How to choose and buy a suitable desktop or laptop
Sometimes it can be a challenge when it comes to buying a computer but with a bit of knowledge it can be quite easy.
1. Desktop or Laptop ? Which one should I get?
~If you just want a computer for your desk at home or office and won't be moving it around much, then a desktop is obviously the choice. They tend to be cheaper than laptops for the same capacity and speed, but they also take up more room. Desktops are often easier to upgrade as well and you can change the monitor and hardware without too much fuss. The best desktop computers also come with higher system memory, hard drive, and port/ connection number, when compared with the best laptops. This is due to the fact that desktops are larger and have more room to fit everything. By the same token desktops have a lot of separate components to take care of.
~If you are an on-the-go type of person a laptop would be idea for home, school, work, in the park, library, and away on trips because of their all-in-one portability. Note however that the smaller they are, the more expensive they tend to be if you want the works. Laptops also tend to have less ports/ connections compared with the desktop so it is good to check that aspect out when you buy one. After all the manufacturers have to squeeze more specially designed components into a smaller space. One of the things to bear in mind is that you should choose a laptop that is less than 5 pounds and preferably less than 3 pounds, otherwise you will find yourself with a very sore shoulder or back after a few months.
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2. PC or Macintosh ? The debate about which is better.
There's no right or wrong. Most people feel comfortable with the operating system they are familiar with and which their family members, or friends recommend to them. If you are on a budget then the PC is your best bet. About 9 in 10 computer systems run on windows, so the higher demand and volume of PC-based computers produced enables PC manufacturers to cut down the cost. If you prefer a prettier, graphic interface and what has been touted an easier to use operating system, then consider the Mac. A lot of people also say that the Mac has a more stable operating system, longer lifespan and is good for graphic and gaming design. On the other hand the more advanced PC's tend to have more horsepower, and most developers prefer the PC. The other thing is finding technical support and trying to repair a Mac can be more difficult in certain areas.
Overall, it's really up to the user. If you want a computer with more compatible software and at a cheaper price then a PC would be a good choice, but if you are willing to spend a fair bit more, and are more into graphics and intuitive handling, then Mac may be what you want.
3. CPU speed ? Faster the better?
CPU, or the central processing unit speed is the speed at which the computer can process commands or instructions per second. This is also referred as the clock speed. It is measured in GHz (gigahertz) these days. (In the past with all the slower computers it was measured in MHz) .In general the higher the number the better. However other factors come into play including:
~the Bandwidth (measured in bits): this determines how much data the processor can run in one instruction. Most computers these days are 32-bit, but the more updated ones are 64-bit chips. Please note that currently, most software are compatible with 32-bit processors. The Windows Vista is however optimized for 64-bit processors.
~Font side Bus (FSB) speed: this is the connection between the CPU and system memory. FSB speed limits the rate of data going to the CPU and thus determines how fast information can be transmitted to the rest of the system.
~Level 2 Cache: this is a like a small on-board memory store which enables the CPU to access data directly and repeatedly, rather than having to request data from the RAM (discussed below). This is very important in video editing, gaming, CAD/CAM programs. It is not such a big deal for normal word processing, surfing the net etc. The cache ranges from 128K to 1MB cache.
~Other components: Likewise the Motherboard chipset, RAM access speed, rotational speed, hard drive disk access time also play a factor in determining overall speed of the CPU,
~Heat: A computer with a good fan system allows heat to dissipate so that the CPU won't have errors, lock, freeze or burn up (die), and therefore run more efficiently. Electrically run cooling pads which contain fans can be bought for less than $20 at most electronic stores and these can be placed under any computer.
More PC's today are optimized to run with many programs so aside from all the variables forementioned the CPU speed is important in regulating how efficient your computer will be. Most people do well on 1.5 GHz for normal applications like word documents, surfing, emailing, listening to music. Those who need really powerful platforms can get up to 4 - 5 GHz. Some of the more common better performers include AMD Athlon 64 FX - FX- 51 series (2.2 GHz), Power Mac G5 (1.6, 18 and dual 2GHz), Intel Pentium 4 (2.4-3.2 GHz).
4. RAM? What is it and how much do you need?
Random Access Memory or RAM is a temporary form of data storage. It consists of integrated circuits that enable stored data to be accessed in any order. This is used in many applications such as word processing where you would perform editing. When you push the save button, the information is transferred from the RAM to the hard drive disk. Increased RAM size allows your computer to multiple complex commands at the same time (eg listening to music at the same time as working on an excel file). This is particularly important for those who want to store large music files, movies, games, run multiple browser windows online, which can require a large amount of RAM. Modern computers have the DDR-SDRAM (double data rate-SDRAM) which runs twice as fast as its predecessor (SDRAM) which could also perform at different clock speeds.
The standard RAM is around 512 MB - 1024 MB and this is suitable for most applications .
