How Fast Does Your PC Really Need to Be?

Why most consumers don't need much more than a budget PC

How fast your PC needs to be depends on what you intend to use it for. Most computers are overpowered for what the average user needs, so unless you play a lot of CPU-intensive online games, you can probably get by with an affordable desktop PC or budget laptop.

Information in this article applies broadly to hardware for all desktop and laptop computers regardless of operating system.

How Fast Does Your PC Need to Be?

XXL Desktop Pc
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The processor and RAM are the two most important components to look at when accessing a computer's speed. RAM is typically measured in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB) while processing speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz).

The everyday tasks that most users perform are so minimally hardware-intensive that the lowest-end processors in newer computers are plenty fast enough. For example, 2-4 GB of RAM and a 1.3 GHz Intel Core i3 processor would be completely fine for the following tasks:

Internet Usage

Most people use computers for internet-related things only, such as sending emails, browsing the web, checking social media networks, and streaming media content. While such tasks might be restricted by the speed of your internet connection, they aren't limited by processing power.

Productivity Tasks

Creating documents, editing spreadsheets, and putting together presentations for school or work fall under the category of productivity. Thanks to web-based tools like Google Docs and Word Online, you no longer need to run software to compose and edit documents.

Playing Videos and Audio

A lot of people use their computers for watching movies or listening to music that is stored either on physical media (CD or DVD) or locally as digital files (MP3 audio files, MPEG videos, etc.). Even with high definition video, computer hardware (the CPU, HDD, and RAM) has been optimized to handle the various standards so that very little computing power is required to watch a 1080p HD video. If your computer has a Blu-ray drive, you'll have no problem watching Blu-ray movies; however, the quality of the picture is limited by your screen resolution.

When to Buy a Faster Computer

If you plan to use your computer for any of the purposes listed below, then speed should play a factor in your decision. Check the individual RAM and processor requirements for the programs you want to use before purchasing a PC.

If trying to decide if you should upgrade or replace your laptop, first try cleaning your hard drive to see if that improves your computer's performance.

Video Editing

Video editing requires the computer to calculate all the various frames one by one and then stitch them together along with an audio track. This is something that a low-end computer simply cannot perform in a timely manner. With a faster machine, you can see a live preview of the edits as you're editing.

3D Animation

It takes a lot of computing power to build a 3D model out of polygons, but rendering those 3D models is even more taxing. That's why companies like Disney have huge banks of computers to produce spectacular animated movies.

CAD Software

Computer-aided design, or CAD, is used to create blueprints for products and buildings. CAD 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's finally assembled. It can involve a great deal of high-level math involving calculus and specific scientific formulas to ensure accuracy.

Gaming

All of the 3D graphics, HD audio, and complex AI make PC gaming extremely hardware intensive. If you're a hardcore gamer, you might want a PC built for gaming with multiple monitors, like UltraHD (4k) displays, to achieve more screen real estate. A system that has at least 8 GB of RAM and a 3.5 GHz processor is plenty for most video games.

Check the graphics hardware requirements for individual games to make sure your PC can play them.

What About Chromebooks?

Chromebooks are a popular alternative to PCs thanks to their low price and portability. These systems have fewer capabilities and less storage space than a traditional computer. Chromebooks are primarily designed for internet connectivity, so they do not support the same programs that you can find on a Windows or Mac device. Therefore, RAM and processing speed aren't something you need to worry about when buying a Chromebook since the operating system is so limited.

Chromebooks also have limited potential for upgrades; while it's possible to add more RAM or upgrade the CPU on a desktop computer, a Chromebook doesn't offer that kind of flexibility.