The first question before you look at what is included is what will you use the computer for? If you will just be using the computer to browse the internet (look at web pages) and to do email, you will not need a very strong machine. If you will be using it for game playing or to do editing of pictures and video, you will need the opposite, which will be the fastest machine with the most memory. Most other things they are used for fall in between.
The first thing to look at is the RAM. This is how much space the computer has to store stuff it is currently working on. This is just a temporary storage area (different from the hard drive), and items in there are gone when the power turns off. If you are a basic user (just browses the internet and do email and maybe word processing) then one to two gigabytes of memory is plenty. If you will be a power user, then you want eight to 16 gigabytes of memory or more.
The processor is the brain of the computer, and it is measured in ghz (gigahertz). The larger the number, the faster it runs. The basic user can use a machine that is one to two ghz. The power user will want a machine that is three to four ghz. You can still get single core machines (one processor), which will work for the basic user, but there are dual (two) and quad (four) core machines. The more core processors, the faster it runs, and it means there are multiple parts doing the thinking at one time. The high-end user will want a quad core machine (and the eight and 16 core are on the way).
The permanent storage in the computer is your hard drive. The larger the drive, the more space you have. If you will be storing lots of pictures and videos, you want a large drive. The drives range from about 250 gigabytes (billions of characters of storage) to two terabytes (trillions of bytes). If you will just be using your computer for basic needs, a 500 gigabyte drive will work.
Although it usually does not come with the computer, I would suggest you also get an external hard dive that you can copy your documents and pictures and videos to for use as a backup. A one terabyte external hard drive will run you about $100, and by regularly copying your files to it, you will not risk losing them if the computer crashes.
Make sure you also get an anti-virus program with the computer and keep the program and definitions current. AVG and Avast are good, free antivirus programs you can download on the internet.
Thanks Evelyn and Rose for the question.
Send your questions to Dwight Watt at email@example.com. He teaches at a technical college in northwest Georgia and does consulting work for businesses and individuals. His website is dwightwatt.com.