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Don't be seduced by fancy speakers, shiny cases or glowing parts
So you're on the market for a new laptop or PC. But how to make sense
of the flood of tech abbreviations and jargon and buy the computer
that's right for you? Here's a breakdown of the three most important
parts of any computer.
Basically a computer has a central processing unit (CPU) and this is
what does all the number crunching. A processor's speed is measured in
megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz). The higher the number generally
the faster it is. To give you an idea of the speeds we're talking
about, 1,000 Mhz = one Ghz, which is one million cycles a second.
Processors are often divided into cores (like cylinders in an
engine). Cores share the processing of running applications, so the
more cores in a processor, the better it will operate. The newer the
processor, the more efficient it is. Usually processors are made 10%
more efficient every year. So a 2.4Ghz modern processor would beat a
3.2ghz processor from four years ago. Newer processors also use less
power, so wherever possible, get a new processor (especially if you're
buying a laptop).
The next critical part of any computer is the memory, often
abbreviated to RAM which stands for Random Access Memory. Imagine
memory as a massive blank spreadsheet. A computer with 16GB of memory
is like a spreadsheet with 125,000 columns and 125,000 rows. Imagine
writing all of your thoughts into all of that space. Memory reads and
writes are scheduled and controlled by the processor. Every second
your computer is writing thousands of things to and from memory. All
of your running programs have to share the memory and it often takes
time for data to read and write to the memory. Therefore, choosing
memory that's faster will pay off in performance. Memory often comes
in 1000Mhz, 1333Mhz, 1600Mhz speeds. Memory is cheap, so get as much
of it as you can afford.
The third most important part of any computer is the storage device,
known as the hard drive. This is the place where files are saved when
the computer is switched off. Older spinning hard drives contain
magnetic platters with a metal arm that hovers above the metal surface
reading and writing data. Spinning drives can only read and write to
areas directly under the read head. Spinning drives can crash if
dropped or moved violently.
Newer solid state drives are up to 20 times faster than spinning
magnetic drives, but have smaller capacities and are more expensive.
Solid state drives have limited write capacity. If you're too stingy
and fill up your solid state drive too quickly the remaining free
blocks rapidly wear out and the drive dies prematurely. The best
systems have a mix of both cheap spinning storage for
infrequently-accessed data and a faster solid state drive for Windows,
programs and games to load from.
* * * * *
Other less critical parts of a computer include the screen, video
cards, sound cards, power supplies, optical drives, wireless etc. If
you are into games or video production then you'll want a faster,
dedicated graphics card but most modern processors come with built-in
average video cards that will do a good job.
Choosing the right processor, memory and hard drive is critical. If
you spend more money on each of these three areas your computer will
be more future proof. Don't be seduced by fancy speakers, shiny cases
or glowing parts.
Generally, unless an advertised PC has a detailed specifications
breakdown it has something to hide. PC/laptop margins are razor thin
and many systems are stuffed with 4-year-old technology in some of the
components. Older parts are dead cheap and vendors use these parts in
bargain systems (or should that be not so bargain?).
Helpful Processor Comparison Links:
Power v Performance Comparison (higher is better)
As mentioned in Where
do tech geeks get their tech support from don't be afraid to ask