A Beginner Guide to Reading Computer Specifications

If ALL you know about computers is that more gigabytes mean more space to store stuff and faster processors mean less lag.

Relax…

In this post we’ll explain all the  basics without going into too much detail so you can be better prepared when shopping for a laptop or a computer. 

1. Processor (CPU)

CPU als known as processors RUN applications.

Thus the more applications you run at the same time or the “heavier” they are, the higher the need for a FASTER CPU. 

Now…

Virtually every modern CPU is FAST enough to can handle ALL the basic applications ran by a student or someone at the office

You only have to worry about CPU’s perfromance IF and ONLY IF you are running…

Heavy tasks which are VIDEO EDITING, MUSIC PRODUCTION, 3D Animation, GAMING, 3D modeling and the like

If that’s the case, you need to know TWO things about CPU’s specifications:

Clock Speed

It’s measured in GHz (gigahertz) . Ex: 3.5 GHz, 4.5 GHz, etc.

For the heavy tasks mentioned you want something like a +4GHz CPU.

For Light tasks like writing docs, watching videos and light gaming you don’t need to worry about it. Anything between 3 to 4GHz should be fine.

Thus if you’re a student, it is likely you DON’t need high clock speed CPU unless you’re video editing or use 3D modeling software.

Cores

If the CPU is a heavy-lifter, it isn’t just one guy doing the lifting. There are several little guys doing the lifting.  These are called “CORES” as shown below in green.

Each core can more or less take one or two applications at a time. Thus if you’re a multitasker like most people are, the more cores you have more applications you will be able to run simultanaeously with no LAG.

Good news is all modern computers have at least four cores which is enough for the multitasking in the figure

Multi-ple cores ALSO become useful for Harcore applications like Video Editing and 3D modeling to run MUCH MUCH faster. But unless you’re a video editor or an engineer, you don’t need more than four.

Brand: AMD and Intel

There are two brands but the question isn’t down to which brand to pick, both brands are good for all purposes. 

The question becomes  which FAMILY within each brand to pick:

Intel Core i3 and AMD Ryzen 3

These have no more than 4 cores and clock speeds usually cap at 4GHz.  Designed for multitasking between basic applications and general computing tasks like web browsing, video streaming, programming, “light tasks”.

These will also have the best battery lives because they do not consume much power.

Intel Core i5 and AMD Ryzen 5:

They can have up to 6 cores and go well beyond 4GHz. These are the bare minimum for heavy duty applications like high graphics gaming, 3D modeling, video and professional photo editing.

Intel Core  i7 and AMD Ryzen 7

Up to 8 cores and pretty close to 5GHz. These are not the fastest CPUs available but this is as much power as 90% of gamers, 3D designers and video editors will need.

Generation

Recent generations are faster and more powerful.

Each CPU belongs to a generation.  Ex: AMD Ryzen 3200U. belongs to the 3rd generation of AMD Ryzen CPUs.

You can tell which generation a CPU belongs to by looking at the first digit of the model number.

AMD Ryzen 5 5600H vs AMD Ryzen 5 4600H.
5th generation vs 4th generation.

Intel Core i5 10300H vs Intel Core i5 11300H
10th generation vs 11th generation.

What I have recommended in the “Brand” section for video editing, gaming and all, only applies to LATE generation CPUs. In fact, the whole article is about late generation CPUs or modern CPUs.

AMD Ryzen:  3rd, 4th,5th and 6th are late generation CPUs.

Intel Core:  8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th are late generation CPUs.

Anything lower or from another family “Intel Celeron” “Intel Pentium” or “AMD A9” “AMD A6” must be avoided because it’s outdated hardware and too slow for today’s applications.

Series

Core i5 10100U vs Core i5 11300H vs Core i5 114G35 vs Core i5 1135P
.  

Ryzen 3 3200U vs Ryzen 5 5600H vs Ryzen 9 6800HS

These letters are just fancy prefixes (mostly marketing stuff) to say that a certain processor (CPU) is more inclined to:

U: operate at low voltage thus giving you more battery in return. These CPUs are desired for people that only need a compact device because they don’t need to run heavy applications mentioned.

G: have better integrated graphics cards. These aren’t necessarily recommended for gaming or high graphics purposes but they just have slightly better hardware for graphics than U CPUs. They should still be the top choice for people looking to run basic tasks and applications.

P: handle high performance applications more “efficiently”. These are 2022 CPUs but basically they’re just a new and fancier way they’re designed for heavy applications.

H: handle high graphics applications. They can be HX, HS, HK and so on. These are basically what you want if you’re video editing, running hardcore AAA games, 3D modeling,etc. The H truly represents what they are advertised for, they are VERY VERY fast and have more cores for these kind of apps.

 

2. RAM

 

In technical terms, RAM is memory. It’s different than storage (Hard Drive) because it’s where the CPU “temporarily” stores data to “RUN” it.

In layman terms, if the CPU is the heavy lifter with muscles capable of “LIFTING” heavy stuff, RAM would be his hands. The bigger his hands, the more stuff he will be able to lift.

Thus, the more RAM you have, the more stuff you will be able to run simultanously as shown in the picture.

How much RAM you need depends on what you plan on running 

Size

2GB RAM: This is only good enough for Chrome OS, Mac OSX, Windows 10 S, WIndows 11 and Linux operating systems. That’s because Windows 10 Home and Windows 11 which you are probably using RIGHT now take more than 3GB as shown in the picture above.

