A Beginner Guide to Reading Computer Specifications

I am not gonna lie to you, when I started becoming interested in laptops in general I wasn’t aware of any of the terms and specifications laptops or computers offer today.

In fact, I barely knew the difference between processors and only knew they just made your computer fast. I’ve written this guide for those who are in this position, I know how it feels to be completely lost when buying computers with so many terms thrown in our faces.

Luckily, it’s been a while since then and I now have a good grasp of every feature, design, term and how everything works in computer devices. The more knowledgeable you become the less aware you become of how you present your thoughts and reviews to a general audience and one reader in particular reminded me of that and she’s the reason why I am writing this post.

This small guide is meant to be read by beginners, it may not be very tech specific but it will get you through what you need to know to make sure you always make the right purchase and know what you are buying.

Processor (CPU)

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Its the main component behind your computer Speed, when shopping for laptops this is what you should be aware of:

Clock Speed
This is the only thing I was aware of when I started. The Higher the clock speed measured in GHz,the faster your appications will run: 3.5Ghz vs. 2.4GHz, etc.

Obviously too much is not useful for basic tasks and most laptops today offer more than enough for most students and general tasks but they become more important when you are dealing with heavy applications : editing, gaming, 3D modeling and simulation software.

Core i3 vs Core i5 vs Core i7

Core i3: It’s useful for basic applications and general computer tasks, you will have no issues multitasking, using everyday computer programs and most computer applications.  It only has “two cores” , meaning it has two brains to perform calculations and run applications more efficiently. These may offer the best battery lives since they are not meant to perform for the heaviest software out there.

Core i5: This processor has an increase in performance over the core i3 in terms of speed. Generally it only has two cores as well but it the increase in speed makes it more ideal for most of your heavy applications including games, 3D Applications and editing applications for photos, videos, images, etc.

Core  i7: This processor offers the highest performance as far as most laptops go. It can have 2 or 4 cores depending on the model number which I wil describe shortly. This is the best you can get for 3D Applications, Editing Software, Games and intensive multitasking between these applications. However the increase in performance from a Core i5 processor may not be that much depending on the serial number.

Examples

Generally when you shop for laptops you will find a model number with your CPU, here are some examples:

Intel Core i7-6500U  Intel Core i7-6700HQ Intel Core i5-3437U

Generally the higher the number “6500” vs “6700”, the better the processor in terms of speed and efficiency. There is a great difference however between the “U” and “HQ” at the end of any processor you look at. An HQ processor will have four cores and a U processor will have only two cores, the former is your best choice for the most intensive applications such as gaming and heavy editing software especially in 3D dimensions.

Core i5 U vs core i7 U

This is usually not known by most people and experts out there but there is very little advantage of going for an core i7U processor over a core i5U processor, since both of them have two cores and about the same speed. You shouldn’t be afraid to invest on a core i5 U if you are on a budget.

More Processors

There are other brands and models but for now this should get you through for a more complete guide, check my post on the complete guide on CPUs.

RAM

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RAM is just “temporary memory”, where the applications you are using are stored. The more RAM you have, the more applications you’ll be able to run at the same time without having to face a slow computer performance. Some Applications take more “temporary memory” or need more RAM. Depending on the type and the amount of applications you run when using a computer, you need to check the size of your RAM:

2GB RAM: You’ll find these in the cheapest laptops and notebooks (or chromebooks) out there and is more than enough for basic tasks and a few applications runnign at the same time. Ex: Web Browsing & Microsoft Office.

4GB RAM: This is more ideal if you intend to run several web browsing tabs and more basic applications than just Microsoft Office.

8GB RAM: I found this the sweet spot for most heavy applications such as gaming and editing software including 3D Modeling.

16GB RAM: This is only recommended if you intend to run the heaviest and graphic intensive applications such as 3D Games, 3D Modeling software, Editing Software and the complexity of the projects or games are high and their  corresponding file sizes are huge as well. You can do almost unlimited multitasking with this size, I can run a lot of heavy applications at the same time with mine.

STORAGE

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This is the easiest spec to evaluate and was probably the only one I knew about when I became interested in computers. The higher the size, the better it is. But today things have changed and that may not hold true all the time.

Size

Most computers today offer way too much storage capacity for all of your files: photos, programs, games and movies. That is , if you are not on a budget.

To give you an idea and quick reference, here’s how much you can store with each size:

128GB: 16,000 MP3 songs & 13 107 RAW Photos
256GB:
x2 MP3 songs & x2 RAW Photos

and so on.

Obviously most consumers don’t need that much storage capacity even gamers will do fine with 256GB. However if you are dealing with 3D Applications and editing files software (video, audio, images), you’ll have hundreds of files and projects which may be heavier in size than regular video, audio or images in which case a 512GB is a good investment.

Type

Long Story short, there are two types of storage today SSD (which has many different versions PCIe, NVMe, SATA each with a better increase in performance) and HDD storage devices.

SSD (Solid State Driver)

This is useful for users running the heaviest applications such as gaming , 3D Software and Editing Applications. It will help you load files and speed up launching times as well as making your computer boot up faster. It’s not a requirement but a huge bonus, the down size is their storage capacities. They don’t generally come with more than 512GB although that may be way too much for most of us.

HDD(Hard Disk Drive)

This is the old fashioned storage device we are all used to. It doesn’t offer an increase in loading speeds or an increase in performance compared with an SSD but they do offer high storage capacities at a cheaper price : 1TB or 1000 GB. This type of hard drive is just fine for all of us except those who want the best performance they can get their hands on with their laptops.

Graphics Card(GPU)

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This is the component in charge of displaying your images, videos, photos and everything else that shows up on your screen.

In reality nobody should look at what kind of graphics card their computer or laptop has unless they deal with 3D Applications and 3D Games or Video Editing (any graphics card is fine for watching videos), which is pretty much most of us.

Types

Integrated 

Integrated graphics Card are found in most consumer laptops and are fine for basic tasks, videos, image editing and most computer games that are not in 3D. You’ll see cards labeled as Intel HD with a number next to them:

Intel HD Graphics 6000 or Intel HD Graphics 

Dedicated

These cards are designed with complex 3D Applications in mind such as games and editing software. Generally the higher the number next to them, the better their performance. Also, the higher the “vRAM” (more temporary memory”, the more complex graphics it will be able to handle. You’ll see them in two brands : NVIDIA and AMD.

AMD Radeon R9, AMD Radeon R 3
NVIDIA GeForce 960TX, NVIDIA GeForce 1060 Ti

Workstation Cards

There are also graphics card aimed for specific applications that  generally do not benefit most students or general consumers, these are more industry level and professional level graphics cards for 3D Modeling applications such as those encountered in engineering and scientific research or 3D Editing Applications such as Animation and Movie Editing. They’re not meant for general consumers not even gamers but for mad scientists and Hollywood film enthusiasts.

AMD FirePro, NVidia Quadro