Desktop computer buying guide

We reveal what you need to consider when buying a desktop computer.
 
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01 .Introduction

desktop-buying-guide-lead

  • Desktop computers still offer the best value for your dollar. 
  • Although notebooks and ultrabooks are more portable and powerful than ever, you can usually buy a faster desktop, with more storage capacity, for less money. 
  • A desktop PC allows you to update components, and swap out faulty parts, extending its life expectancy for potentially less than buying a new notebook.

There are two types of desktop PC: 

  • The traditional desktop, also known as a tower. 
  • All-in-one desktop - where interior components are contained in the same case as the monitor.

While all-in-ones are great space savers, you generally can’t upgrade the internal hardware without professional help. Desktops take up more space, but they offer more upgrade freedom than all-in-ones, notebooks and ultrabooks.

Before buying a computer think about what you want and what you will be using it for. You might be looking for an entry-level or budget PC for basic computing, a mid-range PC for the family, or a multimedia and gaming powerhouse. Whether you buy a system off-the-shelf, have one built-to-order or take the all-in-one option, you’ll need to know what’s available, how the components work and how they compare.

This guide will help you choose the best system for your needs. It focuses on Windows-based PCs, but the non-Windows specific information and guidelines still apply to other computing platforms such as Mac and Linux.

For more information on computers, parts and accessories, see our Computers and accessories page.

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CashBefore you start shopping, familiarise yourself with current tech and component terms to avoid confusion and make a list of what you want to do with your computer. This saves you time and gives salespeople a better idea of what to offer. Here’s what to include:


Activities

Make a list of how you plan to use your PC, now and in the future. Activities such as internet web browsing, emailing, writing, budgeting, photo and video editing, listening to music, playing games have certain power/component requirements, so knowing what you want to do will help with building a computer that suits your needs.

Programs

List the names and versions of the main programs that you use. Standard programs including word processors, spread sheets, web browsers and email are handled easily by any modern computer. However, programs such as photo/video editing and 3D rendering software may require more powerful components. More recent versions of software may also require specific operating systems.

Computer games

Facebook and browser-based games usually don’t require a lot of power, but sophisticated games with high-quality graphics require mid- to high-end components, and good quality cooling systems. So you may need to tailor your machine to suit the games you want to play.

Download limits/storage space

If you have access to, or plan to connect to, a fast internet service with a high download limit, you may be inclined to download lots of data. This requires more storage space, and may determine what size hard drive you need.

Future use

Think three to five years ahead, if possible. Buying a computer that is only adequate for what you want to do now can be a false economy. Look for a system that is easily upgradeable down the track with a faster processor, more memory and a larger (or extra) hard drive or solid state drive (SSD). Career/education plans and hobbies can provide a good indication of how you may use your computer in the future.

Budget

When you start to plan your buying/building budget, consider:

Backwards compatibility

If your desktop PC is several years old, your externally connected (peripheral) equipment may also need replacing. Your old scanner, printer, keyboard and mouse in particular, may not be compatible with a new computer as connection ports have changed over the years. Old software may not work on modern operating systems either, so you might need upgrade to the latest version, or buy a similar program, which can add to the total expense.

Warranty

Every new PC comes with warranty, which can can vary from one-year return-to-base (RTB) to three years onsite service. Onsite costs more, but the repairer comes to you. Note that unless specified the onsite service warranty may only include the parts under warranty and troubleshooting, and other problems is likely to cost extra. Good phone support helps narrow down the problem first, but could require additional fees and charges. With RTB warranties, be wary of hidden costs. Ask about who pays for the courier there and back? Is the cost of the courier included and does it cover both directions? Are there other handling fees? Can you save by dropping off the PC or picking it up?

Shopping around

When you’re ready to dive in it pays to shop around. Major retailers aren't the only source for PC gear. Small, independent computer stores can offer great deals, and often have access to a broader range of components than the larger dealers. They can also offer good deals on parts or specialist builds, depending on what you buy. Many locations around Australia also regularly host computer markets, which can be a source for bargains if you know what you’re looking for. Computer Markets and Technology Markets provide updates on the larger gatherings around Australia, but your local community website or newsletter may also have information.

