Motherboards are the backbones of a computer. All the computer components are plugged into the motherboard. Today motherboards are all very similar as they use the same sockets. The main difference is the type of processors they support. Most motherboards support one of the two major processor brands Intel and AMD. Many these days also have integrated graphics cards and sound cards, meaning that you need no extra PC components for your computer to be able to display to your monitor or play music.
The important questions to ask when looking at a motherboard is to find out how many slots there are for Components, Memory and the Processors it can support. These questions are vital as the motherboard can determine the longevity of your computer. If a motherboard lacks in certain areas you will quickly find that it will need to be replaced to keep up with the new technology.
The processor is technically known as the Central Processing Unit (CPU) because it is where all the instructions are sent to be turned from digital code into commands and data for the computer components. This makes the processor the most important part of the computer as its speed determines the overall speed of a computer.
Lately processors have undergone a dramatic change. Technology has allowed manufacturers to put two, three or four processors into one chip. By doing so the processors are able to process double or even quadruple the amounts of data in the same time that one processor could. When looking at processors it always best to look into how much power you will need from it to do what you wish on a computer. Running office applications and playing music or videos does not require fast processors. For photo editing, video editing and gaming you will need faster processors. Also take into account price compared to speed.
It is good to try and get the best processor within your budget as it will mean the computer is less likely to need upgrading in the future and less likely to be frustratingly slow if you are running more than one program at any one time. Be careful though as putting too much emphasis on the processor can lead to a dramatic cost rise, look for the best compromise between price and speed.
Memory is also known as RAM (Random Access Memory). Memory and Hard drive space are often mixed up by many people. Memory is not the storage space for a computer. Memory works as a medium between the Hard Drive and the processor. It stores the data that is to be sent to the processor from the hard drive. It does not store data permanently.
Memory is the second most important component behind the processor as it determines how quickly data can be fed through to the processor. If you have inadequate memory it will not be able to give the data to the processor fast enough to utilize the processors full speed. This will create a bottle neck in your computer as the processor will be handicapped by the lack of Memory.
If possible when buying a computer today, purchase as much memory as possible. Memory prices have fallen dramatically in recent years and it is better to have too much memory than too little.
The Hard Drive is the storage component of a computer. This is where all the data is permanently stored in the computer. Word documents, music and video files will be stored on the hard drive. Today you can purchase very large hard drives but their size does not increase the performance of a computer. Large hard drives are necessary only if you wish to store a large amount of data. Music and video files are the most common files which require large hard drives. Also some applications and games will take up large amounts of hard disk space.
Today’s prices for hard drive space are low but increasing the drive space too much can push up the price of your computer. If you are looking for a computer which will be used for office, internet and E-mail functions then a hard drive size of 80 - 100 GB will easily suffice. If you plan to use the computer to store large amounts of video and music files then 120+ GB would suffice for most but it may be sensible to look at higher capacities to ensure you do not run out of space.
Please look at our Memory help to see why Hard drives and Memory are different as it is a common misconception that these are one and the same.
The monitor is the device through which the computer displays it results to you the user. Flat screens are now replacing the old large CRT monitors, reducing the amount of desk space they take up. In our opinion it is always best to get a screen of 19” or bigger for a desktop as it can really make a difference to your computing experience. For laptops the size of the screen usually determines the size of the laptop, if you want something that is very small and portable then it will probably have a small screen, if you want a laptop for use just at home then you may look into getting on with a bigger screen.
However when looking at screen sizes you need to take into account cost. The jump from a 17” to 19” will not cost you too much but from there on up you may be looking at a large jump in price when going above the 20” mark. Monitor size is measured in inches on the diagonal from one a bottom corner to the opposite top corner.
The Video card is often known also as a Graphics card. The function of the Video card is to translate the digital data which has been processed by the processor and send the results in the form of a signal to the monitor. Lower priced computers often have integrated video cards on the motherboards and are usually adequate for the basic tasks of standard computer use. If you wish to use your computer for more graphically intensive applications or games then you will probably require a separate video card which plugs into the motherboard. Our Search options sort out suitable Graphics cards for certain tasks.
