The desktop computer was once the magical box of the high-tech world. But ever-thinner notebook computers, netbooks and iPhone-like devices have stolen that magic.
That's a shame, because a desktop is still the best choice as the main computer for most families.
Desktops offer the most bang for the buck when it comes to computing power. They're more reliable than laptops and offer a far more comfortable platform for those who spend hours a day at the keyboard. And, unlike a laptop, the roomy desktop case lets it run cool even if left on for weeks at a time.
Desktop computers are easier to use than ever. The most complicated part of selecting one is finding a machine that fits your budget and needs from among the aisle-long displays of look-alike machines.
Today we'll stroll down the aisle together and simplify the buying process. The basics needed by most home computer users are easy to find even with the least expensive PCs.
Enough talk. Let's shop, starting with some basics.
Budget: Expect to pay between $500 and $1,200, depending on your needs and budget.
Processor: Even at the $500 mark, you will find dual core processors. As the price goes up, quad cores become the norm. You'll see a bewildering assortment of processor names. Any of these chips are fine for most needs. Still, it's smart to know what you're buying when it comes to the heart of the machine. This Web page can help: http://tinyurl.com/2gyobgk.
Memory chips: While 4 gigabytes of RAM is satisfactory, it's smart to get 6 to 8. The price difference will be small, the performance improvement large. Storage memory: That's provided by the hard disk. Most families will be fine with a 500 gigabyte hard disk. But – as is true with closets at home – more space can be even better, especially if your family shoots a lot of video.
Video card: Integrated graphics – using a chip on the main circuit board and some of the machine's regular RAM memory to create the image on the screen – can work. But a PC with a separate video card is miles better. I recommend buying a PC with a separate video card. Look for one with anywhere between 256 megabytes and 1 gigabyte of memory.
Operating system: Your new PC will come with Windows 7 and that's a good thing. It does a better job than Vista . While it's available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions, the future – heck, the present – is a 64-bit world. But keep in mind that some of your old 32-bit programs and devices might not work when you move to a 64-bit system.
Other stuff: Most devices connect to your PC using USB ports, so get one with several of these connectors. A dual-layer DVD burner is fairly standard these days and some machines will have a Blu-ray burner.
Saving money: Do some research before going to the store. Check out the PC reviews at Cnet: http://tinyurl.com/2a6umz2. Decide on a price range in advance and compare machines within that price range.
No matter where you plan to buy – online or at a store – compare prices online first. Make sure you are comparing machines with the same processor, amount of memory and similar specifications.
email@example.com Bill Husted writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.