Desktop PC Buyer's Guide

Tips on What to Consider When Shopping for a Desktop PC

Build A PC
Build A PC. ©Mark Kyrnin

Looking to buy a new desktop personal computer system? This guide covers many of the basic items to examine when comparing desktop computer systems so that you can make an informed purchasing decision. Due to the changing nature of the PC Hardware industry, this guide will be periodically updated. Links are provided below each topic for a more detailed discussion on that subject.

Processors (CPUs)

Processor choices are a bit more difficult now than they were before.

It is still really a choice between an AMD and an Intel processor. Intel is better for performance while AMD is better for efficiency and budgets. The difference really comes in how many cores there are in the processor and its relative speed. Each company now has a performance rating system that is not really easy to compare. Due to the complexity, its best to refer to my links below for a more detailed explanation of CPUs for budget and uses.

Memory (RAM)

Desktop computers have standardized on the DDR3 memory for many years that most people did not to think about memory beyond the amount. DDR4 is now making its way into the desktop PC market meaning consumers now need to know which type a system offers. In terms of amount, it is best to have at least 8GB of memory but 16GB offers better long term performance.

Memory speeds can impact performance as well. The faster the memory, the better the performance should be. When buying memory, try to buy as few DIMMs as possible to allow for future memory upgrades if needed.

Hard Drives

Storage for most computers still relies on the traditional hard drive but some desktops are now starting to also come with solid state drives for storage or caching.

Hard drives really boil down to size and speed. The larger the drive and the faster, the better the performance and capacity. In a desktop, it is best to have at least 1TB or more of storage space these days. In terms of speed, most run at 7200rpm but there are some green or variable speed drives that consumer less energy. A few high performance 10,000rpm drives are available. Of course the M.2 and SATA Express are now making there ways into the PCs for faster storage performance but there are not many and they tend to be quite expensive.

Optical Drives (CD/DVD/Blu-ray)

Pretty much every desktop comes equipped with a DVD burner but they are not the requirement that they once were and so more and more, especially small form factor PCs, are doing away with them. Speeds vary slightly but it should be at least 16x for the recordable speed unless it is a small or miniPC that uses a laptop class drive and should offer 8x speeds. Blu-ray is an option for those wanting to use their PC for the high definition video format.

Video Cards

Video card technology seems to change every six months.

If you aren't really doing any 3D graphics at all, then integrated graphics may be just fine. A dedicated graphics card will likely matter most for those planning to use it for gaming or possible for accelerating non-3D tasks. Things to consider include performance, the amount of memory on the card, output connectors and the version of Direct X supported. Those looking to do any gaming should really consider a Direct X 11 card with at least 2GB of memory onboard.

External (Peripheral) Connectors

Many upgrades and peripherals to computers now connect through external interfaces instead of internal cards. Check to see how many and what type of external ports are available on the computer for use with future peripherals. There are a variety of different new high speed peripheral connectors now available. It is best to get one with at least six USB ports. Other higher speed connectors include eSATA and Thunderbolt which can be useful especially for external storage. Many times media card readers that support various different flash memory cards for peripherals are also included.


What good is a desktop PC unless it also has a monitor? Of course if you get an all-in-one it has the monitor built in but you still need to consider the traits of the screen. All monitors used today are based upon LCD technology and the only the real issue is more about size and cost of the LCDs. Some other issues such as color may be important for those planning to use their desktops for graphics work. 24-inch screens are the most common now thanks to their affordability and their support for full 1080p high definition video. Larger screens still jump pretty high in price as they tend to be more for professional uses but they also have come down greatly over the years.

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