Shopping online

Buying on online is very easy these days, and while many leading brand names have their own online ordering services, you shouldn't dismiss lesser known online stores either. Most of the large online only stores have a detailed service and returns policies, but you it’s always important to ask what these policies involve before shopping online. Use Google to see if there’s a local shop or an online only retailer that might provide better pricing and support. Specialist PC component suppliers Another good way to find shops that deliver to your area and provide competitive pricing is to use StaticICE and search for a component that you want, for example “Intel Core i5”.

Buying in a bundle

You could save by getting all your PC components from one source, especially if you need to buy new peripherals and software. Many suppliers have package deals, but don’t be afraid to ask them to mix and match either.

Avoiding feature-creep

You can often customise a cheaper basic system to give it a lift by upgrading certain components at point-of-sale. Most suppliers will allow or even encourage adding more memory (RAM), a faster processor, a bigger hard drive or a better video card, but upgrading too many components at the start might cost you more money than simply starting off with next level system. Look at the total packages being offered, and choose the closest match to your needs as a base.

Cutting back 

When you have to compromise to save money, cut back on less-essential features such as external speakers or software you don’t really need. There’s plenty of free or low-cost software available for download from the web as well. Avoid cutting back on your main components – processor (CPU), memory, hard drive and the graphics card - which contribute most to the desktop computer's overall performance.


We've broken down all the main components that make up a computer, so you’ll know exactly what to ask for, what you can expect to pay, how different aspects affect performance, and what the vendor is talking about if you ask for their opinion. Click on each item for detailed information.

monitor

Monitor (screen)

With plenty of good-quality, low-cost models available, there’s no need to skimp on size. A widescreen is standard these days, and ideal for watching DVDs and Blu-rays, playing games, and working with multiple documents and applications at once. The cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor technology is outdated, and may not work with a modern desktop PC.

A 17- to 24-inch monitor typically costs between $150 and $400, while 25-inch-plus monitors start from $250-$300 and can cost more than $1000 for top-end technology with In-Plane Switching (IPS).

Whatever you buy, don’t assume a screen is high-resolution just because it’s large. Resolution is the number of pixels the monitor can display and helps determine image quality. Generally aim for monitors that support a resolution of at least 1600 x 1200, or even 1920 x 1200 pixels or greater.

Monitors also offer different refresh rates (measured in hertz - Hz), which determine how many times the screen will refresh in one second. A high-refresh rate reduces instances of screen flicker, resulting in a smoother picture. This is especially important for fast-paced action in games and movies, but contributes to the overall viewing experience. Rates of 120Hz and 144Hz are considered top of the line, and produce excellent image quality, but a 60Hz screen also produces good results. You will need the appropriate graphics cards and video inputs to fully utilise this technology.

Some companies also make 3D monitors which, like 3D TV, require specific brand of glasses. A 3D monitor needs a compatible high-power graphics card, as each image needs to be processed twice to create the effect. For a high-definition, 3D monitor with a high refresh rate, expect to pay $500-$1000, or more if it doesn't include the required glasses.

Regardless of which model you are considering, we recommend upgrading to a flat screen (LCD/TFT) monitor. If you wish to continue using your old CRT, you may need to get a DVI to VGA adaptor if your monitor doesn't have a DVI (digital) input. Some current, high-end models also require specific inputs to utilise certain features such as high refresh rates. Before buying, ensure your computer has the necessary inputs to utilise all the advertised features.

hdd

Hard drive 

Hard disk drives (HDDs) are the most common, but solid state drives (SSDs) are becoming more popular. While 2.5-inch HDDs are common in laptops, 3.5-inch drives are the preferred choice for desktops, as they are faster and offer more capacity. You should aim for a hard drive with at least 1TB of space. A large desktop case offers you the space to install multiple storage devices, which is handy if you plan to store photos, videos and music. Having two drives can also be beneficial in the event of hard drive failure, especially if using RAID 0 (mirroring) which writes the same information to both drives simultaneously, to provide a constant backup (also called redundancy). This increases the cost of the build.

