Desktop buying guide
Buying a new desktop PC is always exciting, but if you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for, it can be daunting too. In this PC buying guide, we’ll take you through all the things to consider and explain the jargon along the way.
Let’s start with the basics: what is a desktop computer? Unlike a laptop or tablet, a desktop is usually designed to stay in one place. It consists of a “tower” that houses all the internal components like the processor, graphics card and memory, and which usually connects to an external monitor, keyboard and mouse.
Because they’re bigger and bulkier than laptops, desktop PCs are often more powerful and suitable for gaming or demanding applications. However, it’s all about the components you choose – and one of the biggest advantages of a desktop is that it’s easy to build a custom model that meets your needs.
Whether you want the latest specs for gaming or just the best desktop computer on a budget, this guide will show you the way.
Things to look for
PROCESSORSA processor is also known as a central processing unit (CPU). Processors are best explained as the central “brain” of your desktop: they do most of the hard work, performing rapid calculations, executing programs and giving instructions to other parts of the PC. While it is possible to upgrade a processor, it’s tricky without the right technical know-how. For this reason, it’s best to pick the right processor right from the beginning. Processors are measured by clock speed, expressed in gigahertz (GHz), which broadly refers to how many jobs per second they can carry out. However, many modern processors have multiple cores – basically several processors that work as a unit. Dual-core means two processors, quad-core means four, and so on. A multi-core processor may be able to handle more operations at once than a single unit. This means clock speed isn’t the only measure of a processor’s overall quality, and the number of cores plays an increasingly important role. For example, a quad-core processor or higher is usually recommended for a gaming PC. Intel and AMD are the two main players in the processor market. Lines like the Intel Core i5 are generally considered a good balance of power and budget, while the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X is a top-of-the-line gaming CPU. Processors can be confusing (even to techies!) so use the simple rule of thumb: generally, the higher the model number in a range, the more powerful it is.
RAMRAM or Random Access Memory is your PC’s “short-term memory”. When you load a program, open a file or do nearly anything else, that task is loaded into the RAM – so the more RAM, the more complex tasks your PC can focus on at once. Together with processing power, RAM helps your desktop PC’s operating system run more quickly and efficiently, as well as handling high-volume tasks like gaming. It’s measured in gigabytes (GB) – although don’t confuse it with storage, which is also measured in GB. If you’re wondering how much RAM you need, 2GB is generally considered the bare minimum for a modern desktop, but you’ll be pretty limited in what you can do before things start slowing down. 4GB gives you more breathing room for everyday use like web browsing and office applications, while 8GB is good for most gaming and intensive tasks. 16GB is recommended for high-end gaming, while any higher is in high-performance territory – if you need this much, you probably know about it already! Unlike processors, it’s quite easy to upgrade your RAM (as long as your motherboard has compatible slots for it). This means if you’re unsure or on a budget, you can try starting with lower RAM and upgrade later.
OPERATING SYSTEMAn operating system (OS) is the main way you interact with your PC, providing a simple interface for installing and running programs, moving files around and so on. Windows and Mac OS are two of the most popular types of operating system. If you’re buying an Apple desktop like an iMac, you’ll likely be using Mac OS, while on most other PCs you’ll be using Windows. Other operating systems, such as Linux, are available too, though they take a bit more work and technical knowledge to set up and use. Mac OS is often praised for its simplicity and intuitive nature – it’s a good choice for people who are less familiar with PCs, although it can be powerful for experts too. However, it’s more restrictive in terms of the programs and accessories available: you’ll mostly be limited to the hardware and software that’s been pre-approved by Apple. Windows, meanwhile, is more open – most games and programs are developed with Windows in mind. Some find it less accessible than Mac OS, but as the world’s most popular operating system, there’s plenty of support available if users get stuck.
STORAGEAll the files, programs and games on your PC are kept on its storage or hard drive, which you can think of as the computer’s “long-term memory”. The more storage available, the more you can keep on there. Desktop PCs usually have lots of storage, usually starting at 500GB to 1TB, which is plenty for the average user. Storage is measured in gigabytes (GB) and terabytes (TB), with 1TB equal to 1,000 GB. As a general rule, a gigabyte is around 200 songs, 250 photographs or a single standard-definition movie – although this varies with different file types. There are two main types of storage: the traditional hard disc drives (HDDs), and the increasingly-popular solid state drives (SSDs). HDDs offer slower rates of access, which means longer loading times in games and slower boot-up times, but they do have the benefit of being cheap –SSDs are extremely speedy, but can cost quite a bit more. With the easy availability of USB sticks, external hard drives and cloud storage services, having lots of storage isn’t quite as crucial as it used to be. However, it’s always convenient (and relatively cheap) to ensure you always have enough space on hand.
