Back-to-School Series: How to pick out the right computer for your student and yourself

Quad-core vs. dual-core, RAM, hard drives

CLEVELAND - One of the biggest purchases you'll make for back to school is a computer. But there are so many choices--with so many different specs, how do you know which one is right for you?

When you walk into the store and there are rows and rows of computer options, you may get overwhelmed.

"Yes, it's very confusing. I think so," said Andy Lustig who was with his wife Niki at Best Buy, with their soon-to-be college freshman daughter Kasey. They were looking for a computer for Kasey. "Just something that will get me through all four years and that will be reliable," said Kasey about what she was looking for.

Sounds simple enough; but you have to know what you're making an investment in.

"Basically what you have is your processor, you have your memory, and then you have your hard drive," explained Aaron Stevens.  He is the Team Leader for Computers at the Best Buy in Mayfield Heights.  He said your processor is the brain of the computer.  "If you have a lot of windows open, a lot of stuff open at one time, you'll want a stronger processor,” explained Stevens.  “We usually recommend in the store something with at least an Intel i5 or i3 processor."

What about the difference between quad-core and dual core processors? Well, Stevens explained that computing in terms of cars.

"Think of it as driving on a freeway and a quad-core processor is a four-lane freeway and your dual core is a two-lane freeway. So, you have a lot more room to open it up on a four-way freeway than a two-lane," he described.

When it comes to processing speeds, Stevens said the average right now for a laptop is 1.8 GHz or 1.9 GHz. That will take care of Internet, email and writing papers, but above that you’ll want something stronger. “Usually, on your higher end processing speeds is going to be more for graphics, engineering or video editing. That kind of stuff," Stevens told us.

He went on to say memory works in conjunction with your processors and he suggests at least six gigs of RAM.

And as far as your hard drives, take note of the different kinds.  "Solid State hard drives are no moving parts.  So, they're a lot more reliable,” said Stevens.  “Your standard hard drives can be similar to your record player.  It's going to spin anywhere from 5400 to 7200 times per minute. So, (there’s) a lot more chance of a hard drive crashing on a standard one. Usually that's the number one part that goes bad on computers," said Stevens.

In addition, the Lustigs have their own On Your Side advice. "Researching them and just asking a lot of questions to make sure everything is on there really helps," said Kasey.

Stevens told us the two biggest mistakes computer shoppers make: over-buying for what you really need and under-buying, where you get less than you need.

Research is key.

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