Desktop Computer Buying Guide - Best Buy Canada

July 23, 2014

Desktop Computer Buying Guide

Speaker Dock

Today’s desktop PCs are sleek, slim, and loaded with way more power and expansion capabilities than ever before. And whether you’re looking to play games, edit videos and photos or simply surf the web, there’s a desktop computer for everyone.

With so many choices, styles, and specs to consider, buying a desktop computer can be a daunting task. The first thing you should consider is what you’ll be using it for and then you’ll be able to narrow down the many options you’re faced with.

The Basics

The three most important features you’ll find in every desktop are the processor, RAM, and the hard drive; and with the right combination, you’ll have a system that will be best suited for your needs.

The processor (or CPU) is the brain of your computer. And whether you’re looking for a basic PC to do homework and play online or one that lets you work with processor-crushing editing applications or something in-between, you’ll want to be sure you’ve got the right CPU.

Dual-core

Intel Atom, Intel Core i3, Intel Core i5, AMD A series, AMD E series, AMD Athlon II X2

Using two cores to compute data, these processors can be found in most desktops. They’re designed to let you multitask so you can work with basic applications simultaneously without slowing down your machine.

Quad-core

Intel Core i7 and i5, AMD A6, A8 and A10 series, AMD Athlon II X4, AMD Phenom II X4

For even more power, a quad-core processor will let you work and play with basic applications, as well as HD content, graphics-hungry games, processor-crushing video editing applications, and more all at the same time.

More Cores

With six or more cores working away, there won’t be any task your computer can’t handle. You’ll get lost in all the action of every 3D game and amazingly lifelike HD visuals because your computer will be able to compute massive amounts of data for the smoothest and fastest operation. Run all your demanding applications simultaneously and your computer won’t even break a sweat.

Pixel

Random Access Memory (RAM)

RAM, or pre-installed system memory, provides space for your computer to read and write data that your CPU can access to help applications run smoothly and quickly. If you have less than 4GB of RAM, you might find that the more you try to multitask, the slower your machine performs. A simple RAM upgrade is as easy as adding another stick of DDR, DDR2 or DDR3 RAM in your desktop to give it a performance boost.

How much RAM will you need?


Amount of RAM Primary Uses
< 4GB Basic computing tasks such as surfing the web, checking email, editing word documents, and storing files
4GB – 8GB Multitasking between a variety of applications from web surfing and storing files to playing games, watching movies, and editing photos
10GB and above Multitasking with basic applications, as well as working with processor-hungry applications including video and photo editing software, 3D games, and HD entertainment

Hard Drive

The hard drive of your computer is where you’ll store documents, images, videos, photos, and other digital content. Measured in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB), it can be broken down into two types:

Hard disk drives (HDD) are the most common type of internal storage that use spinning magnetic discs, one on top of the other, to record digital information. This process works a bit like a record player with an arm that writes data to and reads it from the discs.

Unlike the spinning discs of an HDD, solid state drives (SSD) contain no moving parts, making them less susceptible to physical shock due to accidental drops and bumps. In desktop computers, these drives are usually made available in a much smaller capacity, and often accompany a much larger hard drive.

How much can you store?


Photos (up to) Movies (hours up to) Songs (up to)
2TB 400,000 150 500,000
1TB 200,000 76 250,000
750GB 150,000 57 187,000
640GB 128,000 49 160,000
500GB 100,000 38 125,000
320GB 60,000 24 80,000
250GB 50,000 19 62,000

Types of Operating Systems

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 OS and Apple Mac OS X. If you’re comfortable with working online, Google Chrome OS lets you securely save files to a Google drive in the cloud while providing lightning-fast start-up speeds and media streaming capability.

Each of the following operating systems is feature-rich and intuitive, each with their own sets of strengths. Defining which one is “best” isn’t easy, as it often comes down to personal preference. If you haven’t had the opportunity to use a computer equipped with these platforms, here’s a quick primer on what to expect.

Windows8

Windows 8 is an elegant and powerful OS packed with tons of intuitive, touch-friendly features. One of the coolest features of Win 8 is the live interactive tiles on the Start screen that keep you up-to-the-minute informed and connected. There are also tons of fast and fun apps to choose from in the Windows Store. Just tap on the Store icon on the Start screen to start exploring. Windows 8 is is available across a range of desktop brands and manufacturers.

