges with the lowest at around 25k and no less than 20k. I have generally found that computers falling below the 20k mark are too old or low spec’d for general use. If you are constrained by budget to computers under 20k, I recommend holding off buying and saving up a little more till you can afford something around the LOW end. The availability of quality computers drastically go up around 25k.

LOW end computers are ideal for general web browsing, watching a movie, video calls, writing documents, and even gaming (with some compromises). Most applications can be run with a minimum of 4GB RAM and Core i3 processor so this combination of specs is the best choice for a budget computer. Performance, however, is another story. In my experience, LOW end computers typically get “laggy”, slow, and unresponsive especially when running multiple applications or opening a dozen browser tabs. While still usable, they are not the most productive choice.

MID range computers are ideal for professionals who wish to avoid the frustrating slowness of LOW end computers and can afford the pricier tag. With these computers, running multiple applications is a more pleasant and productive experience due to the higher RAM and processing power. This is the recommended range for average users.

HIGH end computers are for power users and those that use demanding applications. The average user looking for the best returns on price is typically not recommended to buy these as the computing power will be wasted. MID range computers will usually be able to run very demanding applications although it may result in the same user experience (i.e. slow) of a LOW end one; so unless you will be using a very demanding application on a daily basis, you can stick with a MID range.

Brand

A notable non-functional aspect of picking a computer, I think is worth considering, is the brand.

It is best to stick with known brands. It is possible to get good specs for a lower price by buying them from not-so-popular companies. However, popular manufacturers are popular for a reason. Even if you are paying premium for their marketing instead of the actual hardware (or software), you can generally rest assured they have a proven reputation on the line. They typically also have a huge user base and customer support in place which can assist you with almost anything. So unless you have an expert opinion, it is best to stick with a reputable brand on your next purchase — any well known brand.

Are you ready to buy?

The Pareto principle states that only 20% of the cause is responsible for 80% of the effect. The OS, RAM, CPU, and storage are but a few components of a good personal computer but, for general use cases, they determine 80% of a computer’s performance. Put simply, these few components are all you really need to fret about when picking a new computer. So on your next purchase, stick with the basics and just be sure look out for deal breakers.

Published by Czar Pino on Thursday December 28, 2017

Permalink - Tags: computers, how-to

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