Tips On Buying A Desktop PC

In time for the holidays get some tips on buying a desktop PC.
Published: Oct 19, 2006
Author: Michael E, Callahan
Related OS: Windows
Tucows Editorial Feature

Tips On Buying A Desktop PC

by Michael E. Callahan aka Dr. File Finder

Historically, many people get new computers during the holidays. Whetheryou buy a computer from Dell, Gateway, Compaq, HP, or your neighborhoodcomputer store, there are certain things you should understand if you'regoing to make a wise decision. The key elements of a computer are theprocessor, the RAM, and the hard drive. Today we'll take a look at theseelements so you will be able to make an informed decision whenyou're selecting a computer.


The processor is also known as the CPU which stands for"central processing unit." This is the brain of your computer. In themost basic sense it determines how fast the computer is and how manythings it can do. If you look around the marketplace you'll find thereare three main processor manufacturers. These are:

  • Intel
  • AMD
  • Cyrix

Among processors by the same company there are differences, kind oflike different models of a car. From a performance and price standpointit's important to know the difference. The Intel Celeronprocessor is less expensive than a Pentium IV processor. Why?Because it's slower than a Pentium IV. The Celeron processors weredesigned to help lower the cost of a computer. Most average users can'ttell the difference between a computer with a Celeron processor and onewith a Pentium IV chip. So, if price is an issue, you'll do better with a Celeron processor.

Dual-Core processors are suddenly in the spotlight. These Intelprocessors have two execution cores inside one processor. Thebenefit is better multitasking and game performance. You'll notice thatin general the processor speeds of dual-core chips are lower than thoseof Pentium IV chips.

AMD also has a variety of CPU types. The AMD Duron processor isvery much like it's Celeron counterpart. It makes the computer a bitmore affordable. The AMD Athlon is on the level of the Pentium IVand is very reliable. AMD also has "dual-core" processors.

You may also see information on 64-bit processors, but mostcurrent applications can't take full advantage of this type ofprocessor. Best to leave those alone at least for now.


RAM, which stands for random access memory is what yourprograms run on. It's memory that's live. When you turn off yourcomputer whatever is in RAM is gone. RAM comes in chips that are onsmall circuit boards. RAM modules fit into slots that are on thecomputers motherboard.

If you're buying your computer from a major manufacturer they'll usethe type of RAM that's best suited to the processor you've selected. Iwant to define a few terms that you may see when you're looking for acomputer. One type of RAM modules are called DIMMs which simplystands for "dual in-line memory modules." Most newer computers will usethis type of module. If you should encounter SIMMs that's just"single in-line memory module."

Just as there are different types of processors there are also differenttypes of RAM. RAM also has a "speed" associated with it. One verypopular type of RAM is SDRAM. This stands for "synchronousdynamic RAM." Another term you might see is DDR SDRAM whichstands for "double data-rate SDRAM". This is simply an enhanced varietyof SDRAM. You may also see RDRAM which stands for "Rambus DynamicRAM." This is RAM that's very fast. Again, your computer manufacturerwill install the type of RAM that works best with your processor andchipset, but I wanted you to understand the terminology.

RAM, as noted earlier, is what your programs run on. Even a veryfast processor won't seem very fast if you're low on RAM. I've said thisbefore and I'll say it again. If cost is a real concern it's betterto get more RAM and a slower processor, than to do the reverse. Ifyou skimp on RAM it may not matter how fast your processor is. At thesame time, with plenty of RAM even a slower processor can seem faster. Ipersonally have 2 gigabytes of RAM on all my computers, but I thinkeveryone should have at least 1 gigabyte.

Hard Drives

Your computers hard drive is storage. It's where the programsthat run in RAM store their data. Today, the cost of storage isamazingly low. It's not uncommon to get a gigabyte of storage forless than a dollar.

Most computers for home and small business use utilize IDE harddrives. That stands for Integrated Drive Electronics. Thesedrives tend to be very reliable and moderately priced. Hard drives alsohave a speed and today most run at 7200 RPM.

USB (Universal Serial Bus) hard drives have suddenly become verypopular. These external drives can provide a great deal of extrastorage space at a very low price. They're great for backups, photos,music, virtual machines, and all kinds of storage needs. They're alsoquite easy to take with you.

RAID, which stands for "Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks"comes in several different flavors. A RAID system utilizes twohard drives at one time. A RAID system is used to make a system fasterand more reliable. One type, RAID 1, makes the second hard drive anexact mirror of the first. This provides you with an automatic backup.At the same time, if the first drive becomes corrupted or infected witha virus, the second drive does too. RAID systems tend to be used more bybusinesses. The same is true of SCSI hard drives.

Summing It Up!

The hard drive, RAM, and CPU are the heart, soul, and brain of yourcomputer. Everything else like DVD players/recorders, keyboards, mice,and monitors, are just components. Peripherals. If you have a good,solid core that's what counts.

The thing I see most often is that people buy way more than they reallyneed. Sure I have 2 gigabytes of RAM, but I make my living on acomputer. Yes, my laptop is 3.4GHz, but again, I'm using it for work.It's like a carpenter buying good tools. I tend to buy cheap toolsbecause I'm not a carpenter. My best advice is to be realistic aboutwhat you'll use a computer for. If you're surfing the Web, doing email,and playing music, you really don't need the fastest CPU. If you'rebuying a PC for your mother, she probably won't use 500 gigabytes ofstorage or 2 gigabytes of RAM.

The average student doesn't need a 3+ GHz processor, but they may needmore storage. Remember, if you're on a budget buy RAM before you buy afaster processor. I've bought computers from Dell, Gateway, and Toshibaand all of them are reliable. Look for sales and don't buy things you,or the person you're buying the computer for, don't need. I know a TVcard sounds cool, but really how often will you use it? HappyShopping!

About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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