Shopping for a new computer this holiday season?
Here is what you need to know!
Every holiday season people get the idea to go shopping for a new desktop/laptop for themselves, or a family member. It’s a wonderful idea, until you get to the store. Once there you realize that you don’t know what all those words and numbers mean! You want to buy the best machine possible inside your budget, but the Blue-Shirt just points at one and tells you “That’s the one you want”.
This short guide will give you the essential information you need to cut past Mr. Blue-Shirt, read those little spec stickers, and KNOW which one you are going to buy. The end will include a few example systems, what they are good for, and approximately what you would expect to pay.
The PC specs are listed generally like this, and in, about this order: Asus - VivoBook Max X541NA 15.6" Laptop - Intel Pentium - 4GB Memory - 500GB Hard Drive - Chocolate Black
Let’s break down that wall of text into each part and try to understand it.
Brand: Asus, Acer, Dell, Lenovo, etc.
Although there are minor differences in production quality and method, by-in-large you can ignore the brand. Save for a personal preference, or visual style preference.
Model: VivoBook Max X541NA, Yoga 3, Think Center M92P, etc.
Unless the person you are shopping for gave you a specific model number, we doubt it, this portion is just fluff. Ignore it and move on.
Size: 15.6”, 13.2”, 17”, etc.
This is pretty simple. It is the size of the screen measured diagonally. If this will be used for work or school work, anything from 15” up should be plenty. If you are shopping for somebody with difficulty seeing, perhaps select something in the 17” and up category.
If you are shopping for that gamer in your life, leave that store now, they don’t have what you need, Friend of a Friend Computers can help you select the right machine.
By florisla, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15261580
Processor: In the example above, it is listed only as “Intel Pentium”, but will likely be “Intel Celeron”, “Intel Core i5”, “Intel Core i7”
In our opinion, “Intel Celeron” and “Intel Core i3” are to be avoided by all except Grandma who ONLY uses it to check email.
Student homework, web browsing, and video watching can all be done perfectly well on an “Intel Core i5”.
Anyone who needs a bit of speed should not settle for less than an “Intel Core i7”. This includes Office/Productivity, Students whose work includes Video Editing/IT/Photoshop, and gaming.
RAM: 4GB, 8GB, etc.
This should not be confused with storage space (aka Hard Drive).
4GB is enough if light web browsing and email are the only intended uses with other office like tasks thrown in occasionally.
8GB is enough for everything else, save for High-End gaming (Although, you should be calling Friend of a Friend Computers anyways if that is the goal).
On occasion they add on a spec about the TYPE of RAM we’re looking at.
DDR3 – An older standard, and a bit slower, but still perfectly fine for those who don’t need a great deal of speed.
DDR4 – The newest readily available type, and fast. Unless you NEED the speed, don’t spend extra to get this. If the price is already in your budget, and it happens to come with DDR4, yeah!
(Next year, we will be telling you to ONLY buy DDR4, so there’s that).
Storage (Hard Drive): 16GB eMMC, 256GB m.2 SSD, 2TB 5400 RPM, etc.
This area confuses a great number of people, and why wouldn’t it. It looks like Greek.
16GB eMMC – This is not really a hard drive. If this type of storage is listed, you are not looking at a real laptop. This machine is a Chromebook or Netbook of some sort. If you set out to buy one of these on purpose, please continue, otherwise move on to another model.
256GB m.2 SSD: These SSD’s and m.2 labeled drives are the new standard. They are 10X + faster than traditional hard drives, although generally ¼ of the total space. If you need speed or responsiveness, this is the way to go. Even if speed is not your primary purchasing goal, these SSD’s do give an all-around better experience in our opinion.
2TB 5400RPM: These so-called “spinning disks” are the old, tried and true, storage medium. You get large amounts of bulk storage for a relatively low price. The caveat here is that you get, comparatively, slow read/write speeds. The RPM’s 5400, 7200, 10000, are exactly what they sound like, the speed at which the platters spin. For you this tends to mean faster is better. However, if speed was your goal, you should have stopped reading at SSD’s.
Other Stuff: Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Touchscreen, Webcam, Beats Audio, etc.
All this stuff falls into the category of either “Fluff” or “Do I need that?”
Fluff: 802.11b/g/n VS 802.11b/g/n/ac – This describes the “type” of Wi-Fi you can connect to. This is not going to make a difference to 99% of the population. As-long-as it has Wi-Fi built in, you are probably good to go.
Do I need that: Well, do you? Honestly, nothing else on that list is going to make-or-break a laptop. You just ask yourself if you will EVER use the listed tech.
Bluetooth – Do you want to be able to connect wireless speakers, pass files to-and-from your phone without a cord, get a remote control for your laptop, or any of the other 100+ things you can do with Bluetooth?
Touchscreen – Do you want a touchscreen?
Special hinge - Is standing your laptop up like a Teepee important to you, or using it like a tablet maybe?
If you don’t know the answer to these questions, because it’s a gift, just choose a laptop based on the core specs I listed (Screen size, CPU, RAM, Hard Drive), and as many of the addons that will fit in your budget. As long as the core items are there, your end user will have a good experience.
1. HP 15.6" Touch-Screen Laptop
Intel Core i5 – Not the fastest processor out there, but it will always get the job done.
8GB Memory – Plenty for all standard daily uses.
1TB Hard Drive – Not an SSD so a bit on the slow side, but plenty of storage.
HP finish in jet black
Who is this for: A college student who doesn’t do Graphic design, IT, or Video editing. As a home PC for surfing the web, paying bills, and watching YouTube/Netflix.
2. Asus - 2-in-1 13.3" Touch-Screen Laptop
Intel Core i7 – Although only a 7th generation, plenty fast for gaming and office tasks.
16GB Memory – More than enough to have all your Office Programs open at once and 10 tabs in Chrome, or power a game.
512GB Solid State Drive – Not a bad amount of storage honestly at ½ a TB, and at great speeds.
Who is it for: A college student who does some Photoshop/IT Work/Video Editing. A low-key gamer playing things like the Sims, Facebook games, and older FPS’s. A PC for somebody on the go that needs speed and power. Office/Productivity tasks like Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Databases, etc. This machine will not let down anyone who owns it, save for a gamer.
3. HP - 17.3" Laptop
AMD A9-Series – Not that it matters, but it will get you through the day. Don’t be thrown off by the weird name, this is just a processor by Intel’s competitor AMD.
4GB Memory – Just enough.
1TB Hard Drive – It’s slow but plenty of space.
HP finish in jet black with woven texture pattern
Who is it for: Those with trouble seeing well, who just need a computer to do basic tasks like checking email, web browsing, and online bill paying. The larger screen, once set to a lower resolution, will make text and icons larger and easy to see.
I understand that this guild focused almost entirely on laptops, and perhaps you are shopping for a desktop. Still use this guide. The specs and reasoning don’t really change save for the following:
- Instead of a built-in display, you may wish to buy a monitor. For desktop monitors take everything we said before and up it by about 2”. You are now looking at 17” minimum, 19” or bigger for people with vision trouble, and 22” and up for games.
- Make sure it comes with a keyboard and mouse. No, it doesn’t matter which one, seriously, anything will do.
- Speakers won’t be built in, you may wish to buy some.
We hope that this holiday buying guide has helped you in your gift selection process, but if you have any lingering questions please feel free to contact Friend of a Friend Computers, and we would be happy to help you make an informed buying decision.