The Workhorse: Desktop PCs
These days owning a home computer is considered a necessity of life, but buying one isn’t nearly as easy as it should be. Different people need different things from their computers, from web browsing and emails to rendering images and playing video games.PC World Staff | Wednesday, January 19 2011
These days owning a home computer is considered a necessity of life, but buying one isn’t nearly as easy as it should be. Different people need different things from their computers, from web browsing and emails to rendering images and playing video games. Whether you just like to check Facebook once in a while or you’re a hardcore gamer with money to burn, there is a computer out there to suit your needs.
Buying a PC can seem like acronym gymnastics, with CPU, RAM and NVIDIAs to consider. Should you go for an all-in-one or source a massive monitor? Read on and all will be revealed.
KEY COMPONENTS TO CONSIDER
The central processing unit (CPU) is the ‘brain’ of your PC. It tells the different parts of your computer what they should be doing, and when. These days if you’re buying new it’s hard to get a ‘bad’ processor. Dual core processors, which have one silicon chip with two processors working at once, will suit the vast majority of PC owners just fine.
Memory is your PC’s thinking space. It’s also known as Random Access Memory (RAM) and it’s where active processes are kept. Think of memory this way-there’s only so much space in your brain for thought processes, and if you’re trying to focus on too many things at once you get frazzled. So does your computer, and when it’s overworked, it runs at the speed of a tortoise with its legs cut off. Fortunately, while you can’t expand your brain’s memory without some serious training, you can easily increase the amount of memory space you have to make your PC faster. It’s quick and economical, too-we’ve found that increasing RAM is the cheapest and most efficient way of speeding up your computer. Most computers running Windows these days need at least 2GB of RAM to efficiently run the operating system and any other programs you have open. Fortunately most computers on the market now come with 2GB at a minimum. If you’re going to be regularly rendering images or playing games, you may need 4GB or more.
There are two different types of graphics cards-integrated or dedicated. Most low-end desktops come with integrated graphics cards physically soldered to the motherboard, which are fine for everyday tasks like web browsing, email and word processing. If you want something with a little more grunt for your gaming and multimedia needs, you will want to buy a computer that has a dedicated, removable graphics card. Alternatively you can buy a low-end computer and install a new card yourself (or pay someone to do it for you, if you’re not sure how). A decent graphics card will set you back $200-$300, but prices are dropping all the time. You can pay up to $1,000 for a really high-end card, but even for people who demand a lot out of their PC it’s often not necessary.
The hard drive is where all of the data you create and use is stored. Your operating system, web browser, videos, pictures-all of them take up space on your hard drive. Fortunately, the minimum size of a new hard drive is 320GB, which is more than any average user will ever need. Hard drive space is rewritable, so you can delete files to free up space. However if you need to store a lot of multimedia you might still need to go bigger or buy an external hard drive.
With TV and the internet converging more and more, you might soon find that your 17-inch CRT Trade Me special isn’t good enough to watch all the videos you’re going to download. We recommend at least a 22-inch widescreen LCD monitor, with high definition. If you want your monitor to still have relevance in a few years, big and shiny is the way to go.
All new PCs come with an optical drive – usually a DVD-ROM at the bare minimum – and for a few dollars more you can add a rewritable drive so you can back up your data to a disc. There are a lot of other external storage systems out there. Check out page 36 for more information.
All-in-one desktops combine the computer and monitor into one inseparable device, and sit somewhere between a desktop and a notebook computer. Even if you’re content with your notebook’s screen size, things become awkward if you want to use an external keyboard and mouse. You either have to use some kind of notebook stand to keep the built-in keyboard out of the way, or just accept that your screen will be farther back from your head than you might like.
Performance figures run much the same range as notebooks, so you’ve nothing to gain or lose there. The only possible exceptions are high-end gaming notebooks: we haven’t tested an all-in-one with comparable specs yet, though they do exist. Until we’ve put a couple through the test centre, we’re hesitant to offer gamers any serious all-in-one advice.
As with a netbook or notebook, an all-in-one ties you to a specific screen (its own). With the above caveats, it’s a great option for the average home PC. Unless you need ultra-performance or plan to upgrade components over time, a full-sized desktop just seems so square.
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