Buying Guide - Desktop Computers

Understanding a PC

Buying a desktop pc can seem daunting as the technical jargon can somewhat overpower the consumer, and appearance wise, pc desktops all look part of one big happy family, so what exactly should dictate what you spend your money on? They may vary in size, and sometimes colour, but the look of a desktop pc tells you very little about the computer - except whether your desktop pc will fit in the space you have planned for it.

father and daughter using computerWith all this terminology often clouding our view, remembering the basics about a desktop pc will stand you in good stead. The Central Processing Unit, (CPU), is the nucleus of a desktop pc, or in layman's terms, 'the brain'.  A pc desktop runs programs or applications, which may already be installed or you will acquire over time e.g. Microsoft Office. These are supported and run from the desktops pc's operating system, (OS) - of which the two main operating systems are Microsoft 'Windows' and Apple 'MAC OS'.

PC or MAC? This has become an age old debate when discussing the pc desktop, and there is no definitive answer. It is a battle that derives from the Windows or Apple contest; both have their positives and negatives so once again it depends on your desktop pc needs. Yet again when discussing pc desktops it becomes slightly convoluted, because even if you own a MAC and a copy of the Windows OS, Apple allow you to install and run it. Effectively then, you can get the best of both worlds; if you like the Apple stylistics, but prefer the Windows OS - combining the two for your pc desktop is a viable option. This is a decision which can only be decided by the consumer as it really is personal preference and depends entirely on what you are going to be using your desktop pc for. Remembering to check the specification of the following main components will give you a good base from which to work.

Under the bonnet then all desktop pcs vary, so your needs will push you towards a certain purchase, as the frequency of gaming, business, streaming media etc, should all help decide which pc desktop you buy. Major questions you should ask yourself before your desktop pc search begins are: what do you need your pc desktop for? What software are you expecting to install and run? And, how much memory will you be necessitating?

The PC's engine

There are key components that make a pc desktop tick and enable all of your programs and applications to service your needs. The CPU is key to the running of a desktop pc: as mentioned above this is known as the brain of the pc desktop - put simply, it drives everything the computer is able to achieve. So what do you need to look for in a CPU? Intel lead this market and they offer the Celeron processor (or the Intel Core) which prevails in handling multiple programs or applications. Others in the market for the desktop pc include the powerful turion which is supplied by AMD, and then there's Apple's contribution with the Intel Core Duo.

The consumer is now faced with another big decision to make when buying a desktop pc: where should you focus your attention, with the AMD or the Intel? Both offer you a solid base for performing generic everyday tasks on your desktop pc, but if you are likely to use your pc desktop as a video and audio editing tool, then the quieter Intel chip will mould around your needs.

Once you have got your head round the engine of the desktop pc, you will need to look at hard drive space and Random Access Memory, (or RAM). Although the former discussion of the desktop pc CPU was vital, these two components are just as essential. Firstly, with hard drive space, the general consensus is ‘the bigger, the better' as this is where everything - files, documents, programs etc - are stored. This is measured in gigabytes (GB) and a solid starting point is around 320GB of hard drive space on your desktop pc. Multiple Images and MP3 files take up space on the hard drive so if your desktop pc will masquerade as your home entertainment centre, with albums and photo galleries / libraries prevalent, then you will need a bigger hard drive.

The next point of consideration is RAM. Again of massive importance to ensure your desktop pc runs at an efficient level to satisfy your needs. RAM is what stores and processes all data which is on your desktop pc; the more RAM your pc desktop has built-in, in essence, the faster your machine will switch between programs and perform your required tasks. The more applications you have open at any one time, the slower a desktop pc will be in switching between these programs. RAM is installed in megabytes and gigabytes, (MB & GB), 1000 MB = 1GB. Unless your pc desktop needs are very heavy duty, 2GB should suffice in most cases - with little time spent waiting for applications to open.

Disc drives

Optical discs are still very much a relevant part of computing so any desktop pc will come with some, or all, of a multitude of disc drives. These can be divided up into two sections; ROM drives - which 'read' a particular type of disc and RW drives - 'writes to', meaning material can be written (or burnt) on to a particular type of disc through your desktop pc.

CD, DVD and BD (Blu-ray) can all be played on your desktop pc, providing the required drive is installed. To listen to CDs or watch DVDs the desktop pc must have a CD-ROM drive or a DVD ROM drive respectively. Most modern pc desktops will have a DVD ROM drive as this necessitates the DVD requirements, but also enables CDs to be played. To accommodate BD material, the drive on your pc desktop must be a BD ROM drive and like what went before, (the DVD ROM drive), this will almost certainly allow DVD and CD playback too.

Within the same category, but performing a different task on your desktop pc, any drive installed which is labelled a CD, DVD or BD-RW drive, means these formats of discs cannot only be heard or watched on your desktop pc, but you can write (record) onto that particular format of disc - e.g. a film can be written to a blank DVD if you have a DVD-RW drive. The important thing to remember here is higher standard of drives on your desktop pc (BD being the highest) will allow you to use lower spec formats.


Although the important elements of a pc desktop have been mentioned, there are many more tweaks you can make to your desktop pc to personalise it and make it more efficient. The monitors.html">monitor is an element which you can computer monitorchoose, again to suit your needs. The most common size monitor is 17-inch and this will come as standard with many desktop pcs. But if you feel the need to upgrade, they range from 17-30inch, so, again, it all depends on your requirements. There are also different aspect ratios - just like a TV, they can be widescreen (16:9), 4:3 or newer monitors now utilise 16:10 - this is considered a stylistic option for your pc desktop monitor. As an example of meeting specific needs, most films are best watched on a 16:9 screen, so for a movie lover, this ratio of monitor might best suit.

How much to spend on a desktop pc differs completely from one user to another as this depends entirely upon what you will be doing with it. There are other add-ons which can be purchased for your needs; e.g. external drives: most of these require USB ports, so the amount of these on your pc desktop is also worth considering.

All in all, it can be a tricky business buying a desktop pc, but it is very much a personal choice. Most new desktop pcs quite easily do a job for you, but considering the main points above, will help to make sure the job is done efficiently.