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When it comes to buying a computer or laptop for your office or home, understanding the specification can be very confusing.
Here is a brief guide to the technical details:
DragonHead

The advice contained in these pages is generalised, and it intended to provide a guide or basic understanding only.

Contact us if you need specific advice regarding your IT requirements.

Desktop or Laptop?
Screens / Display
Processor (CPU)
Memory (RAM)
Hard Drive (Storage)
Networking
Backups

Desktop or Laptop?

When deciding whether to buy a desktop or laptop or tablet, think about what you want to do with the computer.

laptop

If you want to use it for general use (e.g. email, Internet browsing, some office work), and you know you will need to use it in different places, or different people will be using it, then a laptop is probably better.

You will also most likely need wireless internet so you can use your laptop around your office or home.

desktop-computer

If you work in a single location, or if want to do serious work, particularly with lots of typing or requiring fine mouse control (e.g. for design), or very high quality graphics are needed (e.g. for gaming), then a desktop is probably better.

If you need to have many applications open at the same time, a desktop can also output to two or more screens.

tablet

A tablet computer is usually smaller than a laptop and it has a touch sensitive screen.

Many tablets have detachable keyboards.

Tablets often have a long battery life and are usually much lighter than laptops.

Tablet computers often have fewer connection holes than a laptop or desktop.

Screens / Display

monitor-lcd-diagonal

Screens are measured diagonally, usually in inches. The most common sizes at the moment vary between 19" and 24".

There are two shapes of screen: normal (4:3 ratio) and widescreen (16:9 ratio). Widescreen is the current standard.

If the height of the screen is important (e.g. you need to see a whole page of text or to see as much of a spreadsheet as possible), then you might be better choosing a standard (4:3 ratio) screen.

connectors digital signage
 DisplayPortMiniDisplayPort

Connecting to your screen - there are four common methods of connection.

VGA - the most common - a 15-pin analogue connection

DVI - these connections can be analogue (DVI-I) or digital (DVI-D)

HDMI - these digital connections are standard on most laptops or TV/entertainment equipment

mini-HDMI - these smaller connections are often found on small laptops and tablets

Connectors are available to convert analogue VGA to DVI-I, and digital DVI-D to HDMI.

 

DisplayPort (and Mini-DisplayPort) - this is the newest type of video connection type.

(Apple calls the Mini-DisplayPort "Thunderbolt".)

Connectors to convert to other types of video output are readily available.

Processor (CPU)

The Processor or CPU is the "brain" of the computer. The more powerful processor your computer has, the faster it will work. The Processor is sometimes called "the chip".

The Processor is often labelled by the number of "cores" (separate 'brains' which can work in parallel).

Processors are made by two companies: Intel and AMD. They are both equally good.

The speed of both types of processor are measured in Gigahertz (GHz). The higher the speed, the faster the processor.

intel

The current Intel processors are called i3, i5 and i7.

Most standard computers will come with an i3 processor. High performance computers will have an i5 processor. If you need a very powerful computer, then the i7 processor could be the correct one for you.

These processor types have been around for several years: Intel has produced many new versions of each type.

Servers tend to use Intel Xeon processors.

AMD

The common current AMD processors are called Opteron and come with 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 12 or 16 cores.

x2 (dual-core) is for standard computers

x4 (quad-core) or better for high performance computers

Memory (RAM)

RAM

Memory of RAM is the "thinking space" or "short term memory" for your computer.

Think of it like a kitchen worktop... the more worktop you have, the more you can do.

 

Memory is measured in Gigabytes (abbreviated to GB).

The minimum you should have in your computer is 2 Gigabytes.

The recommended amount of RAM is 4 GB.

If you like to do lots of things with graphics or run several programs at once, then 4 GB is adviseable.

If you need a very powerful computer, you may need more memory.

There are a limited number of slots inside your computer to fit new memory, and there is a maximum amount of memory which each computer can have.

 

There are many different types of memory (e.g. DDR2, DDR3, non-ECC, ECC) - always get advice before buying memory.

