Electronics Gift Guide to Buying a New Computer (Even if it’s For Yourself)

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Hard Drives may hold up to 4 Terabytes of  data. Image by Carl Berkeley

Some computers offer solid state drives which have no spinning or moving parts.  While the solid state drives provide faster processing and read/write times they are generally found on higher end computer models.

Optical Drives: Reading Discs

Optical drives use lasers to retrieve or store data on compact discs (CD), digital video discs (DVD), or Blu-ray discs (BD).  Computers generally come with DVD drives rather than the older CD devices, but a growing number now offer Blu-ray drives which allow viewing of HD movies.

Compatibility of the optical drive and the media it uses is important.  A BD drive can read CDs and DVDs but a CD drive can only read CDs, so make sure that you select discs which match the drive.

Remember – a read-only memory (ROM) drive can read discs but cannot be used to write to one.  Discs which can be written to have various capabilities which are identified by a suffix:

  • CD-R, DVD-R, and BD-R are discs which may be written to only one time.
  • CD-RW, DVD-RW, and BD-RE indicate discs which can be rewritten on up to 1000 times.
  • DVD-RAM can store up to 9.4GB of data and be rewritten to 100,000 times.
  • DVD+R and DVD+RW are similar to their corresponding “minus” discs but are designed to write faster with superior internal linking.  These discs require an optical drive designated as a “+” drive.

Video Cards Enhance Graphics

Computer motherboards have an integrated video or graphic chip which is usually sufficient for normal, daily use.  The problem is that the chip fights with other attached devices to access memory, so attempting to play video games using the integrated graphic chip could provide disappointing results.

To ensure quality graphics, especially for 3D gaming or other data-intense applications, a separate video/graphics card, which plugs into the motherboard, is better.  The card still competes for memory but it is granted better access to RAM – plus the card itself may contain from 32MB to 128MB of memory which greatly enhances graphic performance.

USB Ports Allow Connections to External Devices

A Universal Serial Bus (USB) port allows external devices such as a keyboard, mouse, monitor, printer, flash drive, external disk, or other hardware to connect to the computer.  Most new computers come with USB 3.0 ports which transfer data faster than older 2.0 ports.  Computers generally contain at least four USB ports although some desktops may have additional ports on the front of the cabinet, and some netbooks may have fewer ports.

USB Ports allow  you to connect external devices. Image by Shlala.

Before Buying a New Computer: Research!

Before buying a computer, first decide how it will be used and, with the information above, you will be able to research and find a system with the size, speed, performance, and compatibility specifications that should provide you with optimum performance and productivity. Don’t be swayed by a big sale or marketing campaign – the price might be rock-bottom low, but if the device isn’t appropriate for your needs, it’ll be worthless to you.

Reader Resources:

Apple. Here’s Everything You Need to Know About OS X. (2012). Accessed December 4, 2012.

Woligrosky, D. Gaming CPU Hierarchy Chart. (2012). TomsHardware. Accessed December 4, 2012.

Intel. Intel Desktop Processor Comparison Tool. Accessed December 4, 2012.

TechTerms. Tech Terms Computer Dictionary. (2012). Accessed December 4, 2012.

Geek.com. CD, DVD, Blu-Ray Drives & Burners for Desktop PC. Accessed December 4, 2012.

Techtarget. DVD-RAM. Accessed December 4, 2012.

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