The truth of the matter is that some people do not want to do any computing outside their home or office, no matter how how much the rest of us value the portability of our notebooks and laptops. If you truly don’t want to take your system anywhere else to compute, or if you want a desktop as a main computer and a laptop to go, then knock yourself out!
Before we go on, there are a couple of specific application areas where the power of an awesome desktop machine is required. One of the obvious ones is video production work, which sucks up every ounce of power you can throw at it. Another is gaming, where power not only helps you win but also gives you some worthwhile bragging rights. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
The concept of peripherals also deserves a mention. Most people who use a laptop as their main computer buy exactly the same sort of peripherals as people that use desktop PCs. The displays on laptops are not large enough to work with comfortably for long periods, so almost everyone buys a bigger monitor. Laptop keyboards are also not as usable as the full-sized variety, so most everyone buys a keyboard to plug into their laptop when they are home. Likewise, a mouse is more useful and efficient that a touchpad, so pretty much everyone buys a mouse.
Moreover, we buy pretty much the same ones whether we plug them into a laptop or a desktop, so the peripheral discussion is pretty much the same for either type of computer. For more information, see How to buy a PC monitor, How to buy a printer, How to buy a laser printer, How to buy an inkjet printer, and The five most useful laptop accessories. With all things being pretty much equal in the laptop and desktop arenas, we are going to leave the peripherals out of the discussion of buying a desktop PC, and will be leaving the peripheral prices out of the equation, as well.
Nor are we going to talk much about buying a truly inexpensive desktop computer. The really cheap PCs serve mainly as a way for makers to get rid of their outmoded components. Buying a mid-range PC is already buying a machine that will be passe just after you take it out of the box; buying a cheap computer is like buying one that was outmoded last year. “Always buy all the computer you can afford” is a hard and fast rule. An important corollary is that you should only buy a cheap computer if you have no other options.
A mid-range desktop system will come with a 2+ GHz multi-core processor, 2-4 GB of RAM, at least a 500 GB disk drive, a DVD writer, and a lot of I/O ports. It should have at least Windows Home Premium and cost less that $500. That should give you all the power you need if your needs are simple, and may keep you from becoming the owner of a computing boat anchor for a couple of years, or until Moore’s Law obviates your hardware to the point where it will not run the latest hardware.
After that, the sky’s the limit. Power may be slightly limited in some ways with best of breed desktops, but expense, not so much. You can spend a huge amount of money on the fastest hardware in the land. For example, it is pretty easy to spend over $5,000 on a Dell desktop workstation, which does not even get you any peripherals. It’s hard to go that high with an H-P, but certainly $3500 is no problem. Gamers can easily spend $6,000 or more on the ultimate system.
The rest of us would probably be happy with a quad-core processor somewhere over 3 GHz in a system system including multiple terabytes of hard disk, 8-16 GB of memory, and a very fast video card and DVD writer, all in a nice case with expansion possibilities and Windows 7 Ultimate to orchestrate the whole works. A system like that can be found for around $1,000-$1,500 and sometimes less, exclusive of peripherals such as display, keyboard, and mouse. Yes, it’s a little cheaper to get big power in a desktop than in a laptop, so if you never plan to take it out of the house, perhaps a desktop is for you.
Bear in mind that the term “high-end desktop” means different things to different people. Fanatic gamers and professional video editors generally think in terms of “the sky is the limit” and can easily drop $3,500 to $5,000 or more on their personal ultimate workstation. For those of us that do a lot of heavy-duty graphics plus programming, plus all the business and writing applications, the area of $2,000 is close to being right. If you’re just in it for word processing, email and the Web, plus some very light gaming, music and video, dropping a little less or a little more than $1,000 will probably get you what you need along with decent component quality.
You’re also probably better off with brand names, like H-P, Acer, Dell, or ASUS, just so you can be fairly sure the components inside are of good quality and there is some possibility of customer service on your horizon, should you need it. As for where to buy it, if you feel confident of your ability to pick a system without touching it, Newegg.com is a great Web site. If you want to get to know your system a little before you buy, maybe Best Buy, Office Depot, or Staples would be more your style.?