8 Things to Consider Before Buying a Desktop PC

Your guide to CPUs, memory, graphics cards, and more

Desktop PCs can offer superior performance and peripheral support than many laptops, but they vary drastically in size, price, and processing power. This guide explains everything your need to consider to choose the best desktop PC for your needs.

What Is a Desktop PC?

A desktop PC is a computer that's designed to stay in one place. Desktops usually require an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

Before you buy a new desktop computer, it's essential to understand how factors such as the CPU and RAM affect system performance.

8 Factors to Consider Before Buying a Desktop PC

Here are the main things to look at when purchasing a desktop computer:

  • Your Needs and Budget
  • Processors
  • Memory
  • Hard Drives
  • Optical Drives
  • Video/Graphics Cards
  • External Peripheral Connectors
  • Desktop Monitors

Your Needs and Budget

Your specific use case determines ideal computer specifications. For example, the necessary speed of your PC depends on what you plan to do with it. A fast processor, sufficient RAM, and a powerful graphics card are essential for a gaming PC. A lower-tier budget desktop should suffice if you plan to use your computer for web browsing and simple productivity tasks like word processing.

Price Range What You Can Expect 
Less than $200 Capable of surfing the web, checking email, video chatting, streaming video, and that's about it.
$250-$1,000 Fine for surfing the web, running productivity software, and playing simple games.
$1,000-$2,000 Powerful enough for video editing software, live streaming, and most commercial software.
$2,000+ Can run graphics-intensive gaming and data processing programs that require a lot of resources.
Computer with Mouse
Chris Collins / Getty Images

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 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 ensure they are powerful enough for your needs.


Memory, or RAM, plays a significant 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 contain 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. Most run at 7200 RPM in terms of speed, 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)

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

Video and Graphics Cards

If you don't play PC games with 3D graphics, 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 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 have 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 significant difference between them is size and cost. Some other factors, such as color accuracy, may be vital 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.

Who Should Buy a Desktop PC?

Buying a desktop PC is a good idea if you want a household computer for the whole family to use. Desktops are more versatile than laptops since they have more ports for different types of monitors, keyboards, and other accessories. If you're a graphic designer or visual artists, you'll want a desktop with one or more large monitors.

When it comes to gaming, desktop PCs are more powerful than most laptops and even dedicated video game consoles. If you like VR games or online games with 3D graphics, you definitely need a desktop and a comfortable gaming chair.

What to Do After You Buy a Desktop PC

Once you've connected all the peripherals and booted up your PC for the first time, take steps to secure your PC from outside attacks before you connect to the internet. Connect your desktop directly to your modem for a more reliable signal. If your desktop came with a warranty, you may need to register it.

More Tips

Although you may be tempted to buy the cheapest desktop PC you can find, it's better to spend money on a device that's slightly more powerful than you need than one that's slightly less powerful than what you need. Just keep in mind that you'll also have to buy a lot of accessories unless you get an all-in-one desktop.

  • When is the best time to buy a desktop PC?

    If you're buying a computer for school, look for back-to-school sales in the fall. Otherwise, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are your best bets.

  • What is the best mini desktop PC?

    The best mini PCs include the Razer Tomahawk, Acer Chromebox CXI3, ZOTAC ZBOX CI622, MSI MEG Trident X, HP ProDesk 400 G5, and the Apple Mac Mini. If you want a kit to build your own, consider the Intel NUC 9 Extreme NUC9i9QNX or the Raspberry Pi 400.

  • Who makes the best desktop PC?

    It depends on what you're looking for, but the top PC brands include Dell, ASUS, HP, Acer, and Alienware.

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