Category: TechnOle

Computer Hardware – An Introduction

When I was thirteen, I received a graphics card for Christmas. Perhaps not the average girl’s Christmas wish, but this came after some complaining that my desktop couldn’t render long distances in World of Warcraft. It was a good upgrade, but I still felt that my performance was lagging. The next year, my dad and I built a replacement desktop computer and I specifically requested two things: a terabyte hard drive so I would never have to delete a file again to make space for a patch, and a new NVIDIA graphics card. My previous card was nice, but I got the GeForce GTX 250! It could fully render shadows! And long distances! Needless to say, my gaming experience dramatically improved with the new graphics, copious amounts of DDR3 memory and a dual-core processor. My desktop ran like a dream, and six years later it is still keeping up and was recently upgraded to Windows 7 from XP.

Hardware is the very beginning of a computer; it is what determines not only the speed and capabilities of a machine, but also if the machine will last. Without a basic understanding of what is inside our computers and how they work, selecting the right hardware can be difficult. A basic formula for computer buying may be that higher numbers GBs, Ghz, Price indicate a better performing machine, but that method is too simplistic and may not help you buy the computer that is right for your needs. I hope to offer you here a basic explanation of computer hardware which you may find useful the next time you decide to purchase a laptop, desktop, tablet or phone.

If your computer was a person and let’s be honest, if you hang out with your computer enough it is kind of like a person to you, the processor CPU would be its brain. The processor manages the operations of the other parts while it executes commands, opens programs and otherwise handles the information it summons from the hard drive HDD See Note. The hard drive is where information is stored on your machine for long periods of time. Programs are stored on the hard drive along with your photos, videos, documents, and so on. While the processor initiates a program starting, it is not able to run the program without rapid access to random pieces of information within the files.

Here is where RAM memory steps in. RAM is short-term memory, in use when programs are operating but wiped every time the computer shuts off. RAM holds all the information the processor may need to grab at random while executing commands. The more RAM you have, the more information can be held for the processor to use at will. Adding RAM to an existing computer is one simple way of increasing its speed and RAM is particularly useful for people who multitask. But of course, adding RAM only does so much and it is the relationship between all three of these main components – the processor, the hard drive and the short-term memory – that determines a computer’s speed.

For gaming enthusiasts, it is also important to consider the graphics processor GPU. The GPU may be “dedicated” or separate, in which case it is often called a video/graphics card. A dedicated GPU is exactly what it sounds like: a processor for graphics only, operating with its own RAM separate from the rest of the computer. Computers without dedicated graphics, most often rely on integrated graphics that are a part of the CPU.

If you are shopping and looking at tech specs, you will notice that hard drives and memory are both measured in gigabytes while processors are measured with gigahertz. Hard drive size varies, and can be selected based on individual usage, but know that as RAM goes, 4GB is a good, standard amount of memory and anything 8+GB is designed for higher performance. Another acronym you will see with memory is DDR3, which is simply the current version of memory available new, and an upgrade from DDR2 when I built my desktop six years ago. For processors, generally the more GHz the better; Intel’s most common chips are the 4th gen Core i3, i5 and i7. I would recommend an i5 for the average user and i7 for extra performance. Although, since Intel just released 5th gen Core M processors and will release their 6th generation in the second half of 2015, the processor landscape will soon change.

Waiting a little bit longer to make a computer purchase can have big payoffs. Buying new technologies with an eye toward performance can mean a longer lasting machine.

Note: While I only mentioned hard drives above, many computers now and all ultrabooks use solid state drives SSDs. While a HDD is a disk with a magnetic coding, spun around read and by an arm, a SSD is a set of flash memory chips which store data and require no moving parts. Flash memory is much faster, but it is also much more expensive. An in-depth comparison of the two can be found here.

mcmanis@stolaf.edu

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Google Nexuses and Android Lollipop

Tech companies release new and updated products every year, some more useful than others. But all new products are cool or just interesting, and as a techie I try to keep up with what is happening in the market even if I am not buying. Sadly, this year’s line-up does not feature anything particularly new and noteworthy for students, thoughApple did announce the Apple Watch and launch the iPhone 6 and the iPad Air 2. Last week, Google chimed in by providing more information about Android 5.0 nicknamed Lollipop and announced the Nexus 6, 9 and Nexus Player. All of these should arrive in time for Christmas and I will introduceeach of them here.

Android Lollipop focuses on a “Material Design” which simplifies the interface and is hopefully more intuitive. The main design elements are plain, geometric shapes, offering a crisp, clean feeling. The latest animations for responding to touch, opening apps, and browsing multi-tasking panes illustrate more clearly how the device responds to touch input. For example, the screen shows a lot of movement response when swiping and app transition reveals what is opening where usually a window from the bottom of the screen.

The focus on animation helps develop a mental path of movement through the interface, which especially benefits non-visual people who struggle navigating UI. Furthermore, it appears in the preview that the home screen acts as an easy point of reference by actingmore like the desktop of your PC or Mac than before. Animations create the feeling that menus and apps cover the home screen and rest on top of it like a desktop window, rather than replace the home screen altogether, thus users are less likely to become lost. If these types of changes are successful in the UI, Android could be really inviting for first-time users.

Next we have the hardware which will run Lollipop: the new Nexus 6 made by Motorola. It looks a lot like the Moto X, naturally, but it’s much bigger and faster. The Nexus 6 features a larger screen than the iPhone 6 Plus, at 5.96″ vs. 5.5″ and 2560×1440 493 PPI vs. 1920×1080 401 PPI. Inside, the CPU is the latest Snapdragon chipset with a Quad Core up to 2.7 GHz and 3GB of RAM, which means this device handles like a dream. For added bonus, Google claims you can charge fifteen minutes for six hours of additional use. These specifications make the Nexus 6 entirely capable of replacing a tablet and even a laptop. Large phones can appeal to individuals who use their computers only for web browsing, e-mail and video, and are interested in consolidating. For everyone else like myself, I hope they make a more pocket-friendly version of this phone.

Another potential laptop replacer is the Nexus 9, which is working hard to strike abalance between work and play. With a 8.9″ screen, you can still hold it in one hand like a reader though you might grow tired and the optional attachable keyboard/folio $129 adds work functionality. Interestingly, the Nexus 9 only has 2GB of RAM, compared to the 6s 3GB, and sports a 64bit Nvidia chip at 2.3GHz. Though the specs differ, performance between the 6 and 9 will be comparable so customers are left selecting between sizes and prices. Price hasn’t been announced yet for the Nexus 6, but you can pre-order a Nexus 9 Wi-Fi, 16GB for $399.

Finally, Google’s latest product line extension is the Nexus Player, another entrant in the streaming device market, similar to a Roku Player or Amazon’s Fire TV. The Nexus Player takes the success of casting and adds video streaming from apps like Netflix, Hulu, TED and Crackle, as well as gaming through apps from the Google Play store. I think that means you can play Candy Crush on your TV… It will be interesting to see how many users purchase the additional game remote for this purpose. The Nexus Player could provide a console gaming experience for budget conscious users. However, even more budget conscious users who already own a laptop can invest in an HDMI cable and connect a laptop to their TV for a similar experience.

mcmanis@stolaf.edu

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"Streetcar" revels in tragedy, emotion