Many Video cards also have their own memory which allows them to handle the more complex graphics that computer applications generate. You may see some video cards will have dedicated or shared memory, the difference is that shared memory is essentially borrowed from your other computer components whereas dedicated memory belongs solely to the video card. Dedicated memory is the best and most common type to have.
If you want to run graphics intensive programs then you will require a powerful video card and these can cost anywhere between £100 - £450. This is why we have designed our search for computer usage so that we can advise what types of graphics card you will need and hopefully save you money.
The manufacturer is the company that built the computer. There will be well known brands that you will recognise on here but there will also be others that are less well known. Some of the less well known brands specialise in making computers and are experts at putting together bundles that suit the needs of different users. The computers we recommend are well researched and you can take confidence that they will be good quality products.
We have selected computers from a number of different suppliers. Many of these we have had personal experience of and others come highly recommended from other I.T. Professionals. We have done the searching for you to find the best systems to suit your personal needs so that you can easily find a computer that is right for you.
To go directly to the suppliers website for ordering the system please either click on the picture or use the link at the bottom of the technical specifications.
Which Windows Vista version is right for you?
Windows Vista is the Microsoft Operating system launched in 2007. Vista has several versions which you can purchase at varying prices and we are going to give a brief description of each one so that you can decide which version is right for you.
Vista Home Basic: This is the lowest cost version and as the title states is a very basic version of Windows Vista. It is intended for anyone who is running Vista on a budget computer or for those who do not want all the fancy looks that the other versions provide.
Vista Home Basic does not include:
Media Centre: Used for TV, music and DVDs
Aero Graphics: The new transparent graphical interface.
Backup Options: Cannot backup files automatically.
Vista Home Premium: This is the middle package of the three available, although it only costs a little more than the Vista Home Basic. We would recommend that users go for this option as it gives you the best in features for price. The Premium option includes the new style Aero Graphical interface, Media Centre, backups and is also compatible with the Xbox360. Premium is for the average users wanting to listen to music, watch DVDs or TV and play computer games on their computers.
Vista Ultimate: This is the best version of Vista. It includes everything that Microsoft could pack in to one operating system. The main advantages of Ultimate are that it has more games, business applications like scanning and faxing, a full and automated backup recovery system called shadowing and also File Encryption software to secure your hard drive files against theft or intrusion. Ultimate also has some of the more advanced networking options which can be configured to be more secure than the other versions. The downside to all this is that Ultimate can cost between £100 and £200 more than premium which will drive the price of a new computer up significantly.
Processor Speed has become harder to judge in the past year since the emergence of Dual and Quad core processors.
The old single core processors were the standard until the past two years. A single core processor can take in data from one queue and process each bit one part at a time. The new processors with multiple cores overcome this limitation by having in essence two or four processors working seperately and processing the data from multiple queues.
The easiest way to understand this would be to think of a shopping queue. If you have only one till serving customers then it will be a slow process to serve all of them in the queue. Where as if you have two or four tills serving the same number of customers then the process of serving everyone in the queue will be sped up considerably. This is exactly what the new multiple core processors do to increase their speed without necessarily increasing the amounts of data they can each process in a set amount of time.
Quick Guide to Processors
Single core: Single processor.
Good speed = 3GHz+
Duo Core or Dual Core: Two processors.
Good speed = 1.8GHz+
Quad Core: Four processors.
Good speed = 1.6GHz+
This section shows the components that we believe would be the most worthwhile upgrading to a better spec on each computer. You may wish to do this upon purchasing the computer or it may be an option which can be purchased at a later date to extend the life of the computer by keeping it up to date.
The Usage Ratings are an easy to understand visual guide to the suitability of a computer to certain tasks. We have used traffic light dots to show whether or not a computer is good, resonable or not suitable for the different types of usage.
All the computers have green dots for the Office, Internet and E-mail as all the computers on the site are more than capable of running these applications.
The Green Dot means that the computer will be good at the corresponding usage and you will get good performance carrying out these tasks.
The Orange Dot means that the computer will be reasonably suited to the corresponding usage and you will get acceptable performance carrying out these tasks.
The Red Dot means that the computer is not suited to this purpose and it will either not run the applications or struggle to do so.
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