Shopper Buyer's Guide: Home Desktop

Buying a desktop PC for family use at home can be baffling. Here's our guide to what to look for in a Shopper bargain PC

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By  Vineetha Menon Published  October 16, 2008

While the market for notebooks gets all the attention, there’s still plenty of good desktops available, and lots of reasons to choose a desktop over a notebook.

A laptop can be upgraded, it can be expanded, it’s more suitable as a home entertainment platform, it should be better ergonomically, and most of all, a good PC can be bought for a lot less than a notebook.

So how do you make sure you’re getting exactly what you need?

As usual, it comes down to what you are going to use it for. If you are a PC games freak, then you already know what you want, but what do you need for a good PC for family use?

The most important things to look out for are graphics, the display, storage and performance.

Graphics

Graphics cards specifications change all the time, but it’s important to make sure you have one that is powerful enough for multimedia and other applications. Graphics cards are no longer just for games geeks, as so many applications and tasks, like photography, multimedia, and even Windows Vista, make heavy use of the card. It’s advisable to stick to cards with chips from ATI, nVIDIA and Intel as these are the most common brands and will be compatible with most tasks.

Display

For the display, LCD monitors are available in most desktop PC bundles, but make sure it’s a widescreen model as more and more applications are being optimized for this type of display. Also, you want a screen of at least 17” in size. You might find some manufacturers pushing smaller screens, especially as a bargain at Shopper, but anything smaller and you will begin to find that your virtual desktop gets cluttered and they aren’t that good for watching multimedia.

If you’re looking for an environmentally friendly option, consider monitors from Fujitsu Siemens ECO range that switch off automatically to save power. This also means considerable energy savings as conventional monitors use between one to six watts of power even when on the ‘standby’ mode.

Storage

Storage is simple – the more hard disk space you have, the more you’ll be able to store. 500 GB and 750 GB are commonly available on desktop PCs. If you’re an ordinary user, 500 GB is enough to last you a couple of years. Many PCs also have two smaller drives, using one as a real-time backup to minimize the risk of data loss.

You may well want to invest in back up software and an online storage service or an external drive too, especially if you are taking lots of digital photos. Accidents will happen, and it’s better to have photos and the like backed up in more than one place to keep them safe.

Performance

For performance, you need to consider the CPU and the RAM.

First, the CPU – the main processor at the heart of the machine. The main choices are processors from AMD and Intel. Processors used to make a difference in the past, but nowadays their capabilities are pretty much identical, so it’s more a question of brand loyalty whether you choose or the other. Do look out for processors that are dual- or multi-core, which have more processing power and are able to manage complex tasks better.

Memory - our advice is to get as much RAM as you can afford to shell out for. The minimum recommended is 1 GB but Microsoft’s Vista operating system is sure to eat into that faster than you can say ‘upgrade’. It is easy to upgrade RAM, but don’t be conned into buying less than 1GB to being with – again, multimedia content, watching films etc all rely on RAM for smooth performance.

Other considerations

Vista or not?

While Windows Vista is a standard on most new offerings, some vendors are still offering Windows XP as an option. Some people aren’t too keen on Vista as its heavy on resources, but in general its advisable to go with a PC with Vista pre-installed, making sure that the system is ‘Vista Certified’, rather than trying to save some cash and going with XP which won’t be supported by Microsoft for much longer.

Alternatively, if you’ve got the cash, Apple makes some very nice desktop computers, and there are really very few compatibility issues now between Apple and the PC platform, so you can transfer over files from PC to Mac and vice versa without any issues. Apple doesn’t have the same range of games as the PC though,.

Peripherals

While a fancy mouse and keyboard might not make a great difference on performance, it does provide added convenience and comfort. To avoid a tangled mess of wires and ensure ease of use, wireless options are your best bet.

Logitech latest Ultra-Flat Keyboard incorporates flat full-size keys and complements today’s flat screen monitors. Microsoft has also unveiled its latest Explorer mice, which surpass traditional optical and laser mice in performance by using BlueTrack advanced tracking technology.

For sound, if you want to watch movies or play music, a 2.1 speaker set (two satellite speakers and one subwoofer) or a 5.1 set for surround sound performance.

Also consider the warranty. As almost all vendors are now present in the Middle East, you can usually rely on them to fix any problems, but you might want an extra warranty to cover three years. Don’t bother buying any more than three years though, as chances are if something goes wrong after five years, the technology will have moved and repairs will be more trouble than replacing the device altogether.

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