Before You Buy Desktop Computer Systems

August 24, 2007

Looking to buy a new desktop personal computer system? This guide covers many of the basic items to examine when comparing desktop computer systems so that you can make an informed purchasing decision. Due to the changing nature of the PC Hardware industry, this guide will be periodically updated. Links are provided below each topic for a more detailed discussion on that subject.

Processors (CPUs)

For processors there are two basic choices to make: brand and speed. A lot of change is happening in the market. Both Intel and AMD are starting to produce dual core processors, but they aren’t required for most people. Budget CPUs can be found around the 2.4 to 3.0 GHz (PR of 3000+ and below) range, mid-range at 2.8 to 3.2 GHz (PR of 3200+ to 3800+) and high-end processors at or above 3.4 GHz(PR above 4000+).

Memory (RAM)

RAM is important because if you don’t get enough, your system won’t run optimally. The minimum amount of RAM for today’s systems should be 512MB even for budget systems. 1GB of RAM provides better performance. DDR memory is now used by all current systems with the most common being PC3200. DDR2 can be found on newer Intel systems. Budget systems may still use older PC2100 or PC2700 DDR. When buying memory, try to buy as few DIMMs as possible to allow for future memory upgrades if needed.

Hard Drives

Hard drives boil down to capacity and speed. Most hard drives available now will provide you with more than enough storage. Look for 80 GB drive as the minimum. If you feel you need more space or the extra space doesn’t cost more, get the upgrade. As for performance, 7200 rpm drives are the best choice currently. If you really want performance, look for drives with 8MB or 16MB of cache. Drives will either be Serial ATA or IDE but performance levels are roughly the same.

Optical Drives

Most systems sold now feature DVD burners, even the budget systems. It is best to make sure that you get a multiformat DVD burner that can support both the +R/RW and -R/RW formats. Speeds should be 16x for the recordable speed. Dual or Double Layer media support is also a common feature although less likely to be used due to media cost. If you don’t need a DVD burner, try to at least get a CD-RW/DVD combo drive of 24x recording speed to allow for CD media storage and DVD playback.

Video Card

Video cards change every 6 months, so selecting the right one is difficult. If you want to have future capability, go for a card that supports DirectX 9 and has at least 128MB of memory. If don’t have to be on the cutting edge of video technology, there is a wide range of choices to fit your needs. Things to consider now on video cards are DVI connectors for digital LCD panels and multi-monitor support. New systems should use PCI Express graphics cards over the previous AGP interface.

External Connectors

Many upgrades and peripherals to computers now connect through external interfaces instead of internal cards. Check to see how many and what type of external ports are available on the computer for use with future peripherals. Look for systems that have both USB 2.0 and IEEE 1394 or FireWire ports. It should have at least six USB 2.0 connectors and one FireWire ports.


What good is a computer without a monitor? Consumers can choose between CRT or LCD monitors. CRTs provide a wide range of capabilities at a good price but are bulky. LCDs take up less desk space but cost more and have limited capabilities. Regardless of type of monitor, look at getting at least a 17” monitor capable of displaying a resolution of 1280 by 1024 pixels.

From: Mark Kyrnin


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