 

For reasons of space, laptops and tablets are often limited to the amount of RAM they can hold.

Tablet computers are often sealed units and it might not be possible to open it to increase the RAM.

Hard Drive (Storage)

HardDrive

Your hard drive is the storage for your computer: it is where your programs, documents, photographs, music, videos etc. are stored.

Think of your hard drive like your kitchen cupboards: the more cupboards you have, the more you can store.

 

The size of a hard drive is measured in Gigabytes (GB) and Terabytes (TB).

1 Terabyte = 1024 Gigabyes

Most computers will come with a hard drive from 250GB to 1TB or more.

Laptops tend to have smaller hard drives than desktop computers.

A second hard drive can easily be added to a desktop computer. A laptop usually requires a larger hard drive to be swapped with the smaller one.

A tablet computer and some lighter laptops will have a special kind of hard drive called an SSD (Solid State Drive). These are drives without any moving parts. As they are more expensive, they tend to be smaller.

Many tablet computers will be sealed units and it might not be possible to open it to change the hard drive.

disk full

Games, photographs, music and videos will take up a lot of space on your hard drive. Documents do not tend to take up too much space.

  • A typical music album will be around half a gigabyte.
  • 100 photographs from a typical digital camera will also take up around half a gigabyte.
  • A typical movie will be around 2 to 4 gigabytes.
  • A typical computer game will be around 4 to 10 gigabytes, although some might take as much as 50 gigabytes!

Remember that your computer programs will also take up a lot of space on your hard drive.

Networking

"Networking" a computer means connecting it to another computer, either in your own home or office, or to the Internet. There are two ways of networking, and it is possible to have a mix of both, so you could enjoy the benefits of both.

wirelessnetwork

A wireless (or wifi) network is the more versatile way of connecting computers in the office or home, particularly if you have a laptop and move from room to room with it.

Your laptop (and some desktops and printers) will have an in-built wireless aerial. To prevent other people accessing your computer and Internet connection, your wireless system will have a secret security key.

To connect to another computer or to the Internet, you will require a wireless router, which is the transmitter.

The router is normally provided by your Internet Service Provider and is located near to the main telephone socket.

(If you have cable TV, your TV box will also be your router and wireless transmitter.)

Wireless Speeds - they are called a, b, g and n. The frequency of most wireless devices is 2.4GHz, but there is a new, faster wireless network on a 5GHz frequency.

N offers speeds up to 300Mbps; G up to 54Mbps; B up to 11Mbps; A is no longer used.

 

Main advantage of wireless: portable

Main disadvantage of wireless: connection gets slower, the further you are from the transmitter. Walls and electrical interference also reduce the speed of your connection.

wirednetwork

A wired network is a fixed cable method of connecting computers in your office or home, and is better if you have a desktop computer.

The speeds offered by a wired solution are far higher than with wireless and they are not subject to interference.

Wired Speeds - they are 10, 100 (Fast Ethernet) and 1000 (Gigabit Ethernet)

 

Main advantage of wired: faster, stable speeds

Main disadvantage of wired: installing cables neatly in the office or home can be more costly and messy.

EoP

Ethernet over Power - this is a system which uses the electrical wiring in your home or office to carry network signals

These plug-in units can provide either a wired or wireless network signal, depending on the make/model.

They can offer data speeds up to 500Mbps, but this depends on the distance between the units and other factors (see below).

 

These units work best when both ends are connected to the same electrical ring-main circuit.

They should be plugged directly into the wall socket, and not into a trailing extension socket.

They will not work if they are plugged into electrical ring mains which go back to different fuse-boxes (consumer units).

Backups

backup

If something were to happen to your computer, you could lose all your data!

Having a second place to store your data is a very good idea.

A lot of people buy an external hard drive, which you can connect to your computer and make a copy of your data, so you can be assured that you have another copy, just in case the worst happens.

Another way of backing up your data to store it "in the Cloud" using an Internet Backup Service.

Remember to backup your data regularly and keep the copy in a safe place.

Another way of backing up (or archiving) data is to burn it on to a DVD (or CD).

 

 

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