Here are some tips on BUYING a computer (check other parts of this site for detailed tips on computer components and peripherals).
This is the brain of the computer. Currently, the standard for computers is the Pentium processor, which is available in several speeds: The higher the number, the faster the computer will run. Don't get less than 3 GigaHerz.
This is short for Random Access Memory. Think of this as your desktop. The bigger your desktop, the more things you can do at once, and the faster you can do them. Most machines are coming standard with 2 gigabytes of RAM, but this is fast changing to 4 gigabytes. Windows alone uses about a 1 gigabyte today ... so if you are using some larger programs for games or video editing, you'll need lots!
This is the storage capacity of your computer. Think of it as an electronic filing cabinet. Digital video and digital audio (MP3) files take up a lot of space! Most computers have at least a 100 gigabyte hard drive, and some have one or more terrabytes (each 1000 gigabytes)! If you are downloading music or doing any digital video or photography, anything over a hundred gigabytes is suitable for home or small office use.
It looks just like a music CD, but a CD-ROM can hold up to 650 megabytes of information! New drives can play DVDs on your computer (with several gigs of data, and even record CD-ROMs or DVDs. CDs are now used by software manufacturers to make software installs easy, so don't even think of not getting one. Just like processors, they are available in different speeds: 24X, 32X, 64X.
This is what determines how information gets sent from
the computer to the monitor, how fast it will get
there, and how many colors will be involved. Most
machines come standard with several megabytes, which
is more than enough for the average user.
This is the unit that allows you to communicate with the world. Most modems let you surf the Internet, send and receive faxes, talk on the phone, and have a personal voice-mail answering service. Most desktop systems have modems for cable or ADSL high-speed access, though today wireless modems can connect you to a wireless office network or to "hotspots" in airports and cafes when traveling. These are often bundled by your Internet Service Provider (ISP), not your computer dealer, so check around. Mobile computers (Palm-tops) have slower modems, and are typically suitable only for email or "texting", though big performance improvements are due shortly. The numbers tell you how many thousands of characters per second you can send or receive.
Get as BIG and as high resolution a
monitor as you can afford. Remember, you are
going to be looking at the screen for a long time.
The most common quality measurement of monitors is
what is called dot pitch. When you look closely at a
screen, you can see it has rows of dots called
pixels, and each pixel has a red, blue, and green
For the printer consider either inkjet or laser. Inkjet printers are much faster and quieter, and work by spraying ink onto paper, often in color, a huge plus for those who work with graphics or have kids (but be prepared for a supplies cost that can run you up to $1 per page). Laser printers are best for quality, speed, and low operating cost, though the affordable ones only print in black. Supplies costs for black & white laser printers can be in the 3-10 cents a page range. Only if you are generating multi-part forms do you need an impact printer, since they're loud and slow.
Universal Serial Bus o r"USB" plugs are fast becoming the standard plug-in for many system components.
The USB port not only supports "plug & play" where you can add and remove devices without rebooting your computer, but can also provide power to the devices (including cool things like coffee heaters and small fans).
This is fast replacing serial cable and parallel cables (from printers) and even specialized plugs for everything from mouse & keyboard to microphones and headsets. It seems you can never have enough USB ports on your computer or laptop.
Desktop PCs often have 2-4 USB plugs in the back for various peripherals and 2 USB plugs in the front for copying camera chips, USB flash drives, and for plugging in iPods. If you need more USB ports than come with the computer, get a USB card which can add 4 ports (and looks built in ona desktop computer, but may extend the 3 plus outside the laptop body).