So, you want to get yourself a computer but you’re not quite sure which computer to get?
We’ve all been there, the good news for seniors is that you don’t need to be an expert in how computers work to get the best out of them.
In this guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about computers without blowing your mind with technical detail that doesn’t matter very much.
A Senior’s Guide To Computers
OK, so, we’re going to take a quick look at the important components of the computer system as well as the software you might want to run on it and, of course, the Internet.
Apple VS PC
Perhaps, the most important question in our senior’s guide is whether to buy an Apple computer or a PC? Both of these systems are excellent choices for older adults and elderly users Apple computers are often more expensive than PCs but they have a reputation for lasting longer as well as being somewhat easier to operate.
However, on the flip side, not only are PCs cheaper but they are often more flexible in the software that they can run with many forms of software being only available for PC (though Apple has a few exclusive titles too – they have nowhere near as many).
Does this choice matter very much?
No. Your computer whether Apple or PC should be able to do everything that you need it to do, while younger generations will argue over this choice in types of computers for hours, you should feel free to buy the one you like or if you have a relative helping you to learn – buy the same kind of computer as they have.
The Central Processing Unit (CPU)
Computers have a “brain” and it’s the central processing unit. There was a time when it was very important to buy a computer with the biggest, fastest CPU that you could find, but this is no longer true unless you are working with some very specific software applications (and you probably wouldn’t need this guide if that were the case).
The power of a CPU is measured in Hertz (Hz) which is the number of calculations it can perform per second and by the number of “cores” that it has. You can think of a core as an extra brain. So, 2 are usually better than 1, 4 are better than 2, and so on.
Assuming you are buying a new computer, you should find that the CPU will be sufficient to your needs but if you’re buying secondhand, it could be worth asking a relative or friend for some advice to ensure it’s capable of running whatever software you need.
CPUs for PCs are made by Intel and AMD. For Apple, they are made especially for Apple machines.
The Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)
Not all computers have a graphics processing unit (GPU) but those that do are capable of running the latest games, carrying out heavy photo processing and video rendering work.
If those are things you want to do, then opt for a machine with a graphics card (made by Nvidia or sometimes by AMD) rather than allowing the CPU to do all the processing.
Random Access Memory (RAM)
RAM is super important and if a computer is running poorly it’s often because it needs more RAM.
Random Access Memory is where your computer stores the files and information it is working with, right now.
The more that you have, the easier it is for the computer to carry out complex tasks. Even web browsers can take up a lot of this memory on modern computers.
As a rule of thumb, if buying a new computer, you should be looking for at least 8GB of RAM and if you can afford it, 16GB is better still.
Hard Drives (Storage)
The days of CD Rom are long gone and the storage for files and programs on your computer is only likely to be an HDD (Hard Disc Drive) or an SSD (Solid State Drive).
Both of these options are good for storing files. HHDs are cheaper but are more prone to mechanical failure and are slower than SSDs.
Some people opt for both, using a small SSD to keep their most important files and their operating system (Windows or MacOS) on and an HDD for keeping less important files on.
The Importance Of Backups
Both SSDs and HDDs can fail and it’s a bad idea to keep all of your data on your computer – unless you don’t mind losing it all.
It is a good idea to back up your drives either to the cloud (using services like Google Drive or Microsoft’s One Drive) or on an external hard drive. Cloud storage is not expensive but incurs either a monthly or annual fee for large amounts of files.
Keyboards (QWERTY) And Other Hardware
This isn’t a step-by-step guide to building computers for older adults, it’s just an introduction to what you might need.
If you buy a laptop, you will probably find that everything you need for your computer is included in the box but otherwise, you may need to buy a keyboard (the most common type of keyboard is the QWERTY layout which refers to the letters Q, W, E, R, T, and Y on the first line of letters but there are others), a mouse, a monitor (and if you have poor eyesight, you might want to consider a bigger monitor than standard) and possibly a printer too.
If you do have poor eyesight or other disabilities, you can also talk to the people in the store where you buy your computer about adaptions for your computer that can make it much easier to use.
OK, the next stop in our seniors guide is the software that you’re going to want to run on your computer.
You will probably want some sort of e-mail program and we’d recommend you use a free service like Google’s Gmail to communicate with – it also has a built-in messaging client which allows you to have conversations in real-time.
Browser And Search Engine Access
Web browsers are the front end of the Internet. If you use Apple, you will use Safari and if you use a PC you have a lot of choice in this but if you’re not certain why you’d need something else? Microsoft’s Edge browser is included with Windows and it’s excellent.
Unless you intend to do a lot of work with an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, etc.) – we’d recommend using Google’s G-Suite which is free for low volume users and works excellently.
For many of us, the purpose of owning a computer is to be able to work on our own photographs to make the images out of our cameras look amazing.
We should note that this is a very intensive job to do on any computer and you will want to invest in a computer with a graphics card and as much memory as possible to work with photos easily and if you also want to work on videos, they are even more demanding.
However, there’s plenty of free software to do the work with including GIMP (an open-source Photoshop alternative), Darktable (an open-source Lightroom alternative), and Da Vinci (which is not just open-source video software but the same software that George Lucas used to make the recent Star Wars movies! Free doesn’t mean “bad” when it comes to software).
And if you want to pay for software then the Adobe Creative Suite remains the gold standard for this kind of work, for now at least.
Security: Anti-Virus and Firewalls
Every computer should have anti-virus and a firewall program running on it.
Apple users are less likely to get viruses than PC users because there are fewer Apple users and thus, virus makers tend to target PCs but they are still vulnerable.
Broadband And The Internet
Finally, you can’t access the Internet if you don’t have a broadband connection and a router at home. The good news is that if you talk to your local cable company or telephone company they will be able to help you get this set up – though there will be a monthly fee for it.
Most computers now connect to the Internet using Wi-Fi to connect to the router supplied by the broadband company. If you can’t get a good Internet signal? It may be that you need a “repeater” which will help to boost that signal. This is something your broadband supplier can help with.
Final Thoughts On Computers For Seniors
We don’t expect seniors to be able to start using computers from this guide alone, but it ought to help seniors make solid decisions about the things they want and need to buy to take advantage of the software programs they’d like to use at home.