SSDs use memory chips to store data. They are more expensive than traditional spinning disk hard drives (up to $1 per GB), but SSDs are very fast and stable. They benefit machines that are used for disc-intensive work such as video editing. However, their capacity is nowhere near as great as the larger HDDs.

SSDs range in capacity from 64GB to 512GB at a consumer level. The 1TB models are recently entering the market, and although they are coming down in price, they are still very expensive, with some reaching the $2500. As with HDDs, the general rule for SSDs is the faster the better. SSD speeds are based on sequential read/write sequences, which are measured in megabytes per second (MB/s or MBps). You may want to consider a low-capacity, low-cost SSD, which holds 60-120GB, as the drive for your operating system (called a boot drive) and a large traditional hard drive for your data. That way, your operating system will run faster and with improved stability.

If you don’t have room for two drives, or you can’t afford a large SSD, think about installing a hybrid drive. This combines a small SSD partition designed to host the operating system, and a large hard drive space for file storage. This technology is still emerging and primarily aimed at laptops, but you can also install a hybrid drive in a desktop tower. For example, the Seagate SSHD range combines an 8GB SSD with either a 1TB or 2TB  hard drive.

cpu

CPU

The central processing unit is the brain of the system. But you can’t rely only on the CPU's speed rating, usually noted in gigahertz (GHz), unless it is the same processor family (such as Core i3 or Core i5). Today’s processors also factor in other technology, such as dual- or quad-cores (that is, two or four processors on the one chip).

Most home PCs use an Intel-branded processor or one from AMD (Advanced Micro Devices). Intel processors include, in descending performance order, the new Extreme i7 Core series, the Core i7, i5 and i3 processors, and finally the Pentium and Celeron. Similarly, AMD starts at the FX, followed by the A-Series, Phenom II, Athlon II and Sempron. Each brand offers different generations of processors, and while the latest are generally better, older versions may suit your needs and can save you money. Intel's interactive processor selector helps you decide which processor is suitable for your needs. AMD has a similar service.

When it comes to processor cores, a higher number cores increases the number of processes the computer can run at any given time, without impacting performance, and improves processor efficiency when it’s working on a single task. The most common models are dual-core and quad-core, and six- and eight-core models are available for a premium.

So what type of processor should you look for? Entry-level dual-core PCs handle the processing demands of basic computing tasks including internet usage, while digital photo and movie editing requires a processor with a bit more kick using Intel processors for example. For fast general computing, you’ll want to consider a quad core i5, while i7 is a better option for 3D rendering or high-resolution gaming.

As a rule of thumb, always aim for the best processor level, with the highest number of cores, that suits your budget. The same rule applies for speed, as it has the most impact on performance after RAM, and a higher speed ensures your machine keeps up with the Jonses a little longer. Remember to consider the speed and model in conjunction. For example, a 1.7 GHz i7 will perform faster and more efficiently than a 2.1 GHz i5. Upgrading your processor is a very difficult process that usually requires professional help, so this is one part of your PC that should be considered permanent.

ram

RAM

This is the computer’s memory. A lack of RAM causes your computer to run slowly when performing multiple or labour-intensive tasks such as image processing. Look for a minimum of 4GB (gigabytes) even in a budget system, but ideally aim for 8GB. The brand of memory you buy doesn’t really matter as they all perform about the same with the exception of RAM designed for high-end systems. So how much do you need?

First, consider which operating system you’ll be running. It's different for 32-bit and 64-bit systems. For example, the 32-bit version of Windows 8 only requires 1GB of RAM, but the 64-bit version needs double that amount. Also, the 32-bit version of Windows can only make use of up to 4GB of RAM, whereas the 64-bit version can utilise up to 128GB in the Standard Edition and 512GB in the Pro Edition. If you intend to run multiple programs at once (eg web browser, Microsoft Office and a music player), edit photo/video, or play video games with detailed graphics, it will all run more smoothly with 8GB of RAM. For even more intensive work such as 3D rendering you’ll want more than 8GB of RAM for best performance. If you think you don’t have enough, upgrading RAM is relatively inexpensive and easy with a bit of technical know-how.

