So you've saved a few dollars and are ready to buy your computer! Good news, computers, printers and other electronics are getting cheaper every day. Buying your first computer can be very confusing to a new user. You hear all the system specifications (mega bytes, RAM, gigabytes, Microsoft this and that, blah, blah) and think, “What the heck is all this??!! do I know which system is right for me?”. Relax, it’s not that deep! New computer users generally want a machine that can do basic things like simple word processing (creating and editing documents), connect to the Internet, and perform simple tasks (providing you have the accompanying devices), print, download pictures from a camera, connect to an MP3 music player, etc. As you become more experienced and discover more specialized passions and interests, you can upgrade your computer or get a new one designed with those specific tasks in mind, should it be neccessary. In the meantime, we can talk a little about what all that "stuff" means. Below I have made some recomendations, and like everything else here, these are just MY OPINIONS---based on the experiences I have had with new computer students. You can also read more about choosing your system here at

Here are some examples of terms you are likely to come across when looking for a new computer, and what they mean for you:

  • Intel® Pentium® 4 Processor

    This refers to the type of Central Processor Unit or CPU, the "Brains" of the computer. It's not neccessary to have the "newest" and "fastest" for your first computer. P3, P4, Celeron or AMD are all common ones you might see and are all OK choices for your needs.

  • Microsoft® Windows® XP Home Edition

    This identifies the Operating System (OS) which is installed on the computer. You have heard of Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, etc. They are all examples of Operating Systems, the platform that the computer runs on. It is the most important program that runs on a computer. If possible, make sure your new computer has Windows XP installed. You will find it most compatible with the other software and devices you may want to add (printer, MP3 player, etc) and will save you a lot of headaches trying to get them to work.

  • 256MB DDR2 SDRAM

    This is the amount of RAM, or "Random Access Memory", the computer's "short term" memory. RAM is what the computer uses to run all applications. The amount of RAM in your computer can be easily increased. It is one of the two kinds of memory that dealers will use to describe a computer's capabilities. Programs will often specify that a certain amount of RAM is required in order for the application (software programs) to run correctly. RAM is usually specified in Megs or MB. For our purposes, you should make sure there is at least 128MB or more installed.

  • 80GB2 Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM)

    The other kind of memory dealers refer to is "storage" memory or hard drive size. It usually is specified in Gigs or GB. This is a permanent storage unit. Hard drives contain the long-term memory of your computer. For your purposes, 20GB's is big enough, but you might want to get a larger one (like 40GB, 80GB, etc) since new computers are coming with larger and larger Hard Drives. "7200RPM" refers to the "Rotations Per Minutes" or "speed" of the hard drive. 7200RPM's is fine.

  • (40x)CD-(16x)DVD- R/RW

    This indicates your CD and/or DVD drives. "R" means "Read", which can only "read" from a CD/DVD disk. "RW" means "Read/Write", which means it can also "write" ("record to" or "burn" are other terms) to the CD/DVD. Since 31/2" Floppy Drives are becoming obsolete, you should at least have a CDRW drive to record data to. 40x, 16x refer to the speed at which these record data. The higher the number, the faster the "writing" speed.


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