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Computer Basics

  Working with computers is fun for some folks and confusion for others. Computers these days are complex but made so the average user does NOT need to know what happens in the background. Some folks think they are experts, but knowing some terminology only makes them sound more knowledgeable than they really are.
  Apple vs. the PC but is really up to the individual and what the system will be used for. I am a Microsoft Certified Professional and have worked with the PC for many years so it is my system of choice. There are a few things to keep in mind when buying a computer.
Understand these different parts because they appear in the sales ads.
  • CPU, (central processing unit or brain)
  • Disk Drive, Hard Drive (saves files and programs)
  • Memory (part of the system that talks to the brain)

  In communications, electronics and physics, multipliers are used to define powers of 10. We use them to describe speeds and capacity in relationship to a computer system. Typically the more zero’s the better. The use of capitalization is very important, where capital letters carry more power than the lower-case equivalent. Kilo has the power of 10x3 and is written as 1K (1,000) or the popular Y2K meaning the Year 2000. Mega has the power of 10x6 and is written as 1M (1,000,000). These numbers were once considered large but as we reach greater speeds and capacities new terms emerge. This is important when buying a computer system because they are used to impress and describe the product in comparison to older models. Here are a few terms and their letter and number of zero’s.
G-Giga (9), T-Tera (12), P-Peta (15), E-Exa (18), Z-Zetta (21) and Y-Yotta (24)

   When we talk about speeds we first look at the CPU clock speed or how many operations it can perform in a specific amount of time. This is designated in cycles called Hertz (Hz). With today's technology the computer you buy tomorrow will be faster than what you buy today, so whatever you buy today is faster than yesterday. Most people will be happy with whatever is current, replacing every 3 or 4 years to take advantage enhancements. I say keep your computer as long as you are happy with it. If you decide an upgrade is needed, don't install a new operating system on old hardware. Typical CPU speeds today are 2GHz (2,000,000,000 Hertz) and higher. To speed things up the modern processor also have Cache (a fast storage buffer), a back-side bus that connects the CPU to cache and an FSB (front-side bus) that carries data between the CPU and the memory controller. I recently saw a flyer for a PC listed as (2MB L2 Cache, 2.60GHz, 800MHz FSB). Obviously the higher the number the better.

   Next we lets talk about disk space. A disk is a storage area the computer uses to load programs and save files. Bytes represent 8 binary digits called bits (1 or 0). Unless you are saving loads of pictures and some movies a few hundred Giga Bytes will due. A typical flyer describes the disk capacity as (160GB SATA hard drive). SATA describes the cable connection to the disk, is a common method and is not very important to the average user. What is most important is the size, 160 Gigabytes. 1,000 Gigabytes would 1 Terabyte (1TB), the next milestone.

   The last item is the memory. Memory is a holding area for programs and files waiting to be processed by the CPU. The operating system and programs are loaded into memory first, so the more memory the better. A typical flyer describes the capacity as (3GB DDR3 SDRAM). It stands for 3 Gigabytes, Double Data Rate, and synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory. That is a mouth full but the important thing here is the 3 Gigabytes. We are seeing 4 Gigabytes in current systems and I recommend getting the maximum available. Some manufacturers list the memory (2/2/0/0), meaning there are 4 slots available on the main board and the first two are occupied by 2 Gigabyte boards. This tells you an upgrade is easily possible by filling the empty slots with like memory.

   What kind of computer should you buy?
When you think of the computer and all the things connected, it becomes a computer system. When I look for a system for myself or my clients I first consider the use. In most cases I am surfing the web, writing a few documents, checking email or touching up a picture from my camera.

  • I find the current CPU is fast enough to handle every day needs
  • Memory on the newer systems will hold around 4 Gigabytes so load it up
  • Disk drives are typically 160, 320 or 760 Gigabytes
  • I like a large flat screen monitor (21 inch)
  • Ink jet printer or laser printer
  • I look for a complete package and on sale
  • Purchase from large chain store

   It is common to see sale items where the trade off is disk and memory. You will see 3 Gigabytes of memory and a 760 Gigabyte disk drive, or 4 Gigabytes of memory and a 320 Gigabyte disk drive. Go for the memory every time. Computers I have owned have never filled 300 Gigabytes of disk space, however memory is used up with every program you load. New operating systems, screen savers, anti-virus programs and all the toys you download free will slow your system down unless you get the maximum amount of memory. So remember Memory! Memory! Memory!
   We currently recommend Acer systems and that includes Gateway products. What is the most important in any computer system is the service. Service will make or break the brand. If you buy a system that is low cost and very little support you will always be dissatisfied. Buy a computer that has a place to take it to when you are having trouble.
And remember Memory! Memory! Memory!

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