Desktop PCs (Buyer's Guide)

Published Date
01 - Dec - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Dec - 2007
Desktop PCs (Buyer's Guide)

Your first step towards computing

The PC has been evolving so fast that more often than not, you’re likely to find that what you bought has become obsolete within just a few months of purchase. Newer technologies emerge every other month, and upgrading costs just as much as buying a new PC… but you need to take the plunge some time, so just decide on what you need and get something close to that!

What You Should Be Looking At
Upgradeability: There should be upgradeability options for RAM, CPU, graphics card and hard drive. It is therefore advisable to opt for the latest CPU socket type available and also the latest RAM type, so you aren’t left in the lurch when you decide to upgrade. Also check if there is a sufficient number of PCI slots to add PCI cards (such as a TV-Tuner). Don’t forget to look at the comparison tests for motherboards and CPUs in our November issue for more information about things such as memory support.

HTPC features: If you want an HTPC, make sure it comes with the complete set of accessories, such as a wireless remote control and wireless mouse and keyboard. Newer ports such as HDMI are a big plus, especially if you happen to have an LCD TV that supports such those interfaces. If you really want to future-proof your HTPC, you should choose a HD-DVD or Blu-Ray drive (or better still, a hybrid) as your optical drive as this is bound to be the future of multimedia standards. A TV-Tuner with FM-Radio and possibly capable of receiving digital signals will be another plus.

Features needed for video editing: Video editing professionals should opt for a larger hard drive to be able to store raw video data and still have enough space to work on it. The PC should also have a FireWire port—this is the port most often used for transferring digital video data: IEEE 1394b should be what you should look for—this has a bandwidth of 800 Mbps, twice as much as that of the older IEEE 1394a.

Analyse Your Usage
Entry-level usage: Your PC should suit your needs. It just doesn’t make sense to buy a high-end processor and graphics card, oodles of RAM, and a TB hard drive if you will only be using the PC to run accounting software. An entry level PC could do well even with a 2.0 GHz processor or equivalent with 512 MB of RAM and a 160 GB hard disk, and the OS could be XP instead of the heavier Vista.

Graphics artists and gamers: If your work requires you to use 3D rendering software, or if gaming is the primary reason for your buying a PC, get yourself one with cutting-edge components such as a high-end graphics card, a quad-core processor, at least 2 GB of RAM, and at least a 320 GB hard drive.

Designers: LCDs (especially the lower-priced models) are still not good enough for designers, so it is advisable to go with a CRT monitor. LCD monitors with MVA panels can be a replacement for the CRT, but they are currently very expensive.

As an entertainment PC: If watching movies is typical of your use for the PC, your Desktop should have a graphics card that supports hardware acceleration for HD content, such as the newer HD series from ATI and the 8600 series from NVIDIA. A dual-core CPU would complement the graphics card, though it is not essential. Widescreen LCD monitors with MVA panels can render in 24-bit colour and are a better choice if you really want to enjoy the movie, but they are expensive. Also try to get a graphics card and LCD monitor with a digital port such as DVI or HDMI.

Agent’s Tip
PCI Express 2.0 has started making an appearance in the market, so to save the hassle of upgrading later, it is better to go with this new standard now; newer peripherals such as PCIe 2.0 graphics cards are already available and offer double the bandwidth of PCIe 1.0.

Don’t Forget…
Hidden costs: Some PC dealers specify the price of a PC without mentioning taxes and installation charges. Ask for the total end-user cost.

The preinstalled OS: Some PC configurations do not come with any OS installed, or if there is an OS, it is a free OS (such as Linux). Most applications are written and available for Windows, so make sure it is included (ask for Windows Vista Home Premium at the very least); a later purchase will mean an additional investment.


Spearheaded by AMD, the new DTX form factor for PCs has motherboards with dimensions 203 x 244 mm, while there is a smaller variant, Mini-DTX, with motherboard dimensions of 203 x 170 mm. The benefits of DTX are the lower cost of manufacture of the motherboard, and the smaller size. This will be adapted mainly by the HTPC industry, because the upgrade options in such a small form factor are too limited.

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