2019 PC Buying Guide for Virtual Assistants

Early this year, we released a PC buying guide for Virtual Assistants who were looking to purchase a new daily driver for their online work.

For those who want to get Macs, our Mac buying guide still applies. We just updated it to include the “cheesegrater” which is a workstation system.

Because there have been so many updates for PC hardware this year, we felt it was important to create a new post to accommodate that. While the previous guide is a little outdated, I would strongly recommend you read it first to get a general idea of

  • how different computer components work
  • how these components affect online work and
  • how different component can affect your budget.

Despite the onslaught of newly released CPUs, the premise of our first guide remains true. Just because something is newer, more powerful, or more expensive doesn’t mean it would be best for you. The simplest way to choose is still based on your needs and budget.

As of this writing, here are the available desktop CPUs in the Philippine market:

Intel*AMD
Intel*AMD
Pentium G5400Athlon 200GE
Core i3 9100F/9100Ryzen 3 3200G
Core i5 9400F/9400/9600K Ryzen 5 3400G/3600/3600X
Core i7 9700/9700K Ryzen 7 3700X
Core i9 9900KRyzen 9 3900X

*10th gen has been announced but I have not found Philippine pricing yet while researching for this article

Don’t be intimidated by the long string of numbers and letters. When buying a computer, always consider your budget and your needs first. Once you have that figured out, it’ll be easier to shortlist what components you really need. We have this handy table for your below showing what you CPU you would need based on the work you’re doing.

Getting The Right Tools For The Job

The reason why there are so many different CPUs in the market is because they’re designed for different tasks and different price points. If your shopping for a laptop or prebuilt for VA work, you cna use this table to guide you on what computer you should get based on the CPU model.

Ideal Tasks for Intel Core i3/AMD Ryzen 3*Ideal Tasks for Intel Core i5 or i7/ AMD Ryzen 5 or 7**
Office & Admin VA Advertising (with graphics/video)
Project Management Software Development
English Tutorial Web Development
Finance Management Wordpress (with graphics/video)
Wordpress (content/blogging)Webmaster
Customer Service PHP Programming
Marketing and Sales Marketing and Sales (with graphics/video)
Professional Services Graphics and Multimedia
Social MediaSocial Media (with graphics/video)

 

*A lot of employers will have minimum required computer specifications for their VAs but the tasks on the first column can still be done with some Pentium and Athlon CPUs. If your work load isn’t that technically demanding, you can get away with using late model Pentiums and Athlons as long as you have enough RAM to back it up.

** If you really want to save money, some of these tasks can still be done using 3-series CPUs, However, you may see some performance lags though when doing video editing or when working on really high resolution photos and graphics. 

CPU2

In addition to the series number, you may have noticed that CPUs also come with letter suffixes. What do these suffixes mean?

For INTEL CPUs –

  • F (9100F,9400F) – These are basically the same CPUS as those without F suffix (9100, 9400) but cheaper because it has no integrated graphics. This means, even if your motherboard has a VGA, DMI or DisplayPort output, as long as you got an F processor, you will need to make sure you buy a graphics card.
  • K models ( 9600K, 9700K, 9900K ) – These are “unlocked CPUs” which allows overclocking, to squeeze more processing speed from the CPU. It might be tempting to get this if you want a blazing fast processor. If you’re used to overclocking or you want to give it a try, be my guest. But if you are new to computers, don’t do Triple-A games and your workspace doesn’t have air-conditioning, I wouldn’t recommend overclocking as it could break the really expensive CPU and it may void the warranty.
  • U – U CPUs stand for “ultra-low-power,” and can be found on most laptops right now. While they are decent, their low power consumption also means lower performance than their desktop CPU equivalent.

For AMD CPUs –

  • G (3200G,3400G) – On AMD’s camp, if you see a G suffix, it means that it has integrated graphics support. Because all Ryzen CPUs are unlocked, they are all overclockable, but I the same warnings apply as above when overclocking.
  • X (3600X,3700X,3900X) – The X suffix indicates indicates higher power draw for more performance, so you will need better motherboard and a higher wattage power supply when you opt for those.
  • U – AMD also uses the U suffix for their standard laptop processors to indicate ultra-low-power.

Getting The Most Bang For Your Buck

A limited budget will give you limited options. But that PC still needs to perform well if you need it for work and personal use. This is often defined by how fast your PC works.

As mentioned in our previous guide, the performance of your computer does not rely solely on the CPU. It is the combination of the interaction of the 3 main components (CPU, RAM, Storage).

PC-Speed2

This means you need to align your budget based on the performance that you want to get from your PC. If your task has intensive graphics (graphics editing, video editing, 3D editing), having better GPU with more VRAM will factor in the performance. This means you will have to consider GPU cost in your budget. But if you don’t need a GPU, you can afford to splurge on other components that can improve your computer’s performance.

RAM

In my previous article, I have explained how more RAM helps in the performance by easing the bottleneck to the CPU.

ram2

For most tasks, I would still recommend a minimum of 8GB memory. If you are doing video editing or motion graphics, I would recommend a minimum of 16GB.
Additionally, taking advantage of RAM channels gives better performance.

What is this “channel”? In simplest terms, the channel is how the computer communicates information from the RAM to the CPU and vice versa. Having more lanes for the same amount of memory allows faster movement of data from the RAM to the CPU. So when buying RAM, you need to take into consideration what your motherboard is capable of.

For example, which do you think would be the better option? A single stick of 8GB RAM or 2 sticks of 4GB? It depends. If your motherboard only has single channel memory, the single 8GB RAM is your only choice. If your motherboard supports dual channel memory, go with the 2 sticks of 4GB to maximize your computer’s performance.

