Computer Basics Guide
Purchasing a Computer
There's a lot to consider when shopping for a computer and understanding how they work. Always bear in mind the following when assessing your options:
- Shop for a computer that suits how you intend to use it. If you want a computer that you can use on your commute to work, opt for a lightweight laptop or 2-in-1.
- Make sure the computer you choose can run the software you want to use. Always check system requirements in advance.
- When choosing between Windows or Mac operating systems, always consider compatibility. Windows 10, for example, offers a seamless experience across all platforms while some programs and devices may be incompatible with Mac.
Understanding Computer Hardware
Computers are made up of lots of components. However, there are four in particular that are key to understanding how a computer works and how effective it will be for you.
- Processor: The brain of the computer and responsible for every single action. Speed is the key performance indicator and it is measured in GHz. Modern processors also have cores (separate brains) that help them process multiple tasks.
- RAM: RAM (Random Access Memory) is often referred to simply as memory and is measured in gigabytes. It speeds up tasks by making recently used files readily accessible to the processor. The more RAM you have, the more files your processor has access to at once.
- Hard Drive: Files and programs are stored on a computer’s hard drive. As with RAM hard drive size is measured in gigabytes. They come as slower, larger Hard Drives (HDD) smaller and faster Solid State Drives (SSD).
- Graphics Card: A Graphics Card (GPU) determines how well your PC can handle things like playing games and editing home movies. Graphics Cards also use Memory (like the RAM in your computer) that is measured in gigabytes.
Navigating Your Computer
For a first-time user, the computer interface can be confusing. Understanding what you can see on your screen, however, can make a big difference.
- The screen you see when your computer has finished booting is called the desktop. You can access everything on your computer from this screen including your Start Menu, a list of all of your installed programs and computers settings. You can even save folders and files that you use regularly directly to your desktop for easy access.
- When you open a folder (a collection of saved documents and files) a window will appear that displays the contents. Folders can be named to suit their contents and organised, and windows can be made bigger and smaller by dragging the edges.
- To make life easy for you, computers create icons (small, easy-to-understand graphics) for anything you save on your computer. Double-clicking on one of these icons will cause it to launch.
Understanding Computer Software
Software is a program that enables you to complete tasks on your devices. Software is perhaps best thought of as a translator that converts lines of complex computer language into an easy-to-understand interface that is controlled through simple commands, like clicking an icon, or selecting from a ribbon or drop menu.
- The most important piece of software on any computer is the operating system (OS). The operating system is the interface through which all tasks are performed. The most common operating systems are Windows and Mac OSX.
- All other software allows you to make your computer perform specific tasks. For example, video editing software enables you to compile and enhance your footage with a few simple commands like mouse clicks and key strokes.
- Software on mobile devices is referred to as apps or applications. Apps are optimised for touchscreen operation and are downloaded direct to your tablet or smartphone.
Types of Computer Hardware
Desktops & All-in-Ones
Desktops and all-in-one computers are reliable, typically long-lasting and can perform an array of tasks. Some of these devices are fitted with the best components so you can run practically any software.
- Standard desktops require a monitor to work properly, while an all-in-one desktop contains the computer components in the area behind the screen.
- All-in-one computers have everything you need right out of the box, but are often more expensive than desktops. Desktops allow for more flexibility in mixing and matching parts if you have specific needs.
- Choose a computer that matches how you intend to use it. If it is only for occasional use, or for light office tasks and emailing, you could save by opting for a computer with a dual core processor and 4GB of RAM.
A monitor is the screen which you use to view what is happening on your computer. They come in a variety of sizes as well as varying image quality, much like TVs.
- If you plan to purchase a standard desktop then you require a monitor; an all-in-one desktop already has a monitor built in and you do not need another, though many have the ability to run a second monitor through a video output like HDMI or Display Port.
- Larger monitors take up more desk space, but typically have improved picture quality and higher resolutions. Smaller monitors are a more economical choice if you only use your computer occasionally or are tight on space.
- Consider connectivity when purchasing a monitor. If you own a laptop you want to connect, or wish to plug in USB devices, ensure the monitor has the appropriate connection ports first.
Laptops feature the functionality of a desktop computer, including keyboard and mouse, in a portable device. With a laptop you can easily take your work with you out and about and are not constrained to your office desk.
- If portability is important, especially if you plan to take your laptop outside the house, consider weight, size and battery life. A 13" laptop weighing 1kg will be a far better option than a 15.6" device.
- As with any computer, higher processing power comes at a premium, so ensure you are buying to match your requirements. If you're not using the latest software then avoid an i7 processor and stick with an i5 or equivalent.
- Many laptops sacrifice USB and display ports in order to reduce weight and size. Ensure you're shopping for a computer that matches how you plan to use it.
2-in-1 devices feature a touchscreen interface and just like your laptop or desktop PC they can run Windows operating system. They have become so advanced that many users are now able to employ them as their primary computer.
- Establish whether you need all the benefits of a Laptop or Desktop but require a more versatile form-factor, many 2-in-1 devices have a detachable keyboard and can be used in Tablet Mode utilising the touchscreen and saving on space when you are on the go.
- Choose a 2-in-1 with a screen that suits your usage habits. Larger screens are great for complex tasks while smaller displays mean unparalleled portability.
Additional Computer Tips
Setting Up Your Workstation
If you plan to spend extended periods of time working at your computer, then you would be well advised to set up a workstation that will help you perform tasks safely and in comfort.
- Make sure the top of the monitor sits at about eye-level. This will prevent you from stooping to read your screen.
- Make sure you buy a chair that offers sufficient lumbar support. Your feet should be able to lie flat on the floor and there should be between 5-10cm between the back of your knee and the front of the chair.
- Your desk should be at around the same height as your elbows. This will help you maintain a comfortable and healthy posture when using your keyboard.
Backing up is a vital part of computing that can save you the time, money and heartache involved in losing your files.
- Put simply, backing up your computer means saving its contents to an external source so you can access your files as they were at a specific point in time. This means you have a copy of all your files if something goes wrong.
- Syncing your files involves continually saving them to a centralised location. This means that your files are always protected and that the most up to date versions of your files are available across all your devices.
- You can back up your computer using a host of devices such as portable hard drives and writeable DVDs. You can also back up and sync to online Cloud storage, which keeps your files on a secure server so you can access them from anywhere so long as you have an Internet connection.
Bags & Sleeves
By purchasing a case, sleeve or cover you can protect your laptop. Such protective equipment will safeguard your laptop against impact and incidental damage.
Cables & Adapters
The right cables and adapters help you get the most from your desktop computer, such as connection to other devices and taking advantage of your computer's potential.
Make video calls and record clear footage with a new webcam. Choose from a range of options and make sure you can connect with people as if you were there.