How To Buy…A Desktop PC (Part 1)

1/23/2013 9:16:31 AM

Choosing a desktop system can be hard. James gives you some advice to make it easier

For a variety of reasons, full-size computers have fallen out of fashion with casual buyers. It’s not hard to speculate as to why, when you recall the dull, bulky, impractical cases that are instantly associated with this type of system although in all fairness, their current unpopularity has less to do with looks and more to do with buyer behaviour that values portability, disposability and more modern interface methods than a keyboard and mouse.

However, unlike tablets and laptops, desktops tend to be long-term investments rather than ‘throwaway’ devices to be replaced a year or two after purchase and, as such, they’re much better value. For the price of a decent notebook, you can get a desktop PC that’s more powerful, will last longer, and boast a substantially larger screen well worth considering, if portability doesn’t matter to you.

Description: How to buy a Desktop PC?

How to buy a Desktop PC?

In addition to the financial savings, there are numerous practical advantages to owning a desktop over a notebook. The main thing notebooks have going for them is portability, and tablets and netbooks do that better now. Desktops might seem monolithic compared to a notebook system, but their footprint is vastly lower than it once was and, looking at it from another angle, a decent PC with good accessories can double as a TV, DVD player and stereo, actually reducing the space you’ll be using up overall.

Finally, one substantial advantage desktops have over laptops is that the upgrade process can be a gradual, additive and evolutionary one. You’re not going to discover that your beloved and faithful computer has magically become obsolete thanks to a press conference, because you can replace individual parts at different times. Laptops and tablets, because of their more integrated nature, are virtually impossible to expand.

Description: Acer Revo L80 Nettop PC

Acer Revo L80 Nettop PC

So, assuming you’re convinced, keep reading for our advice on selecting the best desktop system for you

How Much Should You Spend?

As with tablets and notebook systems, a half-decent desktop PC will cost you around $480-$640, and anything cheaper than that is likely to be neutered, short lived or deliberately crippled in such a way as to make it appear like more of a bargain than it is. You can buy cheaper systems, but only do it if budget is the biggest concern you have.

If you’re after a gaming PC, the price jumps up quite quickly. Primarily, that’s because a decent CPU and graphics card can cost the best part of $640 by themselves, and that’s before you’ve added the connective tissue and supporting components. Consider $960 the base level, but at retail you can expect to pay around $1,280-$1,600 for a good gaming machine.

Anything more than that is probably excessive, not least because if you bought the components yourself you’d probably save a couple of hundred pounds straight away. The exception to this rule comes in the form of specialist gaming systems by the likes of ChillBlast and Overclockers, which tend to have a build-quality and engineering excellence that you wouldn’t be able to replicate at home. If you want a system from that kind of outlet, you’ll have to pay big money (probably up to $2400), but if you’re a gamer dedicated enough to pay that much in the first place, you should find the system worth the money.

Remember that the price of a desktop system will vary by $160-$320 simply based on whether it includes a monitor or not. Any prices we quote are for those that come without a monitor, simply because that’s our preferred way to buy a system. Finding the perfect monitor is difficult enough without trying to make a system retailer do it out of the goodness of its own heart!

What Make/Model/Manufacturer Should You Look For?

Recommending any specific best desktop system is often hard to do, simply because they’re far more personal and versatile than tablets and laptops. You might be able to change the amount of RAM or type of storage in a laptop when you buy it, but most desktops can be customised to the point of being barely recognisable as the same model they began life as. That said, there are some stand-out systems we can recommend if you’re interested in buying a complete package and want a recognisable name to aim for.

Description: Dell XPS One 27

Dell XPS One 27

For a start, you can rely on Apple’s systems to be easy to use and of universally high quality. You can also rely on them to empty your wallet, probably while laughing maniacally. In a financial climate that necessitates thrift, it’s fair to say that most Apple desktop systems are best left to brand fanatics, specialists (designers, musicians etc.) and the super-rich.

A reasonable alternative might be the Dell XPS One 27, which has a similar all-in-one form factor to the iMac range, but runs on Windows and contains a much sturdier selection of hardware for the money you pay. It’s not much cheaper, but it is better under the hood. A standard model could be expected to include an Ivy Bridge Core i7-3770, 8GB of RAM, 2TB of storage and a Blu-Ray Drive, all neatly secreted behind a 27” screen. A PC owner’s dream.

At the other end of the spectrum, you could try the Acer Revo L80 Nettop PC. Although not strictly a desktop system, these minimalist systems pack a lot of features into a small amount of space, and with their Core i3-2377M CPUs, 8GB of RAM and 750GB storage, they’re not exactly a slouch.

However, if we had to buy a system today, we’d be looking at something from the Lenovo ThinkCentre Edge family. The systems mostly contain Ivy Bridge i3/i5/i7 chips and are well-balanced, well-built and well-priced. There are a few blips, such as models containing 6GB of RAM where 8GB would be preferable, and the lack of HDMI ports on those without separate graphics cards, but bear those qualities in mind and you should be able to find one you like.

Still, remember that the best way to buy a desktop PC is always to build one yourself. If you’re willing to put the components together with your own two hands, you can save anywhere from $48 - $320 on a retail system. It’s far simpler than you expect, and the resulting system has a limited run of one model. You can’t get more exclusive and personal than that.

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