Selling computers is difficult. In today's society where tech rules many aspects of our lives, there are tens of thousands of online sellers trying to push a PC to their next prospective buyer. Naturally, this means that a lot of sellers are competing on cost.
But another card a lot of sellers play is the figures card. They know that their buyers want the best performing system they can afford, and they also know that a lot of them know very little about which components actually offer the best all round performance for their needs and will simply opt for the system with the biggest figures. So sellers play with the numbers, combining frivolous quantities of RAM with an outdated processor which just so happens to have a high clock speed, and naturally, your unknowing buyer sees these figures and presumes that more is better, and that this cocktail of impressive figures will without a doubt offer up the best performance for their cash.
But those buyers are often wrong. Not all of your GHz, MHz, GBs and MBs are equal. See, a 5GHz processor from three years ago would very likely not outperform a 2GHz processor from today, just as 16GBs of RAM is not necessarily a better option than 8GBs of RAM.
Let's first look at the CPU (Central Processing Unit, or Processor). The processor is the heart of a computer and is where most of the primary commands are executed. Clock speed is an attribute given to a processor which expresses how many cycles of its operations it can perform in a second. Clock speed (measured in GHz) is one thing, but the processor's instruction set is another. Manufacturers of processors devote most of their time to improving a processor's efficiency by increasing the amount of work it can do in one cycle (measured in Hertz, or Hz) and what this means is that newer processors typically can compute more per cycle than older ones, which translates to better performance per cycle than older processors. In other words - as a general rule - the more modern a processor is, the faster it will be.
Next, RAM (or Random Access Memory). RAM temporarily holds data (that is, until the computer is turned off - when it is turned on again information gets loaded onto the RAM again) from your operating system and applications for instant access by your processor. RAM has two common attributes: the size of the memory, expressed in GB (GigaBytes), and the speed of the memory, typically measured in MHz. For the most part, more RAM is indeed better than less RAM. But there becomes a point where more RAM offers up no extra performance gains, and this is when the RAM is paired with a low performance processor that simply cannot make use of the extra RAM, or if the operating system on the machine is a 32 bit platform as opposed to a 64 bit platform - 32 bit operating systems can make use of no more than 4GBs of RAM, where 64 bit operating systems can make use of practically any amount. Windows is available in both varieties, both 32 and 64 bit, but a lot of sellers ship computers with more than 4GBs of RAM with 32 bit operating systems to unknowing buyers. In addition, if you do not plan to run multiple applications at once or play RAM intensive video games (in other words, a game which will utilise lots of RAM), an excess of RAM may prove pointless and will offer no performance gains over a similar system with less RAM. RAM speed is a minor discussion point and practically will make very little difference in most scenarios, though it should be noted that there are currently three common varieties of RAM available: DDR1, DDR2 and DDR3, with DDR3 being the latest and the one you should therefore opt for. One thing a lot of sellers do is include no-name brand RAM in their systems where the RAM is sourced cheaply from Chinese manufacturers, and this can be a recipe for disaster, as RAM produced by smaller, lesser known companies has a reputation for being unreliable and may result in an unstable computer.
The final trick that sellers often play is to include low-end video cards (otherwise known as graphics cards) with their computers and then brandish them as gaming PCs. The video card processes all the visual information and then outputs it to your monitor or display and is pivotal to the performance of a PC in a gaming environment. Buyers often fall for this because they associate the amount of memory a video card has (measured in MB or GB) with its performance, but this is completely wrong. A low-end video card can have a lot of memory, just as a high-end video card can have less. There are several attributes which dictate the overall performance of a video card including the information a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) can calculate in a cycle, the GPU clock speed, the memory speed, number of ROPs, number of shaders; the list goes on, but as a general rule, the larger a video card is and the more recent it is, the more powerful it will be (no I'm not kidding!). Still, a buyer should research the video card in the system they are looking to buy, particularly if they are buying the computer to play video games as it is the most important component for a PC intended to play games.
The components above are the primary components in dictating a PCs performance in any situation and the ones which sellers will play the figures card with. If you follow this guide and do your research on the components in the system you're interested in you will come out with the best PC your money can buy you, whatever you're buying it for!
Written by Michael Kelly at www.phoenixmachines.co.uk, a manufacturer of quality Gaming PCs, Workstations, Media PCs and Budget PCs.