Essential current specifications for buying a phone or PC today

This Asus PC is currently state-of-the-art - but for how long?This Asus PC is currently state-of-the-art - but for how long?
This Asus PC is currently state-of-the-art - but for how long?
Keeping up with the latest technology is a bit like herding cats; it’s not only time-consuming but also pointless, because you never know where the next development is coming from. Manufacturers like it that way because it makes your existing tech obsolete sooner and creates a market for new stuff.

This is especially true on the PC and laptop counter, because while these machines have scarcely changed in principle for 30 years, the benchmark specification shifts every few months. A machine that seemed state-of-the-art last February may well be a clunker today.

So with that in mind, here is what you should consider the minimum requirement if you’re buying a new machine in the first half of this year. Cut it out and keep it by all means, but not for too long.

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The gold standard in processors is currently AMD’s Ryzen range, a rival to Intel’s line of Core i5 and i7 chips. AMD was for years the favourite choice among budget conscious buyers but its new range consistently beats the equivalent Intel models on performance, too.

Always look at the first one or two digits that follow the model name because they tell you how new the chip you’re getting actually is. For example, Core i7-1165G7 tells you that it’s an 11th generation chip and therefore recent. The rival Ryzen chips are newer to the market, so a Ryzen 5 3500G (third generation) processor is still newish. But don’t get anything older.

A good choice for a general purpose machine today is a Ryzen 5 5600G, or a 5600X if you plan to add a graphics card

As for memory, eight gigabytes is the basic requirement these days, and 16GB is preferable, but it’s easy to increase the capacity during the life of the machine.

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The hard disk – the storage capacity of your PC – should be a solid state (SSD) model; they weigh less, work faster and make no noise. Pound for pound they’re more expensive than conventional drives but capacity matters less these days as they’re all huge and so much is stored online anyway. Avoid any Windows laptop that has only a low-budget eMMC drive.

And speaking of Windows, insist on a machine that has Windows 11 pre-installed. It’s no different to Windows 10 really, but the system requirements are higher so you’re getting an extra degree of future-proofing. Don’t be fobbed off with assurances by a pushy salesperson – because while it’s true that all retail PCs qualify for a free upgrade to Windows 11, it’s no guarantee that they will be able to actually run it.

Don’t fall for the hard-sell on antivirus software, either. There’s no need to pay a penny for protection when there are perfectly good, free versions of AVG and Avira out there.

The smartphone market is where the real innovation is taking place, driven in part by the arrival in the West of Chinese brands like Xiaomi and Oppo, who have brought top-end functionality to even the most basic models. Phones are more tactile than computers, so look and feel may be the most important criteria to you. But unless you want to pay as little as possible, insist on a model with 4GB or more of memory to ensure compatibility for as long as possible with future versions of the apps you use. And compare screen resolutions before making your decision, by viewing the handsets in daylight if possible. Take note of battery life, too, for while manufacturers’ estimates are usually hopelessly optimistic, you can at least work out which phones are most likely to get you through the day. If you want as much future-proofing as possible, buy a 5G-ready handset and insist on NFC (for contactless payments on your phone) and a fingerprint sensor as standard.

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This time next year there will be new requirements that are thus far too distant to discuss – but if we could have foreseen the future, we’d all be shareholders in Apple by now.

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