Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Desktop PC Buying Guide

Once you've determined the type of desktop system you want a compact PC, a budget system, a mainstream all-purpose model, or a performance crackerjack--you need to know what components to look for. The processor and graphics chip you choose will determine many of your machine's capabilities, as will the system's memory and hard drive. Understanding those components will help you get the performance you need, without paying for things you don't.

You'll also want to consider details like the layout of the case, which can also make the difference between a pleasant workstation and a nightmare PC.

Graphics Cards

The GPU (graphics processing unit) is responsible for everything you see on your display, whether you play games, watch videos, or just stare at the Aero desktop baked into Windows 7.

If you aren't interested in gaming on your PC, integrated graphics built onto the motherboard--or in the CPU itself with Intel's new Core i3 and Core i5 Clarkdale chips--is the way to go. Integrated graphics help keep a system's cost low, and they deliver enough power to run simple games or high-definition Flash video. Intel's integrated graphics chips are widely used, but some PCs include an nVidia Ion graphics chip, which offers superior integrated video performance.


The CPU is one of your PC's most important components. The processor you choose is likely to determine your PC's shape and size, and will definitely determine its price. Generally, the higher the CPU clock speed, the faster the performance you may see--and the higher the price. A 3.46GHz Core i5-670 PC will trounce a 2.93GHz Core i3-530 system, but you'll pay nearly twice as much for the faster CPU. Another spec to watch is cache size: More is better, here: Core i3 and Core i5 parts have 4MB caches, while performance-geared Core i7 chips have 6MB or 8MB caches.

Desktop Case

A good case can make your everyday work easier and can simplify such tasks as upgrading and servicing components in a workplace. A well-designed case provides tool-less access to the interior, hard drives mounted on easy-to-slide-out trays, readily accessible USB ports and memory card slots, and color-coded cables for internal and external parts.

Operating System

It may be a decade old, but Windows XP remains a stalwart--even on some new systems. Nevertheless, most systems on the market today run Windows 7. Microsoft's latest operating system has received generally positive reviews, improving on many of Windows Vista's foibles.

For more information please visit: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/16/AR2010031600059.html

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