Making Sense Of Computer Specs: Set Budget First, Then Scour The Market
In our last article on buying computers for the agency, we gave some advice on how to evaluate your agencys hardware needs and how to plan the purchase of needed computers. (See NU, Aug. 11.)
Assuming youve done that very important homework, its time to start looking around for some machines to fill the bill. The problem is that the choices are many, and the options and specifications can be confusing.
Obviously, its important to know how much you can afford to spend for these new machines. What I suggest, however, is that you use the methods below to get a general idea of what it will cost to meet the needs you already determined in your planning phase. If your budget doesnt allow you to meet those needs, youll need to scale down your expectations and redefine exactly what youre going to do with your new technology, then come up with a budget that fits. Or, you could spend the money to do what you believe needs to be done.
The primary information that comes into play here is the list that youve made already. That list should include your agencys basic computer needs (number of units), software needs, anticipated storage needs, networking needs, output (printing) needs, etc.
Take your list of needs, then compare it with whats available out there. One easy way to do this is to look at some computer magazines and check out the ads for systems, which, I assure you, will be plentiful. These ads often spell out the key features of systems, including clock speed, RAM, hard drive capacity, included software, and much morealong with prices, of course.
Another, even easier way to survey the market is to do so online. Most major computer manufacturers maintain detailed and easy-to-use Web sites that can give you a very good idea of what you can expect to pay for the systems you need.
In fact, some computer maker Web sites will allow you to “customize” your purchase by specifying the exact parameters you need, then giving you a price for that configuration.
But first, you need to know something about the terms youll encounter. Lets lay out a few very basic guidelines to help you along in the process.
Clock Speed. This is a measure of the amount of data a computers central processing unit (CPU) can handle in a specified period of time. Today, this speed is measure in gigahertz (GHz), with the fastest commonly available computers topping out at a little over 3GHz. Faster is better, of course, but its also more expensive.
You can expect to pay $1,700 or more for a top-of-the-line desktop model with that much speed, but the good news is, you probably dont need that much muscle. In fact, youd be hard-pressed to discern visually the difference in operational speed between a 3GHz unit and a 2.4GHz machine that might sell for $1,000 or less. So while speed is good, dont extend yourself financially for a capability you might not even notice.
As a general rule, a minimum clock speed of 2GHz should be sufficient for ordinary business uses. If your agency is a heavy number-cruncher, then push the clock speed as high as you can within your budget limitations.