Apple

Apple’s OS X is the rock-solid operating system in every Mac. It’s built on a UNIX foundation and is intelligently engineered to take full advantage of what the desktop can really do. You get an incredibly intuitive and integrated computer experience with seamless performance.

Android

Google’s Android PC manufacturers are starting to create desktop PCs that run Google’s Android software. Available in an all-in-one format, they are similar in look to other desktop PC’s but bring the Android OS along with your favourite apps and fun interactivity to the big screen. They’re almost like a large Android tablet designed for stationary use.

Chrome

Google Chrome OS
Google’s Chrome OS offers a cheaper and easier alternative to Windows or Apple OS, with a few key advantages and some limitations. Google Chrome is optimized for running web applications, with each tab running as a separate process. It has a great, minimal interface and there's a handy task manager. It also boasts fantastic speed, secure browsing and sync capabilities that let you access your customized browser from any computer. It’s built for speed, security, and beautifully intuitive operation. Keep in mind that Google Chrome primarily supports web-based applications.. Both Chromebox and the laptop version Chromebook run Chrome OS.

Types of Desktop Computers

Pixel

Everyday Computing

If you’re looking for a basic system where you and the kids can do homework, check email, surf the web, bank online, and store photos and tunes, then an everyday computer is for you. Even some of the most basic computers come loaded with plenty of power like a dual-core processor and 4 gigs of RAM that will help you do everything you want without slowing down. Plus, these PCs are typically inexpensive so even the most budget-conscious can get what they need.

Pixel

Gaming and Entertainment

To play 3D games, enjoy HD movies, or work with video and photo editing applications, a computer designed for gaming and entertainment is your best bet. This type of desktop computer will come loaded with more power like a quad-core processor and up to 8GB of RAM. And with advanced features that are designed to handle demanding tasks, you’ll enjoy the ultimate entertainment experience right on your computer.

For those looking to really get their game on, there are a couple of features you’ll want to consider: overclocking and liquid cooling.

Overclocking

"Overclocking" is the process of running a computer component at a higher specification than rated by the manufacturer. Processor and graphics cards are rated specific speeds, but some are designed to be “overclocked” to help you maximize system performance at a low cost. However, extreme care should be taken if you choose to overclock your computer; if not done correctly, you could destroy your component completely.

Liquid cooling

The more power a task requires, the harder and faster your processor has to work to ensure everything runs smoothly, which can generate a lot of heat. An internal or external liquid cooling system helps keep your overclocked PC cool without the use of noisy fans. Here’s how it works:

Liquid coolant is pumped from a reservoir through a tube to the hot CPU. The heat is then transferred from the processor to a cooling block. As the liquid passes through, it carries the heat back to the reservoir and into a radiator where it’s then cooled by a fan. The cooled liquid is pumped back out again to the cooling block to begin the cycle all over again.

Pixel

All-in-One

When space is limited an all-in-one computer can give you all the performance you need in a space-saving device. This type of desktop does away with the separate tower and monitor and fuses them together into one ultra-slim design. It usually features a large monitor that houses a dual-core processor and minimum 4GB of RAM. It’s also home to the DVD or Blu-ray drive, as well as all the ports you need to get connected. Most models also come with built-in Bluetooth, as well as a wireless keyboard and mouse so you can work and play without running a mess of cables and easily tuck them away when not in use. Some all-in-ones feature a touchscreen, while others even have a detachable display, transforming the computer into a large tablet.

Pixel

Mini PCs

For basic computing that’s extremely eco-friendly, a mini PC is an ultra-compact solution that offers enough power for everyday tasks. Most models feature an energy-efficient Intel Atom dual-core CPU and as little as 1GB of RAM so you get surprisingly nimble performance for web surfing, checking email, and word processing while using up very little power.

Getting Connected

With most desktops, there are two basic ways to connect to everything in your networked world: using a wired or wireless connection. A variety of built-in ports on your desktop will make it easy to get connected to your wired devices and network for solid and reliable performance.

