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With so many specific tasks and high-demand jobs, hobbies, and tasks in the tech world, there's no such thing as a well-rounded system for everyone.
Before paying a premium for performance you'll never use or underpaying for a glorified paperweight, here are a few concepts to keep in mind when buying the perfect computer for you.
Know What You Want to Do with the Computer
Before you buy anything, what do you plan on doing with your new system?
Most people have at least one main purpose, but it's fine to have multiple reasons for using your computer. While modern desktops and laptops are able to handle several general tasks, there are a few niche tasks that need special hardware or more than average resources.
Here are a few tasks and their usual additional requirements if any:
Do you just want to browse the web or check your email? While some people may be confused about the power of specific tasks, these tasks are fairly straightforward.
Any computer meeting the current year's average performance is fine. While you could get tricked by someone dusting off an old, outdated computer, just make sure that your computer can run today's operating systems.
The tricky part is understanding that you may be doing more than web browsing. Some websites launch high-definition videos or aren't written well, and may take up a lot of resources.
So what do you do? Pad your computer a bit. As of 2019, you can do well with a computer that has at least a quad core processor and 4 GB (gigabytes) of memory.
Make sure that the computer already has Windows 10, or the current operating system for the year. The numbers will change as the years go by, but checking the system requirements will help you.
Software is your bigger concern. A good anti-virus and email security software will keep your protected as you explore the information superhighway.
This level of computing causes the most stress when it's relatively simple to solve.
Many people think that their business computer needs to be powerful because their files are important. They don't want to deal with slow performance, crashes, or other problems, and incorrectly associate that with adding more resources.
Productivity computers don't need a lot of resources. They need support. When buying an office computer, make sure you're buying a warranty and support contract that lasts at least two or three years.
As far as the computer's power, just match your office program's system requirements. This will be covered in a later section, but office computers usually need to fall under the Microsoft Office recommended system requirements for the current year's program suite.
The requirements aren't very high, and you shouldn't have to spend more than $400 in just hardware. The real cost is from the software/programs and the service contract.
This can be difficult because the term gaming can be confusing. It doesn't mean the literal, generic, and wide-reaching world of anything that can be considered a game.
Gaming means game programs that have specifically higher demands than what average computers can handle. There are specific industries dedicated to gaming-specific hardware, and reputable companies selling gaming computer hardware have massive performance advantages when specifically handling games.
One of the biggest differences is the graphics card, graphics chip, or video card. Those three phrases describe a dedicated graphics processing unit (GPU).
A GPU handles specific tasks such as shading, instructions that change the physics or how and why certain objects move and react within a game, and many more instructions that a standard computer can't understand without heavy, often inconsistent performance changes.
Similar to gaming, the GPU does the work. Graphic design computers need a specific set of resources built on graphic design cards to work the best.
Beginning designers can get away with buying more affordable gaming cards, but the graphic design-oriented cards have a more dense layering of raw rendering (graphics computing) power. Gaming cards have less raw power, but more cooling and game-oriented programming added.
High-Demand Research Modeling
Are you a meteorologist who wants to run a few storm model tests at home? Are you a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) student or researcher who wants to handle a few independent projects away from the lab?
While certain research tasks need specific hardware, bulk calculation means a faster processor and better cooling. You will either want to purchase a server system (using processors such as the Xeon line from Intel) or an at least 8-core processor as of 2019.
Both processor options are within the $1,000 range when purchased at the 8-core level. Xeon processors, when new and at the top of your tech market's performance choices, can costs thousands of dollars before building the rest of the computer.
This is not the typical computer experience, and will be mostly an expensive waste of time for users who don't need high calculations or server performance. If you need "faster" or "stronger," there are better specific purposes.
Understand System Requirements
Knowing what you want to with your computer will help you focus on the types of programs that you want to buy. Without the programs, you can't get anything done.
For surface-level tasks like web browsing, checking email, or playing low graphics-demand games, the system requirements are fairly low.
For everything else, you need to understand the recommended system requirements. These requirements usually take into account your operating system (OS), which usually has its own requirements.
The recommended requirements cover the amount of resources needed to have a good, intended software experience. That is, as long as your computer doesn't have a virus or other external problems, the recommended requirements will make your program run smoothly.
Never use the minimum requirements. These requirements are only for people who want to risk poor performance and crashing for experimental, low-cost computers or people who already have computers and aren't able to upgrade yet.
If you buy computers for the minimum, your program will perform poorly in the near future or not be able to run the program at all. Software moves forward with updates, and you'll either have a waste of money computer that won't run desired programs or you'll spend more money on upgrades.
Here is an example set of recommended system requirements for Tropico 6, a popular city building game released in 2019:
- Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
- OS: Windows 10 64-bit
- Processor: AMD or Intel, 3.3 GHz (AMD FX 8300, Intel i5 3000)
- Memory: 16 GB RAM
- Graphics: AMD/NVIDIA dedicated GPU, 4GB dedicated VRAM (Radeon R9 380, -Geforce GTX 960)
- DirectX: Version 11
- Storage: 16 GB available space
- Sound Card: DirectX 9 compatible
A computer that can run Tropico 6 is more than powerful enough as an office computer, more than capable of browsing the web and checking email, able to stream with services such as Netflix, and will be a passable graphics design or research modeling computer.
There are a lot of tweaks that can be done to make your computer perform well at multiple tasks. Some require a lot more money, while others just need a helpful hand that can connect a card to a slot.
Contact a computer design and technical support professional to get a better idea on what you need in your next computer.