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by North Rittner

Welcome back to the Carbon Valley Monthly Tech Talks, my friends. This month we dive into the murky waters of how to decide on an upgrade when it’s time to purchase a new computer. This subject can bring significant anxiety because of the cost involved with many devices these days. The fear of choosing the “wrong” computer is a real struggle. Many folks put it off until it becomes a crisis. The goal of this writing is to prevent your upgrade from reaching crisis status.

To help start the conversation, we need to accept a common concept. Modern computers are designed to wear out. This design concept has a name: “Engineered Obsolescence.” Your devices are designed to start wearing out after about four years. It is both frustrating and inevitable. Providing you the tools to help make informed decisions will hopefully lessen the stress of your next upgrade.

There are four concepts you need to understand when it comes to computer buying. These are called “the specs,” or the computer’s specifications (configuration.) These specs will tell you what the given computer can and cannot do. Most folks rely on an educated store associate to translate the specs. The goal here is to get you comfortable, so you aren’t reliant on someone who may not understand your needs. So, let’s get you armed with the “know-how” so you don’t have to rely on finding a knowledgeable store associate.

It all starts with usage. How you will be using your computer or device will dictate what you are looking for. Buying an under- or overpowered system is a waste of money. Ask yourself which of these categories best fits you.

Casual – Checking email, scrolling through Facebook, watching YouTube or Netflix content.

Gaming – Online/PC gaming playing online with large groups of people with complex games.

Coding/Video/Content Creation – If you fall into this category, the following may not be geared for you. Chances are you already know what you need.

Now that you know HOW you will be using your new computer, we can dig into the parts of a computer. The Operating System (OS) is where it all starts. The OS will be either MacOS for Apple products or Windows 10 for all non-Apple products, pretty easy. Google Chromebooks run on their own OS and are considered tablets with keyboards, but the specs structure will generally be the same.

CPU (Central Processing Unit) or Processor – This is the BRAIN of the computer. Think of it as the computer’s ability to multitask. There are two parts to each processor the clock speed and the number of cores. The clock speed is measured in GHz (Gigahertz), and the number of cores allows for running multiple processes at once. Standard CPU clock speeds range between 1.2 GHz up to 3.8 GHz. The standard number of cores available are anywhere between 1, 2 (dual,) and 4 (quad) cores. The two main processor manufacturers are Intel and AMD. So, looking at a CPU spec that states: Intel i7 Quad Core, 3.6 GHz Processor. You can see that Intel makes it with a 3.6Ghz clock speed with four cores. It is the latest and greatest that comes with the highest price tag. An Intel i5 Dual Core Processor with 1.8 to 2.3 GHz will meet the needs of a casual user.

            Memory – This is the hardware that will allow your computer to handle large applications and multiple tasks while still running smoothly. There are two kinds of memory, system memory (RAM) and video memory (VRAM.) The higher this number, the more you can do with your computer. Minimum system memory these days should be 8 GB (Gigabytes) for your computer to operate smoothly. You will usually find memory in multiples 4 GB. (E.G.: 8, 12, 16, etc.) System memory is separate from video memory in that video memory is usually attached to video cards that allow for a better video/gaming experience. For the casual user, 8GB of RAM is plenty of memory.

            Hard Drive – The hard drive is where you store all of your important data, pictures, music, documents, applications, anything that you keep for later. There are two types of hard drives: hard disk drives (HDD) that are generally slower, heavier, and more prone to damage, and solid-state hard drives (SDD.) Solid-state is much faster, lighter, and less prone to damage but comes at a higher price. HDD sizes can range from 500 GB to 5 TB and more (Terabytes.) SDD sizes can range from 128 GB to 4 TB. Hard drive prices increase as the storage capacity increases. You will come across computers that have both HDD and SDDs. For the casual user, a 500 GB or 1 TB hard drive (HDD) will meet your needs nicely.

            Ports – This is the spec that catches people off guard after purchase. Ports are the connectors that you find on the different faces of your computer. The most common is the USB port. You will find there are USB-A and USB-C ports. Make sure your system has both. The other ports that most people don’t consider are video ports that allow you to connect monitors. Make sure you have both HDMI and Display ports. Be sure you have plenty of USB ports and HDMI and Display ports to ensure you can work with your computer without issue.

            You, my friend, are now armed with the concepts that will help you make your decision when it comes time to upgrade. This subject is the most common question I get from my clients. With the average cost of an entry-level laptop running around $700, I highly recommend talking to a pro before you spend your money. As always, I am happy to answer any questions you may have. You can reach me at Till next month, stay healthy and stay connected, my friends!