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How do I choose the right PC or laptop?

The PC market is full of acronyms. We are trying to explain some of them and give you some tips to help you choose the right one!

Before you buy a new PC or laptop, think about the tasks you want to fulfill with it. To help you decide, look at the following lists:

1. Tasks running fine on slower CPUs (Central Processor Unit also called Processor):

  • Browsing the internet
  • Watching movies from DVDs, Video CDs, Video Camera or over the internet (standard format, NOT HIGH DEFINITION!)
  • Running Office applications and accounting applications
  • Downloading photos from camera, internet etc
  • Chatting, talking and video conferencing over the internet
  • Listening to music

2. CPU intensive tasks:

  • Watching movies IN HIGH DEFINITION (including the ones from youtube, google video, etc)
  • Editing photos, (adding effects etc - the higher the mega-pixel rate, the more CPU power is used).
  • Scanning for viruses and other malware, especially in archived (compressed) data
  • Computer-aided design
  • 3D modeling
  • Video editing
  • Games

Some CPU intensive tasks can be run on slower PCs, like scanning for viruses or even editing photos: the slower the CPU, the more time will be needed to accomplish the task. Real time tasks, like watching a movie in high definition or games can't be run if the CPU is to slow, because instead of a movie we will get a slide show!

CPU

Notebooks

At first you have to consider how much autonomy do you need. In general, the faster the CPU, the less the time you can work on battery. All laptop batteries will suffer from decreased charge over time. LiON batteries are the best option, because they don't need to be fully run down before recharging and usually weigh less than NiMH batteries. If you need much autonomy, try to get the biggest battery available for the laptop model you want and get a spare one as well.

If you intend to do at least one task from the second list (e. g. watch high definition videos at a 1280x800 resolution), get at least an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0Ghz or an AMD Turion x2 2.2GHz CPU. It is better if the laptop has a discrete video card (separate graphics card, not an onboard one).

Some vendors write specifications using Mhz (2000MHz = 2.0GHz)

Desktop PCs

The slowest modern desktop CPU is enough for the first list of tasks, but the price difference being insignificant, we recommend a minimum of 2.3Ghz for an Intel Core 2 Duo (2 cores) or a 2.8Ghz AMD Athlon II (2 cores). Stay away from AMD Sempron and Intel Celeron. They are versions of processors with less performance, at cheaper prices e. g.:

  • AMD Sempron 2.7Ghz (45W)- $65 AUD
  • ATHLON II X2 Dual Core 240 2.8GHz (65W) - $90 AUD

As you can see, the price difference is $25 AUD, but, on the other hand, the performance is more than double on the Athlon family (power consumption is a little bit higher on the Athlon, but with the Cool'n'Quiet technology enabled, the Athlon will probably use less power than the Sempron!).

How much memory do I need?

When the PC starts up it loads the operating system (OS) from the hard drive (HDD) to the RAM (Random Access Memory). All PC programs have to be loaded in RAM when they are run. In general, the more programs you want to run in the same time, the more RAM your system needs! Choose at least 2GB of RAM for tasks from the first list and 4GB for the second one! Be aware that onboard video cards will take between 128 and 512MB of RAM. If your PC has an onboard video card and 512MB are allocated for video, the system remains with 1.5GB in the first and 3.5GB in the second case. 32-bit version of Microsoft XP, Vista or Windows 7 will recognize only about 3 GB out of 4GB, so choose a 64-bit OS for your new PC!

Sometimes the amount of memory is specified in MB instead of GB (1024MB = 1GB).

Hard drive capacity

Even entry-level PCs and laptops come with 250GB hard disks. This is generally more than enough, unless you plan to do a lot of video editing.

Green drives are a little bit slower than standard ones. We don't recommend them for high performance PCs; they are fine for PCs performing tasks from the first list.

Intel or AMD?

Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs are a good choice for laptops. They are powerful and energy efficient.

In general, for a middle ranged desktop PC you will get more power for the same price from AMD!

Enthusiasts can compare CPU performance at www.tomshardware.com. Be aware that in tasks using only one core, CPU's with higher frequencies will get better results, than those with lower frequencies, no matter how many cores they have. This results should not be considered as decisive. For comparing performance of multiple core CPUs look at the results from multi-threaded applications!

If you need extreme performance and you are not on a budget, choose an i7 CPU from Intel.

Reliable Open Source software you can use free of charge (link opens in a new window or tab):

Libre Office - The Document Foundation  Download: Fast, Fun, Awesome  Thunderbird Graphics by GIMP  7-Zip

 
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