The Beginner’s Guide To Understanding Computer Specs

Are you considering buying a new computer, troubleshooting your computer, or just interested in learning more about computers? This article will cover most of the things you need to know, without being too “techy”.

If you are looking for a new computer, you need to determine your primary purpose and your budget. You should also know whether you need a desktop or a laptop. With this information, you’ll be able to choose the computer with specs that best suit your needs.

The term “specs” is short for specifications. When it comes to computers, these include details regarding the speed, storage, memory, graphics, etc. This article covers some of the basic information about the standard computer specs.

If you currently own a computer and want to upgrade, you should know what kind of specs your machine already has. This will be useful, since you will have an idea about which things you need to upgrade and what you can keep. It will also save you some money as you won’t be upgrading components that already suit your needs.

How to Know the Specs of Your Computer

Small Computer with Components

There are some key specs you need to understand about your computer, including the following:

 The language around computer specs can be confusing and intimidating. Here we have explained the main terms, including their meaning and usage. With this understanding, and a clear idea of what your own needs are, you should be ready to go.
  • ​CPU
  • ​Motherboard
  • ​RAM
  • check
    Graphics Card
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    Power Supply
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    Storage

​​​​​​Note that each of these terms is explained below, to help you to fully understand what each one means and what it does.

If you’re using Windows 10, you can find out the specs by typing "System Information" in the search box. Then open the matching System Information application.

Find Windos 10 System Information


This will give you information about your processor, memory, storage devices, graphics card and many other aspects of your computer.

For Mac users, it’s much simpler. Just click on the Apple icon and choose “About This Mac”. It will show a window similar to the following:

You will be able to determine your Mac model, processor, memory and other high level specs from this window. Other high-level information is available by selecting one of the tabs along the top of the window. If you want to do a deep investigation, click the "System Report..." button to get many low-level details about the computer.

Now that you have opened the window with the specs for your computer, you still might not understand much. If looking at your specs leaves you confused, this is why we are here. We will now explain all of these specs to you in a simple, straightforward way.

Central Processing Unit (CPU)

Intel Core i7s

The CPU is the main chip in your computer that tells the computer how to to follow the instructions given by the software. A CPU is like a team leader who takes orders from management and tells their team how to execute them.

CPUs aren’t only installed on computers, but also on smartphones and tablets. Sometimes CPUs share the same chip with the graphics card, such as the Intel Core i7-7700K. CPUs are attached to the motherboard, under the fan, since they generate a lot of heat.

In a desktop PC, it’s fairly easy to remove the CPU and the cooler so that you can replace or upgrade easily. However, you have to make sure that the new CPU will be compatible with your motherboard. In most cases, if you want to upgrade your CPU, you will need to upgrade your motherboard too.

Unlike a desktop PC, it’s nearly impossible to remove CPUs and coolers from most laptops. Therefore, if you’re considering upgrading your laptop CPU, you should probably consider buying a new laptop.

When judging a CPU’s performance, you have to check three criteria: clock speed, model, and the number of cores.

Clock speed determines the rate that a CPU can do work. The higher the rate, the more instructions a CPU can execute per second.

Many processors also can run in a mode where the clock rate varies depending on the current demand of the computer. This is called Turbo Boost in Intel processors.

It's a nice feature, especially for laptops. The CPU can run slower and extend the battery life when performance isn't required, but still perform well when needed. This all happens automatically.

There are two main models of CPU: Intel and AMD. Intel has a couple of versions, including Atom, Core M, and Core i3/i5/i7. Atom and Core M processors are power-efficient, but they they are slower.

AMD has also makes CPUs that are used in desktops. The most popular one is AMD Ryzen, which offers good performance at an affordable price.

The number of cores affects how fast your CPU can process data. You can choose between having two, four, eight or more. 

You can think of a core in a CPU as a worker. If you have more workers you can complete a task faster. However, it depends on the specific tasks since some tasks require the workers to wait on each other.

However, if you’re running certain programs, such as video editing or image processing, a quad-core (four core) or better will suit you best.

Motherboard

Motherboards Asus

Motherboards are the foundation that hold all the computer’s parts together. There are two types of motherboard. The first type is the one designed for laptops, and varies according to the laptop design.

The desktop motherboards are usually manufactured according to standard designs, which makes assembling and upgrading components easy. They’re designed to be more adaptable than laptop motherboards so that you can add more components.

The component parts that are attached to the motherboard include CPU, RAM, expansion slots, graphics connectors and network port. Other components are USB ports, storage connectors and keyboard and mouse connectors.

If you’re planning to buy a motherboard, make sure it’s compatible with your CPU. Motherboards usually contain what is called the chipset, which manages the movement of data between the computer’s components. Your CPU choice will determine the kind of chipset required of the motherboard.

Make sure the physical size of the motherboard is suitable for the RAM, connectors, and PCI slots you want. Decide whether you need to get a built-in Wi-Fi device, or if you can use a wired connection to save a few bucks.

RAM

DDR So-Dimm and Wafer

RAM stands for Random Access Memory and is the type of memory used by the CPU to store data for running programs. RAM is volatile, meaning the stored data may be lost when there’s no power. It temporarily stores information to be accessed very quickly.

