Ever wondered why computers have clocks not related to time? Are you surprised that your expensive laptop performs slower than a device half its price? Then this rough guide to understanding your computer is for you.
Processors do all of the computing on your device. With regards to the processor, the speed and efficiency of your computer is generally determined by clock speed and its number of cores.
Clock speed refers to how fast the processor is able to make computations and it is expressed in megahertz (MHz) and gigahertz (GHz). The number of cores (single, dual, quad, etc.), meanwhile, boost processing speed by splitting an application’s load between them. You can liken this to people working together – the more people doing work towards a single goal, the faster that goal will be accomplished.
Usually, the higher the clock speed and the more cores a computer has, the faster it will be.
RAM (Random-Access Memory)
Think of your laptop’s RAM as a table. Now imagine yourself doing a variety of activities on it (perhaps a puzzle, doing a paper mache, writing a paper, etc.). With a small table, you can either do things one at a time – which takes longer – or you can do them at the same time – your progress slowed by the chaos of multitasking in a small space. Now if you had a bigger table, you can do more things simultaneously without things getting in the way of one another.
It’s the same thing with your device’s RAM. More RAM means you can have a lot of things running at once before your computer slows down. More RAM also means that when doing single tasks, your system performs much faster as it has more room to operate with.
GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)
Images, videos, and 3D applications such as games and photo/video manipulators generally require a lot of computing and therefore put a lot of strain on the processors. GPUs, as their name implies, take the strain of mathematical image computing from your processor, freeing it to work on other tasks. The strength of the GPU determines how well these images are rendered. If you’ll be doing a lot of graphics-intensive work, I’d recommend getting the latest GPU model with at least 1GB of memory.
As with the RAM, the more storage space you have the better. If you’ll be keeping a lot of movies, television series, videos, photos, music, and games on your computer, you’re better off going with the biggest hard drive you can find.
There are two main hard drive types to choose from: the Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and the Solid State Drive (SSD). As its name implies, the HDD has a disk on which your data is stored. An arm in the drive reads the data off the disk spinning at a very fast speed (Hence, the distinct buzz computers produce).
The SSD, on the other hand, functions much like your flash drive. There are no spinning parts so data access is fast and instantaneous. This results in blazing fast loading speeds for anything stored in the SSD. While you may be tempted to go for the SSD because of this feature, you should note that for the same storage size, SSDs cost almost thrice as much as HDDs (i.e. a 500GB HDD costs around Php 3,000 while a 500GB SSD costs around Php 12,000).
Computer displays are really a preferential choice. If you won’t be doing any color-sensitive work such as photo and video manipulation, then pick the display that suits your style. You want a large screen advertised as ultraHD? Go ahead. You want a touch screen monitor? Sure, get that one. Want a monitor that swings sideways and flips upside down? As long as it fits your budget, then why not? You’ll be staring at it for hours on end so better pick something you’ll like.
Most laptops nowadays have built in webcams on top of their displays so videochatting and taking selfies won’t be a problem. If the webcam isn’t included, then I recommend getting the most basic webcam you can find so you’ll be able to spend more money elsewhere.
Optical Disk Drive
With the advent of ultrabooks, flashdrives, high speed internet, and cloud storage, you may think that CD/DVD drives are no longer needed. Personally, I like having disk drives as it provides another avenue for data access. There’s an added plus of being able to burn your files permanently onto a disk so you’ll never have to worry about sudden drops of internet connection or corruption of flash drives.
Ports refer to where you plug in external or peripheral devices onto your computer. Generally, there are five types of ports you’ll want to have on your system: the Audio, USB, VGA, HDMI, and Ethernet ports.
The audio port is where you insert your headset, earphones, and external speakers. Pretty self-explanatory.
USBs are where you’ll plug in most of your peripherals including your computer mouses (mice?), printer, webcam, and your phone’s data transfer cable. These devices are characterized by rectangular ends and are magically bewitched so that you never insert them right the first time. USBs are not those sticks you transfer data to – those are properly called USB flash drives.
VGA and HDMI ports are used for connecting your computer to external displays such as your monitor, projectors, and HDMI-enabled televisions. HDMI stands for “High-Definition Multimedia Interface” which directly transfers data from your computer onto the display. This means that you get the best display output possible (of course, depending on the capabilities of your HDMI TV), as opposed to “Video Graphics Array” or VGA connections which converts your data, usually leading to a loss of display quality.
Lastly, you have the Ethernet port which is for Local Area Connections (LAN). Through a LAN cable, you’ll be able to connect to other devices in your immediate surroundings and connect to the internet if you don’t have WiFi.
Wireless Technology Adapters
You’ll need WiFi and Bluetooth adapters to be able to connect to WiFi networks and to Bluetooth-enabled devices. Most laptops have this built-in but you can also buy WiFi and Bluetooth USB adapters for your device if it doesn’t have one pre-installed.
So how do you go about buying/upgrading your computer? I recommend going for at least a 2.0GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and a midrange GPU with 1GB of memory. This ensures that while not blazing fast to perfectly handle the most resource-intensive applications, you’ll be able to efficiently run some of the more commonly used programs for document processing, basic photo and video manipulation, and even some newer games. As for the others, go with your budget and ensure that you know what you’ll be using your computer for.
There you go! Never be afraid of stepping into a computer shop again with your new found tech knowledge. Now that you know all the buzz words in the world of computing, you’ll be able to make informed purchases that suit your taste and lifestyle.