How To Buy A New Computer – Step 1

I’ve helped several clients pick out new computers recently and I found that many of the same questions pop up from person to person. Since there are great bargains on new computers right now, this will be the first in a series of posts explaining what to look for when you buy a computer.

Let’s start with some definitions.


Like people, computers have many different types of memory. This can be especially confusing to non-tech buyers, since the same word can refer to drastically different components. However, as a rough rule, whatever type of memory you’re buying, more is always better and faster is always desirable.


Computers have something very analogous to human short term and long term memory. If I told you I work for a company called Ghost Leg Media, and then, five minutes from now asked you the name of my company, you might very well say “Ghost Leg Media.” However, tomorrow or next week, you will probably have forgotten.

However, if we were old high school friends who put out an underground paper called “Ghost Leg News,” you would probably still recall the rollicking good times we had back in the day, working at good old Ghost Leg.

In the first case, Ghost Leg Media was lodged in your short term memory, but – since it had no importance to you – it was quickly forgotten. In the second case, a memory with great emotional resonance stayed in your long term memory and you might recall it long after you forget the names of your teachers or classmates.

Computers have a similar trick.

A computer’s short term memory is called RAM, which stands for Random Access Memory.

RAM is very fast, but it is also temporary. When you turn off your computer, data stored in RAM is lost.

When you are working on a document and your computer crashes and the document is lost – that document was stored in RAM.

On the other hand, if you had clicked “Save,” the data was written to disk. This is the computer’s long term memory. Data that is stored on the hard drive – written to disk – is safe for the long haul, barring catastrophic failure. Turning the computer off and on will have no effect on your data.


RAM is now measured in Gigabytes. A new computer will usually come with anywhere from 1 GB to 4 GB of RAM pre-installed.

On a standard Windows computer, don’t settle for anything less than 2 GB of RAM for Windows XP and 4 GB of RAM for Windows Vista.

If you can afford to upgrade only one component, upgrade the amount of RAM installed.

In Part 2, we’ll look at Hard Drives, Storage, and Memory