What it is: Technical specifications tell you the hardware capabilities of a product and from that cryptic list of features, you’re supposed to infer the advantages that those technical specifications offer you.
When people compare a Windows PC to a Macintosh, they often rely on technical specifications to “prove” that the Windows PC is superior because it has a lower price, faster processor, and more RAM. While all those technical specifications may be nice, the real purpose of any laundry list of technical specifications is how those features translate into benefits for the user.
Comparing raw processing power is meaningless because most processors are fast enough for everyday usage. Unless you’re doing computing intensive calculations, the difference between a 2.5GHz processor and a 3.2GHz processor will be meaningless. That’s like asking whether a car engine with eight cylinders is superior to a car engine with four cylinders when driving through rush hour traffic at ten miles per hour.
At a certain point, technical features are more than enough for most people and for those who actually need those technical specifications, they’ll need the best they can afford, which means they’ll have to pay more for the overall price as well. Having superior technical features means nothing if they don’t translate into actual benefits for the user.
Besides processor speeds that have far exceeded the demands of most people, there’s also the question of RAM. Generally more RAM is better, but once again, will 16Gb of RAM give you that much better performance than 8Gb of RAM? For the average person, the answer will be a minimal improvement that probably won’t be noticeable. For people who need to run multiple programs such as virtual operating systems, then you’ll need more RAM than the ordinary person. Yet once again anyone who needs more RAM will have to pay for it, and that means knowing what you need a computer to do.
Casual computer users just need a computer that works regardless of its technical features. Knowing how to decipher the laundry list of technical specifications requires technical knowledge that most people don’t possess.
For those who do understand technical specifications, they need to clarify what those features will do for them. 16Gb of RAM is clearly more than 8Gb of RAM, but what does that mean in terms of performance? You can run more programs with 16Gb of RAM, but can the average person get by with 8Gb of RAM and will 16Gb of RAM offer a noticeable difference?
Technical specifications only mean something if you understand how they translate into visible features for the user. Technology has advanced so far that many technical specifications exceed what the average person needs.
Comparing computers based on technical specifications is like comparing people based on bone density and muscle mass, and concluding that the person with the best bone density and muscle mass is the person you’ll marry. Obviously that makes no sense without taking into consideration how you actually get along with another person, and that’s the same criteria you need to use to consider a computer.
Most computers work roughly the same whether you’re using Linux, Windows, or OS X. The difference isn’t in the features any more but in the user experience. As much as Linux has improved recently from the days when installing it was a major headache in itself, Linux is still best for tech-savvy users unless you simply plan to turn a computer on and use what’s already installed.
Windows is a bit less intimidating than Linux when it comes to ease of use mostly because so many people are already familiar with Windows. That doesn’t make Windows superior to Linux any more than claiming inches and quarters are superior to the metric system just because most Americans aren’t familiar with the metric system. For greater hardware and software support, Windows is superior to Linux regardless of any technical features.
OS X is largely considered easier than Windows while still offering the technical underpinnings of UNIX. For ease of use, OS X is generally considered better, but if you’re already familiar with Windows, then learning anything new will be different and difficult as a result. That’s what makes Windows 8 so puzzling because it takes the familiar Windows name and drastically alters the user interface so Windows 7 users will actually find Linux and OS X more familiar than Windows 8.
The bottom line is that technical specifications only mean something if they translate into actual benefits for you. Forget about whether 16Gb of RAM with a 3.2GHz processor works for an astrophysicist. Focus only on what you need and what works for you. If you have to wade through a laundry list of technical specifications just to understand what a computer offers, chances are good that computer is not for you. You want to make your choice easier and definitive. Trying to decipher technical specifications that you may not fully understand will never give you an easier and definitive answer on what’s best.
Ultimately, technical specifications are a clue but only for those who understand its cryptic messages. For everyone else, technical specifications are simply one more way to confuse you. Instead of considering technical specifications to compare computers, use your emotions to judge a computer first and then use technical specifications second. That way you’ll at least use technical specifications as a secondary way to judge a computer, not as the sole and primary way to do so.