Welcome to The IT Bay and today we are talking about desktop PCs; why they’re good, why they’re bad, and how to find the right one for you.
Desktop PCs are still the most affordable type of computer you can buy today. You can customise them to suit your needs and they’re easy to upgrade as well. If you're thinking about buying a new PC for your home or the office, there's plenty to think about before making a purchase. Let’s look at the main things you should consider to ensure you end up with a PC that’s right for you.
How will the PC be used?
What will the PC mainly be used for? Desktop computers are available in a wide range of specifications and designs. A desktop PC for family use will have different specs than a high powered business workstation used for professional video editing for example. If you just need to do basic computing such as emails, web browsing, watching videos or a bit of routine office work, the good news is that pretty much all entry level PCs are more than capable of handling such workloads.
As a rough guide, look for a PC with an Intel Pentium or Core i3 or Core i5 processor (or an AMD A8, A10 or Ryzen 5 processor). Most entry level PCs now ship with at least 8GB of RAM which is the minimum we'd recommend for a PC running on Windows 10. Storage wise, you'll typically find PCs in this price bracket come with 256Gb or 512Gb of disk space. Unless you're planning to save lots of high resolution photos, HD videos or other large files this should be adequate for most people.
Business grade PCs
Whilst there's often little to distinguish home PCs from PCs designed for mainstream business use, business-grade PCs often include additional security and manageability features. The overall build quality and type of components used are also sometimes superior to consumer PCs which allows the manufacturer to back them with longer warranties. This gives business owners peace of mind and makes business PCs easier for IT admins to service but it does mean you should expect to pay a premium for a more secure and more resilient computer.
High end PCs & workstations
If you’re looking for a PC for a specific use such as gaming, advanced photo/video editing, CAD/CAM or to run other demanding applications, you'll need a PC with plenty of horsepower including a powerful processor, lots of memory and possibly a dedicated graphics card plus better connectivity options. As you might expect, the higher the specs of the PC, the higher the price is likely to be. Refer to the recommended specifications listed by the manufacturer for the software applications you need to run on the PC before you start shopping.
PC form factors
PCs come in various shapes and sizes (sometimes referred to as the form factor) including tower, mini pc, all-in-one and custom build. Tower PCs are usually the largest and bulkiest, require the most space and typically sit under a desk. They have the most room for housing internal components so are the most customisable and upgradeable type of PC.
If you already own a monitor, keyboard and mouse, a tower PC can save you money compared to other PC types such as an all-in-one for example. They normally ship with a standard keyboard and mouse but a monitor usually needs to be purchased separately. Tower PCs are a great choice if you need a high-performance PC for gaming, media editing, music production or design work.
Mini PCs are really compact, economical and portable computers which makes them ideal for travellers and for use in locations where space is tight. Mini PCs contain a processor, RAM, storage and the essential ports you need to connect a keyboard, mouse and monitor but their tiny footprint means there's little scope to add extra components, replace parts or upgrade in the future. If you need a PC for everyday computing tasks, web browsing or for streaming media, a mini PC could be ideal.
All-in-ones combine both a PC and monitor into a single, sleek chassis. Some models feature a touch screen you can tap or swipe to browse the web and control the PC but all models let you plug in an external keyboard and mouse for more traditional control. Note that these are not usually included as standard and need to be purchased separately. All-in-ones are easy to set up and have fewer wires than tower PCs which helps keep desks tidier. They can be placed anywhere where a monitor would fit and their large displays make them a good fit for creative workers.
Custom build PCs are made to order and usually adopt the tower PC chassis. Ideal for gamers and power users who have a set specification in mind, custom PCs can work out cheaper than buying a prebuilt PC, particularly if you already own the components. They also offer the most flexibility and future expandability and will appeal to tech savvy people who want to build a bespoke, personalised machine with a distinctive case, LEDs and the bells and whistles that they like. If you're looking for a plug and play PC, a tower, mini PC or all-in-one would be a better fit.
At the top of the food chain sit workstations. These are specialised PCs designed to handle the most demanding workloads including professional photo/video editing, computer aided design, 3D modelling and scientific/financial analysis. Fitted with premium grade components including high core count processors, professional-grade graphics cards and error correcting memory, workstations deliver superior performance, speed and expansion potential compared to other PC types.
The processor or CPU is like the brain of your PC and is the part responsible for carrying out every task and function the computer performs. The two leading processor manufacturers are Intel and AMD and they each produce a range of processors that are designed to handle different types of computing applications. Inside each PC processor is a set of cores which are effectively mini processors each of which can work on tasks independently. The more cores a processor has, the better it will be at multitasking and handling more demanding applications.
Another measure of processor performance is the clock speed which measures the frequency the processor runs at and is expressed in gigahertz (GHz). The higher the number, the faster the processor and the better the PC's performance usually is. Intel processors tend to feature higher clock speeds whereas AMD CPUs often have higher core counts.
For everyday home or business computing, the 3, 5 or 7 families of processors from Intel and AMD are more than capable. For more intensive workloads, look at the 7 or 9 families instead. Some CPUs feature Turbo Boost (Intel®) or Turbo Core (AMD) technology, which speeds up the processor based on the task it's working on. This means the processor can throttle back, using less power and producing less heat when it doesn't have to run at maximum capacity.
Your PC's memory or RAM is a temporary data storage area where requests are stored before the processor picks them up. The more RAM you have, the more tasks your PC can run simultaneously. This is particularly important if you run many applications at the same time, keep lots of web browser tabs open at once or are running VR, games or other demanding software.
