How to Buy a Desktop PC
Does your desktop PC take so long to start up you have time to go get a cup of coffee—and drink it? Tried installing the latest game only to find out your graphics card is six generations too old to play it? Or maybe you just want to take advantage of the speed and reliability of operating systems like Microsoft Windows 7 and Mac OS Lion. If any of these are true, then it is time for you to buy a new desktop PC. And we can help you do it.
Prices for desktop PCs start as low as $200 and range all the way up to and over $5,000, but most of us would be more than happy with a $600- $750 box, including monitor. You still need to make some choices when it comes to CPUs, memory, hard drive capacity and graphics technology, but the good news is your money has never gone further. And a PC you buy today could very well last you for four to six years.
The Nettop Option
If all you want to do is surf the Web, run Office apps, and do very light computing duties, you should consider a nettop. You can find a nettops advertised for as low as $220 without monitor. Nettops belong to a desktop category that (mostly) comes in below the $400-500 value desktop categories, both in price and capabilities. Nettops run on the same basic components that netbooks do: low-powered single- or dual-core processor like the Intel Atom, AMD Neo, or some of the low-powered AMD Athlon processors; non-upgradable integrated graphics; 512MB to 2GB of RAM; smaller hard drive; no optical drive (usually); and Windows 7, Linux operating system, or sometimes even no pre-installed OS.
Some all-in-one nettops have a built-in screen and still can be bought for less than $500. You’ll also see quite a few nettops aimed at the home theater crowd, some of which may be up to $600 if they include built-in Blu-ray drives. They work well in a living room because they’re silent (quiet fans); have wireless keyboards and/or mice; and have HDMI ports for connecting to HDTVs. They’re still one of the easiest way to get IPTV services like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube on your HDTV in the living room, plus you can comfortably surf the Web from your couch on a nettop with a wireless keyboard and mouse.
Mid-priced Desktop PCs
Sub $600 PCs used to be the bargain basement for desktops, but now they’re the norm. You should be able to find a desktop that has a dual-core processor and 3-4GB of RAM for under $600 with an LCD monitor. The dual-core processor will help with the increasingly complex tasks that even casual users expect of their PCs. These include converting video from one format to another (so you can view it on your cell phone, for example), or light photo editing like removing red eye, cropping, or even recomposing the layout of a picture by adding missing people or changing colors in a shot.
A Pentium dual core or AMD Athlon X2 processor should fit the bill, but you can upgrade to a faster Core 2 Duo, Core i3/i5, or Athlon II X3 if you want to get tasks done quicker. Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) and DVD burners prevail in this price range and are wise investments. Many come with hard drives of substantial capacity (250GB to 500GB). Many of these PCs still come in minitower cases, but the sexier ones come in small form factor cases, ultra small form factors, or better yet, mini PC form factors. These cases take up much less room on your desk than a traditional minitower, and are just as functional as their larger counterparts. Plus, a good value PC should easily last you the next four to six years.