How to: Purchase a Personal Computer – Getting Familiar
How To JUN 08, 2017

Most of you have probably gone through the dilemma of purchasing a laptop or a computer and wondered what to buy, if the price is right, if it’s fast, small, etc. I will be walking you through the process step by step. There will be two articles, to be more precise. The first will provide a brief explanation about certain terminologies (e.g. OS, RAM, HDD, SSD, etc.), so you understand what we will be talking about in the second article, which will tell you what to look for in a computer and how to link it to the price tag. This will be done by answering several questions.

This article is for the most part an introduction to the main components you might need to look at when purchasing a PC. An article to follow will take you in depth of the numbers, prices and brands to look for. In other words, if you are not interested in what the components of a computer system are and only want to get to the point, this article is not for you. If you’re intrigued or are someone who wants a clearer idea, read on.

What is a computer?

You may think that this is a silly question but I advise you to read on. Allow me to correct the Lebanese stereotype that is: Computers are the old machines you put on a desk and are not portable, and laptops are, well, laptops. This is completely inaccurate. In fact, according to the Oxford Dictionary, a computer is “an electronic device which is capable of receiving information (data) in a particular form, and of performing a sequence of operations in accordance with a predetermined but variable set of procedural instructions (program, application) to produce a result in the form of information or signals (output)” (Definition of Computer in English, n.d.).

What this means is that any device that receives an input, or a command from your side, makes certain calculations and computations (program) and provides you with a result, is considered to be a computer. That means, a calculator, a smart watch, a laptop, a tablet, all of these devices are considered as computers. So what Lebanese people refer to as “computer” is actually called a “desktop” in the world of computers. To make things clearer in your head, please refer to the diagram below.C:\Users\chris\Desktop\Hierarchy.jpg


Now that you know what the different names mean, let’s get back to our focus that is laptops and desktops. Simply put, laptops are portable desktops. They do not differ in the way they work or function. Most people nowadays possess laptops rather than desktops due to their portability, taking them back and forth from and to work or college. This article will not focus on the difference between laptops and desktops. It will rather stress on what makes them what they are, describing their main components, what makes one laptop different from another, and what terms such as “better, faster, etc.” mean.

For the remainder of this article, the term “computer” will refer to desktops and laptops only.

What is an Operating System?

Simply put, an operating system (OS) is the environment in which a laptop/desktop functions. Much like Android and iOS which are operating systems for tablets and smart phones, laptops and desktops have their own set of operating systems including but not limited to Microsoft Windows, MacOS and Linux, which, until the date of this article, take up more than 90% of the market. From a high-level perspective, they all make a computer work. Digging deeper into them, each one of them has its own specialties, pros and cons and different types of users. For example, most enterprises such as banks and real estate companies use Microsoft Windows due to its simplicity, directness and the availability of all sorts of programs for it. As for architects, designers, and sometimes programmers, they tend to use MacOS, manufactured by Apple, due to its high processing speed and very high resolution and graphics. Linux, however, is mainly used by those who love to take the hard, robust way of manipulating their computer. It is is mainly used by hardcore programmers, hackers, running servers, etc.

To make things clearer and simpler, an Operating System has the sole purpose of conducting how computations and operations are executed. For instance, when you try to open a file on Microsoft Windows or on MacOS; the end result is going to be an opened file on both Operating Systems. However, each one of them does it in its own way.

What are RAMs (Main Memory)?

