In this computer shopping series so far, you have learned about the different kinds of processors and hard drives. Certainly, those two pieces are extremely important when purchasing a computer, but there are other parts to consider as well.
Before I get started though, let’s take a moment to talk about an important word: integration. Unless you have it built for you, then most likely you’re going to find your computer has mostly integrated parts. That means the majority of the parts inside are actually just components permanently attached to the motherboard.
Integration isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It usually means the computer is going to be less expensive. However, it also means you may have limited video, sound or network capability. What you have to ask yourself is, “Am I using this computer for games, or just for surfing the internet and checking e-mail?” For most people, a computer with integrated parts is just fine. If you want something with a little more power, you should look at having a computer built for you, avoiding integrated components. Keep in mind though, that type of computer can get a little pricey.
Ok, let’s take a look at the common parts inside a computer.
The motherboard is a large circuit board inside the computer that houses all the rest of the components, whether they are integrated or not. Basically, this is the piece that makes all the other pieces work together. A good motherboard will have multiple expansion ports on it. That means, you will have room to add devices should you desire to perform upgrades. Keep in mind though, no matter how many slots your motherboard has, there will be times when it makes more financial sense to purchase a new computer rather than upgrade your old one.
RAM (random access memory)
RAM chips are another type of memory. Many people get confused when told that RAM is memory. After all, you learned last month that your hard drive is memory, right? Well, a computer actually needs two different kinds of memory to work. Your hard drive is where all of your data is stored, but even with the new solid-state hard drives, this type of memory is slow. On the other hand, RAM is very fast. When you open a program, it is loaded from the hard drive onto the RAM. Then it runs from there while you have it open. RAM is temporary however, which is why you have to save your data to the hard drive in order to keep a copy of it. RAM is usually also the least expensive and most effective way to upgrade your computer.
For the most part, today’s computers come with integrated video cards. And, most of them don’t have their own dedicated video memory. The video card serves to take some of the load off of the CPU, which you learned about two months ago. One of the reasons that gamers want to have a non-integrated video card is because integrated video cards actually share the memory used by the entire system. There are other benefits, but just keep in mind that a computer with a stand-alone video card will perform much better than one that has an integrated one. As a compromise, you can purchase a computer with an integrated video card, but that also has an expansion slot on the motherboard for adding a stand-alone one in the future. That way, you can upgrade the computer as needed.
Once again, most modern computers have integrated sound cards. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, unless you plan to engage in professional audio development, like multi-channel audio recording, most integrated sound cards will perform just fine. In fact, some of the newer ones even have some multi-channel capabilities onboard. Of course, if you want to record something like old cassettes to a modern DVD, you may have to spend a little extra on the sound card.
There are other pieces to consider, but these should at least give you a working knowledge. Thank you for sticking with it through these last three columns regarding computer purchasing. Hopefully, those who are in the process of looking for a new computer right now have benefitted from these articles. At the very least, you should be able to offer someone advice on what to do when looking.