Bear in mind that software can only use as much RAM as it is programmed to, and adding additional RAM will not help it run faster once the software has reached its peak. However, extra RAM means you can run more programs at the same time.

graphics_card

Graphics card

A dedicated card graphics card is mainly used for gaming, video acceleration, and photo and video editing, but Windows, Mac OS X and Linux will also take advantage of your graphics card to make your operating system look prettier via transparency and animation effects. The diverse range of cards on offer means doing your homework is essential. Prices range from about $100 to more than $1000, depending on the amount of memory built into the card, and the number and speed of its processors.

The main producers of Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) are Nvidia and AMD (formally ATI), and many manufacturers purchase GPUs from these companies to build their own graphics cards, such as Asus and MSI.

A separate graphics card is often referred to as "dedicated graphics". You will also see the term “integrated graphics” (also called onboard graphics). This is a graphics chipset built into the motherboard, rather than on a separate card. Integrated graphics has become much more powerful in recent years, but a separate graphics card will still generally provide much faster performance.

For basic computing and standard-definition video, integrated graphics are fine. If you’re going to play graphically intensive games, edit video and audio or watch HD movies, aim for 1-2GB, depending on the level of detail required. Highly detailed 3D rendering software and high-quality computer games benefit from at least 3GB of graphics RAM. Top-end models peak at 6GB, but these are very expensive and only suited for serious gaming computers. Remember, if you want to output to a 3D monitor, you’ll need to buy a graphics card that’s 3D compatible, or you may need to update your graphics drivers to make them 3D compatible.

Operating system (OS)operating-system

Windows 7 is the most common OS in use, but if you buy a new computer it usually comes with Windows 8. It's available in two consumer grade versions: a standard edition called Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. Most retailers offer PCs with the standard edition preinstalled, but you can purchase upgrade kits if required. PC manufacturers are often able to install either the Standard or Pro edition, so it’s important to research each version and determine if Pro is worth the extra cost. The standard edition suits the needs of most consumers.

If you’re building your own machine, you need to purchase an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) edition. An OEM is essentially a full (non-upgrade) version of Windows 8 that you can install on any empty hard drive, or as a virtual drive alongside the main operating system. The OEM is only available through PC component suppliers, and is available in Basic and Pro editions.

Some suppliers can install an older operating system, which can save you money without compromising system integrity and security. Our example systems recommend Windows 7, as it’s currently more affordable than 8, and still receives full support from Microsoft. We don’t recommend going further back than Windows 7. Linux is also an option from some PC suppliers, but is only for advanced users. Linux is noted for its stability and security and will run on most hardware (where drivers are available). There are a huge number of Linux versions (called distributions) available, with arguably the most popular being the free Ubuntu.

See our section on Mac and Linux.

optical

Optical drive

Optical drives are still standard equipment in towers. They are usually CD/DVD burners, but Blu-ray drives are becoming more common. A Blu-ray combo drive reads Blu-ray discs and can also burn CDs and DVDs. Compared to backing up to an external hard drive burning data to a CD/DVD is impracticaldue to their limited capacity, but having the equipment on hand still provides you with an additional means of viewing, storing and transferring media.

A single-layer DVD disc holds up to 4.7GB of data, while a dual-layer (or double-layer) disc holds up to 8.5GB. Blu-ray burners are less common and more expensive, both for the drive and the blank discs. Blu-ray discs can hold 25GB or 50GB of data.


Cooling systemcooling-system

Poor ventilation can cause computer components to overheat, shortening their life expectancy. High-end PC components, in particular, can run hot, especially during labour-intensive processes, so it’s important to have a dedicated cooling system installed. For low- to mid-range PCs, the inbuilt fans of a good-quality case are suitable, but a CPU cooling fan is also an inexpensive and worthwhile addition.