MONITORSA desktop monitor is the screen you use to operate your PC. They’re usually sold separately to the main tower, unless you buy an all-in-one PC such as an iMac or HP EliteOne, in which case the internal components are all housed within the monitor unit. There’s a vast range of brands, sizes and features to choose from when buying a monitor. Much like a TV, the main things to consider are screen size, resolution and budget – how will you be using it, and what are you prepared to splash out for the best possible picture? Screen size is the diagonal width of the screen, usually measured in inches, while resolution is the number of pixels horizontally and vertically (e.g., 1920 x 1080). Generally, the higher these numbers, the sharper the image. If you just want the basics, 24-inch monitors tend to offer the sweet spot between price and picture quality. Most are affordable, offer a 1920 x 1080 high-definition resolution, and will be ideal for everyday browsing and videos. For a gaming monitor or for watching TV and movies, it’s best to go for 27 inches or above, and 4K resolution if it’s within budget. For serious gamers, monitors should also have a response time of 5ms or less. A touchscreen monitor is well worth considering too, especially since Windows 10 now offers full touchscreen support.
MOUSE & KEYBOARDThe mouse and keyboard has been the main way of operating PCs for decades, offering a simple and effective way to use the operating system, as well as for typing, browsing and gaming. Desktop PCs are often sold with a mouse and keyboard included, and for casual users the out-of-the-box models may be all they’ll need. However, there are more advanced (and stylish) options available for those who want them. Keen gamers will probably want to upgrade to a dedicated gaming mouse, which offers greater precision and a wider range of features than standard models. These mice usually include programmable buttons and adjustable sensitivity for better performance in a variety of popular games. Meanwhile, anyone who does a lot of typing or coding might consider a mechanical keyboard, which have chunky, separated keys that are more durable and responsive than standard membrane keyboards. And many people just like the way they feel! Wireless keyboards and mice can also be a great help if you want to operate your PC at a distance. They use radio frequency, infrared or Bluetooth technology to connect to the desktop without the need for cables.
Types of desktop computer
ALL IN ONE
- Combines monitor and tower into one device.
- Fewer wires and cables for a tidier workspace.
- Easy to set up and use.
- Large, high-quality display, ideal for creative work.
- Smaller and easier to transport than a tower PC.
- Experience the full graphical potential of your favourite games.
- Great graphics cards, fast processors and RAM for smooth operation.
- Cooling systems available for quiet running.
- Solid-state drives mean faster load times.
- Can double up as a work computer for graphic designers.
- Features a separate tower unit that houses the main components.
- More power for a lower cost than a comparable laptop.
- Easy to choose your own components like graphics cards and hard drives.
- Ideal if you need a powerful machine that doesn’t need to be portable.
- Get tower PCs for home and work at Ebuyer.com.
- Small footprint device, about the size of a wireless router.
- Perfect as a streaming device or media playing PC.
- Features just the basics - much cheaper than most PCs.
- Also known as a “nettop”.
- Portable and easy to travel with.
Desktop computer finder
BEST DESKTOP PC FOR PHOTO EDITING
- High-end processor to handle demanding editing apps
- Lots of RAM to handle lots of layers and image files at once
- Up to 20 pages per minute print speed
- Powerful graphics card for editing suites
- Clear, rich display for more the best results
BEST DESKTOP PC FOR MUSICIANS
- Plenty of RAM to make complex projects easy
- Fast processor to compile and export files quickly
- Solid state drive to swiftly load sound libraries
- Good cooling systems for noise-free running
BEST DESKTOP PC FOR VIDEO EDITING
- Powerful processor to handle demanding suites
- Gaming-quality graphics card for extra power in 4K and beyond
- Lots of RAM for hassle-free editing
- All the ports you need to hook up cameras and gear
BEST DESKTOP PC FOR GRAPHIC DESIGN
- Latest graphics card for 3D modelling applications
- Quad-core or higher processor keeps things fast
- 16GB of RAM or higher for the most demanding tasks
- High-end display for crisp resolution and accuracy
BEST DESKTOP PC FOR GAMING
- High-end graphics card for the latest titles
- Top processor and lots of RAM keeps everything running smoothly
- 1TB storage space or more for games
- Solid-state drive keeps load times low
- Liquid cooling system for high-intensity performance
BEST DESKTOP PC FOR EVERYDAY USE
- Versatile and affordable
- Plenty of storage space for all the family’s files
- Graphics card optional
- Midrange processor and RAM can handle a variety of tasks