5. Hard Drive size ?
The HDD or hard drive disk is basically how you store permanent information. It is a classified as a
"non-volatiles storage" device which stores digitally encoded data on rapidly rotating magnetic plates. Again the larger the drive the faster the performance and capacity. For basic home or office use without too much multimedia storage, a 20 - 80 GB HDD is sufficient. For those who want to store a lot of DVDs and games you can obtain 250 GB hard drives or even higher (up to around 1000GB). Most run at a good speed of 7200 rpm and you can upgrade to 10 000 rpm HDD if you really want to. The average media transfer rate is around 1 Gbit/s or higher. Note that laptops have smaller HDD capacity owing to their smaller size. The average laptop HDD spins at 5400 rpm and the higher end models go up to 7200 rpm.
Although most drives use the serial ATA interface today, there isn't that much difference in performance compared with the ATA / IDE interface (ie a disk drive device that integrates the controller on the disk drive itself, used to connect HDDs, CD-ROM drives, etc and transfers up to 8.3 - 100MB/s for ATA-6. SATA transfer rates are however a bit faster. The main thing to note is that the type of hard drive chosen ATA or SATA) needs to match the motherboard in terms of the connector type (IDE or SATA).
6. Optical Drives CD/DVD)?
It is useful to have at least a CD-RW/DVD combo drive or 24x recording speed for CD media storage and DVD playback. Lightscribe or labelflash support will also enable you to burn labels directly to CDs. These days most people want DVD burners and it is best to have a multiformat DVD burner with a speed of 16x, that is compatible with both +R/RW and -R/RW formats.
7. Video Cards ? Things to look for
Most basic computer usage won't require a change in video cards, which are updated 3-4 times a year by companies. Those who are into 3D graphic display and gaming will be interested in updating their video card. The things to consider include performance, amount of memory on the card, output connectors and the Direct X version supported. Most systems use a PCI-Express graphics standard video card.
8. Ports ? Connections? How many, what ports are needed
Check how many USB ports the computer has. Most laptops only come with two, some with four. Most desktops will have multiples ones (around 6) on the tower. It's best to find a computer that supports the latest USB 2.0 specification. Firewire ports are also great for video capture and editing. Most PC's also come with a modem for dial-up internet access and an ethernet port for broadband access via cable. For wireless connection, a wireless network adapter is required. In order to create a wireless networks with other computers, a good router is needed as well as external adaptor or card for each computer. Most use 10/100 ethernet, but if you want a very fast connection than a gigabit ethernet is the way to go.
Monitor? What size and type?
Monitors come in various shapes and sizes. Most people have a 12, 14 or 15 inch screen. If you are planning on using it for design or have bad eyesight it is best to choose something larger like a 17 inch monitor. You can even get 20 -22 inch models.
These days the LCD has just about superceded the CRT monitor which is a lot bulkier. In the past many graphic designers preferred the CRT because they supported a greater range of resolutions and more color shades. But now, many of the better LCD's have approached the color quality of CRT's but use half the power. In addition widescreen monitors have also become quite popular. Although the brand doesn't matter as much as the price, some of the more popular brands include NEC, Samsung and ViewSonic.
10. Software ?
A lot of computers these days already come with a basic word processor like microsoft word trial (though you have to upgrade to the full version), perhaps a spreadsheet like an excel trial, notepad or some other text editor, mediaplayer or similar AV player, and an antivirus program such as norton antivirus provided by HP and McAfee installed by Gateway. Vista also comes with Windows defender which is something you can download free online. It is very useful as it blocks malware and spyware as well.
10. Where to buy? Discount computers, cheap computers, computer coupon codes and specials
There are so many computers these days to choose from that it can become overwhelming!
Some of the most popular desktops that you may consider include:
CNET's top 10 desktops:
Best budget PC: eMachines T6420
Best small-form-factor PC: Apple Mac Mini Core Duo
Best PC design: Apple iMac Core Duo 20-inch, 2.0GHz)
Best gaming PC: Velocity Micro Raptor 64 DualX (AMD Athlon 64 FX-60)
Best affordable gaming PC: Velocity Micro Gamer's Edge DualX (Athlon 64 3700+)
Best PC line: HP m7300 Media Center Series
Most innovative PC: Shuttle XPC P 2600g
Best business PC: ThinkCenter A52
Best Media Center PC: Creature Scylla S301
Best desktop for creative pros: Apple Power Mac G5 dual 2.5GHz
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Some of the best laptops that might like to check out include:
PCWorld's Top 10 laptops / notebooks
1. Micro Express JFL226
2. Lenovo IdeaPad Y510
3. Acer Aspire 5920-6954
4. Lenovo ThinkPad R61
5. Fujitsu Lifebook A6120
6. Dell XPS M1330
7. Sony VAIO VGN-FW198U/H
8. Sony VAIO VGN-FZ180E/B
9. Sony VAIO VGN-SZ791N
10.Fujitsu LIfebook S6510
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