I find I get this question quite often from friends and family when they want to purchase a new computer. The answer to this isn’t necessarily a straightforward answer as that’s not really the question they’re asking. It’s very rare for someone to truly want to purchase the “best” computer, particularly when you know that they don’t have the means to purchase it or the actual need for what would amount to a ridiculously expensive computer. What they’re really asking is: What computer can I buy for relatively cheap money that will last me for a while? First, you have to determine what your budget is. What can you actually afford?

So what goes into the search for a new computer? The main items would generally be:

  • Form factor
  • Operating System
  • Processor
  • Memory (RAM)
  • Disk

Form Factor

Form factor is basically: what type of computer do you want? Most common form factors are desktop, laptop, and tablet.

Operating System

What operating system are you most familiar with: Windows, Mac OS, or Linux? You’ll want to use the operating system with which you’re most familiar. Another factor to consider is whether the applications you will use are compatible with that operating system. However compatibility is less of an issue with the ability to run virtual machines on your computer that can run a compatible operating system that is different to the base one. For example, you can run a Windows virtual machine on a Mac and work in it to be able to utilize Windows applications. Macs aren’t inherently better than PCs and vice versa, although Macs are usually more expensive than a similar Windows PC spec for spec.


For processor, you generally want to look at the speed and core count. For CPU clock frequency, Gigahertz (GHz) is better than Megahertz (MHz). More cores is better than less. Newer generations are better than older generations. Ideally you want a processor of a recent generation (which can usually be found on the manufacturer’s website) with higher clock frequency and more cores.

Memory (RAM)

Applications run in memory and store data long term on hard disk. Random Access Memory (RAM) is basically the short-term memory equivalent for your computer. Nowadays you can shoot for 8 GB to 16 GB to be a comfortable range to fall into for laptops and desktops. Tablets you’ll usually find in the 2 GB to 4 GB range. More available memory is always better.


The hard disk is the long-term memory equivalent for your computer. Hard disks come in two types: traditional hard disks and solid state drives. For traditional hard disks, the internals include spinning magnetic disks (thus the name “hard disk”) onto which the data is written. For these, the RPM (revolutions per minute) speed is important. Most drives are in the 5400 or 7200 RPM categories. Faster RPMs make for more responsive disks which means faster reads and writes. Solid state drives are basically flash drives and include no moving parts. For either type, the higher the capacity the better.