Purchasing a computer

Devices available for purchase are constantly changing. New generations and models of CPU (central processing unit), graphics card, and new laptops are released while existing devices become discontinued. Consequently, specific device model names are current only at the time of writing.

To further complicate the situation, the assumption that a new device will always provide better performance than an older device may be incorrect. This is because individual devices are released to particular market segments based on performance, power usage and cost.

To understand and compare the performance of devices, some understanding of component classes is required and benchmark test results should be reviewed before any purchase.

Understanding components

There are several major computer components that affect the overall performance of a computer system.

CPU selection

CPUs are released in brands based on performance, cost and energy use

Intel and AMD release a series of CPUs under various brands simultaneously every 4-8 months.

Each brand of CPU is grouped to satisfy a particular market segment based on performance, cost and power usage.

Intel brand

AMD brand


Core Celeron, Core Pentium


Available in inexpensive budget devices. Provides very limited computing performance.

Core M


Ultra low voltage mobile CPUs available in ultra-thin laptops that cater for maximum mobility and battery longevity but not performance.

Core i3

Athlon, Ryzen 3

Sold as entry level, low end, low performance, low cost CPUs that cater for devices limited to home use. Generally, such devices are not used for multitasking (running a suite of different programs at the one time, with the user swapping back and forward between the programs as required)

Core i5

Ryzen 5

Represents the mainstream option, offering mid-range performance. Suitable for traditional office desktop use.

Core i7

Ryzen 7

High end, high performance, with higher unit cost. Will outperform the same generation mainstream unit.

Core i9

Ryzen 9, Ryzen Threadripper

Marketed at 'enthusiasts' with both higher physical core and thread counts, as well as higher clock speed/frequency than a same generation high end unit.


Ryzen Threadripper Pro, Epyc

Aimed at the server and workstation market. Built for stability and long term use. The architecture used within the CPU is not refreshed as often as the Core i3 - Corei9 brands. They are often very high cost when compared to a Core i7 released at the same time. Review benchmark scores closely before selecting such a unit.

Within each brand, desktop and laptop CPUs are released.

  • Laptop CPUs produce less heat and use less power than desktop CPUs, but due to these characteristics they cannot offer the same performance as a desktop CPU. Use of a desktop CPU may lead to faster data processing.
  • Within the Intel Core i3 - Core i7 and AMD Ryzen 3 - Ryzen 7 brands the difference between a laptop and desktop model may only be identified by characters following the series number in the CPU name.
  • e.g.
  • Model
    Physical cores
    Base frequency
    Maximum frequency
    Device type
    Core i7-10750H 6 12 2.6GHz 5GHz 12MB Laptop
    Core i7-10700 8 16 2.9GHz 4.8GHz 16MB Desktop
    Ryzen 7 5800H 8 16 3.2GHz 4.4GHz 16MB Laptop
    Ryzen 7 5800 8 16 3.4GHz 4.6GHz 32MB Desktop

Within the release of each series, individual CPUs with variant features, performance and different price points are released at the same time.

  • e.g.
  • The laptop Core i7-10750H with a base frequency of 2.6GHz and maximum frequency of 5GHz, compared to the higher performance Core i7-10850H with a base frequency of 2.7GHz and maximum frequency of 5.1GHz.

When comparing the costs and features of individual devices carefully review the CPU details provided. Then research the available benchmark test results.

Be aware of Ultra-low power CPUs

The desire for laptops with extended battery life while also having a minimum form factor and minimum weight has resulted in the release of ultra-low power CPUs. With such CPUs resources such as the number of physical cores, the cache and the processing speed are limited to minimize form factor and battery drain. Use of a ultra-low power CPU may lead to slower data processing.

  • Within the Intel Core i3 - Core i7 and AMD Ryzen 3 - Ryzen 7 brands ultra-low power CPUs can be identified by the character U following the series number in the CPU name.
  • e.g.
  • Model Physical cores
    Base frequency
    Maximum frequency
    Device type
    Core i7-10610U 4 8 1.8GHz 4.9GHz 8MB Ultra-low power laptop
    Core i7-10750H 6 12 2.6GHz 5GHz 12MB Laptop
    Ryzen 7 5700U 8 16 1.8GHz 4.3GHz 8MB Ultra-low power laptop
    Ryzen 7 5800H 8 16 3.2GHz 4.4GHz 16MB Laptop
  • Ultra-low power CPUs may be found in many laptops and within all-in-one desktops (a desktop computer that includes a monitor in the same case).