If you’re going to fill your tower with high-end gear and push it to the limit, you’ll need to consider multiple fans, or a water cooling system. The idea of running water inside a PC might sound like a disaster waiting to happen, but these self-contained units are much more effective at keeping components cool. The trade-off is that they’re very bulky, so you’ll have to invest in a larger case.


Keyboard and mousemouse-and-keyboard

You can find a good quality keyboard and mouse kit for as little as $19, or as much as $199. Some manufacturers have returned to producing "mechanical keyboards". These use   individual metal switches for each key and are generally considered more accurate and durable, thus they cost considerably more than a standard plastic-switch keyboard.

Kits suited for computer games include additional buttons on the keyboard and mouse called hot keys. These are generally used as programmable shortcuts for in game actions, for example, pressing a hot key to open a certain menu.

Wireless versus wired is a matter of personal preference, but a wireless keyboard and mouse gives you the advantage of being able to operate your computer from across in the room.

soundcard

Sound card

Dedicated sound cards are reserved for serious audio enthusiasts. While sound cards aren’t expensive, unless you plan to do audio editing or expect the very best from your games, the on-board sound components built into most motherboards are already high-fidelity. If you are considering buying a sound card, you will need to invest in a high quality set of speakers/headphones to make the most of it. Higher-end cards support surround sound speaker systems up to 7.1 (seven speakers plus subwoofer).

Windows-based PCs from various manufacturers still have the lion's share of the desktop market. The biggest single competitor is Apple, which makes its own hardware and software. If you have a Windows-capable PC you can also choose to run Linux, an established but smaller player in the operating system market. Let's look at the following alternatives: 

MacMac-logo

Most of the internal components of a Mac are the same as in a PC: processors, graphics cards, RAM. The definition and terminology of components is consistent across PC and Mac, which is why the information in our Key Components section can apply to Mac computers as well. Apple offers a range of desktop computers with varying component levels – entry, mid-range and high – and they are either built or customised by Apple and authorised resellers, specifically for Mac computers. In other words, you can’t build a Mac computer at home out of third-party parts. However, you can also customise your Mac on the online Apple Store.

If you’re considering a Mac, you will encounter two Apple-specific tech terms:

Retina display

In mid-2012, Apple introduced the concept of the Retina display across several of its products, starting with the iPhone. The Retina display is Apple's name for its super-high resolution screen technology. It is so called because the pixel resolution is higher than the human eye can distinguish at normal viewing distance. This means that in normal use, you can’t see the individual dots that make up the picture on the screen. The Retina display technology is also brighter, with a wider colour gamut and better contrast than Apple’s non-Retina screens. Retina display technology is currently seen on some of Apple's laptops, iPads and newer iPhone models.

OS X

Apple’s computers use their own operating system, known as OS X, which is based on Unix.Each major version of OS X is named after a different member of the big cat family. The current version is OS X 10.8 (code-named Mountain Lion), which is the Apple equivalent of Microsoft Windows.

Mac models

Apple’s desktop product range comprises three families: the ultra-compact box-only Mac mini, the all-in-one iMac and the Mac Pro desktop tower.

Mac minimac-mini

The Mac mini is a small form factor (SFF) desktop designed for portability. At just 19.7 × 19.7 × 3.6cm it suits the space conscious and those with relatively low budgets. In standard trim the Mac mini isn’t as powerful as an iMac, partially due to the laptop-sized 5400RPM hard drive, but it provides enough speed and storage for the average user. However, it can be turned into a mini-powerhouse with spec-on-order upgrades.

The latest model can be customised to deliver a performance boost with up to 16GB of RAM (rather than the standard 4GB) and a very fast 1TB hybrid-style Fusion Drive or a 256GB SSD. There’s also a server version that includes Mountain Lion and OS X Server and two 1TB hard drives (upgradeable to two 256GB SSDs.) The latest mini has four USB 3.0 ports, FireWire, HDMI-out and Thunderbolt connectivity, but does not come with a monitor, keyboard, mouse or optical drive. Its small size and HDMI-out port also make it suitable for use as a powerful media hub for your television.

iMac (all-in-one)iMac

The most popular Mac desktop is available in 21.5” and 27” screen sizes with a keyboard and mouse. The latest models feature a redesigned, ultra-slim screen but no built-in optical drive. Eliminating the optical drive is becoming more common in all-in-ones from various manufacturers. iMacs are Apple’s all-rounders, suitable for home and business users.

