Top 5 things to know when buying a new PC!

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Are you looking to buy a new computer, but are a little unsure of what you should get? These days it seems everyone (including your local supermarket) can sell you one, and for a good price too....or so it would seem.

Buying a computer can be compared to buying a car, where you have a purpose and you need a vehicle to suit. It wouldn't make much sense to buy a sports car to take your family of 5 to the beach. Sure, it is possible, but is it practical?  Herein lies the problem when investing in a new computer. It is often a minefield feature packed with gigabytes and megabytes, boasting 64 bits and gigahertz pieces, with a dual this and quad core that on top.

So when none of this makes sense and it's unclear what will meet your purpose, is the safest bet to buy the cheapest computer on offer? Read on and discover some basic tricks to knowing what you are buying before making the all important computer purchase.

The Brains of a Computer. 

The ‘brain’ of a computer is the CPU – short for Central Processing Unit.  There are two common manufacturers of CPU's - Intel and AMD. To simplify matters we will focus on Intel CPUs for this exercise, however they both follow the same principles.

The rule of thumb is - the higher the number the faster the CPU’s ‘thinking power’, or speed (measured in Gigahertz).  However, this number rarely raises much above 3.0 GHz due to overheating issues. To get around this limitation CPU's now have a design feature called a ‘core’. These will generally range from one core up to four (known as a ‘quad core CPU’). A dual core CPU is sufficient for most basic business applications.

In an attempt to make all this slightly less confusing, Intel has segmented their product into 3 groups:-

The Brawn of a Computer.

The ‘brawn’ of a computer is the graphics card.   It is like another CPU with its own RAM (memory), and its sole job is to draw everything that you see on your monitor. They have been around since the dawn of computing.  Some of us will remember the old ‘green screen computers’ of the 1980's transitioning to the luxury of 16 colours in the 1990’s.  Since then, display screens have become larger and more intricate and the demand for better picture quality is ever increasing. Thus there is the need for more powerful graphics cards to handle the workload.

So, what is onboard video (Also known as integrated video)?

Not too long ago, an idea was born whereby you could create a virtual video card by borrowing a portion of your computer's CPU and system RAM (brain power and memory).  This has eliminated the need for a separate graphics card, however at the expense of overall system speed. So be wary when comparing computer systems – two machines may have the same CPU and RAM specifications, yet because one PC has an onboard video system, it will have a reduced speed and overall performance.  This will become especially obvious when dealing with graphic intensive tasks such as high resolution photos, videos, and internet streaming; and 3D applications such as design software and games.

The rule of thumb that I would also strongly recommend is - if you plan on running multiple screens, ensure that you invest in a system that does not have integrated video. 

The Language of a Computer.

The language format that a computer uses to communicate with the end user is via software.  The most important software is known as the Operating System - it is the foundation upon which all other software packages install onto.   This includes all ‘3rd party’ applications, for example Microsoft Office, MYOB, PC games, etc.

Microsoft Windows 7 Home versus Windows 7 Professional – what is the difference?

The Home version is designed with home use in mind.  It contains the basic features that the average home user needs. It is a simplified version of Windows 7 Professional and is about half the price. Most large chain suppliers (e.g. Harvey Norman, Dick Smith) traditionally stock computers with Windows Home preinstalled because it is what home users need (their target audience) and this will reduce a system’s total buy price by up to $150.  However, it is a case of buyer beware when it comes to the limitations of a Home-style operating system, the biggest being it does not allow the computer to connect to a domain network. This means that your brand new computer cannot log onto your office network, therefore has no server access, printing, email etc.

The rule of thumb is - If you are buying a computer for business use, it is wise to make sure it comes with Windows 7 Professional. This will go a long way towards ensuring that you have a trouble free experience.

Software Has Bits.

There is no really simple way of describing what ‘bits’ are.  Basically, it has to do with the complexity of the programming options when the software was written.  The higher the ‘bit’, the more complex the software is, but the more options the software will have.

Currently, Windows can be purchased in either 32bit or 64bit versions. Windows 7 64bit is the future, but during the transition period you will find that some of your older applications and devices (such as printers and cameras) will simply cease to function. So it is important to check with your software vendors )particularly those that you rely on heavily) to ensure that they are 64 bit compatible.

The rule of thumb is - 32bit is the safe option, however it does have its drawbacks, the biggest being a maximum capacity of 3.25GB of visible system RAM (comes back to the programming options.  Any computer will not be able to use more than 4GB of RAM if you plan on running a 32bit version of Windows 7.

Laptop or Desktop?

This really comes down to whether or not you need to be portable with your computer. The benefits of portability are obvious, but be sure to weigh them up against the limitations.  A laptop will usually have a smaller screen, smaller keyboard, higher repair costs, and a limited upgrade path (ability to be made faster/bigger capacity later on).   Laptops are also about twice the cost of their desktop equivalent (software excluded).

The rule of thumb is – test drive a laptop thoroughly before you purchase, to ensure that you can work with the limitations.

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