Picking video ports

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Video Ports

There are several different kinds of video ports, and you want to make sure your new computer has the right ones.  More have existed across the years, but these days you will find VGA, HDMI, DVI, and Mini-DVI ports.  This addresses the benefits and drawbacks of each so you can pick what you need.

VGA

A VGA port is something you will find on almost any computer, and any monitor from the past 20 years.  The only computers that won’t come with a VGA port are extremely compact ones such as netbooks (in which they are still fairly common) or a Raspberry Pi.  It does have some drawbacks though.  Very few TV’s include a VGA port, so it is far from ideal on a portable computer that you intend to plug into TV’s.  It only transmits video, meaning you will still need a 3.5mm audio cable to transfer sound.  In addition, the video quality isn’t as good as the alternatives because it is an analog connection.

HDMI

HDMI ports are excellent for portable computers.  They are becoming more and more common in monitors, and even though that means you can’t connect it to older monitors, all modern TV’s support it.  You also get the highest quality as it outputs a digital signal (as opposed to the lower quality analog signal of VGA), and transmits audio.

DVI and Mini-DVI

DVI ports are not as common as HDMI or VGA, although the quality is equal to HDMI.  DVI ports rarely output audio, although it is possible.  Finding a TV with a DVI connection is almost impossible, so you will need an adapter.

A Mini-DVI port is something you will (currently) only find on an Apple computer.  It is identical to a DVI port with the exception of being smaller.  You generally use a cable that converts to another connection in order to connect it to a monitor or TV.

Which Video Ports to Choose

The nice thing is, on modern computers, you rarely have to settle with just one.  Picking which one to use is simple.  If you can, always use HDMI.  VGA is a great backup to have if you have an old monitor, or think you might need to use one sometime in the future.  DVI isn’t something to look for.  If your computer comes with it, you can have it as a backup, but it shouldn’t be a deciding factor.

Picking a solid state drive

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Solid State Drive

It’s time to talk about solid state drives, or SSD’s. This is one of the more expensive components, and one you aren’t likely to find when buying a new computer. Regardless, it’s definitely something you should know about, and an upgrade that results in a huge performance improvement. If you don’t want to read the whole post, know this: NEVER buy a SSD that uses asynchronous NAND (more info below).

Because SSD’s have no moving parts and use flash memory, they are lightning fast compared to a hard drive. They are also far less likely to take damage if you drop your computer, a great benefit for laptops.

Solid state drives have a downside: compared to your average HDD, they are VERY expensive. While a 500GB hard drive will cost you less than $60, a 500GB solid state drive costs up to $200. On desktop computers, there is a compromise. You can put your OS (Windows, Linux, or OS X) on a small SSD, along with your most frequently used programs, and keep all your documents and normal programs on the HDD that your computer came with.  Amazon has several quality drives available at relatively low costs.

As previously mentioned, under no circumstances should you purchase a SSD that uses asynchronous NAND, rather than synchronous NAND. We’d have to get into the internal workings of a SSD to explain the difference, but know that an asynchronous NAND is about half the speed. Advertised statistics are very deceiving, as they don’t actually reflect the difference. Currently, the only two companies we know of that use asynchronous NAND are Kingston, Silicon Power, and PNY. They have recently started switching out advertised products, so you can’t be sure what you will get. It is safest to avoid them all together. Brands like Crucial, Samsung, and SanDisk continue to use synchronous NAND. They cost a little more, but it’s definitely worth spending an extra $10 to get an effective product.

If you want to keep all your old data and programs, you’ll need to clone your old drive, which is a complicated process. If you don’t want to do it yourself (or don’t have the equipment), Expresstek clones and sets up drives for only $50.

Picking a hard drive

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Hard Drive

This week we are addressing hard drives (aka hard disk drive, or HDD). Choosing a hard drive is relatively simple compared to choosing a CPU. There are only three factors, all of them easy: RPM, cache, and size. All drives use SATA now, so you don’t need to worry about interface.

