Buying the Right Desktop PC for Your Needs

What to consider when shopping for a desktop PC

Before you buy a new desktop computer, it's important to understand how factors such as the CPU and RAM affect system performance. You must also take into account any peripherals you'll need, such as connector ports and optical drives. Here's an overview of factors to consider before you shop for a desktop computer.

Information in this article applies broadly to all desktop computers, although it's more optimized for the Windows and Linux ecosystems instead of the Apple ecosystem. Check individual product specifications before making a purchase.

Evaluate Your Needs

Ideal computer specifications are determined by your specific use case. For example, how fast your PC needs to be depends on what you plan to do with it. For a gaming PC, a fast processor and sufficient RAM as well as a powerful graphics card prove important. If you plan to use your computer for browsing the web and simple productivity tasks, such as word processing, then a lower-tier budget desktop should suffice.

Desktop Processors

While there are many different desktop processors, or CPUs, most come from just two manufacturers: AMD and Intel. Intel processors generally offer better performance, but they are more expensive than AMD processors. However, the main difference between processors relates to the number of cores they offer and their relative speed.

Most manufacturers present a performance rating system for their desktop PCs, but comparing across brands isn't always easy. Your best bet is to look for PCs in your price range and then research the processors to make sure they are powerful enough for your needs.

Memory

Memory, or RAM, plays a big role in the speed and performance of a PC. The higher the RAM, the better the performance. Experts recommend at least 8 gigabytes of memory, but 16 GB offers better performance. For gaming and other power-computing uses, 16 GB is the minimum you should consider.

Although DDR3 memory was the standard for desktop computers for many years, DDR4 is now preferred. When buying memory, try to buy as few DIMMs as possible to allow for future memory upgrades.

Dual in-line memory modules contains one or several RAM chips on a small circuit board with pins that connect it to the motherboard.

Hard Drives

While some desktop computers still rely on hard disk drives, most newer PCs ship with solid-state drives for storing and caching data. SSDs are preferable since they're faster, more efficient, and more durable than HDDs.

There are two main elements to consider when shopping for hard drives: size and speed. A modern desktop hard drive should have at least 1TB of storage space. In terms of speed, most run at 7200 rpm, but some green or variable-speed drives consume less energy. Most motherboards now support RAID to install several hard drives on your machine.

RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives or Disks. RAID solutions create more storage at a lower cost.

Optical Drives (CD/DVD/Blu-Ray)

Most desktops still come equipped with a DVD burner, but some small form factor PCs are doing away with optical drives. To watch new movies in HD, your desktop needs a Blu-ray drive. If the computer you want doesn't have any optical drives, purchase an external CD, DVD, and Blu-ray player.

Video/Graphics Cards

If you don't play PC games with 3D graphics, then you don't have to worry about a dedicated graphics card. Gamers should consider a DirectX 11 card with at least 2 GB of onboard memory. Pick a budget video card if you're just interested in accelerating non-3D tasks. Factors to consider include performance, the amount of memory on the card, the output connectors, and the version of Direct X supported.

External Peripheral Connectors

Check how many and what type of external ports are available on the computer for use with future peripherals. There are a variety of high-speed peripheral connectors now available. It is best to get a PC with at least six USB ports. Other higher-speed connectors include eSATA and Thunderbolt, which can be especially useful for external storage. Many desktops also include SD card readers.

Desktop Monitors

While there are all-in-one PCs with built-in monitors, you still need to consider the quality of the screen. Most monitors today are based on LCD technology, and the only major difference between them is size and cost. Some other factors, such as color accuracy, may be important if you plan to use the desktop for graphics work. 24-inch LCDs are the most common, thanks to their affordability and support for full 1080p high-definition video. Larger screens, such as 27-inch LCDs and 4K displays, are also dropping in price.