Choosing a new computer is never easy, least of all when there is so much choice available. Before you pop out and buy an off the shelf machine have a read of what we look for when we are putting together our custom desktops.
- Processor – We’ve been tending to stick with AMD in the sub £1000 PC bracket. I think they offer a great range of processors at very attractive prices, the A series are particularly good value. For the £1000+ range it’s either the Intel i5 or i7, simply put they are fantastic processors but you need a big budget to get the most from one
- Motherboard – this choice is going to depend upon which processor you go for, though either way we keep an eye out for USB3 connectivity (at least two on the back), and at least 4 SATA ports, ideally with 2 out of the 4 to SATAIII specification. Other features tend to be governed by the size of motherboard you are going for and which category the motherboard falls into (e.g. budget, mid-range, or high end). Things to look out for are PCIe and PCI sockets for the ability to add extras to the computer (such as wireless cards) and how many RAM sockets the motherboard has
- RAM – I’m a bit of a memory snob, so I only go for the best! “Enthusiast” RAM as it is dubbed normally comes with a life time warranty, and is solid in terms of performance and reliability (you’d be surprised by how much RAM we replace). 4 Gigabytes seems the norm these days, so to buck the trend we normally put 8 in! Most motherboards can support up to 16GB of RAM per socket
- Hard disk – 500GB is the norm these days, we tend to stick with this if budget is a concern. Though 1TB hard disks aren’t much more expensive now. What really makes a difference is Solid State Drives (SSDs). SSDs make computers remarkably quick, though their limited size normally means they need to be coupled with a normal hard disk which can drive (no pun intended!) the cost of the machine up. If there is one thing to consider stretching your budget for it is for a solid state disk
- Graphics card – A pretty basic card will suit the needs of most, my current favourites are the Geforce GT620 and the Radeon 6670 provide what most are looking for in a desktop PC for video play back. If you’re aiming to play games then the Radeon 7850 or Geforce 660 are good value cards.
- Power supply unit – This is one of the most overlooked components there is. Buy cheap and you will be putting your computer at risk. A power supply (or PSU) that dies can damage everything else on the computer, cheap power supply units can also limit your upgrade options later on down the line. A good quality power supply for your average desktop PC will be 500-550 watts and should cost in the region of £50. This is one part regardless of budget I won’t skimp on. It really isn’t worth blowing up a £600 computer for the sake of saving £30 on a power supply
- Optical drive – Everyone needs a DVD player as a minimum they are pretty cheap and most achieve the same thing, go for a named brand like Samsung or Pioneer and you can’t go wrong. Blu-ray writers have come down considerably in cost and the disks can store a huge amount of information (25-50GB for normal and up to 128GB for BDXL discs) so if budget allows for a Blu-ray drive they make a worthwhile addition
- Sound card – Unless you’ve got any desire for hi-fi quality sound (you’ll also need a set of speakers to match up in terms of quality) or you are an avid gamer the sound card built into the motherboard is more than enough. If you are looking at an add in card prepare to dig deep as the quality ones are in the region of £100+
- Case – You’ll also need a box to put all those bits in. Again I feel it is something that is worth spending a bit of money on. Cheap cases tend to be flimsy and a little cramped, which doesn’t help with airflow and might limit your upgrade options
We have found over the many years of looking after home computers that manufactures of off the shelf computers have found crafty ways of squeezing the cost of their computers without reducing specification. Good examples of this type of behaviour are customised parts (mainly things like power supply units) that range from difficult to impossible to replace (due to availability), and motherboard with very limited upgrade options (if any exist at all). To me both of those really detract from two of the key advantages that desktops hold over laptops which are; the availability of spare parts (and having a choice of where to buy from!) and the ease at which a desktop can be upgraded. If you take both of these factors you might as well just save yourself some space and buy a laptop!