RAM is a basic component of many devices, including computers, tablets, phones and printers.

There are two different types of RAM: dynamic random access memory (DRAM) and static access memory (SRAM). DRAM is installed in the majority of computers nowadays.

The less common type is SRAM. This requires power in order to maintain data, meaning the computer has to stay powered. However, some SRAM comes with a built-in battery, preventing it from losing data if the computer is turned off.

Whether you’re building a PC or upgrading, you can’t can't swap one kind of RAM for another. This is because each RAM has a different type of connector. Even for RAM devices with the same connector, you need to be sure it can run at the required speeds.

Regarding memory quantity, for an average consumer we don’t recommend buying less than 4GB of RAM. If you will be using your computer mainly for games, 8GB of RAM can be sufficient. If you will be doing a lot of video editing or software development, 16GB of RAM will boost your computer’s performance and your productivity.

You should be aware that the larger quantities of RAM can significantly increase the price of a desktop computer or laptop.

It’s also important to mention that you should know your computer’s, and RAM’s, maximum capacity. Motherboards vary in how many slots they have for RAM.

Graphics Card

RTX 2080 TIs

The term GPU (graphics processing unit) is used interchangeably with the term graphics card. The GPU is actually the processor that operates the graphics card. It is a component of the graphics cards which includes other parts, such as a PCB (printed circuit board) and a cooler.

A GPU is similar to a CPU, but it designed specifically for graphics processing rather than general-purpose computing.

The graphics card is the part of your computer responsible for converting data into signals. These signals can then be understood by the monitor, which displays them as images. The GPU lets your computer run faster by allowing the CPU to focus on other tasks.

GPUs handle any type of visual data, including pictures, videos, animation and 3D. If you’re a video editor or gamer, then you will need to buy one of the latest versions of graphics cards. This will allow you to view videos at their highest resolution.

Graphics cards are now used for different purposes. Sometimes they are used for facial recognition and language processing. Since the GPU can process simple mathematical calculations very quickly, they can also be used for cryptocurrency mining.

The graphics card is situated on the motherboard next to the CPU. Its location is accessible so you can easily remove and replace it.

If you want to upgrade your graphics card, you need to take certain factors into consideration. These include clock speed, core count and memory bandwidth.

Clock speed is also known as core speed or frequency. It means the speed at which the GPU core can calculate data. The core count refers to how many processing cores the GPU has. Similar to CPUs, the more cores the GPU has, the faster the GPU performs.

The memory bandwidth, or VRAM, is the memory dedicated solely to the GPU. It’s used as storage for games assets, such as textures and resolution data.

Power Supply

Titanium Plus 80

The power supply unit, or PSU, is one of the most important parts of your computer. It’s responsible for distributing power to all the other components.

A poor-quality power supply might damage your PC. It could supply an unstable power stream or overheat your device, which may decrease its lifetime.

On the other hand, a high-quality power supply can enable your computer to operate more efficiently. It will also save electricity and decrease heat and noise.

When evaluating the efficiency of the PSU, look for an “80Plus” sticker. This means that the power supply wastes less than 20% of the total energy output.

As a rule of thumb, avoid buying a generic, cheap power supply. Always look for a reputable brand that provides high-quality products, such as Corsair, Seasonic or Antec.

Heavier PSUs are usually sturdier than lightweight ones. This is because heavy PSUs include better capacitors, heatsinks for superior heat dissipation, and larger cooling fans.

When choosing your PSU, you have to check its power output, rails and efficiency.

Power outputs are measured in watts. The higher the watts are, the more power your PSU can supply. The range for PSUs in desktop computers varies from 200 watts to 1800 watts.

PSUs usually have either a single rail or multi rail. A “single-rail” PSU has a single high-powered +12V rail to supply power to all your computer’s components. A “multi-rail” PSU divides its power to more than one +12V rail.

You need also to choose a PSU with hard-wired cables. This way it won’t require additional connections between the unit’s internal printed circuit board (PCB). The connector will be plugged into one of the components.

Storage

HDD vs SSD

Computer data storage, or memory, is the technology that involves the components of the computer which retain digital data. A storage device is computing hardware that is used for storing data, either temporarily or permanently. These devices can be internal or external.

There are two types of storage device: primary storage devices and secondary storage devices. Primary storage devices are small in size, keep data temporarily and have high speed for data access. They are also internal devices, same as RAM and cache memory.

Secondary storage devices have larger storage capacity and store data permanently. They can also be both internal and external. They include hard disk drives, optical disk drives and USB drives.

The two main types of hard drive are hard disk drives (HDD) or solid state drives (SSD). Depending on your preferences, you can have either one of them or both. HHDs can store large amounts of data for a low price, while SSDs provide faster performance but cost more.

It’s important to know what type and how much data you need to store. And keep in mind that there are many cloud-storage options now available, which might be a good alternative to explore. With cloud storage you can access your files more easily if you are away from your own PC or laptop.

Conclusion

We hope you enjoyed reading this beginner's guide and found it useful. If you are thinking about upgrading your computer, or are in the market for a new one, this is a great place to start.

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