HomeBlogSix Specs to Consider When Shopping for Your Perfect Computer

Six Specs to Consider When Shopping for Your Perfect Computer

September 6th, 2022

Summary: Shopping for new tech can be overwhelming, from the acronyms to the price differences. We’ve got 6 steps that will help you find your perfect computer. Keep reading to understand RAM, CPU, SSD vs. HDD drives, and how to find the laptop or desktop that fits your life. Pro tip: we can guarantee that whatever you choose will pair perfectly with our high-speed fiber internet.

If you’ve ever shopped for a computer—whether a laptop or a desktop—you’ve probably used the side-by-side comparison features on most retail sites. Here, you can easily compare the screen size, memory, weight, storage, and more between different models.

But you may also have seen acronyms you’re not familiar with. Think: CPU, GPU, unified memory, HDD, and SSD. Plus, many models allow you to mix and match, a way to customize the interior of your device. Whether you’re getting new gear for school, a job, or because yours stopped working, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of what all of this means. So, let’s dive into the things you need to know when buying a computer.

Step 1: Determine Your Needs and Budget

Make things easier on yourself and determine how you’ll use the device and your budget before you start looking. The more data-intensive activities you do (like gaming, video editing, and designing), the more advanced features (and budget) you’ll need.

If you’re open to any brand, you might be able to find a deal. If you’re brand loyal (like Apple or HP), you can either wait for a potential sale or look for a refurbished model to save some money. Starting with a budget will narrow down the types of laptops or desktops you’ll be looking at, making your job easier.

an ad that reads: Internet fast enough to keep up with the Joneses. Or the Jetsons.

Step 2: Decide How Much RAM You Need

RAM stands for random-access memory. It’s basically short-term memory where data is stored and comes in super handy when you’re running multiple programs and applications at once. Got too many tabs and programs opened and your computer is lagging? That’s because you’re using too much RAM. Most people need at least 8 GB of RAM, but 16 GB is a better bet.

Getting 16 GB of RAM leaves some room to grow as the internet (and everything we do on it) continues to become more detailed and requires better graphics and more space. Bonus: it means you can fall down as many rabbit holes as you want without constantly having to close tabs.

Step 3: Find Your Hard Drive

RAM is short-term storage, but your hard drive is used for storing things permanently. If you tend to hoard digital files, you’ll need a bigger hard drive. Generally speaking, things like Word documents, slideshows, or basic PDFs take up much less space than photos, videos, or design files.

Some users only need a 500 GB hard drive, but if you’re planning to keep this device for a long time, consider upgrading to 1 TB (one terabyte is 1,000 GB), especially if you don’t use cloud-based or online data backup services.

Computer screen with 6 puzzle pieces: budget, RAM, Hard drive, Processor, Resolution, and Ports

There are two main types of hard drives: HDD and SSD. HDD means hard disk drive. These use spinning disks and moving pieces to access data. All of these moving parts make the hard disk a fragile computer component. In contrast, SSDs, or solid-state drives, use memory chips to store information on flash memory. If you have room in your budget, SSDs are a better investment. They’re less likely to break or crash on you and work faster, but they do cost more. Some higher-end devices automatically come with an SSD.

Step 4: Choose the Right Processor

The processor is also known as your CPU (central processing unit) and is sometimes referred to as the brain of the computer. These keep getting more efficient and powerful, and it’s the “chip” component you may see listed on a retailer’s site (think: Intel’s Core i9 chip or Apple’s M1 Pro chip). As with most tech, the more recent chips are more efficient, but the nitty gritty is a bit more complicated.

CPU performance has a number of components, like frequency, multithreading, core count, and more. CPU cores can each work on a different task. If you’re able to afford four cores, that gives you space for the multitasking we mentioned earlier. But if you’re using your laptop for more basic tasks, two cores might be just fine.

Step 5: Make Your Resolution

GPUs deal with graphics—it stands for graphics processing unit, but you might have heard it called a graphics card or video card. These can either be integrated into the same chip as the CPU or they can be a standalone piece of equipment.

Most computers have integrated graphics, which do just fine for most tasks. But if you like to play games with 3D graphics, edit video, or stream in 4K, you’ll want discrete graphics. Basically, it comes back to one of our first questions: what will you be using your device for?

Step 6: Find Your Port

Unfortunately, we don’t mean in a tropical destination. Ports are the openings on either side of your device. Here are some of the most common types:

  • A headphone jack: Keep your private conversations private, even if you’re working from the local coffeehouse
  • An ethernet port: Yes, even on a laptop. Hardwiring into your internet can be a lifesaver while you’re fixing slow internet
  • HDMI port: If you like to connect your device to a TV or external monitor, you’ll probably use an HDMI to do so. Skip buying another dongle (tech speak for a connecting device) and go for a model with a built-in HDMI port
  • SD card reader: If you’re frequently transferring photos from your DSLR camera to your computer, having a built-in card reader is super convenient. If your phone is your camera, this may be less important
  • USB Type A: the USB port that most people are used to, it has a simple, rectangular shape. This is how you can connect accessories like keyboards, mice, printers, and even universal docking stations
  • USB Type C: This is the slim port many new devices are using. If your new device has USB-C ports but all of your accessories are USB-A, you’ll need an adapter

Some devices may automatically come with all of these. Others many only be available on certain models, or you may need an adapter no matter what. Our best tip is to get 3-4 USB ports whenever possible, whether it’s USB-A or USB-C. There’s somehow always something else that needs plugged in!

Now that you have a better understanding of all that jargon, you can go forth and make a great decision about your new tech. And if you need help getting your computer to talk to the rest of your house, we recommend EasyTech, a remote tech support tool that gives you answers on your schedule. Frantic Google searches and tutorials are a thing of the past. EasyTech has the personalized answers you need, all without having to haul your device to the nearest store or wait for a technician to show up at your house.

Looking to save some money on storage? Check out our online data backup service. With multiple storage plans to choose from, there’s one that fits your needs and your budget.

And of course, any new computer pairs perfectly with high-speed fiber internet. EarthLink offers speeds up to 5 Gigs with no data caps and predictable billing. It makes everything you do online easier, faster, and more reliable. Find your plan online today or call our Internet Experts at 866-383-3080 to find your right connection.

Marie Flanagan

Marie Flanagan

Marie Flanagan is a contributing writer for EarthLink. She’s a life-long Atlantan with a passion for SaaS, IoT, AI, fintech, and everything technology. Her ideal offline situation is volunteering in STEM education for girls or on her front porch with a book.

See all posts from Marie Flanagan.