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A guide on buying or upgrading your PC

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing all of us to either work or study from home, the need to have a capable computer has been greater.

Asking around for what CPU, how much memory, or what type of hard drive from someone who knows about computers could be confusing if you’re unfamiliar about these. It also doesn’t help that IT-guys or the tech-savvy like myself would just throw a list of specs and use nerd-speak as this topic easily lights us up like a Christmas tree. Often times, the confused look from friends, family, and colleagues would mean I just spoke in an alien language. And yes, biases and personal loyalty to brands can even make things more confusing.

I have always been a missionary for HP, Intel and nVidia whenever someone asks what computer they should get mainly because I once worked for HP. As the years went by I have learned from personal and professional experience that the best way to handle this kind of question is to have an understanding of what the computer is for so that I could offer better advice instead of imposing my personal biases. So I took a different approach and applied what I learned from working for HP: good customer service which for me is helping others help themselves.

So I ask them what do they need to a computer for? Is it for work or personal use? By personal use, it means casual word processing, internet browsing, or more intense work like gaming or graphics/video editing, etc? Because computers can be customized to meet each scenario.

Once it’s clear what the computer is for, my next question would be: “How much are you willing to spend?” A specs list or a brand may just turn into a wish-list if it’s too expensive for the person you’re trying to help. Only after getting the answers to these two questions do I actually give my own recommendations.

What would you use the computer for?

The rule of thumb is quite simple: the more complex a task the more powerful a computer needs to be.

Internet browsing, word processing or creating slideshows – school work mainly:
  • CPU
    • latest generation Pentium, Core i3 from Intel
    • Athlon and Ryzen 3 from AMD
  • System memory or RAM
    • At least 4GB
  • Hard disk space
    • at least 500GB HDD (disk drives that have spinning platters)
    • at least 256 SSD (solid-state drives, basically large capacity flash drives)
  • Video/Graphics
    • Integrated Intel, nVidia or AMD GPU with at least 1GB of memory
  • Operating system
    • Windows 10 64-bit
    • Ubuntu Linux

Remember: with the specs above, do not expect to be able to play PC games, edit videos or graphics.

Mid-level gaming, video/graphics editing:
  • CPU
    • Core i5 or i7 from Intel
    • Ryzen 5 or 7
  • System memory or RAM
    • At least 16 GB
  • Hard disk space
    • at least 1TB HDD (disk drives that have spinning platters)
    • at least 512 SSD (solid-state drives, basically large capacity flash drives)
  • Video/Graphics
    • Dedicated GPU or graphics card with at least 2GB of its own memory
  • Operating system
    • Windows 10 64-bit
    • Ubuntu Linux
Heavy or HD graphics/video editing and high-end gaming:
  • CPU
    • Top-tier Core i7 or i9 from Intel
    • Top-tier Ryzen 5, 7, 9 and Threadripper from AMD
  • System memory or RAM
    • At least 32 GB
  • Hard disk space
    • at least 1TB HDD (disk drives that have spinning platters)
    • at least 512 SSD (solid-state drives, basically large capacity flash drives)
  • Video/Graphics
    • top-tier dedicated GPU or graphics card with at least 16GB of its own memory from either Intel or AMD
  • Operating system
    • Windows 10 64-bit (for gamers)
    • Ubuntu Linux (for developers)

An alternative would be a MacBook Pro.

Basically, at this point, it will all depend on how deep your pocket is because you will definitely spend a lot.

The third way: upgrade your current PC

If you already have a notebook or desktop PC, upgrading some of its components would save you some money and give it a new lease on life. While some can afford to buy a brand new PC or device, most would find it challenging given that some have been laid off or had taken pay cuts. There are also the more practical ones, who prefer to upgrade a few components to give their current devices additional computing power.

The key to everything is compatibility with your motherboard. This is where all of the components are physically connected and come together to work as one. Knowing the model of your motherboard will answer all of the compatibility issues:

  • socket for the CPU
  • slots for the system memory and graphics card/GPU
  • the type of hard drive (platter HDD or solid-state SSD)

If it’s a laptop your upgrade options are usually limited to the following:

  • RAM
  • hard disk capacity

The CPU and graphics card/GPU are essentially part of the motherboard. You’re better off buying a new notebook if you need a more powerful chip and graphics card.

Hopefully, this simple guide would help in your choosing a new computer or upgrading your existing one. If you have questions feel free to ask in the comments below or send me a note.

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