For Seniors: Laptop Buying Decisions —Processor Speed and Memory

Your laptop contains a processor stored on a computer chip. The speed at which your laptop runs programs or completes tasks is determined in great measure by your computer processor speed. Processor speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz). The higher this measurement, the faster the processor.

These chips are constantly getting smaller and more powerful. However, when you shop, you probably shouldn’t consider anything lower than 2 GHz. Higher numbers give the best performance. Factor that into your decision, depending on your needs.

In addition, computers have a certain amount of storage capacity for running programs and storing data. You’ll see specifications for RAM and hard-drive data storage capacity when you go laptop shopping. Again, the specific numbers will change, so the rule of thumb is to look for a laptop with higher RAM numbers if you feel you need more storage capacity.

  • RAM is the memory needed to simply access and run programs. RAM chips come in different types, including DRAM, SDRAM, and the latest version, DDR2. Look for a minimum of 1 gigabyte (GB) of RAM for everyday computing.

  • RAM chips are rated by access speed, which relates to how quickly a request for data from your system can be completed. You might see RAM speed measured in megahertz (MHz). Today, 800 MHz could be considered an acceptable access speed. Note that there are two common RAM types — SRAM and DRAM, with DRAM being the more efficient.

  • Your hard drive has a certain capacity for data storage measured in gigabytes (GB). These days, you should probably look for a minimum of a 250GB hard drive, but hard drives can come with a range of huge capacities, with the largest being measured in terabytes (TB, measured in thousands of gigabytes).

  • Your laptop requires some RAM to run the operating system. Windows 8.1 requires 1GB of main memory for a 32-bit system and 2GB for a 64-bit system. It also requires 16GB of hard drive space for a 32-bit system and 20GB for a 64-bit system. Check your computer user guide to find out which system you have.

  • Your processor has multiple cores. Most processors today are multiple-core processors, such as the i3, i5, and i7 processor lines from Intel. Multiple core means that two or more processors are involved in reading and executing software instructions as you use your laptop. Those with two processors are called dual-core, those with four processors are called quad-core, and processors with six cores are referred to as hexa-core.

    The bottom line with cores is that the more you have, the faster your laptop can process instructions because all the cores can be working at once, making multitasking possible. (Multitasking is when you’re running several programs at once, for example, playing music, downloading files from the Internet, running an antivirus scan, and working in a word processor — all at the same time.)

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