We’ve compiled a quick list of computer terms and frequently asked questions about buying a new computer. Please let us know if you have any questions by commenting or sending an email to helpdesk @ uua.org. We’ll try to find you answers.

Can I use a Mac at the UUA?

It is possible to use a Mac with the UUA network. That said, and I can’t stress this enough: It is harder to use a Mac on the UUA network than a Windows-based computer. Email, Jefferson, and network shares are all more difficult to connect to and use. Also, certain programs (such as Raiser’s Edge) do not have a Mac version. If you want to use a Mac for work at the UUA I recommend talking to IT first so you can plan around these issues.

What is the VPN?

The VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a way to fool your computer and the UUA network into thinking that your computer is located here at our Boston office. The VPN gives you access to network shares and email; depending on how you use your computer it might be irrelevant. Check with IT if you think it might be for you or head over to virtualoffice.uua.org, log in, and click on the large blue “NetExtender” button to install it.

Battery Life

OS X and Macs do seem better at conserving battery power than Windows machines. Dell laptops seem to get about 3 to 4 hours in real world usage (Macs get closer to 6). If you want lots of battery life on a Windows machine, look for Intel ultralow voltage processors. Note: the more powerful your computer the faster it will consume power.

Dell Warranties

The UUA buys most of its workstation computers from Dell. Which one you buy affects how quickly the Dell service folks get to you. If you are in a populated area and spend money on their more expensive service plans, they’ll send someone to your house the day you call it in. Further out it can take a day or two. For the shipping-it-in plans, it’s usually a week or a week and a half before you get the computer back.

32-bit vs 64-bit Computers

This geeky term has to do with how your operating system and computer’s processor work together, specifically, how big a chunk of information the computer works with at one time. The quick and dirty summary is that if you want more than 3.5 GB of RAM you need a 64-bit computer with the 64-bit version of Windows. Most 32-bit Windows programs run fine on the 64-bit version. My advice: Get a 64-bit computer. The speed you get with the extra RAM is worth ditching ancient incompatible programs.

Processor (or CPU)

This is the computer’s “brain:” a faster processor means your computer can crunch numbers faster. That said, most modern processors are fast enough that you won’t notice much of a difference among them (unless you know you care about processor speed).


This is the number of CPU processors your computer has. Most computers today have either two or four cores. More cores allow your computer to run more calculations and speeds up very heavy multitasking, video or audio encoding, and other operations that require lots of computer power.

Video Cards (or GPU) or Integrated Graphics

These are specialized components in your computer that help the processor handle graphics. For video games you might need a dedicated graphics card (more powerful graphics capabilities). For normal business use, integrated graphics are fine and consume less power.

AMD vs. Intel CPUs

AMD and Intel are makers of processors and other computer components. AMD is the underdog at the moment and then CPUs tend to be slightly slower (you shouldn’t be able to notice a difference) and cheaper than Intel parts.

RAM (Random Access Memory)

RAM is the computer’s short term memory. If you want to run lots of programs at the same time more is better. Try to get at least 4 GB. Adding memory usually speeds your system up more than upgrading to a faster processor.

Solid State Hard Drives

These are a relatively new storage technology that is more expensive and much faster than traditional hard drives. What this means in real life: programs start up faster, files can copy to and from your computer’s hard drive faster, and you’ll be paying $200 – $400 for the extra speed.


Most BluRay drives are BluRay/CD/DVD drives though you’ll want to look at the “tech specs” to confirm. BluRay also usually costs an extra $100-$200. Macs don’t do BluRay without expensive third party options. (Work applications shouldn’t require BluRay.)

Optical Disc Drives (CD/DVD/BluRay)

Disclaimer: this is a techie opinion, feel free to disregard. Optical discs like CDs are on the way out. Most stuff can just be downloaded if you need to install programs. Since many lightest laptops remove the disc drive (takes up lots of space) if you really want lightweight you could consider if you can live without an optical disc drive.

Antivirus Software

The bad news here is: yes you need antivirus software on your computer. The good news is: you can get it for free. My favorite free Antivirus solution is Microsoft Security Essentials, but there are many others just a google search away. You may also want to check out our previous post on keeping your Home Computer Virus /Malware free. If you are on a mac you should still consider security software, the only free solution I’ve found is iAntivirus but there may be others out there.


About the Author
James Curran