With a new school and university year looming, it’s that time when you might be thinking about buying a PC or laptop for your child.

We’re continuing our back-to-school blog, here in part two we have a look at PCs.

If you’ve missed part one (which talks about Apple Mac and Chromebooks) click here!

PC

Ahh. PCs. Choosing a PC isn’t quite so simple as a Mac or Chromebook, because the options are pretty much endless with various processors, many different manufacturers and so many shapes and sizes. Let’s cut to the basics and dissect the components within a PC…

Processor – the brain of the machine

There are two main processor manufacturers, AMD and Intel. AMD has generally been the underdog. While being cheaper than Intel they are also, generally speaking, not quite such good performers and there have, in the past, been some instances of compatibility issues or lack of driver support, so with that in mind, our recommendation is to stick with Intel.

Processors – what do the numbers mean?
There can be a bewildering array of letters and numbers describing a processor – for example, what is an Intel Core i7-6920HQ anyway? (If you’re interested in what the numbers actually mean, click here for Intel’s explanation).

It used to be quite simple – the higher the clock speed (measured in GHz) of the processor, the faster it was. However, it’s not quite that straightforward now, as processors can have multiple cores (each core is a processor itself, so a brain within a brain, if you will). The more cores a processor has, the more calculations it can perform at the same time, thus resulting in a faster computer.

Which processor should I choose?

Intel presently offer several ‘families’ of processor for consumer PCs (listed in order of performance, fastest to slowest):

  • Intel Core
  • Pentium
  • Celeron
  • Intel Atom

The Pentium, Celeron and Atom processors are relatively low performance, and we recommend avoiding them because, while they are fine for very basic tasks, they don’t offer great value for money.

The Intel Core range offers far better value for money. It comprises of three sub-models, the Core i3 as the entry level model, the i5 in the middle, and the i7 flagship.

An i3 processor is fine for all day-to-day tasks, whilst an i5 will help future proof yourself and will give your PC a little more longevity. The i7 should only really be necessary for really complex video, graphics or design work.

RAM – thinking memory

RAM (Random Access Memory for those who want to know what the acronym stands for) is the PC’s thinking memory. It uses this to store data on-the-fly and remember things while performing calculations. As a minimum we advise buying a PC with at least 4GB of RAM, while 8GB would offer more longevity.

Hard disk – long term storage
Hard disks come in two different types – traditional mechanical hard disk drives, and newer, faster solid state disks (SSD).

Hard disks – What’s the difference?
Traditional hard drives are essentially metal platters with a magnetic coating and a read/write head on an arm which moves back and forth and accesses the data as the platters spin.

Like a USB memory stick, there are no moving parts in an SSD. An SSD does the same job as an HDD, but instead of spinning platters, the data is stored on memory chips, resulting in faster performance.

  • Choose SSDs because they offer far greater performance.

 How much space will I need?

If the PC is going to be used for general school work then a 250GB disk is a good place to start.

With a basic Windows 10 and Office 2016 installation taking up around 20GB, even a 128GB drive would give plenty of room for basic Office documents. However, with smartphones taking an average photo size of around 3MB, and iTunes albums being anywhere from 60–150MB, if your child is a keen photographer and music-lover that storage can soon disappear!

Everything else

What else should my PC have?

If it’s a laptop, it’s important to make sure that the battery life is sufficient, and take manufacturer’s figures with a pinch of salt – it’s far better to look for independently verified tests (www.laptopmag.com is a good place to start)

Make sure it’s got enough USB ports for everything you need to plug in: a mouse, keyboard, printer, scanner, camera, iPod, etc

Check that the machine has a DVD/Blu-ray drive if you need one, as it’s not always a standard feature now.

Any other advice?

Generally PCs aimed at business users will be more robust and, in our experience, tend to last longer than their home market counterparts.

PC pros:

  • Endless choice of configurations from an endless choice of manufacturers
  • You’ll definitely be able to find an “app” to do what you need
  • User upgrade-able (if you’re that way inclined you can add more memory or storage yourself without too much hassle)

PC cons:

  • Endless choice of configurations from an endless choice of manufacturers

To summarise – here’s the Techgecko essential shopping list

  • Minimum of an Intel i3 processor – or an i5 to give your PC a little more longevity.
  • At least 4GB RAM – 8GB is ideal.
  • Choose an SSD for best performance – a 250GB disk is a good place to start
  • PCs aimed at business users tend to last longer than home market machines.

We hope that this has been helpful. If you have any queries about this blog post, need advice with any purchases or have an IT support query please contact us.

01372 642 601  |  hello@techgecko.co.uk

TgTips – Back to school – buying a computer – Part 2
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