When choosing hardware, there are many factors to consider. Obviously, the price and the power is important, but so are things like the user’s needs and security.
Understanding these factors and balancing them against each other is very important when choosing hardware.
In this lesson, we’ll learn about:
- The factors affecting the choice of hardware.
1. Hardware Choice Factors
There are eight major factors we must consider when choosing hardware for a computer system. These are:
The “user experience” is about the feeling a person gets when making use of a hardware device. When purchasing hardware, particularly personal computer systems, we all want to use it for different reasons and are looking for a different experience from the device.
The experience a user is looking for depends on their own skillset and needs. Some of the user experience factors include:
- Ease of Use – How simple and intuitive the device is to navigate and perform tasks on. An inexperienced IT user may choose a device that is simple for them to use, or they’re more experienced with.
- Performance – How powerful the device is, such as processing, memory, graphics & storage. Someone purchasing a system for high-end gaming may prioritise a device that has excellent performance.
- Availability – How often the device can be used, such as whether the device can be always on. A company purchasing an IT system for hosting their website will want it on 24/7.
- Accessibility – How available the device is to be used by someone with a disability. Someone with a visual impairment may choose a device that uses adaptive technology to support them.
Each of these factors has different levels of importance to different users. The inexperienced IT user who wants a device for browsing the web while commuting will prioritise ease-of-use and availability over performance. If they have a disability then accessibility will become of greater importance.
This is about what the user wants to use the hardware for. Whether this is purchasing a complete IT system, or a hardware component, such as a new storage device or graphics card, we need to ensure that it is going to meet the needs for which we are buying it.
An example of this might be choosing a new primary storage device for our desktop computer system. We need to ensure the storage device has enough capacity to store all of the files and programs we want to store on it. If we’re a film editor, or perhaps an avid gamer, then we’ll likely need a very large amount of storage.
We may also need to decide between SSD and HDD devices, if speed of loading and saving is important to us, then an SSD becomes preferable.
Compatibility is about whether the hardware will be able to work with the other hardware you are using. This is extremely important when purchasing hardware as not all hardware and devices are compatible with each other.
For example, if purchasing a new CPU for your computer, you’ll need to consider what type of socket your motherboard has. A CPU will only be compatible with a certain type of socket, if you don’t check, you might not be able to connect and use your new CPU.
There are other types of compatibility, such as when purchasing a peripheral, does your computer support the connection method. E.g. your graphics card only has HDMI ports, but you bought a monitor that uses DisplayPort.
The cost of different hardware components can vary wildly. A Raspberry Pi computer will cost you around £30, while a powerful gaming computer can cost well over £1000.
Even when looking at individual components, a 250mb HDD might cost less than £10, while a 2tb SSD can cost over £200. These two devices obviously also have massively different performance and capacity, but we need to balance this against our budget.
There is also the cost of running a device to consider. Not just in terms of electricity, but consumables, such as printer ink. We don’t have unlimited funds as individuals or as a business and so have to be careful with how we spend our money.
For example, when purchasing new printers for a business you have many options, such as whether you use an inkjet or laser printer, the speed of printing and whether it prints in colour or not. There are also multi-functional printers that can scan, photocopy & fax.
The features available will affect the cost of purchasing and running it, and a business must balance the capabilities of the device against the cost.
This is about how effectively tasks can be completed by the hardware device with as little wastage of resources as possible.
The resources we most often consider are time and staff. Can the system perform the task quicker? Does it need fewer people to operate it? However, it can also be energy efficiency, such as a technology that requires less power to run.
Most supermarkets have self-service tills nowadays. This wasn’t true several years ago though. This changed because it allowed a single employee to look after several self-service tills. This reduces the number of staff the supermarkets need and so makes the business much more efficient.
This is about the time involved with putting a new system into effect. This isn’t just the time for delivering the hardware, connecting it up and running it, because we also need to install our software and transfer data from the old hardware to the new.
Some of the implementation factors to consider with a new IT system include:
- Timescales – The time it takes for the new hardware to be delivered. The lead time for the delivery of an item could mean it will take too long to arrive to meet our needs.
- Testing – Ensuring the new hardware works correctly and our software is compatible & stable. Some devices will require greater testing than others and this has to be factored into your decision.
- Migration – The process of transferring data, software & files from the old system to the new one. This can be much more complicated depending on your device, but some can automate the process.
An example where implementation has an impact is when you purchase a new smartphone. If a certain phone is out of stock for some time you might not consider it as an option.
Additionally, if you have historically had an iPhone, switching to an Android device will make migrating your data and software much harder, which might drive you to stick with an iPhone.
This is about how quickly tasks can be completed when making use of an IT system. Slow boot times, processing, save/load times & whether the device tends to freeze or crash can have a big impact on productivity.
Obviously, within a business, this can have a big impact on the productivity of staff, but it must be balanced carefully against other factors, such as cost.
For example, when purchasing components for a new computer system, you’ll have the choice of dual-core vs quad-core processors, DDR3 vs DDR4 RAM, HDD vs SSD storage. These each will have clear effects on the speed that your computer can run, and as such your productivity in your job. But we can’t always just choose the most powerful option due to other factors, like cost.
This is about how safe a device is from security threats, such as hackers & viruses. Some devices are much more susceptible to these threats than others.
For example, Windows PCs are more likely to come under attack from viruses, than a Linux computer or a Mac. This means additional costs will need to be considered such as anti-virus software as well as better recovery procedures.
We also treat some devices differently and can be much more vigilant about security with certain devices than we are about others. For example, users often aren’t as careful about security with mobile devices as they are with laptops.
Think of the last time you (or your parents) bought a computer or another piece of digital technology.
What were the factors that were considered before making a decision? Were some more important than others?
So to summarise what we’ve learnt in this lesson:
- User experience is about the feeling a person gets when making use of a device. Notable factors here include ease of use, performance, availability & accessibility.
- User needs are about what actual tasks the user wants to perform using the hardware.
- Compatibility is about whether the hardware can communicate with other devices/components you are using it with.
- Cost is how much purchasing and running the hardware will cost you or your business.
- Efficiency is about how effectively tasks can be completed by the digital technology with as little wastage of resources.
- Implementation is about the time involved with putting new hardware into effect. Notable factors here include timescales, testing & migration.
- Productivity is about how quickly tasks can be completed when making use of the hardware.
- Security is about how safe a device is from security threats, such as hackers & viruses.