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

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Understand the different parts of a computer before you purchase anything! Image by IntelFreePress

It’s the holiday shopping season.

Are you looking for a new personal computer but technical terms such as CPU, bit, RAM, dual-core, or GHz are too confusing to understand?

This article should help you better understand the terminology and, ultimately, make a more informed decision.

Operating System Controls Computer Functions

An operating system (OS) is a set of system programs that sends instructions to the computer hardware and installed software.  Most computers will use Windows, Mac OS, or Linux:

  • Windows, made by Microsoft is the most common operating system for businesses and personal computers.  Windows 7, released in 2009, is the common OS on most PCs but Windows 8 was introduced in 2012 and is an option for new computers.

  • Apple produces the Mac OS X (‘X’ is pronounced “ten”) for their Macintosh computers but they introduced Mountain Lion in 2012.  Macs are generally preferred by those involved in art, design, film, graphics, music and other creative arts and industries.
  • Linux is an open-source operating system originally developed by Linus Torvalds.  This OS is popular with developers because its open-source concept allows them to personally customize the operating system.  Most users typically have to download Linux to their own computers but some computer builders offer systems with Linux pre-installed.

Processors: the Brain of the Computer

The processor, also known as the Central Processing Unit (CPU), is a chip which serves as the brain behind the computer.  It sends, receives, interprets and runs instructions from the computer’s software, and controls the devices attached to the system.  Three factors to consider when comparing processors are speed, number of processors, and how they handle data.

Processor “clock speed” is measured in Megahertz (MHz) or Gigahertz (GHz) where one MHz equals one million cycles per second and GHz equals one billion cycles per second.  It might seem that two 3.8 GHz systems would run at exactly the same speed but one computer may take only five cycles to complete an instruction while the other takes ten, so a straight comparison may not necessarily be accurate.   Still, faster clock speed equals faster execution. So, while some budget computers have a processor with speeds in the MHz range, if you want improved performance you should go with a system that has a processor with ‘GHz’ in the list of features.

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