What’s in a Number?

Many people shop for computers and computer services by the numbers, but it’s important to know the significance of those numbers so you don’t end up under-buying or over-buying.

One number we all have a fairly good grasp on is price. Typically you get bigger/better/faster for more money, but there are other numbers that are significant when you have choices within your price range.

Did you know that watching a high-definition video program like Netflix, or a game system like Xbox/Playstation, takes only 5 Mbps (megabits-per-second) of bandwidth? So, unless you are frequently uploading or downloading large amounts of data, it’s hard to justify Internet services of 150 to 940 Mbps. Today, most of us have many good choices from 6 Mbps and up.

Computer speed is based on many factors, including CPU speed, RAM size, hard drive speed, video card speed, Internet speed and what you are running. When shopping, start by looking at the aspects you can’t easily upgrade later, like CPU. With laptops and all-in ones, that list includes video chip and screen size.

So how do you determine the relative speed of different CPUs, video cards/chips, hard drives, etc. to make comparisons? Go to passmark.com and look up specific benchmark numbers under CPU Benchmarks, Video Card Benchmarks, Hard Drive Benchmarks, etc.

Keep in mind that, when it comes to computers, small differences in speed are often not noticeable. You may notice something that is twice as fast, but not necessarily if it is only 50% faster. The easiest way to increase your computer speed, without buying a whole new computer, is to switch from a spinning hard disk drive (HDD) to a solid state drive (SSD) or hybrid (SSHD). SSDs are at least 10 times faster than its spinny equivalent. Even SSDs can vary in speed between makes/models/types.

The bottom line is, you want to buy something that meets your needs and expectations of speed, capacity, dependability, and longevity without breaking the bank. To achieve that, know your numbers, or ask someone you trust to help you make good choices.

Next time, I’ll tell you how you could speed up your home wifi with just one setting.