4GB RAM:  This is still not good enough if you want to run the full version of Windows 10 or 11 because you’ll only have 0.5GB RAM for every other application, you’ll basically be limited to MS Office + Windows as shown in the picture. 

8GB RAM: This is what you want. You can not only run Windows with this much but as you can see in the graph, you can fit in several other programs including a heavy applications like PhotoShop, AAA title (gaming) ,  video editing, AutoCAD,etc. 

16GB RAM: This is only useful for PROFESSIONAL purposes like VIDEO EDITING, 3D Modeling and so on. It isn’t necessarily a requirement to run those apps but it’ll make them  RUN faster. 

Generation: DDR3 vs DDR4 vs DDR5

The latest generations will be able to feed data faster to the CPU, which means faster and better performance.

For most people any RAM generaiton will be fine. The differences are minuscule so don’t worry about.

If you’re a heavy gamer or video editor it will make a small difference but don’t expect tremendous differences
 

3. STORAGE

 

Storage on computers works exactly how storage works on your phone. The more you have, the more photos, videos, books and games you can havem 

Type: SSD vs HDD

The most important thing to know about storage on computers is their Type. They will be either be an HDD (Hard Disk Drive) or some form of SSD (Solid State Drive)

SSD (Solid State Driver)

You want a solid state drive over the HDDs (Hard Disk Drives) because they are REALLY FAST. Anything that has to do with reading and writing data will be FAST. This includes

  • Opening up huge files will be done in an instant: adobe premiere files, CAD files, video editing files, photoshop files,etc.
  • Launching/loading software & programs will take a few seconds
  • Booting up your system will also take less than 10 seconds.
  • Looking up for files/text excerpts across all the system will be instantly.

There are actually two types of SSDs or three : M.2 SSD, PCIe NVMe SSD and Flash SSD. The fastest one are PCIe NVMe SSD but only photographers will see any difference there.

HDD(Hard Disk Drive)

Now these types of storage have A LOT OF SPACE.  FOUR TIMES the space of the average SSD (1TB vs 256GB).

However, be ware they are SLOW as hell. The time for Windows 10 or 11 to load from the time you press the power button can take as long as 5 minutes with these as opposed to 15 seconds with SSDs.

How much Storage do I need?

Computers files are bigger than the files you have on your phone. So you’re going to need a lot more than what you use on a phone. 

I’d say most people will be fine with 256GB.

But let us run some calculations to see if you fit in this category. 

Now Windows 10 or 11 take about  ~40GB and basic software like Office/video and photo editing apps: 10GB.

That’s 50GB.

If we add files like photos and movies…

One DSRL photo =  10 MB.
One FHD movie ~ 8 GB.
One encoded FHD movie file ~300 MB.
MS Office Doc ~ 50KB ~0.05MB

Movies
(DVD)
Movies
(Encoded)
 Photos
(DSLR)
Docs
(MS Office)
128(78)GB 10 260 7800 1.5 Million
256(206)GB 25 686 20600 4Million
512(462)GB 57 1540 46200 8 Million
1000(950) GB 118.5 3166 95000 16 Million

It should be quite clear that as long as you’re using this computer for work purposes, you will never run out of space even with the smallest sized SSD : 128GB.

Now..

If you’re an engineer, video editor or photo editor you probably should think about getting 512GB at least. 

Likewise…

If you’re a gamer, you will need either 256GB or 512GB depending on how many games you want to install. 

Graphics Card(GPU)

You only need to look after graphics cards IF you’re planning on running graphically demanding applications like 3D Modeling (AutoCAD), 3D Animation (Ex: Maya) and graphically demanding games

Graphics card process images, they are basically in charge of outputting HIGH QUALITY images to your monitor AND ALSO help you manipulate these images.

Can’t the CPU do that?

True, the CPU can do that and in fact it does but it just not so well equipped to deal with REALLY REALLY graphically demanding games. YouTube, the ocassional game on low settings, Photo Editing and Basic video editing  can all be handled by the CPU because it’s got an integrated GPU

Types of GPUs

Integrated 

The integrated GPU is attached to the CPU but due to the lack of space and resources (since these must be shared with the CPU) they are weaker for those graphically demanding applications.

For all other basic applications we mentioned, they will do fine.

Ex: Intel UHD, Intel Iris, Intel Xe, AMD Radeon RX Vega 3, Vega 5, Vega 7 and Vega 8 are all integrated.

Dedicated Graphics

Dedicated GPU are several times faster and more capable at running heavy graphics. That’s because they are bigger , have their own resources and they have their own reserved space in a computer.

vRAM

Dedicated GPUs do not need to borrow “RAM” from a CPU, they’ve got their own vRAM. This vRAM is different than RAM because it’s been specifically designed to process images “VRAM = Video RAM”.

How can you tell if you’re looking at a dedicated GPU?

If they have more than 1GB vRAM or if they have the keywords “NVIDIA” “GeForce” “RTX” or “Radeon RX (with no Vega)”. 

Ex: NVIDIA 3080RTX , AMD Radeon RX 555.

Workstation Graphics

Subclass of GPUs specifically made for 3D modeling and 3D animation apps. They aren’t necessarily more powerful than “consumer” dedicated Graphics but they have a few features some 3D designers and engineers may want to use. They may also have a lot more vRAM which those working with the most complex 3D objects and images may need. 

Comments?

If you have any questions or suggestions or perhaps you found the article a bit too confusing, please let me know. I’m always trying to update it to make easier and easier to understand. 

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