The disks in hard drives spin, and the faster it spins, the faster it can read and write data. This is described as RPM, or rotations per minute. Look for a drive that has 7,200RMP or higher. If you want a budget computer and you can save a lot of money with something lower, it’s an acceptable sacrifice. You only need an RPM higher than 7,200 if you want a PC for gaming. If that’s the case, you’d be better off with a Solid State Drive anyway, which we will discuss next week.

Cache is measured in MB (megabytes), and like RPM, you want the highest amount you can get. Don’t worry too much about it though if you are trying to save money. Look for 3MB, but if you can get a higher amount for less money, go for it.

Now it comes to the final aspect, size. Your standard computer comes with such big hard drives that, for most people, anything is big enough. Unless you plan to install a lot of games, 500GB should be more than enough. It’s not uncommon to see desktops including drives with a terabyte (1024 gigabytes).

Picking a CPU

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CPU

Picking a CPU one of the most important choices you’ll make when buying a new computer.  However, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Before we get into which one to pick, remember that a computer is an investment. You could get what you need right now, but an extra $50-$100 for a better processor will mean an extra few years before you need to replace (or upgrade) the computer. You’ll save a lot of money in the long run. If you follow the guidelines below, you should be able to find one that will last you a long time, even as the rest of your computer slows down.

The CPU is like the brain of the computer.  Your operating system, and every program you use, is run through the CPU.  The faster the CPU, the faster your computer runs.

Twenty years ago, you could check the frequency (often referred to as speed) of a processor and get a basic idea of how well it preformed.  Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case, because of something called the Power Wall.

Thankfully, there is now an even simpler method to judging if a CPU is what you need.  All you need to do is type the model number into the search box (right side of the page) on this benchmark site, select it, and choose “Find CPU”.  The “Passmark CPU mark” is what you need.  If you only plan on watching videos, word processing, and web browsing, a CPU with 4000 or above will work.  If you plan on doing any gaming, you need a bare minimum of 5000.  For products like Photoshop, you should buy a processor with a score of 8000 or higher.

The only other thing you need to consider is the brand.  At Expresstek, we strongly recommend Intel.  You can use AMD instead if you are on a tighter budget.

If you follow these two simple rules, you can find the perfect processor for your needs.

Picking RAM

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Picking RAM

 

The next few weeks will cover hardware.  This week, it’s types of RAM, These days, you’ll see almost exclusively DDR3 and DDR3L RAM. Don’t place too much concern in which of the two you get. DDR3L uses less voltage, and thus technically could last longer, but the two are basically the same. They are both better than DDR2 (which is better than DDR).

When it comes to size, look for a computer with at least 6GB, preferably 8GB.  Anything past that is a waste of money, which would be better spent on a nice CPU.

If you are looking to upgrade your computer’s RAM (the most common method for upgrading computers), you need to verify what your computer supports.  You can do so by searching for the specs of your model on your manufacturer’s website.  Check if it’s DDR, DDR2, DDR3, or DDR3L (which is backwards compatible with DDR3).  See what the maximum supported RAM is for your computer so you know how much you can upgrade it to.  Desktops use SODIMM RAM, while laptops use SDRAM.

If you want Expresstek to upgrade your RAM (which is recommended for the safety of your computer), this will all be done for no additional charge.

Strong passwords

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If you want a strong password, that isn’t too hard to remember, try out http://www.safepasswd.com/

If that’s still too difficult for you, try picking a song or phrase you like (with a title that is at least 8 characters long) and replacing some of the letters with numbers or symbols. “ExpresstekIsGreat” could become “3xpre55tekI5Gr8”. There are no real words used, making it much more difficult to guess.

Warning about registry cleaners

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NEVER use registry cleaners. The primary reason people suggest them is because it sounds impressive, but because of the way Windows works, they don’t actually improve performance. You’re more likely to break your install.