You might wonder what I (an “IT professional”) use as a personal computing device. It’s a valid thought since I do have a better idea of what to look for in a PC than the average user. I have two laptops: a 13-inch MacBook Pro and a 17-inch HP Envy. Because I only recently learned how to use my Mac, I’ll save it for another time and make the HP the focus of this article.
Let me start by saying that processor and RAM alone don’t make a computer fast. The hard drive also plays a major role in the machine’s overall performance. Optical hard drives (those with spinning disks) are slower than solid-state hard drives and are often the reason a computer bogs down, even if the computer has a fast processor and oodles of RAM. When buying a PC, take the hard drive into consideration. Solid-states are fast and work well as operating system drives, whereas optical drives are great for storage (the higher the RPM, the better). Keep in mind, too, that when it comes to hard drives, larger does not necessarily mean faster.
I purchased my Envy with 16 gigabytes of RAM, an Intel i7 processor, and a 1 terabyte optical hard drive. It’s certainly not lacking for performance, though the hard drive is the weak link in the chain; it can’t keep up with the rest of the computer. I would rather have the operating system running on a faster solid-state hard drive and use the optical drive for storage. The Envy also has a touch screen and can double as a large tablet, though I have little need for that functionality. If you don’t need a touch screen, don’t bother with one.
So what should you look for in a computer? Like shopping for a car, it depends on the intended use. You don’t need 16 gigs of RAM to surf the web in much the same way you don’t need 650 horsepower to cart you 3.2 miles to the grocery store for a pint of milk. If the PC’s primary function is web browsing and emailing, your main concern should, obviously, be your internet speed. Slow internet will be slow no matter what your computer is packing under the hood. 4 gigs of RAM and an i3 processor are plenty for web surfing. Processor and RAM really only become a concern if you plan on using your PC for anything other than buying things on Amazon. In that case, look for something with a minimum of 8 gigs of RAM, at least an i5 processor, and a solid-state hard drive.
I’m not a gamer, but I do know that, for a lag-free gaming experience, you need excellent video cards. An abundance of RAM and a hefty processor also help, but the real money in gaming setups goes toward the video cards. If you are a gamer, or if you do 3D modeling, make sure you find a PC with a serious graphics card in addition to RAM and a fast processor.
Here’s one specification that matters regardless of the computer’s intended use: 64-bit. You want a 64-bit machine, not a 32-bit one. Don’t worry about what all that means, just know that 64-bit is good.
As with any other large purchase, do your homework before you buy. Compare offerings from different brands, read reviews, etc. In terms of computer brands, my personal preference is HP, though offerings from Lenovo, Dell, Asus, and Acer are safe bets, as well. Go to a store and physically look at the computers you’re interested in. How do they look and feel? Are they too big or too small? Are they too heavy? All of those questions can be answered by viewing the devices in-store.
Where did I get my computers? Best Buy. Before I purchased the Mac and the Envy, I did research online and found a few models that I liked. Then I went into the store to put my fingers on them, and that little “test drive” ultimately guided my final selection.
So, in summary:
- Identify the computer's purpose, then set a budget.
- Do your homework and "test drive" your options.
- Don't buy more computer than you need - you can always upgrade later.