The iMac models allow only very limited post-purchase upgrades, such as RAM, due to the super-slim all-in-one design. It’s best to specify the highest configuration you can afford at the time of purchase. While the 27” model has user-upgradeable RAM, the 21.5” model is essentially not user-upgradeable at all. If you need an optical drive, the USB-powered Apple Superdrive (DVD/CD burner) is an extra-cost ($89) option.

Mac Pro

The top-of-the-line Mac Pro is Apple’s version of the PC tower. Although you’re limited to the components Apple offers, the list of options is extensive, allowing you to fully customise the interior components to suit almost all your needs. Practically speaking, these are only for users who want a Mac-Prolot of processing power and storage options from their machine, making them best suited for tech enthusiasts and multimedia professionals. While it's suitable for home use, the average consumer will find little benefit to using the Mac Pro over the iMac. They ship with a keyboard and mouse or touch pad, but other components vary depending on the model.

Each desktop has two to four base models available, which can be further customised from components listed on the Apple website, although there are some limitations. For example, Apple is phasing out the inclusion of optical drives in most systems. Authorised resellers can take customised orders, but may charge an additional fee.

Windows on Mac

Although OS X doesn’t run Windows programs directly, many Mac programs are file-format-compatible with Windows programs and there are OS X versions of many Windows programs. Additionally, OS X comes with a program called Boot Camp, which enables the installation of genuine Windows in a separate partition on the Mac, providing the choice of using either operating system. See this support page for more information.

Macs can also run Windows OS using commercial emulation software packages such as Parallels Desktop for Mac, VMware’s Fusion or even the free cross-platform VirtualBox software, which is for advanced users familiar with configuring virtualisation software. If you are using a Mac that was built before 2006, you will not be able to run Windows.

Linuxlinux-logo

Linux is a Unix-like operating system that has been modified and released in hundreds of versions called distributions. Linux-based computers can use hardware identical to Windows computers, and you can also run Linux on a Mac computer with an emulation software package, or natively via Apple’s Boot Camp. To run Linux via Boot Camp, you will need to install third-party plugins.

The most popular Linux distribution is the free Ubuntu, which is suitable for both home and business use. Since its release, Ubuntu has been further customised into a number of sub-distributions, which offer application specific versions of the operating system to suit various fields. One example is Edubuntu, which is designed for Primary and Secondary education sectors. See here for a full list of Linux distributions.

Linux is open source, highly customisable and can work on almost any system. It is popular among tech enthusiasts and professional developers such as Mozilla (Firefox) and Valve (Steam), which have each released Linux versions of their programs. The major drawback of Linux distributions is that they assume the user has technical knowledge. It can be problematic for users who do not have a good understanding of computing. This has opened the doors for unscrupulous hackers to write so-called beginner guides to Linux, offering lines of code that claim to enhance your system when they can damage, or even destroy it. You can avoid these by sticking to the distributions official forums and developers' blogs.

Linux distributions vary in their application and required level of technical knowledge, so if you’re interested in trying Linux, it’s important to research the specific distribution and Linux in general. You will need to have an understanding of the computer's command terminal program to enjoy the full benefits of most Linux distributions. Availability of technical support also varies between distributions, depending on the level of financial backing, and whether the distribution is supported by professionals or only enthusiasts. Therefore, it’s important to be cautious when using Linux, and we don’t recommend making the switch to this operating system unless you are a knowledgeable enthusiast or at least a technically competent user who is confident with learning and troubleshooting. Try it out using virtualisation software or on a secondary computer until you feel confident with it.

05.Buying, borrowing and bringing it home

 

Once you're ready to buy a PC, beware of so-called "bargains". Every now and then you will stumble upon a great deal, but in most cases a cheap PC is cheap for a reason. In some cases, renting a PC can offer some beneficial bargains.

