Important Tip: Don’t just pay attention to the high-end of the price range! – which is what I know you are all looking at, but also look at the low range. If a contractor is cheaper than this, ask “why?” Usually it is because they don’t have liability insurance, workman’s compensation insurance, are unlicensed, all of the above, or worst yet, they don’t use HVAC technicians. You are spending a lot of money.  Make sure that they are licensed (In California, check here at CSLB License Checker) and insured.
Compressor -- Compressors are outdoor components in your system. The compressor is the pump that circulates the refrigerants through the air-conditioner. You can hear it when it's running so you'll know if it's working just by listening. If it starts getting louder, your compressor is about to fail. If it makes no sound when it should be on, it has already failed. Compressors fail for a number of reasons. Most often they fail due to strain from another failed part such as the fan motor. Electrical storms can also damage compressors. If the sound from the compressor gets louder or if you see a decrease in performance, you should have your compressor checked. A failed compressor will not heat or cool your house.
Since the 1980s, manufacturers of HVAC equipment have been making an effort to make the systems they manufacture more efficient. This was originally driven by rising energy costs, and has more recently been driven by increased awareness of environmental issues. Additionally, improvements to the HVAC system efficiency can also help increase occupant health and productivity.[23] In the US, the EPA has imposed tighter restrictions over the years. There are several methods for making HVAC systems more efficient.
The letters in HVAC stand for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. An HVAC system enables you to regulate your home or building’s internal temperature (thermal control) for comfortable living and working. You can bring heat levels down in the summer and up in the winter, keeping your home or office livable year-round. HVAC systems can also help with humidity levels and regulate indoor air quality in a home or office. There are many types of HVAC systems and technologies available.

Roof-mounted systems have the heating and cooling systems in one cabinet. Sometimes called "gas packs" (if the heater uses natural gas), they typically cost less than a comparable split system. In dry regions, most homes originally had "swamp-coolers" installed. When replacing them with HVAC systems, it's often cheaper to use existing mounts and ducting.

Filtration systems -- A second-stage filter is sometimes inserted & used to remove particulates such as pets, smoking or cooking, as well as other odors, gases, and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). A HEPA filter is also available to remove spores, pollens, bacteria and lung-damaging particles. There are also systems that use ultraviolet (UV) light to protect against bacteria and germs.
If your central air conditioner will not cool but you can hear it running, it may just need to be cleaned. Whether or not this is the cause of the problem, it’s a good early remedy to try. Plan to do this on a relatively warm day. Never use a power washer for this—it can damage the fins. The following are guidelines; always refer to your owner’s manual. Note: Always turn off the power before cleaning the unit.