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How to buy a desktop computer

Processor (CPU)

The processor or CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the brain of your desktop computer. Single-core processors are ideal for basic tasks like browsing the web. Dual-core processors are designed to let you simultaneously multitask with basic applications without slowing down your computer. Quad-core and Hexacore processors allow you to simultaneously run graphics-hungry 3D games, processor-crushing video editing applications, and seamlessly play HD media content.

Memory (RAM)

Random access memory (RAM), also known as system memory, provides space for your computer to process data to help applications run efficiently. If you have less than 2GB of RAM, you might find that the more you try to multitask, the slower your machine performs. Everyday use will require less power than intense gaming or photo editing, and you don’t want to pay for RAM that you won’t use. We recommend at least 2GB of RAM for basic tasks, while lightning-fast multitasking and more intensive applications require 8GB of RAM or more.

Data Storage Capacity

Documents, software, vacation photos, movie collections, music files, and games can take up a large amount of space on a computer's hard drive. Accordingly, opt for a desktop computer with at least 500GB of storage space. A solid state drive (SSD), although a bit more expensive, can help a computer boot up faster, wake up more quickly after sleep mode, and reduce load-up times for games and other programs. For example, a game that typically takes 20 to 30 seconds to load may come up in 10 seconds or less with a SSD.

Connection Type

A quality video (or graphics) card enables your computer to process images as well as handle multiple displays. Video cards are often described as being integrated or dedicated. While an integrated graphics card uses part of the computer’s RAM memory to do its job, a dedicated GPU uses independent video memory. This means it has more horsepower to tackle demanding 3D games and HD movies. If you plan on using your computer for gaming, you'll want at least 6GB of system RAM, and a dedicated video card with 2 to 6GB of memory.

Size

If you’re not as concerned about space but want a high-performance and reliable machine with the potential to upgrade components, then a traditional desktop tower is the best computer for you. A great space-saving option is the all-in-one computer – these high performance PCs take up little room on your desk and many include a touchscreen display to tap, swipe, and zoom your way through your files. If you want something energy-efficient with a small footprint, a mini PC might be a good fit.

Want to learn more about desktops?

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How to Buy a Desktop Computer

Whether you’re looking for a desktop computer that can handle graphics-heavy games or simple web surfing, Best Buy has a huge assortment of Windows PCs and Apple Macs that are perfect for your needs. We can even help you learn more, and discover which specs are important in finding the desktop computer that will meet all your requirements.

What will you use your desktop for?

Desktop computers come in all shapes and abilities, from the everyday performer for basic computing to the digital workhorse for graphics-intensive gaming, virtual reality, and video/photo editing. Some models are somewhere in-between, offering a range of connectivity options and the horsepower to keep you working and playing smoothly without any glitches. You can even choose an all-in-one, like Apple’s iMac, offering the power needed by creative professionals in a stylish and space-saving package.

Understand RAM, storage drive and graphics card

Before you decide on specific specs, it’s best to get a basic understanding of a desktop’s anatomy. The processor (CPU) is the brain, ranging from dual cores for everyday work and play to six or more cores, which can handle the demand without breaking a sweat. When you open apps, RAM (random access memory) allows the computer to access and interact with them, so the amount of memory determines how many apps can run simultaneously. The hard drive, either in hard disk drive (HDD) or solid state drive (SSD) format, stores your files and multimedia. Working in tandem with RAM is an integrated graphics card for media streaming or playing standard definition video. Dedicated video cards have the visual oomph to run power-hungry tasks like video editing.

Determine size

A great space-saving high performer is the all-in-one computer, usually a large monitor housing at least a dual-core processor and 4GB of RAM. The Apple iMac is the classic example of an all-in-one, although there are plenty of Windows options as well. If you want something eco-friendly with the ability to do basic tasks, mini PCs and the Mac Mini feature energy-efficient Intel CPUs, integrated graphics and miniaturized components that fit within an ultra-compact case you can set up virtually anywhere. The conventional desktop is a tower, a versatile machine that can do anything (depending on the specs), while offering easy access for upgrading components.

Operating systems (OS)

All desktop computers have operating systems to handle complex tasks, interact with users and keep up with system changes. The most common are Microsoft Windows and Apple macOS. If you’re comfortable with working online, Google Chrome OS allows you to securely save files to a Google drive in the cloud while providing lightning-fast start-up speeds, automatic security updates, and media streaming capability. The latest entry is Microsoft’s new Windows 10 S, introduced with the Surface Laptop and intended to streamline security and support by running applications from Microsoft’s Windows Store.

FAQs

1. Why would you want a desktop over a laptop?

While not as mobile as laptops, desktops can tackle more demanding tasks, with some models offering sleek, compact designs that look at home among modern décor. They’re upgradable and expandable so you can change or add components, such as RAM, to amp up performance. A small all-in-one computer can expand given the right ports, such as USB or HDMI, for connecting to external devices. Even at budget prices, desktops offer high performance and plenty of features.

2. What is the best desktop for a student?

Look for a desktop for everyday computing, enough to handle basic software applications, social networking or media streaming. Consider reasonably priced all-in-ones or mini PCs that fit your dorm room without looking like an eyesore. A mini PC offers storage that sits on the cloud, which can come in handy if your computer gets lost, stolen or damaged.

3. What’s new in desktop computers?

The latest desktop PCs are more capable than ever. Designed to make the most of the latest operating systems (Windows 10 and macOS), they’re equipped with 7th generation Intel Core CPUs, with AMD’s new Ryzen chips also making an appearance. With the increasing popularity of graphics-intensive technology like VR and 4K video, graphics support has become a focus, so expect CPUs with much more capable integrated graphics and increasingly (even in all-in-one PCs and iMacs) a discrete video card as a standard option. USB-C is becoming popular for its speed and ease of use, but desktop PCs will often continue to offer legacy ports as well, including USB 3.0 and HDMI so you can use your older peripherals without adapters. 

Look for a big speed boost, too. Those new CPUs are a start, but SSDs and hybrid drives are becoming more common in desktop PCs, especially affecting startup speeds; 802.11ac means a big boost in Wi-Fi speed as well. Security is also continuing to improve. Operating systems are leading the charge, but many desktop computers offer additional protection through TPM chips and the processing power needed to support real-time data encryption.


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