“What am I looking for in a new computer?”

IT'S A simple question, but not one a quick Google search can help you with unless you're familiar with tech jargon.

Choosing the right computer can save you months or years of frustration and heartbreak. So it pays to do your homework and do a bit of planning before you hit the stores or online.

1. Know what you need

Write a list of things you use a computer for. Certain tasks require different computers and being talked into buying a laptop when you spend most of your time in spreadsheets is disastrous.

This will also tell you what kind of equipment you can skip. Do you print? Do you really need a webcam? Do you need a more powerful computer so your work tasks are hammered out faster?

2. Know how you use a computer

Write a list of situations in which you'll need a computer. There's no point buying a desktop if you Facebook from your couch or move from work site to work site.

Here are some common tasks and what you need to look for to do them.

Spreadsheets and word processing

If you're likely to do a lot of Excel, you're looking for memory. I'd recommend a desktop but it's not crucial. What is crucial is that you buy something with at least four gigabytes of RAM and preferably 8GB. The more the merrier.

Facebook and social media

The world is your oyster, practically everything from phones to high-powered PCs can do this now, so your main focus will be on the price and possibly mobility. If you've got a bit of money, make sure the CPU is equivalent an Intel i3 or i5. An i7 is overkill.

Gaming

If you're addicted to casual gaming on Facebook, a tablet or a social media PC is fine, but if you're looking to play the latest games, you need something hefty and you'll be paying at least $1000.

Look for at least an i5 or better processor, 8GB of RAM and a dedicated graphics card with a gigabyte of its own memory. Avoid 'integrated' graphics solutions and you'll be fine.

Video/photo editing

The easiest path here is to buy an Apple Mac. They're built for this kind of use and will rarely fail. The keys here are RAM and Processor. Nothing short of an i5 or equivalent will cut it and you'll need at least 4GB of RAM.

Streaming/Watching video

There are computers on sale that have operating systems built specifically for this, but most if not all computers will handle this fine. The generic rule is that streaming video needs a more powerful CPU (i3 or better) while playing video from your hard drive or a DVD needs a more powerful GPU.

You'll also need to look at your monitor and peripherals like keyboard, mouse, webcam and printer. Generic options are fine for most people but gamers and video editors have a lot more to think about.

Check if peripherals are included with the computer you're buying first, especially if you're purchasing a laptop.

Jargon at a glance

CPU: The Central Processing Unit is the engine. It controls what gets done and how fast. Important for everything.

RAM: The 'memory' determines how many things you can do at once and how long before your computer will grind to a halt. Important for spreadsheets, video editing and gaming.

GPU: The graphics card handles the visual prettiness and makes sure your videos run smooth. Important for videos and gaming.

OS: The operating system is the controlling software, most people will be used to Windows or Mac, but Linux is a free option if you're willing to learn it. Stick to Windows 7 or Mac OS X (Snow Leopard). Avoid Windows 8.

Laptop Vs Desktop

Mobility is always a trade-off. You have four concerns:

  • Light weight
  • Long battery life
  • Performance
  • Reasonable price

You can generally pick three of four.

A lightweight, high performance laptop with long battery life, such as an Apple product, will generally come at a high cost premium. Cheaper laptops might have good performance, but only average battery life and be heavier and more cumbersome if you are moving it around a lot.

This decision ultimately comes down to your budget and your specific needs - for example, if you need only occasional portability, you can afford to sacrifice on weight.


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