The fastest computer on the shelf isn't always the best computer, and the most expensive computer isn't always the fastest. Get the best machine for the money by choosing one whose components match the needs of individual family members and come with high-tech features that make computing fun.
Processors: The Computer's Brain
Your future computer doesn't need tremendous amounts of processing power if family members only use it to surf the Web, watch videos, listen to music and run basic desktop applications. Many inexpensive PCs come with fast dual-core processors that meet the needs of many consumers. A dual-core processor chip uses two processors to perform computing tasks.
If some family members like to work on many applications at once, they'll multi-task more productively if the computer's processor has more cores. Many apps that help you create music, for instance, work faster on computers with multiple cores. You can find computers that have quad-core and hexa-core processors, but you'll spend more money purchasing them. You probably won't need a processor with six or more cores unless you're going to use it as a server or workstation that needs to perform large numbers of complex tasks simultaneously.
Spinning at thousands of revolutions per minute, hard drives can make your computing life enjoyable when applications run smoothly, or frustrating when Windows says you're running out of disk space. Before you purchase a computer, ask family members how they plan to use it. A 1 TB hard drive can fill up quicker than you think when one family member downloads full-length movies frequently while another loves to install lots of new applications. If you plan to use the computer to store databases or other large work-related files, consider that as well when shopping. It's usually wise to purchase as much hard drive space as you can afford. You should also ensure that your computer can burn CDs and DVDs if family members need that capability.
Hard Drive Speed
If family members have a need for speed and want applications to respond faster, consider spending more to get a computer that has a solid-state drive that transfers data throughout the computer faster than a normal hard drive can. Because SSDs have no moving parts and they do not spin, everyone will be able to start applications faster, perform swift file searches and the computer will boot sooner. If you'd rather get a computer that has a regular hard drive that spins, opt for one that has a higher RPM rate.
Consider setups with a smaller SSD for boot-up and system files, and a mechanical drive for applications and data storage, to eek out a performance improvement with Windows file operations.
Graphics for Work and Play
While a computer isn't a toy, clever developers create applications that make it more fun to use. If mom, dad or the kids enjoy 3D computer games, choose a computer that has a high-end graphics card. Family members who work with digital images and video may also benefit from a more powerful graphics card. Some imaging programs, for example, have the ability to speed up rendering tasks by offloading processing tasks to the graphics card. While any computer can play audio, you'll enjoy richer fuller music if you purchase a computer that has a powerful sound card. Some cards, for example, can generate theater-quality audio complete with surround sound and special effects.
Random Access Memory
It's not uncommon for today's computers to have 8 GB or more of random access memory. You may not need that much memory, especially if you don't run applications that require it. However, many games, multimedia editing programs and other types of memory intensive software work better when a computer has more RAM. If you or a family member plans to do a lot of high-end processing, such as visualizing complex information, rendering large media files or performing complex database queries, you could find that 16 GB of RAM would be useful. One way to tell how much RAM you’ll need is to check an application’s system requirements and review its help documentation. Ensure that family members tell you about programs they’d like to use that could require larger amounts of memory.
If your family really wants to live on the cutting edge, look for specialty monitors that let you view games and movies in three dimensions. Younger gaming enthusiasts will probably love one of these displays because action on-screen appears to leap off the screen and into the room. You can also find touch screen monitors similar to those you see on smartphones. Some family members may prefer to interact with the computer and operating system using their fingers instead of a mouse and keyboard.
Wrapping It All Up
If you're still unsure about which computer to purchase, don't be afraid to go into a store and get buying advice from store personnel. While you're there, ask about package deals the store might offer. One deal, for instance, might give you a printer, a larger monitor, bundled software and a computer at a price cheaper than you'd pay if you purchased those items separately.
Ensure that the one you purchase has an adequate warranty that protects your investment. Expect to pay more for extended warranties that cover parts and labor beyond the basic warranty period.
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