"What computer should I get?"
As with most people working in the IT sector there comes certain times of the year when I will be asked the following question “I’m looking at buy [name/family title] a computer for Christmas, what computer should I get?”, so today I’d like to write a little bit of a guide to getting the best computer for the person.
This is always the first question I ask, “how much do you have to spend?” and it should be the first thing you ask yourself, what is your budget? If it’s the £400-£500 which is the gold standard for midrange laptops, then do not expect to be buying a Mac book.
What’s it for?
School work? Gaming? Video editing? Browsing Facebook? Desktop? Laptop? After budget this is my second question, it’s really important, if the laptop is going to be used for games then it simply has to have a good graphics card, if it’s going to be used to travel a lot you probably won’t want to buy anything larger than 14” and should be aiming to get something that weighs about 1.5lb with the biggest battery possible.
A computer is only as good as the sum of its parts and asking the previous question defines what parts the computer will be made up of. It’s really important to understand what difference these parts will make.
Processor – This is a hugely important piece of the puzzle. Intel’s current CPUs in the high end i7 and i5 and the lower end i3 and Pentium CPUs, you will also find an array of cheaper laptops and tablets with the Atom cup. AMD, intel’s lesser known competitor offers a similar range of processors from the high end FX and Phenom CPUs to the lower end Athlon and Sempron. AMD cups are often cheaper than Intel’s offerings but generally offer slightly lower performance. Unless you have a low budget or are looking for the fastest available hardware I would recommend an Intel i5 CPU in nearly every scenario.
Memory (RAM) – Often confused with storage (hard drive) memory is what helps a processor process. More memory means being able to run more things at the same time and will improve performance in a system. I would recommend going no lower than 8GB of RAM with only laptops for gaming or other intensive processes going for 16GB or higher.
Storage – Storage consists of either a hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid state drive (SSD), hard drives will offer great amounts of storage while SSDs will offer faster performance and great battery life. If you aren’t looking to store masses of files or programs, I would recommend an SSD of a minimum of 120GB but if you are on a budget or you plan on installing a mass of data then an HDD is your best choice. Of course if you are selecting a desktop or some specialist laptops you can get both with the operating system on the SSD for the best performance and then everything else like photos and music going onto the HDD. Finally, there is a premium option for those looking for greater storage and great performance, several companies now manufactory hybrid drives that feature a small SSD storage space on the disk that if used to cache frequently accessed information. The speed benefits of these drives vary between use cases but do offer some benefits to a normal hard drive in regards to speed.
Graphics cards – This one will only apply if you are going to be playing games, watching 4K videos or using graphically intensive processes such as CAD. While there are some benefits between NVidia and AMD within certain packages (which I won’t touch on here) I recommend at the most basic level going for the greater model number and largest amount of memory. Typically, graphics cards will be called things like GTX 7770 so for example a 7500 would not be as powerful while a 9770 would be. In general I recommend checking out the software vendor’s web site for the required hard specifications.
This is the final thing I also recommend anyone buying anything as usually what’s good for today isn’t always good enough for tomorrow. If you have a budget of £500 and you find a £400 computer, I would always recommend seeing if they have a slightly more powerful model, the difference between hardware could be mean the difference between buying a new computer in 2 years or 3.
As you can probably tell now the question of what laptop I should buy is fairly similar to what car should I buy. Ultimately what you need it for is always going to be the best metric of how suitable a computer is for you and you should consider every aspect of what you’re buying it for and if you still aren’t sure please contact me and I can help you get the best value for money.