Graphics cards

Devices such as laptops and desktops can have integrated graphics or dedicated graphics.

  • When using integrated graphics all graphical interface processing is handled by the CPU and requires the use of system memory (RAM).
  • When using dedicated graphics all graphical interface processing is handled by a purpose built graphics card. Graphics cards have their own graphical processing units (GPUs) and dedicated memory (RAM).

The use of integrated graphics can result in poor user interface performance and limit the performance of applications such as Echoview. The use of a dedicated graphics card, even when not showing 3D visualizations, will significantly free CPU and system memory resources, which will then provide better overall performance.

A dedicated graphics card is recommended

For laptops we recommend the purchase of a device with dedicated graphics. When purchasing a desktop select a device which includes a dedicated graphics card, or ensure a separately purchased graphics card can be installed.

Graphics cards are released in classes based on performance and cost

Graphics cards are released as a series incorporating GPUs (graphical processing units) manufactured by Nvidia and AMD, with graphics cards named based on the GPUs fitted.

  • Within each series, individual graphics cards and fitted GPUs will be released to satisfy a particular market segment based on the performance and cost of the unit. Units within each series will span the following market segments or general classes:
  • Low end - These are low performance, low power, low cost units, suitable for traditional office desktop use only.
  • Midrange - These are general performance units capable of office desktop use and delivering a low to medium level of computer gaming experience.
  • High end - These are suited to high-end gaming, visualization and cutting edge GPU based computation.
  • The model number given to each GPU in a series often indicates the GPU's market segment. For example, looking at some of the Nvidia GeForce 500 series GPUs:
  • GeForce 510 - Represents low end GPUs.
  • GeForce 520 to the GeForce 550 - Represent midrange GPUs.
  • GeForce 560 to the GeForce 590 - Represent high end GPUs.
  • While performance is ever increasing, being recently released does not automatically indicate that a graphics card will perform better than an older card, if they are intended for different market segments. In effect, a current series low end graphics card may not out perform an older series high end graphics card.

Aim to purchase a graphics card listed within the midrange to high end graphics card classes

  • High end graphics cards improve system performance during activities such as computer gaming and video editing.
  • High end graphics cards are usually not provided in the default configuration of general use office desktops. However, they are common in the default configuration of gaming computer.
  • High end desktop graphics cards can range in price from $170 USD to beyond $999 USD.
  • Within the high end graphics card range, a plot of graphics card performance against the cost of the unit will show a value-for-money point where an increase in cost brings little improvement in performance. Try to purchase a card at the value-for-money point of the performance curve by researching the available benchmark test results.
  • Graphics cards fitted within desktop computers are often easily upgraded. It can be advantageous to purchase a card at the value-for-money point and then upgrade after 18 months, instead of paying significantly more initially for little increase in performance.

Research various benchmark test results available before purchase

Various websites publish CPU, graphics card, and laptop benchmark test results.

Before a purchase review the currently available devices to:

  • Compare the performance of devices.
  • Determine the elbow in the performance curve against the cost.

Benchmark tests and reviews

Benchmark test and review websites include:

Laptop and all-in-one upgrade limitations

Reviewing components is particularly important when planning to purchase a laptop or an all-in-one device. Unlike desktops, the internal components of such devices cannot be upgraded easily. Increasingly, laptop and all-in-one devices cannot be upgraded at all post the initial device purchase.

  • Graphics cards are uniquely built to fit into individual laptop cases, often having the GPU soldered directly onto the system board.
  • Modern laptop CPUs are now routinely soldered onto the system board.
  • Traditionally, laptop memory (RAM) was an upgradable component. But to reduce the overall size of the device memory modules are also soldered onto the system board in many modern devices.
  • Internal storage such as Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and Solid State Drive (SSD) is a component that can be upgraded post the initial device purchase.

See also

Computer requirements
Echoview Editions
Echoview and Windows memory management