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Buying a computer... part 1

What do you need to know when you decide to buy a new computer?

Well that all depends on what your requirements are; it’s really a catch 22 situation.  

We get asked all the time to supply customers with a quotation for a new computer and its a difficult thing to do without asking lots and lots of questions.

So to make the process easier for you I am going to "clue you up" on what you need to know when buying a new computer. Whether its your first time buying a computer or you’re a seasoned veteran using computers, I'm sure you will find some useful information in here.

When I say "buying a computer" I mean any type of computer, whether its a laptop, a tower system, new or old computer even a tablet, oh and some smart phones are more like a mini computer than the phones of old.  While most of the information will be relevant some of it may not be 100% accurate but it will give you a general idea, and as they say "knowledge is power" and the better armed you are with knowledge when purchasing anything the less likely you will be to get ripped off.

I always like to use analogies when explaining about computers and technology.  When children are taught to read and write they are shown a picture of an apple with the word "apple" underneath, so we are all use to analogies when learning and I find it an ideal way to learn about technology too.

So, lets go on our journey of knowledge....  

Part 1...

The Processor or CPU (central processing unit).

The processor can be considered the brains of the computer, different ranges of processors or CPU's also have different capabilities.  Some are better suited to certain activities than others.  They also have a speed rating which, like the engine in a car the faster the engine, the faster off the mark they are and the faster the car will get you from A to B.  Cars also have obstacles and "speed limiting factors" and Processors also have "speed limiting factors", some of which are built into the chip and some are based on external factors; more of that later.  

Some CPU's have multiple cores or multiple CPU's built into the same physical device, the more Cores a CPU has the more things it can process at the same time. Video editing benefits greatly from multi-core processors.

There are a plethora of chip manufacturers, new ones come and old ones go, but in the Personal Computer field Intel and AMD have been the only players for quite a number of years.

Intel has led the market leader for a few years, and we prefer to sell Intel processors over AMD ones.  They tend to run faster and cooler than AMD processor and in most cases more reliable, but they tend to be a little bit more expensive.

Each manufacturer also have different ranges of CPU's, a bit like car makers will have a bog standard engine, a turbo charged engine and possibly a high performance engine for the real enthusiasts, and so do the processor makers.

As you would imagine the higher the specification of the CPU the higher the price will be.  But when you start getting to the super high priced processors the "price / performance" drops significantly.

For example if you paid £50 for a CPU and you had a performance factor of 1000 flops (Floating point operations per second) then the chart may look something like this:-

CPU 1    1000flops    £  50    =     .050 per flop    
CPU 2    1200flops    £  65    =    .054 per flop    
CPU 3    1400flops    £  95    =    .067 per flop
CPU 4    1600flops    £149    =    .093 per flop
….
….
CPU 8    2200flops    £295    =    .134 per flop
CPU 9    2400flops    £395    =    .165 per flop
CPU10   2500flops    £549    =    .219 per flop
(The flops above bear no resemblance to the actual FLOPS of current processors)

The above is just an example and the ratios are just to show that the faster the CPU the more you pay for your flops.

So a real life example may be:-

If you were creating a video and you were to put an effect on the footage and it took 30 minutes to create the effect with CPU1, It may take 25 minutes with CPU4.  Even though theoretically CPU4 is nearly half as fast again there are other factors that slow down the computer.  If you only used your computer for general surfing and the occasional video editing £100 extra may not be worth saving 5 minutes now and again. You may as well save the money or spend it on other parts of the computer that will give greater benefit… more on that later.

But, if you were editing videos day in and day out, those five minutes would add up and it may be worthwhile going for the bigger and faster processor.

In the above chart the CPU prices have always been around the same level, the CPU’s just get bigger/better/faster with each incarnation.  

In January 2001 our selling prices for Intel CPU’s were as follows:-

Celeron 633mhz Retail 9.5 x 66mhz    £  59
Celeron 667mhz Retail 10 x 66mhz    £110
Celeron 700mhz Retail             £130

Intel P3 Slot 1 750mhz x 100fsb        £159
Intel P3 Slot 1 800mhz x 100fsb        £165
Intel P3 Slot 1 850mhz x 100fsb        £195

Intel P4 1.3ghz                 £395
Intel P4 1.4ghz                £470
Intel P4 1.5ghz                £595

And in January 2013 our prices were:-

Intel G550 Dual Core 2.6GHz        £  46
Intel G645 Dual Core 2.9GHz        £  60
Intel G860 Dual Core 3.0GHz        £  70

Intel I3 2100 3.1GHz            £110
Intel I3 3220 3.2GHz            £115

Intel I5-2310 2.9GHz            £155
Intel I5-2320 3.0GHz            £159
Intel I5 3570K 3.4GHz            £195
   
Intel I7-2600 3.4GHz            £225
Intel I7-2700K 3.5GHz            £245
Intel i7 3770K 3.5GHz            £280

The entry level chips are more than suitable for general computing like surfing the internet and general office work but I would always go for a chip one of two levels up if your budget permits.

Likewise if you are in the market for a high end computer I would get a CPU one or two steps down from the most expensive chip because as stated above the price difference you pay for the top of the range chip is disproportionate to the speed increase.

Don’t forget the prices above are just for the processor, you need other things like a Motherboard, Memory, Hard Drive, Case, Monitor, a keyboard and mouse.

So that’s it for part one.  In part two I will be talking about the Motherboard, and part three we will cover Memory and Hard Drives.

I hope you enjoyed our little foray into processors and I hope to see you in part two.

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