What You Need in a Desktop

CPU, RAM, and video card? How important is the PSU and extra hard drive space? Each of these things you need to consider when looking for a new desktop computer. Rather than grouping everything into the basket that exclaims that you just need a faster computer, let’s look at each feature individually. This way you’re sure to be buying the best computer you can afford.

The CPU
Arguably the brains of your computer, virtually any Intel or AMD processor is going to be fast enough for most people. The fact is, these things are so fast that unless you’re gaming, doing AutoCAD, a multi-layer Photoshop project, or editing video, you will find systems at Best Buy or other stores with plenty of speed. The end game here is to stick with a solid dual-core CPU and life will be just fine. For those folks mentioned above needing more from their CPU, following the rule that faster is better works too.

RAM provides for a stable system
If multitasking is something you do, then you’ll want a 4 gigabyte minimum for your computer. For Windows and OS X users, adding as much RAM as you can afford is recommended, while Linux users will find that 2 gigs should be enough. RAM is cheap enough that you should go ahead and toss as much as your OS/Motherboard will support. It’s a cheap upgrade that will definitely extend the life of your computer; why not?

CPU can be key
If RAM is helpful for multitasking, then the CPU is going to be the feature that gets everything launching at top speed. If initiating things quickly matters to you, then making sure you are running with a mid-priced CPU is a good plan. I don’t believe most people need to subject themselves to the cost of the latest and greatest, but going bargain basement isn’t always the best idea either.


CC licensed Flickr photo shared by slifex

A video card (GPU) brings it all together
Most people think on-board graphics are fine for what they need. Typically integrated graphics cards put a strain on the rest of your computer resources, because they rely on system RAM for performance. If, however, you’re running with dual monitors or would like to have a halfway decent visual experience when enjoying movies, then a mid to high-end video card is on the table.

But what does all of this really mean?
I apologize in advance for not being too specific. I’m afraid that every time I try to do so, I miss one segment of the readership or the other. The long and short of selecting what you need in a desktop PC really comes down to this simple formula.

For email, browsing the Web, and some low-end Flash games — most entry level to mid-way components are okay.

For multi-tasking, some  DirectX or OpenGL type games, and possibly some video watched on a full screen — mid to high end system components. You get the general idea.

Other factors to consider include power to the tower and system cooling. Without both, all of the above will be for naught. Make sure you buy a good, brand name PSU (power supply unit) — unless you are purchasing a pre-built OEM computer — if you care to not have a system that crashes frequently. And the same goes for cooling — just fans aren’t enough; you’ll want good air flow through the case when dealing with mid to high end systems, especially.

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