Desktop computer buying guide
Desktop computers are where the real work gets done. They're still the most popular choice for workplaces and home offices as they provide a dedicated work space that's powerful and adaptable.
This guide will take you through all the specs and jargon to help you choose the best desktop computer for all your needs.
What kind of desktop computer do you need?
The best way to start looking for a new desktop computer is to decide whether you're a low, medium, or high demand user.
Desktops vary in price from around £250 to over £1000. If you're just using it for basic office-style tasks, you'll probably be comfortable with a less expensive model. But if you were to start doing more complex tasks, you could find yourself coming up against limitations.
Low demand – Word processing, Excel, web browsing, social media, watching videos online.
Medium demand – Low-res video editing, basic design, gaming, complex spreadsheets, music recording.
High demand – HD video editing, animation, professional design, advanced gaming.
If you're considering a gaming PC, you may find our Gaming PC Guide useful.
Weighing up PC specs
To help you navigate your way through the computer specifications, we've used our low/medium/high demand categories to help you decide what to look for in each of the essential specs.
What is a processor?
The processor is the computer's brain and its performance is measured in gigahertz (GHz). The more powerful the brain, the more complex work you can do and the faster you can do it.
There are a diverse number of processors available. Some of the most common are:
Intel Core i3 and i5
AMD A4 through to A8
Intel Core i7
The benefit of a faster processor
A faster processor basically means reducing the risk of frustrating performance issues. While you may spend a lot of time on low demand tasks, if you found yourself needing to do something more demanding, like designing a flyer or editing a home movie, you could find your computer slowing down.
What is a processor core?
What if your computer had two brains, or four? Processor cores don't make your computer faster, but they do allow you to do more things at once without it slowing down.
The benefit of more cores
More cores means less slowing down. If you had a Quad core and were listening to Spotify, checking your emails, and updating a spreadsheet, each of those tasks would have its own resource to draw on. If you had just two cores however, performing more than two tasks could start to slow you down.
The storage capacity for all your files. It's measured in gigabytes (GB). A terabyte (TB) is a 1000 gigabytes.
Memory is usually held on a hard drive, which has moving parts. You can now get solid state drives, which have no moving parts. They're quicker, quieter and more energy efficient, but hold less memory.
How much memory do I need?
A terabyte is probably more memory than most people need. You may need more if you use lots of large files like video, but extra memory is one of the easiest things to add later.
A solid state drive will, however, make a difference because of the speed. You can load files a lot quicker, which is a big plus if you're a gamer and hate load times.
What is RAM?
RAM is a different kind of memory that's also measured in gigabytes. RAM is short-term memory, the space your computer needs to work on the jobs its doing at any given moment. No matter how powerful your computer is, if it doesn't have enough working space, it will slow down.
The benefit of more RAM
Having more RAM allows you to work on more complicated tasks smoothly. As with processing power, you might not need it all the time, but when a more complicated job does come along, you could be faced with limitations.
What is a graphics card?
This processes and creates the images you see on screen. Computers either come with a shared card (low demand) or a separate dedicated graphics card (medium – high demand).
A shared card uses the desktop computer's RAM to create images – it shares the rest of your computer's resources. A separate card has its own resources, and should not disrupt, or be disrupted by what else the computer is doing.
There's a great variety of cards available, but AMD and nVidea are the most popular brands:
- For AMD, 260 and upward will provide great visuals.
- For nVidea, aim for a 960 card or above for gaming, but a 750 card will work for design/video.
- iMacs may come with a special Intel card, which is specially suited for design/video work.
The benefit of a good graphics card
A good card makes the images refresh faster and more smoothly. If you plan on working with images, design or video, or are a gamer, a separate card is essential.
Desktop PC or Mac?
Whether or not a PC or Mac is the best desktop computer depends on personal preference.
Macs are much loved by people in creative industries because a number of industry-leading programs were developed for the Apple operating system OS. PC versions are available, but because they weren't initially developed for Windows, they debatably don't perform as well.
Desktop PCs, however, are much more customisable and they can be more easily updated with new hardware. They're also available at a variety of price points, whereas Macs are typically priced at a premium.
Choosing a monitor
If you're doing low demand tasks, there's little value in spending too much (although you still may want to enjoy high-res video). But for medium and high demands tasks, seeing that extra detail will really make the difference.
This is measured in candelas (light intensity) per square meter – cd/m2. The brightest monitors can go over 300cd/m2. This means you'd be able to see the screen even if bright sunlight was shining on it, but you might want to go lower to avoid any strain on your eyes.
The difference between the darkest and brightest peak of a monitor. Most monitors offer 100000:1 or above, which is plenty for even high demand tasks.
Monitors are available with 3 levels of resolution – the higher the resolution, the more detailed the image.
|No of pixels||Recommended screen size|
|Full HD||1,920 x 1,080||Up to 24"|
|Quad HD||2,560 x 1,440||25" – 27"|
|4K / Ultra HD||3,840 x 2,160||27" and over|
Other things to consider...
Keyboard & mouse
Not all desktops come with these included, so double check. There are also comfortable, ergonomic designs available which may make those long work sessions less straining on hands and wrists.
A 'flash drive' is no longer included on all desktop computers. If you still use physical media, double check, or consider purchasing a plug-in USB drive.
Advice to keep your children safe online
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Delivery & payment
If you've settled on which type of desktop computer to buy, then you're ready to shop. Still not quite sure? Our Customer Services team will be happy to give you more information and advice, or why not check out our laptop and tablet buying guides?
We'll deliver your desktop computer for as little as £3.95.
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Reserve your desktop computer online and collect and pay for it in-store.