This section will briefly discuss the various aspects about computers that you may not know much about. It will attempt to give you a basic introduction to the important concepts that affect a computer’s performance, and to help you assess what you need in the next sections.

Tablets are designed to have the convenience of portability over performance. For this reason, they provide the ability to browse the internet, check e-mail, view and create presentations, make video calls, download books/games/videos, and much more, but they generally will not be used for anything really intensive. Tablets generally range in size between 7 and 10 inches, a size smaller than most laptops, and tend to be lighter for this reason. Note that tablets do not have keyboards, with exception to additional accessories on some models, so the touchscreen must also be used as the primary input device.

Laptops are portable computers that are perfect for someone on the move who wants to keep their information close to them, while keeping the niceties of a keyboard and track pad. A laptop computer has all the components combined; usually a screen, keyboard, and touchpad are combined in a unit that folds open and shut. Some laptops include a disc drive, but many smaller ones do not.

A desktop is a stationary computer housed in a case or tower. These generally offer higher performance for less cost, but lack any sort or portability, so work needs to be done at the location of the computer. Desktops generally do not have built in screens or accessories (all-in-ones being the exception to this).

There are many companies that manufacture and distribute computers. Generally, when considering the different brands and models, a good rule of thumb is to remember you usually get what you pay for. Otherwise, the quality of computers changes from year to year, and the best you can do is to research reviews of specific models during your search.

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The operating system (OS) is the software that controls a computer’s basic functions. The OS takes the technical aspects of the machine and gives you a way to interact with it, so that the experience becomes simpler.

Computer (Laptop/Desktop) OS

Tablet OS

The processor, formally called the Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the center of nearly everything a machine does. The CPU processes instructions in order to make everything you see and do on the computer happen. There are two key specifications for processors: clock speed and number of cores. The clock speed is measured in Hertz, usually Gigahertz (GHz) for current machines, where higher Hertz corresponds to faster speeds (more on what this means later). CPU’s also have cores, which, if you do not understand what this means, can basically be thought of as multiple processors in one CPU. Most processors today are at least two cores, and go up to eight for personal computers. Cores allow for better multitasking, meaning that a processor with more cores might be better for having many applications open at one time. Note that in this case, it may be better to have more cores with slower clock speed, as multitasking may be a higher priority than speed.

RAM is basically in in-between for the hard drive and the processor. What RAM is useful for will be discussed later in this guide. Here, what you need to know is that RAM today is measured in Gigabytes (GB), commonly ranging from 4 GB to 32 GB (with more being possible). RAM also has an access speed, which is measured in Megahertz (MHz). This speed is usually between 1600 MHz and 3000 MHz today.
Most current RAM is called DDR3. The next generation of RAM, DDR4, is soon to be released, and offers increased speeds and performance.

GPU’s are basically specialized processors designed to handle graphics. Graphics processing is quite intensive, and the GPU offloads much of that work from the CPU, so the CPU is not slowed down by difficult calculations. Not all computers contain GPUs; some laptops and tablets will often just include a more powerful integrated graphics portion to their CPU.
GPUs use their own RAM, called GDDR rather than DDR (they are based on the same technology), which usually ranges between 1 GB to 4 GB. They also have cores, though many more than any CPU (this increases throughput, or the number of tasks completed at one time). GPU’s architecture varies from manufacturer and model, and the number of cores, how they are used, and what it means to you are difficult to quantify. Generally this information is not going to be important if you do not already understand the technology. Also note GPUs have clock speeds, but these will be much lower than processor clock speeds, usually in the MHz range.

The motherboard is basically the highway system of the computer. The CPU, RAM, GPU, and many other things all connect to the motherboard, and the motherboard connects all these parts and allows them to work together. There are a lot of technical terms relating to the motherboard, most of which are what ports it has. The important thing is to make sure whatever motherboard you get will allow you to attach the processor, graphics card, and other parts you need to attach to it. This will take looking at specifications and checking ports and sockets.

The WNIC is essentially an interface between the computer and the wireless networks. It allows you to connect the computer to the internet with WIFI. If your desktop does not have a WNIC within it, then you will be forced to use an Ethernet cable to plug into the internet, and this can be extremely inconvenient if you are not near a router.

Bluetooth is used for short range wireless connections. It is generally used for phones and other small electronics (mouse, keyboard, headset, etc.). The most common use of Bluetooth is for connecting wireless devices to the computer for the use of those devices. Connecting a phone to a computer with Bluetooth will allow you to transfer data (pictures, videos, etc.) wirelessly.

All the information a computer uses must be stored somewhere. This is where the hard drive of a computer comes in. There are two types of hard drives, hard disk drives (HDD) and solid state drives (SSD). HDDs contain a physical disk that information is stored on. They are able to hold much larger amounts of data than SSDs at a lower cost. SSDs, on the other hand, are more expensive for how much they can hold, but are much faster. SSDs also contain no moving parts, as they are structured more like flash memory (flash drives), which makes them more durable if you were to drop them. They also have a limited number of writes (saves), though this is increasing as the technology develops.
The storage capacity of a drive is measured in gigabytes or terabytes (TB) (a terabyte is a power of two larger than a gigabyte). HDDs also have a speed at which the disk spins (revolutions per minute, or RPM), which is usually either 5400 RPM or 7200 RPM.

An optical drive is the drive that reads disks you put into the machine. These come in many forms: CD drive, DVD drive, CD/DVD drive, or Blue Ray drive. This technology is fairly straightforward, and you probably already know most anything you need to about it.

The peripherals of computers are things like keyboards, mice, monitors, speakers, gamepads, and more. There are many different peripherals that serve many different purposes. This category will take additional time to research and get knowledge in for you, and we will only briefly discuss it.

The case of a computer is simply the housing for all the internal components. For laptops and tablets, this is clearly just whatever the manufactures made as the computer. For a desktop though, there are a few things to know.

There are three main sizes of cases: mini, mid, and full. These sizes will affect what can fit in the computer, and how. Cases usually come with a stock set of fans for cooling, and generally are designed to fit all the standard parts.

Computers generate heat and need to be cooled. There are two types of cooling systems for computers: air cooling and liquid cooling. Air cooling uses only fans and airflow to keep the computer from overheating. Liquid cooling is used on more powerful computers where air-cooling is not enough. It uses a reservoir of coolant (usually water) that it pumps near critical portions to keep them cool, similar to a vehicle cooling system. This is combined with fans that help cool the coolant as well.

The power supply powers the parts of the machine. The important thing to know here is the wattage needed. All the parts of the machine have a certain requirement, and the power supply must be able to power all of these parts. There are normal, semi-modular, and modular power supplies. A normal power supply has all its cables attached to it, while a modular allows you to attach only the cables you need when you need them, which is useful for space.