Buyer’s Guides to Desktop Computing

Desktop Computers

Not unlike the rest of technology, the latest desktop PCs are now smaller, faster, and more powerful than ever, and are now a far more attractive proposition than their cumbersome, clunky predecessors.

While a laptop might be lighter, more portable and boast a long battery life, a desktop PC offers greater storage capacity, more power and bigger screens that are perfect for gaming, animation, design and video editing.

Desktop PCs are also more comfortable to use than laptops, with adjustable monitors and keyboards, while better design means you can put them anywhere in the home and they won’t look out of place.

What’s it for?

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OK with hundreds of models to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. First decide how much you want to spend then spend some time considering what you actually need your computer for.

If you just want to check your emails, word-processing and spreadsheets, then a basic desktop is probably all you need, but it’s really important to consider what you might want it to do in the future, so a good piece of advice would be to go for the very best specification you can afford - this will give you greater flexibility for longer.

More specifically, think about the software you want to use, how big a monitor you would prefer and the number of external devices you want to connect your computer to. If you want a computer for gaming, music production, video editing, or design, you’ll need a desktop with a faster processor, greater memory, more storage and superior sound and video cards for example.

What are the options?

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PC or Mac?

It’s a debate that’s been raging for years, but it really just comes down to personal choice. The main difference between the two is that a Mac runs the Mac OS X operating system, while a PC will run Microsoft’s Windows. Both systems have their good and bad points and again it’s individual preference that will determine which you opt for. The latest Mac’s will let you install Windows if you prefer so you get the best of both worlds.

Getting off the fence now, the general consensus has always been that if you’re into design, music or video production, then choose a Mac - it’s the industry standard and gives you the tools for professional results. A PC on the other hand is probably a better bet if you’re a serious gamer, as it’s easy to upgrade graphics cards and hardware when you need to.

Processors

The central processing unit (CPU) is effectively the brain of the computer and is the main factor affecting speed and performance (and incidentally price). Processors from market leader Intel are supplied by both PC and Mac, although AMD offer equivalent chips that are generally cheaper. For everyday computing a dual core 2.5GHz (gigahertz) should be ample, while the most powerful Intel i7-860 or AMD’s Phenom II X2 545 processors are best for gaming and video editing.

Memory (RAM)

RAM (Random Access Memory) is another crucial factor to consider. Memory stores the data that the computer is working with and determines how many tasks you can do at the same time. Choose a desktop with at least 2GB (gigabyte) of memory, more if you want the very best performance and speed. With a desktop PC you can usually add more memory if you find you need more at a later date.

Hard Drive

The hard drive is where you keep all your files, such as photos, videos, music and installed programs safe and available - so get the biggest hard drive capacity your budget will allow if you have lots to store. A 320GB (gigabyte) hard drive is a good benchmark for a desktop PC. Again, most desktop PCs allow you to add capacity if you need to.

Monitors

A monitor will either come with your computer or you can buy it separately. Slim, LCD widescreens are now the norm and a 19-inch monitor will usually suffice for everyday computing. If you want to play games, watch movies or streamed TV content, then screens over 20 inches are more suitable. Screens are measured diagonally from the top corner to the opposite bottom corner of the display.

All in one

Slimmer and more compact, desktop PCs take up less room and are more attractive than they used to be. It’s now possible to dispense with the desktop tower altogether, with all-in-one models for both Macs and PCs now becoming very popular, and often feature touchscreen functionality too.

Disc Drives:

Desktop PCs are fitted with a DVD ROM or DVD RW disc drive. An integrated DVD-ROM will read CDs as well as DVDs - so opt for this if you want to watch movies - and a DVD-RW will let you write to the disc also. DVDs can also hold more data than a CD, and are good for backing up large, important files.

Best of all though is a BD-ROM or BD-RW. A BD-ROM drive will read a Blu-ray disc - good for high definition data - while a BD-RW will read and write to a blank Blu-ray disc.

Graphics card:

The graphics card will process the images you see on your monitor. These cards will either be integrated (onboard) or dedicated (separate). Integrated cards are cheaper – choose one with at least 384GB RAM for everyday computing. Serious gamers will need a dedicated graphics card with its own memory to keep up with the incredible photo-realism most of the latest games now employ. A dedicated graphics can also be upgraded without affecting your computer’s onboard memory.

Networking and ports:

You’ll need at least four USB ports, excluding those for your mouse, keyboard and printer. If you have a camera or camcorder with a firewire connection, it’s worth double checking that you have a Firewire/IEEE 1394 port, which is faster at transferring files than USB.

A VGA port will probably be used to connect your PC to its monitor while you will require a HDMI port to connect your PC to a compatible HDTV (high definition). If you’re planning to use the internet, check that your PC has an ethernet socket to hook up your router, and if you want to go wireless, your PC will need to be Wi-Fi enabled. You could also consider Bluetooth if you want to use keyboards, mice and headsets without wires.