Why Should You Care about Computer Specs?
For some, shopping for a new computer is a daunting experience. There are so many different manufacturers, form factors, and performance specs to consider that it can be very difficult to find the one that provides the best combination of these factors at the right cost.
In today’s video, I discuss some of the complexities of choosing a computer by using food as an analogy. Sounds odd, right? Well, watch the video to learn how computer capabilities can be analogous to food in your kitchen.
Don’t Eat Your Computer! Watch the Video:
Why Do Computer Sellers Always Show Certain Specs?
At the start of the video, I get asked: “How come, on our website, when you go to buy a computer, why [do] we list [the] certain specs that we list?” Why is it that companies selling computers always seem to list out what processor the computer has, what the hard drive’s type and capacity are, and how much RAM (random access memory) the computer has?
Well, it’s largely because these specs greatly affect the utility of the computer. Seasoned computer users probably already know how each of these stats affect computer performance, and may need even more detailed information (such as CPU clock speed, cooling performance, dedicated graphics processor stats, etc.).
However, for those who might need or want to learn more about these specs, here’s a brief explanation of some important factors to consider when buying a computer:
The Form Factor
One of the first things to think about when buying any new computer is the form factor. Do you want a laptop, a tablet, or a desktop? Because, each of these form factors affects how you’ll use the computer.
Think of it this way, when you go out to eat, do you go to a fancy sit down restaurant, an all-you-can eat buffet, or a fast food joint where you can get your food to go? Odds are that you’ll go to different types of places depending on your goals. Fancy dining places are more formal, and better for impressing others who may be eating with you. Buffet places let you load up your plate and eat as much as you want. Fast food restaurants allow you to get in and out quickly while taking your food on the go so you can enjoy it wherever—perfect for when you want a bite to eat but have other things you need to do.
The form factors of different types of computing devices affect their use in similar ways:
- Desktop PCs tend to have the best computing power per dollar spent (and often have cabinets with space to add more storage or other modifications), but are far too big and heavy to easily take with you when traveling.
- Laptops strike a nice balance between computing power and portability, but aren’t the masters of either category.
- Tablets are extremely portable and easy to use from practically anywhere, but have much lower performance stats than most laptops and desktops of comparable cost.
Your choice of computer will depend on whether you need it to be highly mobile, really powerful, or some combination of the two based on how you’re going to be using that computer.
Once you’ve decided on a form factor, it’s important to consider the other specifications of the computer. In the video, the three specs that we focus on are:
- Hard drive;
- RAM; and
- The CPU.
What is a Hard Drive? And, how is It Like Your Pantry?
Most people are probably familiar with the term “Hard Drive.” A hard drive is basically the thing that stores all of the information that’s on the computer. Where this gets slightly more complicated is when you have to choose between SSD drives and HDDs, pick the capacity, and check the read speed of the drive.
Here’s a quick explanation of each of these hard drive specs:
- HDD Drives. Hard disk drives (HDDs) are the “traditional” hard drive technology that has been used for years. These drives use a spinning disk to store data for retrieval, which creates a slight delay as the drive searches the disk to find specific bits of information for installed programs.
- SSD Drives. Solid state drives, a.k.a. SSDs, are hard drives that have no moving parts. This is a newer technology that is rapidly replacing HDDs because they can load so much faster—moving data from storage in a fraction of the time.
- Storage Capacity. This is a measure of how much information a hard drive can hold. HDDs typically hold more information than SSDs of a similar cost. This value is typically measured in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB), with a terabyte equaling 1,024 gigabytes. Just for reference, the 64-bit version of Windows 10 requires 20 GB of space on a hard drive.
- Read Speed. This is a measure of how quickly the drive can retrieve information for use. SSDs are much faster than HDDs because they don’t need to spin a disc to search for data.
Most modern business computers use SSDs these days because of how fast they are. If large files need to be stored long-term, it is simple enough to use a large cloud file storage solution instead of maintaining files locally, so higher-capacity drives aren’t as useful as ones that can retrieve data quickly.
In the video, I compare hard drives to the kitchen pantry. Basically, you want a pantry that is big enough to hold everything you need, but you don’t want to take a long time to find the food that you want to eat.
RAM, the Plate That Holds Your Food
The next big thing to talk about is RAM, or random access memory. RAM is what your computer uses to hold onto the data you’re actively using at any given moment. Like with hard drives, RAM is typically measured in gigabytes these days (usually 4, 8, or 16 GB).
In the video, I liken RAM to the plate that holds your food. Whatever’s on your plate, that’s what you can eat at any given time. More RAM gives you a bigger plate.
What’s the advantage of having a bigger plate? It lets you pile on more information at once. Some programs, particularly 3D modeling or some exceptionally large data tables, may require a massive amount of information all at once. If your plate isn’t big enough to hold it, you’ll have to wait as the computer processes some of what’s on the plate, goes to the pantry to get more, and does things one chunk at a time. With a bigger plate, it can all be done at once in a smooth operation without extra trips to the pantry.
CPUs: How Much Data Can Your Computer “Eat” at Once?
One of the things that causes many new computer shoppers the most confusion is shopping for CPUs. Most analogies liken the CPU to the brain. However, in the video, I say that the CPU is “how fast you can eat this food.”
Basically, the faster your CPU is, the faster it can clear the “plate” (RAM) of “food” (data). Faster CPUs can do more things in less time. Slower CPUs may struggle to clear the “plate” of food so they can move on to the next task.
However, CPU capabilities are often difficult to infer from their stated specs alone. After all, what makes an i5 processor different from an i7 processor (for Intel processors)? How does the “generation” of the processor affect things? What about dual- or quad-core processors?
The i5-i7 term references the line of the processor for Intel processors, and broadly explains how powerful the processor is (i5 processors are typically more powerful than i3s, i7s are more powerful than i5s, and so on). Meanwhile, the “generation” label serves as a general indication of how new that processor is—a 7th-gen processor is older than an 8th-gen processor.
Dual- and quad-core processors have more CPU cores to work together to clear your “plate” faster—sort of like having more people eating off the same plate. Having a bigger plate lets a multicore CPU do things even faster.
Want to learn more about how computers are like food? Watch the video up above! Or, reach out to the Protected Trust team to ask us about computer specs and which computer is right for you.