Beware the "bargain" PC!

If your new PC can’t be upgraded or expanded and doesn't have enough processing power or memory to last you for a few years, you could end up short-changing yourself. Even if you’re considering an entry-level PC, make sure the processor will cope with all the programs you plan to use, and has sufficient memory and hard drive space to cope with present demands. Ideally, it should have room to add more memory and another (or larger) hard drive if required later. However, this is a problem with mini PCs, which only contain limited room within the case.

Always ask, does the PC come with a monitor and, if so, what type and size? Does your bargain bundle include everything you need, including a keyboard, mouse, program software and enough connection ports? Most external devices use USB 2.0 ports, but USB 3.0 is almost an industry standard, and you will need specific ports to make use of this new technology. These points are especially important if you are considering an all-in-one, as these are restricted in how they can be upgraded, if at all.

Is renting an option?

Several companies provide technology leasing services, offering agreements that let you obtain the system you want for a lower initial cash payment (usually the first month’s rental), followed by monthly payments over an agreed term of two, three or four years. This gives you the flexibility of upgrading equipment to newer, faster technology during the contract period (the minimum wait period varies between providers). Leasing computer equipment can provide tax benefits for some people and businesses, but we advise that you seek professional tax advice before signing a contract.

While renting a computer spreads the cost over time, it eventually costs more and you won’t own the equipment unless you pay an additional lump sum.

After you buy

Here are some tips for setting up your new PC once you've brought it home:

  • Manuals
  • Location, location
  • Proper placement
  • Ventilation
  • Inspect the system
  • Download limit
  • Security
  • Manuals

    Place all the manuals, software and spare parts that came with the computer somewhere safe and accessible until you need it for future upgrades, troubleshooting and checking your Windows licence information.

    Location, location

    Before you power up your PC, choose a large, clean, permanent area for it, and take the time to create a setup that you find comfortable.

    Proper placement

    Placing your tower on a desk provides better ventilation and easy access to the rear ports where many of the USB inputs are located. It also keeps the computer out of reach of tiny hands. If space dictates that under the desk is the only option, ensure the tower sits as far forward as possible, and regularly vacuum under the desk to avoid dust build up. Finally, make sure the computer is secure and stable. Keep the tower and monitor or all-in-one away from edges, water and heat sources. Set up your PC on a table that can handle the weight, and won't collapse.

    Ventilation

    Leave enough space around your computer to allow for good ventilation. Poor air circulation and constant exposure to dusty environments can block ventilation ports or cause overheating, resulting in serious damage over long periods of time. This is especially important if you are running a high-powered rig. 

    Inspect the system

    Once your computer is updated and running, check that all of the promised components were installed. For basic system information and a list of installed hardware, go to My Computer, right click, select properties and open the general tab.

    Download limit

    When you initially connect a PC to the internet, you’re likely to be hit with lots of updates for the operating system and security software. If your download limit is almost at its maximum for the month, it may be worth waiting for it to roll over before connecting your PC to the net. Alternatively, if you are having the PC custom built by a supplier, request to have all updates installed before taking it home. 

    Security

    Once your system is up to date, the first thing you should install is security software. This is absolutely essential for all online activity, and running a PC without security software installed is very risky.

    To give you an idea of the kind of bang you can get for your buck, we asked the experts at local online vendor PC Case Gear to design and price six different systems for consumer use. The first three are Intel-based systems, while the final three are based on AMD components. Each brand is broken up into three categories: entry level, mid-range and high-end.

    Included in the high-end models are different components for different purposes. For example playing games or running a home business may dictate which monitor you buy. The costs of these are listed adjacent to the product and the final costs will vary depending on which components you chose.