Storage

When buying a new computer, it may be tempting to go for bigger storage when you see “1TB HDD” over “240GB SSD,” but don’t be fooled. SSDs are  now cheaper than ever and the speed benefits of SSD is leaps and bounds compared to HDD.

Storage2

Most laptops being sold still come with very slow 5400RPM hard drive and has been frustrating many consumers as soon as they start using their laptop. Which is why it was a breath of fresh air last September, when Lenovo Philippines has announced that all their laptops, including their cheapest ones, will have SSDs as standard storage.

If your system supports it, choose NVMe M.2 SSDs over SATA SSDs. NVMe is really fast, especially if is rated at 4x speed.

That’s not to say that HDDs are a bad choice. It’s just that if you’re going for speed, SSDs are the way to go. But if you need a system that can also support long term storage, HDD is a good option.

Graphics

Not everyone will need high end graphics. But if your tasks require video and graphics, you’d definitely need a graphics card.

Graphics (2)

There are two GPU manufacturers you will consider from, NVIDIA and AMD. The brand doesn’t really matter here. Base your choice on your budget and needs.

Unfortunately, most graphic card reviews are geared towards performance on gaming, not so much on how they perform in video rendering and motion graphics. So after checking which graphics cards would be compatible with your motherboard, CPU, and budget, go for the one that has more VRAM and has more graphics processing power to get the best performance

Remember that the graphics card may be the most expensive component, so budget accordingly.

Motherboard

There’s 2 basic things you will need to know when choosing the right motherboard: size and CPU compatibility.

Motherboard2

Choosing the right size (form-factor) is dependent on the case you are using as well as the amount of internal expansion you are looking to have. These are the most common form-factors you’ll find on the market:

  • mini-ITX – The mini-ITX size is a small motherboard and has limited expansion. The most you’ll be able to add on to it internally is 2 RAM sticks and 1 graphics card. Some modern mini-ITX motherboards may even have support for m.2 SSDs. This size is your go-to if you are building a tiny PC.
  • micro-ATX (mATX) – Micro-ATX is larger than mini-ITX and will have more expansion options. Most modern mATX motherboards will have 2-3 PCIe slots for expansion (graphics card, a better sound card than the one built in on the motherboard…) and probably 2 m.2 SSD slots. While a few mATX boards will have 2 slots for RAM, most of them will have 4. If you have 2 RAM sticks and 4 slots, you’ll have to make sure you attach the 2 sticks on either 1st & 3rd or 2nd & 4th slots. This is to make sure you are taking advantage of the dual memory channel advantage I discussed above. Attaching them on consecutive slots will only use a single memory channel and you lose out on the speed that dual channel can give.
  • ATX – You get the point. Bigger motherboards, more expansion. This can get really big and the case for it can get impractical if you don’t have dedicated space for your PC. For my money, go with mATX as it’s the best middle ground.

The other consideration is the CPU compatibility. Your friendly computer store should already have compatibility recommendations but I will tell you right now that it’s better if you can check online if a certain model will work with your chosen CPU. PC Partpicker is a go to for all PC building enthusiasts.

SPECIAL INTEL NOTE: Intel’s CPU socket looks the same, and may even have the same number of contacts, but different generations could have different configuration. So make sure you get the right motherboard with the compatible socket. The wrong motherboard can fry both the board and the CPU and it’s a costly mistake that you cannot warranty.

SPECIAL AMD NOTE: AMD has been using the same CPU socket (AM4) for their 1st to 3rd Ryzen generations and technically should work after an update on the motherboard’s firmware (often referred to as the BIOS). When buying a Ryzen motherboard, ask the computer store if they can update the BIOS for you if the motherboard you are buying was released before the Ryzen 3000 series. Also, Ryzen 3000 series may not work with boards that has the chipset lower than B450 (you’d see this code on the model number of the motherboard).

Power Supply

When buying a computer, a lot of people will try to save money by buying a computer case with an included generic power supply. Around 10 years ago, this would have been fine. However, my opinion on the matter has changed mainly due to the power requirements of today’s computers.

Power-Supply2

There are two reasons why I would not recommend generic (a.k.a “ketchup and mustard power supply” due to the red and yellow cables) power supplies:

  1. Inconsistent power or unreliable true-rating
  2. The quality of wire guage of the cables and thickness of the insulation.

With the amount of power draw most computer components require nowadays, it’s safer to just get certified power supply units from trusted brands. Generic PSUs may not be using quality wires of the correct gauge and proper insulation. These means they may not deliver the power your PC components need, which could brick them in the process. Thinner gauged wire with thin insulation can easily heat up, becoming a fire hazard.

Check for the 80PLUS certification on the power supply you’ll be getting. Generic PSUs will not have that. Also, you may want to check the wattage of your setup to the PSU you need. I’ve found this a really good tool for doing a quick computation of the minimum wattage requirements.

One last consideration is to make sure you have the right power connectors. Newer graphics cards will require additional power from the PSU and they come in either 6 or 8 pin or a combination. Just make sure to have it checked for compatibility by the store so there won’t be any headaches when you bring it home.

I hope the previous buyer guide and the additional information here can help you choose your next daily driver for your work.

Happy Holidays!


About Jae Manuel Sta Romana
Jae Manuel Sta. Romana is Onlinejobs.ph’s social media administrator and resident tech geek. He’s been working on computers since the1980s and is a tech support veteran. In his free time, this work-at-home dad likes to game, cook and arrange music for band instruments.

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