Hardware 101: Business Class vs Big Box
We are often asked: "What's the difference between this computer and that one? Aren't all computers basically the same? The short answer is: The devil is in the details.
I have a lot of businesses (big and small) and home clients, who will, from time to time, send me a quote for a system that they have found at a Big Box Store or online and ask me to quote the same thing. Almost always (over 90%) I find that based upon the system, it either will have to be modified (in the case of a business, primarily), or it isn't as good as it could be for the price. To that end, here are some things that you should consider before buying a new computer:
1) Compare Apples to Apples:
The first step in doing your homework, is finding a system that you think will meet your needs. Once that is done, you should look carefully at the spec of the system BEFORE you buy it. Here are some guidelines for a current computer spec:
Processors - The Numbers Game:
When choosing a processor for your system, always look at the manufacturer's part #. This is important because, for example, Intel makes 3 different processor classes that vary in speed, power consumption, and price. For example: Intel makes 3 different i5 2.9GHz processors. Each processor varies from fast to slow (based upon how much cache, how many internal processors, etc.). So, you have 3 to choose from, that look identical. Big box sale items are typically the lower end of the processor scale. This will not always be evident because advertisers for the stores rely on people comparing the MHz of the processor, not the processor model when making their decision.
2) Memory: Not as Important as you might think
Memory minimums and considerations:
Memory (like processors) come in different speeds and different sizes. Most advertised computers will tell you the size (capacity) of the installed memory, but not the speed or manufacturer.
Like Processors, memory comes in different speeds. 4GHz of ddr3 can be 1333 MHz up to 2133Mhz. Most manufacturers of premade systems hide the actual speed and use the most cost effective memory for the build. Add to this the fact that the system has to be able to take advantage of the memory, and you can end up with a system with 4GB of memory that runs significantly slower than a properly configured system with 2GB. Bottom line, is always: know what you are buying.
3) Hard disk space: SSD and spin drives:
Watch the specs: Most Big Box systems have woefully underpowered/substandard hard drives. This is one of our biggest gripes about Big Box systems: one of the most important parts of any computer are usually the cheapest and slowest in these systems. Spin drives (which are being replaced by SSD's) are still the most popular type of drive in these systems. The problem is, that spin drives come in different rotational speeds - the faster the speed, the faster the drive. Most of the major manufacturers hide their drive specs for just that reason - they are almost always the slowest (and cheapest) drive they can get. Since most people look at how big the drives are - they never question performance.
Until recently, spin drives (a mechanical storage disk with an internal motor and some sort of platter(s) that spins up to read and write) were the only mainstream choice for consumer disk storage. During this time, there were a few solid state drives (SSD's) available, but they were very small and astronomically expensive. Solid state drives have become much cheaper in recent years, and bring significant advantages over traditional spin drives.
Speed: The biggest advantage that solid state drives bring to the table, is SPEED. A solid state drive is basically a large chunk of memory that does not need to spin up to access its data. A typically configured system with a solid state drive, can boot a computer in less than 7 seconds (from button push to ready to work). Add to that the fact that the SSD generates a very small amount of heat (compared to the old spin drives) and you have a storage platform that is fast and should outlast the current technology.
Size Matters: While SSD's have come down in price, they are still limited to the business and consumer market (large SSD storage is still a ways away). As far as storage sizes go - today 120GB to 500GB is typical. In most cases, you can expect to pay about $1/gigabyte +- for a good solid state drive. If you need a large storage solution and still want the advantages of an SSD - you can usually use a solid state drive as your primary drive, and offload your large work product to a NAS (network attached storage).
Whether you buy a system online, or from a Big Box outlet, or have a system custom built for you - make sure you know what you are buying - ask a lot of questions and document the specs of the systems you are looking at. If you have any questions, give us a call and we can point you in the right direction.
Can't get what you want from the Big Box Electronics store? Get a system built with what you want: your choice of processor, memory, hard disk type and space, maybe a high end graphics card for 2 or 3 monitors, or 10 usb ports is what you really want... you can have it here. We have been building custom computers for businesses and individuals for over 25 years. We use the best parts available, and back all of our systems with an unbeatable 1 year hardware warranty*
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