    INTEL SYSTEMS
    Entry level Mid-range High-end
    CPU Intel Core i3 3225 3.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 3470 3.2GHZ (3.6GHZ Turbo) quad-core Intel Core i7 3770K 3.5GHz (3.9GHz Turbo) quad-core
    Motherboard ASRock B75 Pro3-M Motherboard ASRock B75M-R2 Motherboard ASRock Z77 Extreme4 Motherboard
    RAM Corsair CMX4GX3M2A1600C9 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3 Corsair CMX8GX3M2B1600C9 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 Corsair CMX8GX3M2B1600C9 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 (x2)
    Graphics card (none) Gigabyte Radeon HD7850 1GB OC Gigabyte Radeon HD7970 Overclocked 3GB
    Hard drive Seagate Barracuda 1TB Seagate Barracuda 2TB Samsung 840 Series 120GB SSD + Seagate Barracuda 2TB
    Optical drive Samsung DVD-RW Samsung DVD-RW LG Blu-ray/DVD-RW Combo
    Operating system (OS) Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit with SP1 OEM Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit with SP1 OEM Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64bit with SP1 OEM (gaming)
    OR Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64bit with SP1 OEM (professionals)
    Monitor BenQ GL2450HM 24in Widescreen LED Monitor BenQ GL2450HM 24in Widescreen LED Monitor ASUS VG248QE 24in Widescreen 144Hz 3D Monitor (gaming)
    ASUS PA248Q 24in IPS LED Widescreen Monitor (professionals)
    Keyboard + mouse Microsoft Wired Desktop Keyboard and Mouse 600 Combo Microsoft Wired Desktop Keyboard and Mouse 600 Combo Corsair Vengeance K60 FPS Gaming Keyboard
    SteelSeries Sensei Raw Rubberized Black Gaming Mouse (gaming)
    Das Keyboard Professional Model S with Media Keys
    Logitech G400 Optical Gaming Mouse (professionals)
    Case CoolerMaster Elite 431 Plus + 500W power supply CoolerMaster Elite 431 Plus + 500W power supply CoolerMaster CM 690 II Advanced + Silverstone Strider Plus 750W Power Supply
    TOTAL COST $709 $1049 $2291 - $2336
     
    AMD SYSTEMS
    Entry level Mid-range High-end
    CPU AMD A10 5800K 4-Core Processor AMD FX-6300 6 Core Processor AMD FX-8350 8 Core Processor
    Motherboard ASRock FM2A75-PRO4-M Motherboard ASUS M5A97 R2.0 Motherboard Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD3 Motherboard
    RAM Corsair CMX4GX3M2A1600C9 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3 Corsair CMX8GX3M2B1600C9 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 Corsair CMX8GX3M2B1600C9 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 (x2)
    Graphics card (none) Gigabyte Radeon HD7850 1GB OC Gigabyte Radeon HD7970 Overclocked 3GB
    Hard drive Seagate Barracuda 1TB Seagate Barracuda 2TB Samsung 840 Series 120GB SSD + Seagate Barracuda 2TB
    Optical drive Samsung DVD-RW Samsung DVD-RW LG Blu-ray/DVD-RW Combo
    Operating system (OS) Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit with SP1 OEM Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit with SP1 OEM Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64bit with SP1 OEM (gaming)
    OR Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64bit with SP1 OEM (professionals)
    Monitor BenQ GL2450HM 24in Widescreen LED Monitor BenQ GL2450HM 24in Widescreen LED Monitor ASUS VG248QE 24in Widescreen 144Hz 3D Monitor (gaming)
    ASUS PA248Q 24in IPS LED Widescreen Monitor (professionals)
    Keyboard + mouse Microsoft Wired Desktop Keyboard and Mouse 600 Combo Microsoft Wired Desktop Keyboard and Mouse 600 Combo Corsair Vengeance K60 FPS Gaming Keyboard
    SteelSeries Sensei Raw Rubberized Black Gaming Mouse (gaming)
    Das Keyboard Professional Model S with Media Keys
    Logitech G400 Optical Gaming Mouse (professionals)
    Case CoolerMaster Elite 431 Plus + 500W power supply CoolerMaster Elite 431 Plus + 500W power supply CoolerMaster CM 690 II Advanced + Silverstone Strider Plus 750W Power Supply
    TOTAL COST $717 $1037 $2185 - $2230
     
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