Buy Computer Hardware

Buy Computer Hardware

Each type of hardware has unique things to consider. We identify what to look for

The buying process consists of determining what you want, finding the best value item and identifying the best place to buy it.

The choices for how to buy computer hardware are the same as for buying a computer system or software. These choices are described in How to Buy a Computer.

The list below provides things you should consider for each type of hardware.


This item is something that only do it yourself types will buy. They will generally buy it when they are building a system from scratch. Upgrading a CPU generally doesn't pay since it won't add that much to the performance of a computer and many other parts of the computer system change with new models. It is better just to get a new system.

However, for those interested in getting a new CPU the items of interest are;

  • Number of cores - the more the merrier
  • Processor GHz Gigahertz - this is an index of the clock speed of the computer and the higher the faster
  • Front side bus speed - this determines how fast the computer can talk to its memory
  • Level 2 or L2 cache - special high speed memory to serve the CPU

For all these items, the higher the number the better.


The features of a monitor that count are:

  • Connection type - VGA or standard computer monitor connector, Digital Visual Interface (DVI) for high definition viewing and HDMI High-Definition Multimedia Interface
  • Widescreen or not - more horizontal viewing area for movies or games.
  • User friendly controls to adjust brightness, contrast vertical and horizontal position and size.
  • Response time - the faster the screen can change the better it can capture the action in games. The smaller the number the better.


The number of Gigabytes (billions of bytes) of memory is probably the most important factor in computer performance. 2 gigs is becoming standard.

In upgrading memory, you need to get the type of memory your motherboard supports. The number of slots for memory chips varies from machine to machine. You may either add memory or replace the existing memory with larger chips.

Memory4less is a great site for getting the memory you need at super prices. You can use the free Belarc Advisor utility to determine what motherboard you have if you don't already know. You can look up the appropriate memory at the memory4less site.

Another way to determine your needs is to go to the Crucial site and run their free scan which will tell you all about your memory. It will tell you how much you have, how many chips your system supports and will make recommendations about what you should do. It will also show you the type of memory your system can use and how much it will cost.

Hard Drive

The main issue in hard drives is drive size. Drives are available in up to 1 TB (1 terabyte = 1000 Gigabytes = 1 trillion bytes) size.

There are different interfaces (ways to connect). SATA is faster than EIDE and is becoming dominant.

The drives can be put into a case or you can purchase them already in a case that will allow you to connect them to a USB 2 connection.

For more detailed information see Buy a Computer Hard Drive

CD and DVD burner

Most DVD and CD burners both write and read all formats (+,-,R,RW etc.) of DVD and CD disks. One should avoid the CD writer DVD read units that are slightly cheaper but don't support DVD writing. The savings are so minimal that it is not worth losing the ability to write DVDs.

The very high capacity Blue Ray discs are supported by new burners that either just read Blue Ray or also write to this formats. However, these units are much more expensive than the standard burners.

For more details on this topic see my article DVD and CD.

Video card

The type of card that you get depends on the type of activities that you are planning. The list below indicates the type of display usage and the appropriate video card for that type of activity.

1. Basic usage – word processing, internet browsing, email and DVD movies

The basic level card will suffice for this. It should have at least 128MB. Two representative cards are the Nvidia 7300GT and ATI 1300XT.

2. Vista Aero User or light gaming, rich media, and general entertainment

This capability requires mid level graphics power and a card with at least 256 MB of its own internal memory should be purchased. A sample card would be ATI HD2600XT.

3. Edit and view photographs in brilliant color

A mid level card should be used for this. One example is the NVidia 8600GT, All cards from this level and up should have at least 256 MB.

4. Playback HD (high definition) quality content

DVI Video CardThe card should have HDMI (high definition output) to attach to external displays and HD TVs. Two possibilities are Nvidia 8600gt or ATI HD2600XT. They have DVI output which can be converted to HDMI. The DVI output is the connector on the left of the image.

DVI to HDMI Cable They would need a DVI to HDMI cable to connect the video card DVI to the display HDMI. This connection wouldn't carry the sound. The sound would have to be connected to the speakers directly.

The Palit Radeon HD 2600 ProSonic outputs HDMI directly including the high quality sound. You could connect this card to your HD display using a HDMI to HDMI cable.

5. 3D accelerated games in high definition player, CAD (Computer Aided Design), video editing or high level graphic design

3D gaming makes the greatest demands on the computer’s video systems and the sky is the limit here. In general, the highest level card that your system will accept will provide the most satisfying experience.

The detailed options for each of these levels of activity are described in my article Video Cards Demystified.


Basic sound is provided by most computers these days. If you want theatrical surround sound, there are high level cards available at very economical prices. One example is the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy SE available at Tiger Direct for $29. The highest level cards support super realistic gaming and enhanced music support with all different types of types of connections available for input and output.


Speakers project the sound of your computer. Better speakers provide subwoofers and different levels of surround sound.


Beyond the basic keyboard, the things to consider are wired or wireless to allow you to move the keyboard anywhere you want and avoid cabling clutter, special keys, and ergonomically shaped keyboards that can be more comfortable to type on.


Be sure to get an optical mouse. They never skip and don't need a mouse pad. The old trackball mouse is obsolete.

Significant options included ergonomics which means the mouse is designed to fit your hand and usage in the most comfortable way possible and wireless options.

Media reader

Modern digital devices such as digital cameras, camcorders, PDAs and digital voice recorders use flash memory cards of all shapes and sizes to store their information. The media readers make transfer between the device and the computer easy.

The things to consider in these devices are the number and type of memory cards and devices supported and Bluetooth portability so that the reader doesn't have to be connected to the computer.


There really isn't much choice here. Every modem is pretty much 56k and v.92 bis (a certain compression standard). The only question is really whether to get one. A modem will allow you to receive faxes and send faxes. However, in order to fax a document which was not generated on the computer, a scanner is needed. A modem will also allow you to use your phone line to connect to the internet at much slower speed than your normal connection in case your high speed connection is down as long as you still have a landline phone.

Printer and/or Scanner

This topic deserves its own article which I hope to provide in the near future.

Wireless network

See the Easy Home Network section.

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