While the cuts this holiday season on computers aren't as deep as on other items, such as jewelry, TVs or video games, there are still plenty of deals available if you're in the market for a new computer.
Buying a new computer is tricky, especially when retailers are slashing prices. Usually a part or two in them isn't as fast as it should be, and while you'll save money now you'll possibly have to upgrade or buy additional parts much sooner than you anticipated.
To help you survive all the technology-lingo associated with computers, here's some of the specs and factors you should look at before buying a new computer.
CPU & RAM
The CPU is your processor, and the rule most of the time is the higher the speed, the better. This is one of the main factors determining how "fast" your computer can run.
For most users who don't play a ton of video games or edit video, dual-core processors are just fine for office tasks and web browsing. If you plan on gaming a bit, looking at higher end processors such as the Intel i5 or i7 is a must.
RAM is your memory, and it determines how many tasks and operations your computer can run at the same time. Tasks such as word processing use very little RAM, while games will demand much more of it. 4GB will suit most users, but boosting it up to 8GB or more is definitely advised for gamers. Also, many systems make it very easy to upgrade the RAM as you go along, and RAM can be found cheaply. Saving on a system now and upgrading later may actually be cheaper in this case.
For the non-gamers out there, your graphics card isn't really a big concern when it comes to performing most computing tasks. Most computers come with something called "integrated graphics," which means that the graphics card is part of the motherboard of the computer itself. You can watch videos, play music and do everything you normally would do with a computer on that alone.
When you start looking into gaming, or if you want to use your computer as a media center and connect TVs and such to it, that's when a graphics card becomes critical. Your graphics card is responsible for taking data from your processor and translating it into something you can see. That takes up a significant amount of processing power, and cards from Nvidia and ATi are dedicated to managing this. Cards manufactured in the last two years should work for most applications.
That's where all your files and information is stored, and for all those photo-hoarders out there a bigger hard drive is always nice to have. Many systems on sale will have 500GB hard drives, which are big enough for most users. Upgrading to a 1TB (1000GB) hard drive is usually inexpensive and will last you a long time.
Many laptop manufacturers will also advertise solid-state drives, or SSD. Rather than a physical disk that spins, these drives work much like the cards you find in your cameras. They are very quick, but are also much more expensive. The tradeoff is better for gamers, video editors, and anybody who needs to access large quantities of data quickly.
One note: always back up your information! Whether it's through a cloud service like Dropbox and Google Drive or via an external hard drive, having a backup of all those precious files is incredibly important. Backing up your information once a week will save your information from tragedy. External hard drives are very affordable now.
For Laptop Users: Screens
Unlike televisions, there isn't an ideal screen resolution for computers. It varies by make and model, and their quality in terms of contrast and colors are all over the board.
If possible, before buying try to get into a Staples or Walmart and play around with some models. When you find a screen you like, note the brand of computer and look for them on sale.
This is a big one that tends to be neglected, especially by laptop buyers. Chances are you will be spending a ton of time with your computer. It is a good idea to find one that isn't flimsy and feels great to type on and work with. All-plastic computers are often much cheaper, but they feel cheap as well. Aluminum computers are much more sturdy and feel like solid products, but are much more expensive. There are different mixtures of the two, and so getting the chance to touch a computer before buying is very important.
Mac vs Windows?
In all reality, this is usually only debated by hardcore gamers. Both operating systems work very well, and depending on your preference and program needs you may go one way or the other. Games and certain professional programs are more widely available on Windows, but Mac has plenty of games to choose from as well.
Macs do tend to be much more expensive and rarely drop in price during the holidays, but they do carry their value for much longer. That trade-off is worth it to many people, especially those looking to stay in the Apple ecosystem (iPhone, iPad, Mac).
There are some really interesting computers out there, like the models with full touch screen capabilities as well as transforming laptops and other cool features.
Some are gimmicks, some aren't. That folding laptop might be cool at first, but does it increase your productivity? Does it replace some other devices?
Look at what you need your computer to do and see if these features are necessary, as these add-ons tend to spike the price quite a bit.