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How Fast Does Your PC Really Need to Be?

Why Most Consumers Don't Need Much More Than a Budget PC

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Acer Aspire X 603

Acer Aspire X 603

©Acer
Toshiba Satellite C55

Toshiba Satellite C55

©Toshiba

You may have heard of something called Moore's Law with regards to computing power. The most simplistic way to describe this is that computing power doubles roughly every year to year and a half. This prediction has pretty much held up fairly well over the last thirty years. Now, with computing power doubling over every year and a half over thirty years means that today's computers are roughly a million times faster than the first personal computers.

This may seem like a great thing to have a PC that is extremely fast but if you look a bit more closely at how the average PC is used, much of this performance is wasted as the system sits idle for more than 95% of the time. With the processor sitting idle, it isn't generally necessary for a consumer to buy the most powerful system out there. Instead, it is generally better to buy a more affordable option that will give you roughly the same overall level of experience in the software you will be running. After all, you don't need a massive eight core processor if your PC is going to be used just to play minesweeper. This article takes a look at how the average PC is used and then tries to point buyers to what would best suit their computing needs.

The Most Common PC Tasks And Why They Don't Need Much Power

The average PC is used primarily for internet connectivity. This would consist of things such as email, browsing the web, using social networks and streaming video or audio. Some of these tasks were fairly demanding a few years ago but have be greatly improved through more efficient programming and better standards. Additionally, many of these tasks may be restricted by the speed of your internet connection. After all, most processor are much faster at processing data than the data can be transmitted over your broadband connection.

Following internet connectivity, the next most common use of a PC is for productivity. This would include things such as writing up documents in a word processor, editing a spreadsheet or putting together a presentation for either a class or business. These tasks are primarily done either by business users or students. These are some of the earliest forms of computer software for personal computers and has been greatly optimized over the years. Often the speed of these programs is limited more by how fast you can type or enter the data.

Media viewing was somewhat mentioned in internet connectivity when it comes to streaming but a lot of people use their computers for watching movies or listing to music that is stored either on physical media (CD or DVD) or digital files (mp3s, mpeg video, etc). Even with high definition video that is now available on PCs, the hardware has pretty much been optimized to handle the various standards that very little computing power is actually required to watch something like a 1080p high definition video.

In all of these cases, pretty much any modern personal computer should be able to deal with these quite well. There may be a few specific hardware requirements such as a Blu-ray drive to watch movies on this physical media but the hardware requirements are still quite low. Below are some suggestions for good options for people looking at a PC for any of these types of tasks:

What Really Requires The Most Performance

Now, most people don't require a lot of high performance computers but there are still a few items that can really tax a computer system. The task that many consumers will likely run that requires some serious computing power is video editing. Video in general can be very taxing but editing video has to do some serious work, especially with the rise of HD video recording. The reason is that video editing requires that the PC calculate all the various frames one by one and then stitch it together along with an audio track. All of this has to be done and then put together in a video format that can be played via PC, DVD, Blu-ray or video device. As a result, a faster machine will reduce the amount of time it takes to generate the end product. After all, wouldn't you rather wait five instead of twenty minutes to see if your fifteen minute video turned out alright?

In addition to video editing, graphics creation and more specifically computer animation can also be quite demanding. It takes a fair amount of time to build a 3D model with all its polygons that comprise it. If you are then going to render those 3D models into a final image or scene, it takes a lot of time especially for some modes of rendering. There is a reason why a company such as Pixar has huge banks of PCs to produce its spectacular animated movies. Just like with video editing, the faster the PC, the shorter the time needed to render a scene will be.

Another demanding task that is fairly rare in the consumer PC market is called computer aided design or CAD. This is software that is used to build the designs for a wide range of products and buildings. It is demanding because it has to do a variety of computing dealing with the physical and material aspects to ensure that the design will function when it is finally assembled. This can involve a great deal of high level math involving calculus and specific scientific formulas to ensure accuracy. As a result, a faster PC can help reduce the time it takes to verify a specific model.

Because each of these computing tasks can require a large amount of computing power, I recommend that buyers look at high performance systems if the PC will be used primarily for these tasks. Here are some recommended desktops and laptops to handle these jobs:

The PC Gaming Power Myth

PC gaming has traditionally been something that has been very demanding of PC hardware. All the 3D graphics, audio and AI can add up on a PC. The issue is that programming all of these items has become much more complex such that the hardware has outpaced what the developers have been able to put together. Now, there are still some specific hardware requirements for the graphics in order to play many PC games, but frankly there are many affordable options that can achieve the most common PC resolution of 1920x1080 for desktops just fine.

Now, there are some instances where gamers would require a fair amount of performance in order to achieve some unusual aspects. One such instance is running multiple monitors to get a larger high resolution display or brand new UltraHD (4k) displays. Gaming across three 24-inch monitors can be quite impressive but the hardware costs for setting it up are beyond what most people are even willing to spend on a single system.

For those looking to use their PC for gaming but aren't looking to do a really incredibly stressing setup and would like to save some money, there are a number of options. Below are some suggestions for desktops and laptops. If you are looking at these lists, make sure to check out their graphics hardware to make sure they meet the requirements for PC gaming:

Chromebooks and Tablets

Chromebooks are a popular alternative to a full PC these days thanks to their low price. The thing to remember is that these systems often have less performance and capabilities than a traditional computer. They are primarily designed for internet connectivity like browsing the web, email and online applications. If you only need these capabilities without the need for compatibility with Windows applications, then it might be a suitable alternative but I highly recommend trying one out before buying it as they have limited potential for upgrades as well.

Tablets are the new trend in mobile computing. Their small profile and easy to use interface make them perfectly suited to tasks such as internet connectivity and media watching. They generally are not as well suited for productivity purposes as a traditional laptop because of their touch interfaces. The best part is that they don't have the legacy software of the x86 architecture used by most PCs making them much more efficient. Performance is still a bit of an issue because of their limited resources. Because of this, going with the least expensive tablet is not always the best choice, instead, I recommend that people look at how they will be using a tablet and then check out my suggestions for the Best Tablets to find one that matches their needs.

Conclusions

Overall, most computers are overpowered for what the average user will be doing with them. Because of this, it is important to take a hard look at what your PC will be used for before you end up buying one. This can help save you a lot of money on your purchase and yet still give you a completely functional and pleasant computing experience.

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