Question: I’m ready to purchase a new computer but don’t know what specifications are most important. What should I look for in my next computer?

I start with the processor — the brains — of the machine. It controls how fast instructions in the code of the operating system and the application run.

Intel processors are standard, with i3 being the base model. The next step up is the middle-of the-road i5, and the top level is the i7.

Intel has, however, introduced a new line of processors: the i9 line. This is their latest offering in speed, so if you go with this model, you’ll be paying for the latest and the greatest.

AMD also offers processors. When it comes to processors, your budget will dictate how fast you can go.

The next thing to look at is the amount of system memory in the machine. Most machines start at 8 GB and go up from there.

If you’re considering a machine that has less than what you’re looking for, you can usually upgrade the amount of memory in the machine through memory vendors such as

I usually recommend 8 GB as a good starting point for memory in a new machine. With more memory, you can have more applications open and running at the same time.

Memory is something a computer can use and never have enough of. When you run out of it, that’s when things slow way down. The machine has no more memory to store things, so it falls back to the only other place it has to store data: the disk storage in the machine.

The storage system in a computer has to provide storage for the operating system, applications/programs, and the data the user creates and stores on the machine. This includes pictures, music, documents, and email.

For years, hard drives were the go-to storage in most consumer-based computers. Capacity in drives grew from a few megabytes (MB) to multiple terabytes (TB). With time, technology has improved, and the hard drive’s days are now numbered with the introduction of the solid-state drive.

A solid-state drive stores its data on chips, which provides access speeds that are many times faster than the speed of a regular hard drive.

This speed difference comes at a price, though. Solid-state drives haven’t reached the storage capacity level of today’s hard drives, but they are slowly getting there.

If you’re storing lots of pictures on your machine, then I would suggest purchasing a computer with a high-capacity hard drive in it. If you’re using your machine more for applications and internet browsing, then I would suggest a machine with at least a 500 GB solid-state drive in it.

As a final note, I’ve seen lots of people moving toward all-in-ones, where the computer is built-in with the monitor. Apple’s line of iMacs is a good example of all-in-ones.

My only qualms with these is that if something goes wrong with the monitor or the computer part of the machine, then you have to throw away the whole thing.

I’ve also seen lots of issues with all-in-ones not being able to effectively cool themselves, slowly cooking themselves to death. The tried-and-true computer is a tower with lots of room inside for air to move through the machine to keep it nice and cool.

There is a vast array of computer models to choose from today. The computer is truly a commodity now. With a little knowledge on what you’re looking for, you can make a wise decision on a machine to last you the next seven years.


Mark Rinaudo has worked in IT in Shreveport, La., for more than 20 years. He is the owner and operator of Preferred Data Solutions. Email to submit a question for this column.

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