Beginner’s Guide to Buying a Desktop Computer
People certainly aren't camping outside stores in the rain to get the latest and greatest desktop computer these days, but PCs are far from dead. Simply put, there are certain functions that mobile devices and laptops either can't do or can't do nearly as well as a desktop.
Not to mention, there's no beating the price. A budget desktop is going to be miles ahead of a budget laptop. It's expensive to make things small. The small size is what appeals to some people when choosing a new computer, but these days big honking towers aren't your only choice.
Styles of desktop computers
There's a lot more variation and choice in the desktop form factor, which is great in some ways, but also makes the buying process that much more complicated. You can find computers in each of these categories at a variety of price points, so the most important thing to keep in mind is how you plan to use your desktop.
The classic desktop form factor, towers have stuck around for good reason. It's hard to fit a lot of power into smaller devices like a laptop or tablet for a reasonable price. The power to price ratio of tower computers is pretty much unbeatable.
There's also a lot more flexibility with a tower. There's more room to upgrade and expand the system when newer technology comes out, whereas with smaller devices you may just have to buy a whole new system.
Towers do, however, take up quite a bit of space and if space is at a premium in your home, a tower could be out of the question. They also require a separate monitor, keyboard, and mouse. There are some cases where those accessories are included, or you can get a discount if you buy them at the same time as the computer, but plan for buying those when you're making up your budget.
All-in-one computers offer a simple and space-saving set up. These are, in essence, a cross between a desktop and a laptop. They feature a large monitor with all the necessary components built into the back or base.
The small design gives you a lot more flexibility with placement and keeps your work area clutter free. Plus, because everything is all in one, set up usually just involves plugging it in. You do still need a separate keyboard and mouse however.
Because these computers are smaller, they aren't as powerful as a tower and you can't customize and expand them (although this also makes them much simpler). There's also the issue that if the monitor breaks, you need a whole new computer.
Mini and Stick PCs
These computers use mobile components to keep them small (like all-in-ones). As such, they're not very powerful, but they're extremely portable. Mini PCs are small enough to be hidden behind a monitor or TV set up and stick PCs are slightly larger than a thumb drive. Because of the small size, they're not very powerful and internal expansion is limited to impossible.
While you won't be able to do any advanced gaming or multimedia editing, they work great for day-to-day tasks, browsing the Internet, and watching media. Set up is extremely easy and they're quite versatile in that you can use it as a home office during the day, and then plug it into a TV for a home theater at night.
The different operating systems
The question of which operating system (OS) to go with isn't asked as often with desktops as it is with tablets and smartphones, but it's still something to consider.
This is definitely the most common desktop OS so you'll have a big selection of hardware as well as compatible third party software. It's designed around a touchscreen interface, though it still works great with the classic mouse and keyboard, so if you don't buy a touchscreen monitor you won't have any problems.
If you're in a family of Apple lovers, then Mac could be for you. Sierra is only found on Mac computers, so you're limited in your hardware, but these are well-made computers that historically have fewer problems with viruses. A Mac will also pair seamlessly with your other Apple devices and programs.
If you're just looking for simple, no-frills computing the Chrome OS will be right up your ally. The OS runs custom apps and cloud-based programs as opposed to other operating systems that run software. It's not suited for demanding tasks like gaming, but it's great for email, file-sharing, and browsing. You will always need to be connected to the internet, but that's usually not an issue with desktops.
Types of desktop computers
Not everyone is going to use a desktop for the same reasons, and how you use it will influence the type of computer you buy. After all, you don't need a complex, high-powered machine just to check your email.
These PCs are stripped back, no-frills machines that don't allow for advanced computing, but are easy to service and upgrade. They also usually offer extra security, software and hardware certification programs, software support, and some even have on-site tech support.
These are specialized PCs that feature multicore processors and intense graphics. They're perfect for scientific calculations, media creation, and other high-powered tasks that wouldn't be even remotely possible on a laptop.
These are (as the name suggests) made for gaming. They feature specialized graphics cards, extremely fast multicore processors, and many have flashy design elements although those generally cost more. Upgradability is a must as newer and more immersive games are released.
Learn the lingo
There's a lot of terminology you need to know before buying a PC so that you actually know what you're buying. This list from PCWorld goes into further detail, but here's a quick breakdown of the terms you should know and understand.
This is the brain of your computer. Processor speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz) and generally, the higher the clock speed, the better the performance and the higher the price. The more cores a processor has the better the performance as well. Desktops either have an Intel or an AMD processor.
The random-access memory (RAM) determines how good your computer is at multitasking. The higher the RAM the better, especially for high-powered tasks like gaming. For simple tasks like email and web browsing 2GB is fine, but for anything more advanced than that, look for a computer with 4GB or more.
The amount of storage your desktop has determines how much stuff you can keep on your computer. Desktops almost always have more storage than laptops and for a fraction of the cost. It's also easy to upgrade your hard drive for more storage, or upgrade to a solid-state drive.
Wait for the best price, but don't wait too long
Once you've figured out which computer you want (and have read plenty of reviews to ensure that it's actually up to snuff), it's time to buy. This can be tricky with a desktop because they can be pretty expensive and technology is always evolving.
While it can be tempting to just buy the computer when you're ready, you might miss out on a great deal or the latest tech. Shop regularly for a stretch of time instead of spending an entire day looking around. You're more likely to catch a deal that way. Also check the release dates of new models. You'll most likely get a good deal on an older model, or you might just want the latest technology.
Waiting for a sale also means you can bump up your computers specs with the money you save, meaning your computer is a bit more “future-proof” than if you were to just go for the cheapest one you can find.
However, this is a balancing act. If you spend too much time waiting around for the perfect deal or the latest model, you're never going to end up buying your desktop. So be patient and wait for sales, but once you find the model you want in an acceptable price range, go ahead and buy it.