Buying guide: Desktop PC vs. laptop

Should you buy a desktop PC or a notebook computer? Our guide will help you decide

Jargon Buster: Desktop PC and Laptops

802.11a/b/g/n wireless: This is the specification (also known as Wi-Fi) that you need to look for if you want your laptop or desktop PC to be used on a wireless network. 802.11 has four standards: a, b, g and n. The most common one is 'g', but the fastest one is 'n'. Most new laptops now come with wireless adapters that can run the 'n' standard, but make sure you check with the sales person.

CPU: This stands for 'central processing unit' and it's the brains of both desktop and laptop computers. A faster CPU will be able to run programs at a faster rate than a slower CPU.

DVD burner: A DVD burner drive is an essential part of a laptop or desktop PC. It can be used to read CDs and DVDs and it can also be used to write to CDs and DVDs. DVD movies can also be watched using a DVD burner.

Ethernet: An Ethernet port is essential if you want to connect your laptop or desktop PC to a network or broadband modem. There are two types of ports: 10/100 and 10/100/1000 (also known as Gigabit). Both look the same, but a Gigabit port can provide faster speeds than a 10/100 port.

ExpressCard slot: Many new laptops will have an ExpressCard slot, which is a rectangular slot on the side of the laptop. The ExpressCard interface is a high-speed one that can be used to plug in devices such as 3G data cards and even a digital TV tuner. It comes in two sizes: ExpressCard/34 is narrower than ExpressCard/54. A laptop with an ExpressCard/54 slot will accommodate ExpressCards of either size, whereas an ExpressCard/34 slot will only be able to run ExpressCard/34 devices.

FireWire: Like USB, this is a type of port that is used to connect devices. Older iPods use this type of connection and DV camcorders also use FireWire. FireWire is sometimes referred to as IEEE 1394 or iLink.

Graphics processor: Also known as a GPU (graphics processing unit), this processor determines how well your desktop PC or laptop will be able to play games. A powerful graphics processor will provide a smoother gaming experience than a slower graphics processor. A graphics processor may also come with its own dedicated portion of RAM.

Hard drive: This is the physical disk where your operating system, programs and data are stored. The operating system, your programs and data are all loaded from here and put into RAM when you use them. Hard drive capacity is measured in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB) — 1000GB is equal to 1TB. A higher capacity drive will be able to store more programs and data.

Netbook: A netbook is a small laptop (usually 10in in size) that is less powerful than a standard laptop. It can be used for basic tasks such as browsing the Internet, creating documents, viewing photos and watching videos. The small size and light weight of a netbook makes it ideal if you need a device to use while travelling, whether commuting or holidays, for example.

PC Card slot: Similar to an ExpressCard slot, all past-generation and older laptops have at least one PC Card slot, but some new laptops don't. The PC Card interface is slower than the ExpressCard interface, but it is still used for some 3G data cards as well as devices such as external DVD drives. It's mostly found in business laptops.

RAM: This stands for 'random access memory'. It's a temporary storage area where all of your programs and data files are loaded. The more RAM you have, the more programs you will be able to load and the more files you will be able to use at the same time. RAM can be measured in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB). One gigabyte is the same as 1024 megabytes.

USB 2.0 port: USB stands for 'universal serial bus' and it's a port that can be used to connect many different types of devices, from a mouse to a printer. USB 3.0 ports are the fastest, but the most common are USB 2.0 ports. USB 2.0 ports can be found on all the latest laptops and desktop PCs. Both types of ports look the same and will be able to accommodate the same devices, but USB 3.0 devices will run slower if plugged into a USB 2.0 port.

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