Can’t tell a gigabyte (GB) from a mosquito bite? That’s normal, even if you’ve been using computers for years! To get a better grasp of some basic terms, regardless of whether you’re looking to buy a laptop or a desktop, this is a crash course on the essential parts of a computer. Here’s the dirt on:
-Computer Hard Drives
Computer Processors Explained
A processor (also sometimes called a chip) is like the fuel injector in the engine of a car. It’s basically the device that controls and pushes gas through your computer.
There are essentially two big manufacturers of processors, Intel and AMD. For at least the last decade, Intel has been the leader in developing the fastest and strongest processors. At the moment, both companies are basically trying to make the fastest processors as quickly and as cheaply as possible.
Regardless, the competition between Intel and AMD has created faster, less expensive processors for us consumers. While you’re looking at computers, you may notice that faster machines (and not necessarily more expensive ones) have Intel processors. On average, it seems that computers with Intel processors seem to be more powerful than their AMD counterparts.
If you’ve been shopping, you may also notice that a processor often has something in its description like, “3MB Cache, 2.80GHz.” Here’s the translation: The “MB cache” indicates how much information the computer can show you on your computer screen while you’re using the computer. Simply put: The higher the MB Cache or GB Cache number is, the more things you can keep open on your screen!
As for the “2.80GHz,” think of it as miles (or kilometers) per hour. Thus, the higher the GHz number, the faster your computer can think.
Computer Memory Explained
Since the processor is basically like the engine in your computer, it gets you from point A to point B as efficiently as it can. In order to improve the performance of programs on a computer, the computer needs to have a good amount of memory, which is generally called RAM, for Random Access Memory.
RAM is really responsible for how quickly your computer can retrieve, open and close software, Internet browsers, Internet connections, etc., on your screen. Since memory technology has to keep pace with overall computer advances, there are several different types of RAM. For example, memory for most desktops and laptops today is called SDRAM, for Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory. When shopping for computers, you will see computers with “SDRAM,” listed in their specifications (or “specs”).
But wait, there’s more! Since computers are always being engineered for higher performance, there’s a new flavor of SDRAM, called DDR SDRAM, which stands for Double Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory. Ok, here’s the translation: DDR SDRAM is even faster than SDRAM.
To recap, here’s how memory has evolved:
-RAM was the first version of computer memory.
-SDRAM was the next version of computer memory.
-DDR SDRAM is the latest version of computer memory.
If you’re out shopping for a shiny new desktop or laptop, you may notice memory listed in one of these formats:
-Dell often lists memory for its desktops in this format: “4GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz-4 DIMMs.”
-HP often lists memory for its desktops in this format: “4GB DDR3-1333MHz SDRAM [2 DIMMs]”
-Toshiba, Dell, and HP often list memory for their laptops in this format: “3GB DDR3 1066MHz memory.”
Looks like alphabet soup, huh? These are just examples of how different computer manufacturers have different ways of saying the same thing. Here’s what to look for while you’re shopping:
-What is the number of GB’s? Hint: The higher the number, the faster things will move on your screen.
-Is it DDR2 or DDR3 SDRAM? Hint: Go with DDR3 SDRAM, because it’s faster.
-Is it at least 1066MHz? Hint: The higher the number of MHz, the better.
Computer Hard Drives Explained
A hard drive is where you can store software, documents, photos, etc., in your computer. Think of it as trunk space in a car, except you’ll be storing things in your trunk long-term, instead of just packing an overnight bag!
Here, too, computers large and small have been able to store more and more as time has passed. At the moment, the capacity of what you can store on a hard drive is measured in bytes. For most computers, hard drive storage is measured in Megabytes (MB), Gigabytes (GB), and even Terabytes (TB). If you’re not up to speed on the Metric System, here’s a quick way to learn what the difference is, in terms of computers: Remember those little square discs you used to be able to pop into your computer about 10 years ago? Well, one of those could hold just over 1 Megabyte (MB) of data. By contrast, 1,000 Megabytes (or 1,000 of those little square discs) equals about 1 Gigabyte (GB). And, you guessed it, 1,000 Gigabytes equals about 1 Terabyte (TB).
If you go shopping for computers, you’ll notice that most basic desktops and laptops will come standard with at least a 40, 60, or 80GB hard drive. The more expensive desktops and laptops usually have hard drives with anywhere from 100 – 500 GB of storage. At the high end, some machines are now in or around the TB neighborhood for storage. That’s a lot of trunk space!