3.5mm port – Lets you enjoy audio with headphones or external speakers USB port - A Universal Serial Bus port lets you connect to external devices such as a mouse and keyboard, as well as a media player or smartphone Mic Input – Attach an external microphone to chat with friends online or create voice memos. HDMI input – Lets you connect to an external HD monitor to enjoy content in high-definition VGA input – Lets you connect to a standard computer monitor or your TV’s PC port Ethernet port – Offers a reliable, wired connection to your home’s network router Pixel

You can even get connected without the fuss and mess of extra cables; the following wireless technologies are built into some desktops and can help you connect to a network, your TV, wireless keyboard and mouse, wireless peripherals, and so much more.

Pixel

An integrated chipset in some desktop computers, Wi-Fi allows you to access your home’s wireless network, so you can surf the web and access shared devices easily.

Pixel

A networking protocol that allows you to wirelessly connect to peripherals such as smartphones, mice, keyboards, headsets, and printers for wireless data transfers and connectivity.

Pixel

Developed by Intel, Wireless Display (WiDi) allows you to wirelessly send whatever is displayed on your computer’s screen to your TV set for big screen viewing. You will likely need to purchase a separate TV adapter that will receive the wireless signal and pass it on to a video input on your TV.

Pixel

With DLNA-certified devices, your entire home is connected. View movies and pictures from your computer on your HDTV, listen to music through your surround sound system, send documents to your printer, and so much more. This certification makes them instantly recognizable to each other, and allows them to send content through the network.

Other Features to Consider

Once you’ve determined the type of desktop computer you’ll need, you might want to beef up your system with some optional features that will offer an enhanced experience.

Pixel

Build your Own System

If you’re in the market for something that’s truly customized for your needs, you might want to consider building your own PC. Best Buy carries a wide selection of PC components that will help you create the perfect machine, so you can choose the right CPU and case, the largest hard drive, an advanced video card, and so much more. It’s the perfect solution for those who prefer a more hands-on experience.

If you’re still unsure of whether to buy or build a PC, check out our Plug-in Blog: Build Your Own Gaming PC, Part Two: Buy or Build?

Pixel

Monitor

Unless you choose an all-in-one computer, you’ll need a monitor to go with your desktop. Most models you find today offer a widescreen HD resolution, so you can enjoy a big space with stunning colours and bold text for every task.


Pixel

Video card

Integrated video cards will feature an on-board chip that will use a portion of your computer’s RAM for memory. This is a good choice for tasks such as streaming video from the web, browsing the internet, and playing back standard definition video. Dedicated video cards use independent video memory that makes them ideal for all your computer’s graphics requirements. They give you plenty of power for everyday tasks as well as 3D games, HD movies, and video editing. Choosing a hybrid solution offers a mix of both integrated and dedicated memory. A dedicated card will generally offer the best performance, but hybrid solutions are showing promise as true contenders in the computing world.

Pixel

Keyboard and Mouse

Most computers come with a standard, wired keyboard and mouse but you can choose a combo that’s more suited to your needs. Wireless devices give you the freedom to work and play without the restriction of cables. Plus, gamers can choose a gaming keyboard or mouse that’s designed with additional features for a truly competitive edge.

Pixel

Printer

After your computer, a multi-function printer will become the most used item in your home office. These machines are capable of printing, scanning, copying, and even faxing depending on the model you choose. Print homework, high-quality photos, greeting cards, or even to-do lists with outstanding results.

Blu-ray Combo Drive

If you’re looking for the most realistic entertainment, choose a desktop computer with a Blu-ray combo drive and you’ll enjoy incredible high-def content from Blu-ray movies. An HDMI output will even let you get connected to an HD monitor or HD TV. And since it’s a combo drive, you can still watch DVD movies and burn data to discs.

Pixel

Speakers

If you want to enjoy audio while you work and play, then you’ll need to choose a desktop with built-in speakers. For the best possible audio, you’ll want to check out Best Buy’s selection of external speakers for fuller, richer sound.


Pixel

Webcam and Microphone

An external webcam and mic will let you chat with friends and family no matter where they are in the world. You’ll also be able to snap shots for your social networking sites and, in most cases, record videos too.

Best Buy

Take the Next Step

Check out Best Buy’s huge selection of desktop computers and computer accessories for all your needs. Whether you’re searching for a device that the whole family can share or something to help you get work done, Best Buy has a computer that’s right for you.

More to explore