How To – Choose a Desktop Computer

Shopping for a computer doesn't need to be hard. First think about what you need. Are you looking for a computer to perform basic tasks or to meet special requirements?

Then do a little homework, and finally go shopping armed with that knowledge. You'll get a [gs computer] you can be happy with, and you'll get the best value for your money.

[tab:Before you shop]

Before you shop

  • Decide if you're better served by the PC/Windows platform or the Macintosh. You can generally get a faster computer for your money by choosing a Windows machine, but Macs come with more easy-to-use built-in [gs software]. Top brands are Dell, Hewlett- Packard, IBM, Gateway and Toshiba. Apple, of course, makes the Macintosh.
  • Think about whether this machine will need to work with your office or school [gs server]. Exchanging files between platforms is less of an issue than it used to be, but it's still worth noting.
  • Ask your friends and co-workers in similar lines of work what machines they have, where they bought them, if there were any problems, and whether they're happy with their choices.
  • Expect to spend $1,000 to $2,000 for a general-purpose machine, although you can find [gs desktop] computers for anywhere from $400 to $10,000.

[tab:The Basics]

The basics

  • Realize that if you buy a super cheap [gs computer] at a warehouse store or discounter, you're going to be on your own. Technical support from the major manufacturers tends to be a lot better.

  • Buy as much random-access memory (RAM), or system memory, as you can afford. At a bare minimum, get 1 gigabytes (GB); 2 GB or 4 GB is preferable. (For a Macintosh, get at least 2 GB.) Memory is more critical than a faster processor.

  • Get at least two universal serial bus (USB) connections and a FireWire (also called IEEE 1394) connection. These will connect peripheral devices, such as a [gs printer], PDA, digital cameras and camcorders, scanners and game controllers.

  • Get a CD burner so you can back up valuable data and make your own music CDs. Look into a DVD burner too if you're involved in film making or editing, but remember that there are multiple competing standards; computer-burned DVDs might not play in your home DVD player. Make sure your machine has a DVD drive if you want to watch movies on your computer. Also look for an internal modem.

  • Ask about upgradability if you intend to use this computer for a long time, which is considered three or more years.

  • Choose any current computer model from the major manufacturers with a high degree of confidence if you simply want to send e-mail, surf the Web and do [gs word-processing].


Special considerations

  • Get high-quality graphics and sound if you plan to play games. Look for a system that has a graphics card with a coprocessor, and 5.1 Surround sound. You'll want a broadband Internet connection to play online games, and to improve your Internet experience overall.

  • Buy the biggest hard drive you can afford--120 to 180 gigabytes (GB) is now commonplace. Get more than 200 GB if you're storing music and/or editing video. For video editing, you'll also need a video input/output card and a FireWire connection.

  • Add a TV capture card, and you can even have your computer function as a DVR.