Easily one of the most confusing aspects of shopping for any piece of technology is figuring out the specifications and what they all mean. Computer advertisements are the most confusing by far and feature the most number of abbreviated technical mumbo-jumbo of any piece of consumer electronics. Unless you are fluent in techno-babble, it can be daunting to try and make sense of it all. Here is a quick breakdown of the most commonly listed and compared specs that you’ll likely run into when making your purchase.
The processor, most commonly referred to as CPU (central processing unit) is essentially the brain of the computer. Nothing on the computer happens without the CPU being involved. The better the CPU, the faster and more robust the overall performance of the computer will be. In days past, computer shopping was all about comparing the megahertz and gigahertz, but these days that is mostly a wash.
Now, it is all about choosing the right processor for the job. Lower end computers tend to feature processors like the Intel Atom, Celeron, Pentium or the AMD E-series. Mid-range computers see more capable CPUs such as the Intel Core i3 or i5, along with the AMD A-Series. High-end models tend to feature various versions of Intel Core i7, the most powerful mobile CPU on the market today.
Memory (RAM) and Storage (Hard Disk Drive)
One of the most confusing specs to figure out is RAM and hard drive (HDD) and the difference between them. The confusion lies in the fact that they are both measured in gigabytes (for the most part), and people tend to call them both “memory.” So if a product listing says 8GB RAM and 320GB HDD, what does that mean to the buyer, exactly?
The difference is most simply explained with a kitchen analogy. If your laptop was a kitchen, the RAM would be your counter space. The more RAM you have, the more room you have to work with, just as more counter space allows you to prepare more food at one time. If you don’t have enough counter space, you’ve got to put stuff away before you can start working on something else.
Your hard drive, in this analogy, would be areas in your kitchen such as the refrigerator, pantry, cupboards, and drawers. The hard drive is where you store the items and tools you’ll be working with. The more hard drive space you have, the more cabinets you’ve got, and when you’re ready to prepare something, you take items out of your cabinets (hard drive) and put them onto your counter (RAM).
Lower end laptops can feature as little as 2GB of RAM and sometimes only 32GB of hard drive space, both of which are the bare minimum required to run modern operating systems like Windows 8.1, and sometimes these are not upgradable. Unless you are shopping with a very stringent budget, it’s best to spend a little extra if it means adding more memory and storage. A laptop with 4GB-8GB of RAM and 250GB+ of hard drive space is sufficient for the most common computing tasks, and should give the freedom to multi-task with room to download plenty of documents, music, and movies without the machine feeling bogged down.