Tips For Buying A New Computer

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Understanding what the specs mean when ordering a computer allows you to compare apples to apples rather than going in blindly.  Not all sites will list detailed specs for their computer.  Sometimes I wonder if it done on purpose so they can sell mediocre computers and make them sound great.  Price is always a factor.  Something to keep in mind is 1,000 MB or MHz = 1 GB or GHz.

First, how much of a computer do I need?  If you are gaming, streaming videos, creating videos, or anything graphic intensive then a computer with an upgraded video (graphics) card will be important.  If the main purpose of your computer will be to check emails or use business applications like MS Office then an integrated video card will work just fine.  The difference is that integrated video is cheaper than a video card and most lower end laptops come with integrated video.


CPU is a good start for finding a computer that will work for you.  Single core, dual core, or quad core, what does that mean?  The more cores the processor has, theoretically, the faster it can process  whatever application you are running.  You will see CPU name like Intel Core  i7 IR or AMD Phenom II that I find that fairly meaningless.  The specs to look for are…

  • Front Side Bus (FSB) – this is how fast the CPU can move the info in and out of CPU to process it.  Usually listed in MHz or megahertz.  The bigger the number the better.  I have a Phenom II CPU with 3600 MHz front side bus.  It is pretty fast for current standards.  This is important when comparing CPU’s, laptops, or computers that are close in price.
  • How many GHz are each processor.   This is where they want to list Intel Quad core IR, rather than giving you the details that matter.  Think about this, a dual core with 3.4 GHz processors will have a combined 6.8 GHZ.  2 X 3.4 GHz = 6.8 GHz.  A quad core with 1 GHZ will have 4 GHz combined.  4 X 1 GHz = 4 GHz.  Dual core will be a better buy, faster CPU’s.   It will always be easier to compare dual cores with dual cores and the same with quad cores.

Note: You will get more CPU for the buck if you stick with AMD.  You are buying the name with Intel.  Some will say that Intel will work better than AMD.  If you are running high end video games, marginally Intel will be better, but for most peoples needs, it will make no difference.


If you looking to add more RAM to your existing computer the mother board will determine how big and what type of RAM you can put in it.  Even if you buy the wrong RAM, worst case scenario is that it will not fit or if it does fit and your mother board was not built for it you may hear a beep when you try to boot up and nothing will show up on your screen, no harm in trying. A few tips when purchasing RAM are…

  • Understand how large the RAM is measured in GB (Gigabytes) and what type it is. For size the larger is better, 4 GB can store more memory than 2 GB. For types of RAM you will see DDR2, DDR3, and so on.
  • DDR3 will usually be faster than DDR2, but what they are not telling you is what the front side bus is for the RAM.  Front side bus is measured in MHz.  Front side bus speeds will generally be listed as DDR3 1333 which tells us the front side bus speed is 1333 MHz.  This number can be confused with the series number of the RAM like PC3 10666.  The larger the better for both specs.  The larger the FSB the better and same with the series.  EX: PC3 10666 could have a 1333 MHz FSB.  Series number will never have a MHz after the number.
  • Latency,  the lower the number the better.

Note:  Not all RAM are created equal, even if they have the same specs.  If you find RAM at a really good price, then that may mean it is a lower quality RAM which will affect performance.  Look at latency numbers when in doubt.

Video Card (Graphics Card)

There are two main chip makers, Nvidia and Radeon, even though there are many manufacturers of video cards.  How much RAM is on the card will compare the same but the stream processors bench marks are measured differently from one another and cannot be compared straight across. Tips for purchasing videos cards are…

  • How big?  A 512 MG (Megabyte) to 1 GB (Gigabyte) video card will be plenty for most people.
  • Video cards have their own RAM.  You will see DDR2, DDR3, and so on.  Same rules apply as RAM above.
  • Core clock (MHz) will determine how fast the video card processes info. and the bigger the better.
  • Stream processors can be assumed that the more the better.  Nvidia and Radeon measure their stream processors different.  Radeon may have more stream processors than Nvidia for the same price, you cannot compare them that way.  Use it to compare Nvidia to another Nvidia chipset and so on.
  • PCI Express 2.0 X 16 is faster than PCI, and PCI Express 1.0

Note: There are other specs you can look for aside from the main features mentioned here. Some of the other specs are not standardized from manufacturer to manufacturer making them hard to compare.

Hard Drive

Hard drives will vary in size, RPM (rotations per minute), transfer rate, and seek time. Here are a few tips to compare your purchase…

  • Hard drive size is easy to compare, usually measured in GB (Gigabytes) and now TB (TeraBytes). There are 1,000 GB’s in 1 TB.
  • RPM (rotation per minute),  faster the better.   The average for desktop is 7200 RPM.  Laptops, if they do not specify or a lower end laptop, expect 5400 RPM.
  • Interface or transfer rate will be listed as GB/s (Gigabytes per second) , bigger the better.
  • Average seek time in milliseconds.  Lower the better.  This is how long will it take to find the info on the hard drive.

Note: Most websites do not want to list the RPM or seek time.  Lower and medium models will just list how much it can store to make the computer look better. Ex: 300 GB hard drive, but they do not tell you it is a 5400 RPM hard drive which is on the low end.

If the website or store that you are wanting to buy your computer from does not list out the specs, than ask or go to a different website or store.  Lower end computers will have yesterday’s technology.

What to watch out for: The common tricks is to list a fast processor, but it will have DDR2 RAM and slow hard drive.  They will list 4GB’s RAM, but it is slower RAM like DDR2 or lower.  300 GB hard drive, but its 5400 RPM slow hard drive.  Lower end models will more than likely have integrated video which shares the RAM with the video and the CPU.  Video cards have their own RAM.  Cheap laptops and desktops are cheap for a reason, know what you are buying.  If it is too good to be true, it probably is.  They will always sell it for a profit.

I hope this helps you out.  A computer that does the job CAN cost less than $500. Please leave your questions or comments below!

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