Buying Guide: Desktops
Things to consider when purchasing a desktop
While many choices are likely to be dictated by the size of your budget, there are also a number of practical considerations to bear in mind.
- The first choice you need to make is whether to opt for a PC or a Mac. Before you make a purchase, consider which system you prefer using (Mac OS X or Windows) and try to predict whether or not you might expect to encounter any compatibility issues along the way.
- Another early choice to make is between all-in-one desktops and tower desktop computers. If desk space is at a premium, consider an all-in-one with touchscreen functionality. If you want a desktop that can be easily upgraded, opt for a tower.
- Consider the kind of software you intend to use on your desktop and draw up your wish list accordingly. If you plan to use video editing programs, for example, look for a desktop with large memory.
- Do you intend to use your desktop for gaming or as part of your home theatre set up? If so, you should consider purchasing a desktop with a dedicated graphics card.
- If you own a DVD or Blu-ray library, consider purchasing a desktop with an optical disk drive. This will allow you to turn your computer into a first-rate media player.
Types of Desktops
All-in-one desktops are ideal for families, homes where space is at a premium and for anyone who dreads the thought of configuring a computer. Setting up an all-in-one is easy: simply take it out of the box, plug it in and turn it on.
- An all-in-one desktop contains the computer components in the area behind the monitor’s screen so all you need to find space for is the unit, the keyboard and the mouse. Surprisingly slimline, all-in-one desktops help you keep your desk and floor clear from clutter.
- Many all-in-one PCs come with touchscreen functionality. As well as offering you a new and exciting way to interact with your computer, touchscreen capabilities also mean you can do away with your mouse to save even more desk space.
- If there is a drawback with all-in-one computers, it is that they are harder to upgrade than tower desktops. If you are looking for a computer that you can customise or develop over time then an all-in-one is not for you.
General Use Desktops
If you require a computer for completing straightforward tasks like word processing or surfing the Internet then you can save yourself money by only paying for the features and functions that you need.
- If your computer will be for emailing, browsing and using software like Microsoft Office, then you don’t need powerful processors or large RAM. A desktop with an Intel Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM will likely suffice — and be affordable on a modest budget.
- Most entry-level computers come with around 500GB of storage space. This will be more than adequate if you only need to save documents and a small number photos. Storage space can be easily upgraded by adding a new hard drive to the tower or purchasing a portable hard drive, which you can connect to your computer via USB.
- If you only need a computer for occasional use then you may wish to opt for a PC with Windows 10. Depending on the spec, PCs tend to be more affordable than Macs and offer just as much functionality.
Gaming and Multimedia Desktops
Gaming and multimedia desktops are specifically designed to help you get the most from your favourite games, films and other media. They can be upgraded with ease so your computer can continue to play the latest titles.
- Ensure the desktop you buy has a dedicated graphics card. A graphics card is a processor that deals exclusively with visuals and its performance dictates how well games and films play on your computer. Aim for a computer that has a card with the largest number of cores, highest clock speed and biggest memory bandwidth that you can afford.
- CPU speed and RAM is less important than a dedicated graphics card when shopping for a gaming or multimedia desktop. However, to ensure performance is not hampered by other components, don’t opt for a computer with anything less than an Intel i5 processor (or equivalent) and 8GB RAM.
- If you plan on using your new desktop as a multimedia hub then you may also want to consider models that include a Blu-ray ROM/DVD burner combo and TV tuner cards that allow you to watch television on your computer.
High-end desktops can be used to run almost any professional software. They are ideal for anyone working with heavy files such as high-resolution photographs or 4K video.
- If you regularly work with powerful editing software such as Photothen you will likely want a desktop computer with as much RAM as you can afford. Anything above 8GB RAM will suffice; 16GB would futureproof your computer for some time to come.
- Heavy software will also require you to purchase a desktop with a powerful processor. for processors with a minimum of four cores (quad-core) and a clock speed of more than 3GHZ to ensure a fast, responsive performance.
- Purchasing a desktop with a dedicated graphics card will ensure video editing and design software runs smoothly. It will also allow you to use the computer for gaming and multimedia in your downtime.
A desktop’s value is largely determined by the capabilities of the processor, the memory and the storage space. If performance is your goal, then you should buy the fastest and largest of each one that you can afford. However, if your budget means you need to compromise and prioritise, then it is important to understand the role that each components plays.
Processor often referred to as the CPU, the processor is considered to be the brain of the computer. A processor’s performance is measured according to its speed and it is clocked in GHz. The more powerful the processor, the faster you can work and the more you can do at any one time. Advanced software invariably requires a fast processor.
RAM often referred to as memory, RAM contributes significantly to the speed at which programs and software run. RAM is measured in bytes. The more memory you have, the more your processor can take on at any one time so you can multi-task and run heavy software with ease.
Storage the size of the hard drive dictates how much data can be saved onto the computer. As with RAM, it is measured in bytes. Look out for SSHDs (solid state hard drives) as they offer a faster and quieter performance than standard HDDs. Note, storage space can be easily upgraded by connecting an external hard drive via a USB port.
Computer monitors can make all the difference when it comes to the final effect of a desktop. Monitors are available in a wide range of sizes and resolutions to suit office or home, and any budget.
Keyboards & mice
The right keyboard and mouse can help you work or play in greater comfort. Look out for wireless models that can help you reduce the build-up of clutter around your desk.
Cables & Adapters
The right cables and adapters help you get the most from your desktop computer, such as connection to other devices and taking advantage of your computer's potential.