Buying Guide for Computer
In buying a new
system, it's always a good idea to buy as much system as you can afford, because
you'll run less risk of technology moving too far beyond your system in the
near future. The good news is that computers are currently a fantastic deal,
and you can get a fairly powerful system for far less than you would have paid
even one year ago. In choosing a system, always keep in mind its primary use,
and find a system that matches up closely to those usage requirements. If you'll
be doing basic word processing and an occasional spreadsheet, you can buy a
relatively entry-level system. However, if you'll be depending on your system
for a multitude of complex tasks, make sure you get a system with plenty of
speed, a lot of storage, and room for expandability.
should I look for in my new computer?
The features on
which you'll want to focus depend on whether you go with a desktop or notebook
and how you will be using the computer. Here are the basics to keep in mind:
space: Some programs take up more space than others, and newer applications
tend to be getting bigger and bigger in size. Therefore, it's a good idea to
try to buy as much hard drive space as you can.
speed: It's always good to get as much speed as you can afford. If you
plan on running complex programs, such as some of the newer graphic-intensive
games, you should consider the faster 1GHz and higher systems.
Access Memory): Most new computers come with at least 128MB. If you
know you will be running multiple or complex applications on your computer,
look for one with more RAM, or consider installing an upgrade. A shortage of
RAM can really slow you down.
Drives other than the basic floppy or CD-ROM are now included on many computers.
A CD-R or CD-RW is a great option if you'll need to store a lot of data or like
burning your own music CDs, and a DVD player can be fun if you're a movie buff.
More of a concern for notebooks, size can be crucial if you plan on frequently
carrying your computer with you on the road. Weight should be factored in, while
keeping in mind that as the weight goes down, often does the screen and keyboard
In general, the more ports your computer comes with, the better. You'll want
to pay attention to what kinds are included, because ports such as USB can make
it easy to enhance your system with external drives, gaming devices and more.
Do I need a
desktop or laptop/notebook system?
Now that laptop
computers have almost completely caught up in speed and memory capacity to their
desktop counterparts, it largely comes down to screen size and price. If you
don't mind a smaller screen than a regular monitor, and you don't mind forking
over more money, a laptop can satisfy almost all of your computing needs at
home, on the road, and just about everywhere else. There are a few other factors
to consider. If you will be traveling a lot and need your computer, a laptop
is the obvious choice. If you're away at school, a laptop can be handy, but
you will need to be careful with itit's much more susceptible to theft than
a desktop system. Many schools even recommend against them. Desktops may also
be a better bet if you won't need to travel with your computerdesktops often
offer extra and useful components (drives, ports, etc.) and often have more
potential for expansion. Finally, many people buy laptops, but set up a good
home workstation for maximum home laptop use. With a docking station, regular
monitor and floppy drive attached, a laptop can behave very similar to a desktop
when not out on the open road.
What is processing
speed, and why is it important?
basically represents how fast your computer's CPU (central processing unit,
or "brain") can think. If your computer is given complex tasks or multiple tasks
to do at once, it will need to process each task quickly, or a crash will occur.
Processors are measured in megahertz (MHz), or millions of clock cycles per
second, and gigahertz (GHz), or billions of clock cycles per second. Most entry-level
systems currently start at around 500MHz and go up, while advanced systems start
at around 800 or 900 MHz and go up to over 1.5 GHz. If you plan on using your
computer for very simple tasks like word processing or basic spreadsheets, speed
won't be as important to you, and a processor somewhere under 1 GHz should do,
although it's always good to get as much speed as you can afford. However, if
you plan on running complex programs, such as some of the newer graphic-intensive
games, you will need more speed and you should look at the faster 1GHz and higher
What is RAM,
and why is it important?
RAM, or random
access memory, is your computer's short-term memory. Along with processing speed,
more RAM enables you to open and run bigger, complex applications and files
and have more applications opened simultaneously. When you're low on RAM, your
computer is forced to run application from your hard drive, and that really
slows you down. Ram is measured in megabytes (MB), and most new computers come
with at least 128MB. If you know you will be running multiple or complex applications
on your computer, look for one with more RAM, or consider installing an upgrade.
comes with a CD-R. What is it, and how does that differ from a CD-RW?
A CD-R (CD recordable)
is a drive that allows you to record onto read-only discs, almost identical
to regular CDs. Once you record a CD-R disc, it cannot be erased or re-recorded.
You can play CD-R discs in most regular CD players, so you can make your own
music CDs. A CD-RW (CD rewritable) is a drive that allows you to record CD-RW
discs that can be re-recorded with new material over and over again. You can
also make CD-R discs with the same drive, which is important, because most regular
CD players cannot read CD-RW discs.
What's the hard
drive, and how much do I need?
The hard drive
is the computer's main storage mechanismeverything from your most basic files
right down to your operating system (e.g. Windows 98) is stored inside. Obviously,
the more "stuff" you have on your computer, the more hard drive space you'll
need. Some programs take up more space than others, and newer applications tend
to be getting bigger and bigger in size. Therefore, it's a good idea to try
to buy as much hard drive space as you can. Hard drives are measured in gigabytes
(GB), and newer desktop systems tend to have drives of around 20GB or more.
Notebooks start at around 10GB, although they are quickly catching up to desktop
systems. Again, the amount you'll need depends largely on how many applications
and files you plan to put in your system. If your only use will be occasional
word processing or playing games, a big hard drive may not be as important to
at a notebook/laptop computer. How long will the batteries last?
The new lithium-ion
batteries (li-ion) generally give you about 3 hours of power before a recharge
is needed, although battery life can be improved through conservation measures.
I'm confused about ports. What is a USB port? What is Plug and Play?
When you read about
a computer's specifications, you will notice that under the area that covers
expansion and ports, terms like USB, PCI, and IEEE 1394 (also called FireWire)
are thrown around. These terms refer to the different types of ports the computer
offers, and those ports support different types of connections/plugs, which
in turn offer different speeds and enhancements. USB, for instance, supports
Plug and Play, which basically means all you need to do is plug in your peripheral
(printer, scanner, joystick, etc.) and you're ready to gono need for configuration.
The bottom line when looking at ports: know which kind you're getting, because
your peripherals will need to be compatible with them. Obviously, the more ports
you have the better, because it will allow you to plug in more peripherals at
once, although you can purchase expansion devices (called hubs) that will give
you more spaces to plug things in.
Does a monitor come with the computer? Which one do I need?
Unless you're buying
an all-inclusive package or "bundle," the monitor does not come with the computer.
The other obvious exceptions are the iMac, a notebook computer, and a few select
PC computers with built-in monitors. These days, most monitors are compatible
with the PC platform. MAC compatibility is growing, but the choices are a bit
more limited. Consult the product description details if you are unsure of a
monitor's compatibility, or call Frys.com customer service.