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Buying a New Desktop PC - Buyers Tips

written by: C.D. Crowder•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 5/3/2010

With the wide variety of desktops available, how do you know which one is best for you? Learn what the technical jargon means, tips for buying the best desktop computer, and what features you really need to get the most out of your desktop computer.

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    Thinking of a new computer? Here are the tips you need for buying the best desktop computer, with an explanation of the different features.

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    RAM, which is also referred to as memory, is essential for running applications and is not to be confused with a hard drive. RAM is also important for multi-tasking, though your processor also helps in this department. The minimum for most desktop computers is 4 GB. This will easily run the computers of most home users. For home office, gamers or anyone else that often runs numerous memory intensive programs at once 6 GB or more is recommended.

    If you notice problems when running multiple programs at once, especially when your anti-virus is hogging your memory, you will definitely want more RAM than your current desktop. Memory intensive programs include anti-virus, office productivity suites, media players and even some browsers. Running two or more of these programs simultaneously without enough RAM will result in a system freeze or even temporary crash.

    For more on RAM, check out The Difference Between RAM and Processor Power.

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    Hard Drive

    Many consumers purchase the latest and greatest desktop without looking at the hard drive size. For most home users, a large hard drive is important for storing music, photos, videos and other files. Home users should have at least a 500 GB hard drive to provide for ample storage, though a larger drive is recommended. Office users, who mainly store smaller files such as documents and presentations, can get by with a 320 GB hard drive. Gamers can also get by with smaller hard drives if they mainly play online. If gamers download games, a 500 GB or 640 GB hard drive is best.

    To prevent making your desktop obsolete the moment you fill up your hard drive, look for a desktop with an extra hard drive bay. You can quickly install a secondary hard drive for storage. In many desktops, you can double your hard drive space in less than thirty minutes. If your dream desktop doesn’t have an extra bay, consider purchasing a 1 TB or larger external hard drive for both backups and extra storage.

    Two popular hard drive manufacturers are Western Digital and Seagate. For more on choosing a hard drive manufacturer, check out Western Digital vs. Seagate Internal Hard Drives.

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    Your processor, or CPU, acts as your desktop’s brain. Without it, nothing runs correctly. Typically, a desktop should have at least a 2.0 GHz processor. In addition to the frequency, some processors are now available as dual or quad core. This allows your processor to work with multiple programs at once without sacrificing performance. Unless you multi-task frequently, a single core processor is fine. Also, only some programs currently support dual and quad core processors. To prevent having to upgrade later on, a dual or duo core processor is recommended.

    Most desktops have either an AMD or Intel processor. The two are fairly equivalent, though Intel is more common. To understand the importance of your processor, check out The Difference Between RAM and Processor Power. You may also want to read Core i5 vs. Core i7: What's the Difference?

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    Operating System

    Your operating system is the heart and soul of your desktop. If you don’t like your operating system, you will hate your desktop. When purchasing a desktop, choices include Windows or Mac. Windows operating systems are popular with most home users as most hardware and software is compatible. Macs are best for those wanting a home studio for audio and video editing. Mac systems are typically more expensive.

    With Windows, the latest operating system is Windows 7. Though Windows Vista is still available, Windows 7 is more user-friendly. Depending on your needs, there are different versions available. Please visit Microsoft to see the differences between the Windows 7 versions.

    Though not widely available, some manufacturers pre-install Linux operating systems, which are free, on desktops. These systems are mainly found online from manufacturers such as Dell and HP. If you don’t like your Windows or Mac operating system, you can install Linux for free at any time.

    For more on operating systems, look at the following articles: Advantages of the Windows Operating System and Top Three Different Operating Systems for Desktops.

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    No one wants to squint to view their desktop screen. Though laptops typically have much smaller screens, desktops should have larger screens of at least 19 inches or more. For viewing files, listening to music and browsing the Internet, a 19 to 22 inch monitor is perfect.

    For users wanting to watch streaming video, use their computer as a television or DVD player or play graphic intensive games, a larger monitor is recommended. 24 inches or higher is best. LCD screens provide the best quality and the least glare, though LED and HD monitors are being introduced for sharper images.

    For help in finding a great desktop monitor, see Reviews of the Best and Worst Computer Monitors and Displays, Top Cool Computer Monitors for Your Desktop Computer and The Best Top Rated LCD Computer Monitors.

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    Video and Sound

    For optimal video and sound, the better quality video and sound cards, the better. For the typical home user or even office users, the default cards with most desktops work perfectly. Gamers and intensive media users should consider purchasing a desktop designed specifically for their needs. These have higher quality video and sound cards pre-installed. For video, Nvidia and ATI offer the best quality video cards.

    See Building a PC – Choosing a Graphics Card, Buying a Graphics Card: Understand Your PC Before Parting With Your Cash, What to Look and Listen For in a Sound Card and Review of the Best Sound Cards for help in choosing a video and sound card.

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    Optical Drive

    Optical drives include CD, DVD and Blu-ray drives. Desktops often have two optical drives to easily copy CDs and DVDs. Desktops should have at least one combination drive that supports CD-R, CD+R, CD-RW, CD+RW, DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW and DVD+RW. If you want a built in Blu-ray player, look for either a combination Blu-ray drive or a second optical drive that supports Blu-ray disks. Look for a write speed of at least 16X for fast, quality burned CDs and DVDs.

    Another option to look for is LightScribe and Labelflash. These options allow you to burn labels directly onto the disk. Dual Layer or Double Layer burners are also available. These disks offer twice the space, but the disks and drives cost much more than single layer disks and drives.

    See the Different Types of DVD Burner. You may also want to read about this HP desktop, a perfect example of the type of optical drive most users should look for.