Evaluating a PC’s Hardware

You might be evaluating your computer hardware to decide if it is time to upgrade, or you might be comparing computers to decide which to upgrade to. Either way, you need a way to make the right choices for YOU. You can trust someone who knows (and listens!), or you can arm yourself with some knowledge and go into battle yourself. If you read on … I’ll assume the latter.

First, let’s put you (the end-user) into one of three categories: light user, medium user, or heavy user. If you are a light user, you simply use your PC for browsing, email, light word-processing, and/or light gaming. If you are a medium user, you may like to multi-task, or run some heavier programs. And heavy users are either gamers or work with graphics or other heavy programs.

A light user can often get away with a Chromebook/Chromebox, Android/iOS tablet, or low-end computer. A medium user needs a faster computer. And a heavy user needs an even faster computer with faster graphics. PCs and Macs use the same hardware now, so this information applies to both (those of you in the Mac world just have fewer choices and fewer upgrade options.)

Now let’s break down the components of a computer that matter.

CPU (or central processing unit) can be hard to evaluate, unless you know how: simply look it up on http://cpubenchmark.net. The folks at Passmark Software spend all their time testing every computer component ever made, and assigning it a “benchmark” number. CPUs range in numbers from 79 to 25,911. If yours is under 1100, you are either a light user, or needing of an upgrade. Today’s average CPUs typically range from 1600-4000, with some going into 5-digits.

Next is RAM. Light-to-medium users can get away with 4GB, while medium-to-heavy users need 8GB or more. Speeds between RAM types (DDR1/2/3/4) and RAM makes and models are listed on http://memorybenchmark.net, but don’t vary greatly, so I would base my decision strictly on amount.

Next is video card. Unless you are a heavy graphic user and/or gamer, they don’t much matter. But if you are “one of those”, check the make/model out at http://videocardbenchmark.net. Benchmarks range widely from 1 to 12,762 … yours should be a few hundred as a light graphics user, to thousands for a heavy graphics user. Finally, let’s consider hard drives. Yes, most are listed at http://harddrivebenchmark.net, but in my mind, there are basically 2 categories and 1 hybrid: SATA/”HDD”, solid state/”SSD”, or hybrid/”SSHD”. SATA drives are the traditional ones: typically big, slow, and inexpensive. Solid state hard drives are 5-times faster, but can also be 5-times more expensive per GB. Hybrids combine the two to give you more storage for less money, but speed where and when you need it.