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How To Choose the Right PC

4 JAN
How to

Every once in awhile someone will ask for my opinion on an upcoming tech purchase. Whether it’s a new camera, computer, phone, or television… someone, somewhere, will ask my opinion. It’s likely because I’m passionate about broadening my tech knowledge (that’s a nice way of saying I’m a bit of a tech geek) but it also helps to have had some proper training.

I’m most often asked: “What PC should I get?”
Unfortunately this isn’t a very easy question to answer.

There are so many devices out there with varying degrees of usefulness. The speed at which technological advancements make their way to market also makes it hard to create an exact, top notch, shopping list. While I can’t point you directly at your next PC, I do have a list of questions which might help you at least narrow down your options… so let's get to it!

1. What do you need a PC for?

It seems like a pretty basic question, but it’s probably the most relevant. What you intend to use a PC for will determine what kind of device you need and how much to spend on it. For example, if you largely consume data (web browsing or watching videos) then you might not need a PC at all.

Table

• easily performed
- additional hardware/software may be required

This table of features is by no means exhaustive - PC’s are capable of so much more - but these commonplace tasks are usually deciding factors between devices for most consumers. Consider which features are important to you and choose a device which ticks those boxes.

(I know you can get games for tablets, but I’m talking about something a bit more complicated than CandyCrush.)

2. What’s your budget?

These days you can't go far wrong if you just buy within your budget. Most PCs (certainly around £500) are more than capable of running day-to-day tasks. Internet browsing, playing HD videos, running presentations - all of these are priorities for most consumers, so in turn most manufactures. You only need to worry about stepping outside a modest budget if you’re planning on high-end gaming or graphic design.

3. How many files do you want to store?

Hard disk

Anything you store on a device uses hard drive space, measured in either GBs (gigabytes) or TBs (terabytes). A TB is 1000GB, so 1TB is bigger than 500GB. Without going into too much detail, mechanical hard drives (HDD or HD) store data on small spinning disks. Solid State Drives (SSD) store data in computer chips, like a USB Stick. SSDs are more power efficient and faster than mechanical hard drives owing to the fact they have no moving parts.

That may sound like a whole lot of confusing acronyms, but the important takeaway from this is simple. If you’re concerned about storage, look for higher numbers of disk space (in GBs or TBs). When it comes to hard drives SSDs are preferable to HDDs, but might set you back a few more pennies.

While it's handy to have everything at your fingertips, it’s not wise to store all your files in one place (eggs & baskets anyone?). Unless you want to store large files all of the time, put any money you might save on a larger hard drive into an external hard drive or cloud storage to protect your most precious files.

4. How fast do you need it to be?

Many things determine PC performance, but none more so than the CPU (Central Processing Unit) and available RAM (Random Access Memory). It's a lot more complicated than this, but think of the CPU as the ‘brain’ and the RAM as ‘short-term memory’. Look out for the best processor and the most RAM you can afford.

CPU

A fast CPU (aka ‘processor’) is often determined by two things: clock speed in GHz (gigahertz) and the amount of ‘cores’. A higher clock speed makes processes faster. The more cores a processor has the more things it can do at once. Nowadays, processors have model names and 'generations' - older processors are first or second generation, so look for larger numbers here too.

RAM

RAM is primarily measured in GBs (not to be confused with hard drive space) and gives the CPU space to store temporary information, thus perform faster. The more RAM you have, the more things you can do at once. You may also find RAM speed in Mhz (megahertz). Again, the bigger the number the better. RAM has a greater impact on performance than a processor, so if there's a slower processor with more RAM, for the same price, pick the one with more RAM.

If you want to play high-end games or edit HD images & video, you need to think about graphics. Some processors have built-in GPUs (Graphics Processing Unit) often labeled as integrated graphics that shares RAM with the CPU. Handy for smaller devices that can’t have dedicated graphics, but performance suffers.

5. Anything else?

It’s a given that you’ll need to connect to the internet via WiFI. However, you might want to consider extras such as Bluetooth or physical sockets to connect things like headphones, hard drives, keyboards or even TVs to your new device. For anything portable, battery life should be considered. Some laptops have detachable keyboards and some PCs are touchscreen, negating the need for a separate keyboard and mouse. Desktop machines are usually more powerful than laptops, but you can’t really take them on the bus.

MacBook Pro

Summary

Going back to the most important question: what do you need a PC for? Weigh up whether you need a desktop, laptop or even a tablet based on your intended usage and buy the device you think looks the prettiest (I'm not kidding, there really isn’t a lot in it nowadays) and spend as much as you’re comfortable to part with.

With your budget in mind, look out for:

  • The most up-to-date, fastest processor (measured in GHz)

  • The most amount of RAM (measured in GBs)

  • The largest hard drive you really need (measured in GBs or TBs)

  • Dedicated graphics (if high-end gaming)

Hopefully this has given you enough information to start looking, or has narrowed down your choices. If so, let me know in the comments below.