So, how much RAM do you need? The absolute minimum we'd recommend for running a Windows 10 based PC is 4Gb but 8Gb is preferable for better performance. For gaming, video editing, advanced graphic design or lots of multitasking, consider 16Gb or higher. If in doubt, you can always start with the default memory installed and upgrade later if you need more performance.
Most PCs run on the Windows 10 operating system. The vast majority of software, components and accessories are designed to work with Windows and it's also the best OS for gamers. There are Home and Professional editions aimed at consumers and business users respectively. Windows 11 is now available and will slowly start to replace Windows 10 on most new PCs. Whilst Windows is the most common OS, there are PCs supplied with alternative operating systems, the main two being OS X and Chrome OS. OS X is Apple’s operating system and is available on iMac, Mac Pro and Mac mini desktops. If you work with design software like Photoshop or InDesign or you want to share files or apps between your PC and other Apple devices like an iPhone or iPad, a Mac OS PC would be a good choice. The Chrome OS is made by Google and is optimised for web based computing. It's a great OS for simple, fast web connectivity and access to thousands of Android apps via the Google Play store but most PC software isn't compatible with Chrome OS and you may also struggle with plugging in accessories too.
It's worth thinking about how much storage you'll need for your applications and data both now and in the future before settling on a PC model. Most current PC models come with 256Gb or 512Gb of storage which is ample for many people. As a rough guide, 1Gb of storage will store approximately 200 songs, 250 HD photos or a full length non-HD film. If you need to store big files or have a large media collection you have several options. You can look for a PC with more storage or install a second drive as long as there's a spare expansion bay in the PC's chassis. You can also look at some form of external storage solution such as a NAS drive or store your data in the cloud via DropBox, iCloud, OneDrive, Google Drive or Amazon Drive.
There are two main types of disk storage for PCs; hard disk drives (HDD) and solid state drives (SSD). SSDs used to be much more expensive but prices have dropped considerably and SSDs are now installed in most of the latest PCs. SSDs contain no moving parts, run silently and are faster than HDDs making them a better choice for gaming and running software that requires high performance. HDDs are available in higher storage capacities than SSDs and are normally cheaper which makes them a good choice when storage capacity is more important than PC performance. There are also hybrid solid state drives (SSHDs) which give you the best of both worlds; you get the capacity of a HDD with the quick, reliable data access of an SSD.
All PCs include a graphics processor or chip (often called a graphics card, graphical processing unit or GPU) which controls what is displayed on the computer’s screen. There are two types of graphics card, integrated or shared and dedicated or discrete. Shared or integrated GPUs use the PC's RAM and processor for graphics processing whereas dedicated cards have their own CPU and memory. Many budget or entry level PCs come with integrated graphics cards. There are pros and cons to both types. If you only use your PC for routine work that doesn't require intensive graphics processing, an integrated card is fine. General office work, web surfing, 2D graphics and streaming videos all fit into this category. If you plan to run resource intensive programs such as 3D/high-end gaming, professional graphic design, simulations, AI or video editing, a dedicated GPU is essential. PCs with integrated cards are often cheaper, freeing budget that can potentially be spent on other features. They also use less power and pump out less heat. Dedicated cards offer superior display performance, can allow you to connect to more monitors but use more power and can be expensive.
Think about the various devices you'll need to connect up to your PC and make sure whichever model you choose has enough ports and connectivity options available. A tower PC will typically provide more connectivity options than an all-in-one or mini PC. Many peripherals like keyboards, mice and external drives connect via a USB cable. There have been several versions of USB over the years but the latest, fastest version is USB 3.0 with an oval, type-C connector. Ideally you want at least three USB ports with ports on both the front and rear of the chassis to allow for easy connectivity based on where your PC will be placed in relation to the devices you're connecting to.
You'll usually find HDMI, VGA, DVI and/or DisplayPort connectors for hooking up monitors. An HDMI port lets you connect High Definition and Ultra High Definition devices like HDTVs, computer monitors, HD Cameras, Blu-Ray players, etc. Other useful ports include PS/2 ports used to connect older keyboards and mice, audio ports for connecting headphones, speakers and microphones, ethernet (or RJ-45) ports for connecting to a wired network. Some PCs provide additional connectivity options such as , you can buy adapters or cards to add this on.
Expansion capabilities might also be an important factor for you if you plan to add in extra internal drives, a dedicated graphics card or other add-in cards to provide additional ports, wireless connectivity or superior sound for example. A tower PC with a large chassis will typically be your best option here due to the extra room and spare slots available in the case but check the specs carefully before buying to ensure there is scope to install the add-ons you need.
Addons & peripherals
Many PCs ship with a keyboard and a mouse included in the box as standard. Whilst these are fine for many users, they are usually quite basic and not particularly ergonomic for those who do a lot of typing. Fortunately there are plenty of mice and keyboards to choose from including wireless models, models with additional/programmable keys/buttons and models designed for specific uses such as gaming mice and keyboards.
The default sound provided by your PC is unlikely to be particularly great either so you may want to invest in a set of speakers and or headphones if you work with audio. Finally, if you'll be using your PC for virtual meetings, a good quality webcam and possibly even an external microphone will set you up for better quality Teams, Zoom or Skype calls.
The IT Bay stocks a wide range of desktop PC’s. Choose from the latest models from leading brands including Apple, Dell, HP and Lenovo. Order online for next day delivery across the UK.