What to Look For in a Computer
Even if you decide which type of computer you want to get, different brands and models of each type have different capabilities. Each aspect of a computer’s features, from its physical size to its computing power, has implications for what you can use it for and how well it will work.
Therefore, each criterion affects your ability to get your intended uses out of your computer. These categories do not have “right” and “wrong” answers that apply to everyone, but they are all significant to consider when choosing a computer.
Size and weight
Computers all have different physical sizes, which can impact their usability. If you have dexterity or strength limitations, a lighter tablet may be much more comfortable to use.
The importance of size goes beyond physical comfort, however, since computers have different displays which impacts how well you can interact with them. Most laptops have screens that are 11-15 inches, while desktops can have monitors as large as 30 inches. If you have vision limitations and would like to use your computer on a larger display, a desktop may be a better fit than a tablet.
The operating system (often labeled “OS” in manuals and user guides) is the software that your computer uses to manage all of its basic tasks. This includes how it displays information to you, making it an important factor to consider when buying a computer.
The main operating systems that you will be choosing between are Microsoft Windows and Apple iOS. Neither is “better,” but many people are more familiar with one or the other. If you have a low experience level with computers and want to get as familiar as possible with your new device, you should make sure that the computer you buy supports the operating system you are used to.
RAM or “random-access memory” is a form of memory that defines many aspects of computer functions. RAM is not the memory that saves pictures and documents, but the memory that computers use to run tasks.
An increase in RAM will usually increase the price of the computer since more RAM means a greater ability to run heavy or multiple tasks, play videos more smoothly, and do everything more quickly.
The amount of RAM you need depends on what you plan on using your computer for. The smallest amount of RAM anyone should consider buying in a laptop is 4 GB. However, if you plan on using the computer for multiple tasks, watching videos, or doing anything more than checking your email, 8 GB of RAM is a solid amount that should cover any function you would need.
Above that, computers with 16 GB, 32 GB, or more of RAM exist to run more strenuous tasks like programming and gaming. Everyday use doesn’t require that much, so you can save money by downsizing the RAM based on your needs.
Storage refers to the memory used to save files like pictures, videos, and other documents. Most computers come with both a limited internal storage space and a storage drive. You will see listings that refer to either “HDD” or “SSD” when discussing the storage.
These “hard disc drives” and “solid-state drives” do the same thing in allowing you to save things on your computer. The difference is that SSDs are faster and therefore more expensive.
The amount of memory you need depends on what you plan on using the computer for. You may only need a standard hard drive space of 256 GB if you plan on only saving some Word documents, pictures, and programs. Above that, larger files like videos and interactive applications will require more space, with most laptops and desktops now coming with 512 GB of space, at least.
Another option is always to buy a computer with a small hard drive and then buy a separate external drive for more memory if you need it later. However, this will require you to learn how to use it to save your files.
Since desktops have more parts, maintenance can be a bigger issue with them. Laptops and tablets by comparison are less likely to need maintenance. However, any computer can break and need to be fixed.
When buying a computer, consider the warranties it offers as well as the steps required to fix it, such as whether the company provides at-home maintenance.
Security is a priority for most new computer users, especially with banking, insurance, and payment information being used on them. Many computers offer security packages or come with features that will help you keep your data safe, such as a biometrics system that locks your computer to anyone without your fingerprint.
The average laptop costs around $500 while the average desktop costs closer to $650. Tablets, however, can cost significantly less, often available for under $200. However, within each type of device, different computers can vary widely in price.
The above categories, especially RAM and storage size, greatly impact how much the computer will cost. This is why it’s important to compare your needs with the device’s capabilities when budgeting for the machine that’s right for you.