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
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
- Processor GHz Gigahertz -
this is an index of the clock speed of the computer and the higher the
- 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
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
Another way to determine your needs is to go to
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
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
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
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
The 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.
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
The detailed options for each of these levels of
activity are described in my article Video
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
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.
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
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.
See the Easy Home Network section.
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