You often hear this expression a lot [read in Arabic] “Rameto 16 Gega”. The obvious part is that the more RAM we have the better a computer is. But what exactly are RAMs and why are they so important? Well first off, RAM stands for Random Access Memory, which is the fast, short-term memory of your computer. This is where whatever activity you are performing on your computer (e.g. browsing, skyping, writing an article, etc.) is stored. That way, whenever you switch from Google Chrome to Microsoft word, for example, it is done in a very rapid, almost instantaneously. This is because RAM is fast. I could get into the details of RAMs but there are books written about those, and I’m going to make this as simple as possible, avoiding any unnecessary details. Image result for RAM

Another thing to keep in mind about RAM is that they are also known as as volatile memory. In the sense that, whenever you cut off power supply (turn your computer off), RAM loses whatever data it has. Which is why whenever you restart your computer, every activity you’ve been performing is gone and you have to start all over again. When you hibernate or put your computer to sleep mode, RAM still receives a small amount of electricity, keeping the data in it safe. This is why booting your laptop from hibernation or sleep mode is quite fast and pseudo-instantaneous.

The bigger your RAM size is, the more applications you are able to accommodate without affecting the performance (speed) of your computer.

There are several generations of RAM that have emerged into the market, from DDR1 – I will refrain myself from explaining what DDR is, because this is an topic on its own – all the way to DDR5 which is the latest generation of RAM. Currently, the market accommodates DDR3 and DDR4, so if your computer hosts any of those generations of RAM, you’re fine. It doesn’t mean you’re outdated because DDR5 will not hit the market before 2020.

So now we’ve looked into the OS and RAM, what’s left? Two major components: your CPU and your secondary memory. We’re almost done I promise.

What is a CPU?

The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the computer’s horsepower. This is one of the major aspects of how “fast” your computer is. Often times you hear “adeh ser3eto?” or “shou l processor li fi?”. The answer to this question is always the processor’s speed or “frequency”. To avoid going through the technical details of the whole thing, here’s what you need to know.Image result for processor

The processor’s speed is measured in Hz (Hertz). So if a CPU has a speed of 50 Hz, it means it can execute 50 instructions per second. Modern laptops and computers have reached speeds greater than 2.4 GHz, that’s 2.4 billion instructions per second. Pretty impressive right? But that’s never enough and we are still evolving.

Currently there are two major companies dominating the CPU market: Intel and AMD. Comparing these processors is going to take a while and you can Google “Intel vs. AMD” if you really are interested, but in my humble opinion, for regular day-to-day usage, it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

Recently, manufacturers have been adopting a new mechanism for CPUs, by including 2 or 4 or 8 processors within the same processing unit, that way the computer would be able to compute 2 or 4 or 8 different instructions simultaneously. In other words, if your computer has x CPUs in it (x cores), it would be x Times faster than what it would have been with only one core. This might trigger something you would often hear “Dual-core, quad-core”, this defines how many cores (CPUs) your laptop has. Recently no manufacturer makes a computer with less than 4 cores.

Just like RAMs and almost everything else in the world of electronics, there are different generations of CPUs. Currently the market resides at i7 for commercial Intel CPUs (as of the beginning of June, Intel announced the i9 generation) and A6, A8, A10 or A12 for AMD CPUs. The mentioned AMD CPUs are all 7th generation, but differ slightly to fit certain criteria (e.g. A12 was made for gaming, A10 was made to be power efficient, etc.)

What is Secondary Memory?

Secondary memory is where all your data goes. It is basically the archive of your computer. There are two types of secondary memories: SSD and HDD.

HDD – Hard Disk Drive – is one of the oldest technologies for data storage in a computer system. This works as a cylinder that rotates and a laser “needle” reading data that is stuck on that cylinder, just like a vinyl record player.

SSD – Solid State Drive – is the newest technology in town. The difference between the SSD and the HDD is the “solid” part. Unlike the HDD that is a spinning disk, the SSD is more like your RAM, quite static, no moving parts, no noise and no heat. Most importantly it is much, MUCH faster than HDD with the way it fetches and writes data.

Common secondary memory units in recent computers include a hybrid of SSD and HDD, where the SSD is used when turning the computers to make it almost instantaneous. Nowadays, what you might be seeing is a laptop or a computer with 1-2 TB of HDD and around 216 GB of SSD.


 Image result for HDD vs SSD


Now that you know the very basics of a computer system, check the next article on what to look for when purchasing a computer

How To JUN 08, 2017
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