Buying a Desktop Computer

You might have a tablet, notebook or Chromebook, but sometimes you just need a full-sized desktop computer to get things done. If you’re in the market for a computer, it can be intimidating going into big, box stores to shop. It’s already a costly decision. On top of that, salespeople throw all that crazy jargon at you. “Cache this,” “Quad core that.” You’re wondering, “What’s an HDMI port?”

It’s hard to figure out what it all means—there are so many choices in terms of technology these days, it can be confusing. Plus, there are hundreds of models to choose from. Whether buying at the big box store or online, here are the most important things you should look for.

Buy New, Used or Refurbished
A new purchase is one that has never had the box opened. It should still be in the original manufacturer’s packaging and come with the full manufacturer’s warranty.

If you’re looking to save money, you can always buy a non-new device. A refurbished computer is likely to have been used and either returned as used or returned as faulty. They are then analyzed and restored to their original condition. Those never used are essentially new. Refurbs should come with a warranty. At one time, refurbs were considered a spotty purchase, but now they’re a whole lot better compared to yesteryear.

A used computer may have some signs of cosmetic wear, but should work as expected—it could be scratched or have a damaged faceplate or imperfection to the monitor screen. Some used items come with a warranty, but most don’t.

Mac vs. PC
Buying a Windows PC versus a Mac is always a heated debate. You probably remember the old “Get a Mac” commercials. How you plan on using your computer should dictate what kind to buy. If you haven’t decided which way to go, this comparison provides a list of advantages and disadvantages for both.

The Components
When buying, it’s essential that you take the time to consider the device’s hardware: the processor, the hard drive, memory, graphics card and operating system before making your purchase. These five components make up the meat and potatoes of your computer.

Processor
The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the “brain” of a computer. The processor’s clock speed determines how quickly a CPU can process information. Today, with multiple CPU/Processor manufacturers, it may be cost efficient to look at all options for computer processors.

Hard Drive
The hard drive (or fixed drive) is like a file cabinet—it’s the destination of all your files and information. Make sure you get a hard drive with plenty of available space, and fast enough to perform your tasks. It all depends on how you use your computer—if you’ll do nothing but Web browsing and sending emails; even a 10-year-old secondhand computer’s drive might be sufficient for you. For better performance, consider a SSD (Solid-State Drive). They’re quieter, more efficient and have fewer parts to break than old-fashioned spinning hard drives.

RAM (Memory)
The more memory in the computer, the more efficient the computer is capable of running. Adding more RAM can speed up your computer and allow it to run more powerful programs. Here are some shopping tips when buying computer memory.

Graphics Card
The graphics card (aka the video card or GPU) draws what you see on screen. There are two varieties: It can either be integrated into the same chip that’s running the rest of the computer, or it can run as a separate piece of equipment.

Most computers use integrated graphics, which is fine if you simply want to do mainstream gaming or light video editing. But if you are into serious gaming or video editing, you’ll need more processing power or dedicated graphics memory. According to Consumer Reports, integrated graphics use up part of your system’s memory, so make sure you have at least 4GB. If you choose a system with discrete graphics, look for at least 1GB of graphics memory. Gamers should get 2GB or more.

Operating System (OS)
Depending on the OS you choose, your interface, user experience and features will vary. Windows 10 is an improvement over previous versions—you’ll get to use touchscreens, a stylus input and the Cortana digital assistant. You’ll also get a wider variety of games to play when you choose Windows.

Mac’s are usually more expensive than PCs, but are known for their great service—get all the technical support you need from the Genius Bar at any Apple Store. Mac’s latest macOS is called High Sierra which features better family sharing with iCloud storage options, pro level photo tools, and smoother video.

Accessories
Many of today’s desktops are often “all-in-ones,” which means the computer is built into the back of the large monitor, so there’s no tower to take up additional space.

As far as software goes, many computer makers will include programs that expire after 30-90 days and require you to purchase the full program.

As for additional hardware, make sure you just buy the accessories or add-ons you really need or want. For example, almost all new computers will include a keyboard and mouse. You may want to add a Blu-Ray disc player, a scanner or a printer. Or, you may want a computer with additional USB, HDMI, Ethernet or FireWire ports (for plugging in extra equipment).

You can spice things up with a bevy of new technologies: things like VR headsets, chatbots, super speed processors, or 4K and HDR monitors.

Resources: Computer Hope, Ziff Davis, LLC. PCMag Digital Group, Streetdirectory, Consumer Reports, IDG Communications, Inc.