2015 Desktop PC Buying Guide


We hear it year in and year out. Every time a new piece of technology catches fire and becomes the latest and greatest trend, inevitably someone tolls the bell and calls it the death of the desktop PC. It's happened with laptops, netbooks, tablets, and even smartphones. Time and time again, new tech brings new productivity and entertainment possibilities, heralding the end of days for the desktop PC. But, just like the metal, you can't kill the PC.

The PC remains the undisputed king of productivity, versatility, and usability. On top of that, desktop PCs prices are lower than ever before, and those prices drop even further each Black Friday. Shoppers who are in the market for a new PC this holiday may be wondering where to begin and how to choose the best PC for the money. Whenever a shopper asks this question, as certain as there is turkey on Thanksgiving, BFAds.net is here to help make your buying decision easier than ever.

Specification Breakdown

Specification Breakdown

You could go cross-eyed trying to decipher the laundry list of specifications found on product listings for desktop PCs at retail stores and in advertisements. Truth is that some are more important than others, and there are really only a handful that should weigh heavily on your decision to purchase a PC.

Processor (CPU)
The processor is what most people like to refer to as the "brain" of the computer. The more powerful the CPU is within the computer, the faster the overall performance of the computer will be. Two manufacturers, AMD and Intel, have competed for decades to be the top CPU manufacturer, a tradition that continues today. More important than clock speed or gigahertz is which brand and model of CPU is inside the machine, which will largely determine the overall price and performance the PC.

Most budget computers that cost only a couple of hundred dollars will feature lower powered CPUs like the Intel Atom, Celeron, Pentium or AMD AM1-series. Machines with these processors are suitable for web browsing, email, or light productivity, but will leave a lot to be desired if pushed beyond the basics. Mid-range machines typically feature the Intel Core i3, Core i5, or AMD A-Series processors, and are great for productivity, Netflix or YouTube streaming, light gaming, and everything in between. Finally, the most powerful PCs on the market will sport an Intel Core i7 or AMD FX processor, which offer the ultimate in performance for those who depend on their PC for everything including video or music production or PC gaming.

So how do you choose? Usually your best bet is simply to set your budget and then look for PC with the best CPU among those that fall into that budget. Other components such as RAM or hard drive space are inexpensive upgrades that can be improved sometime down the line if you need more performance, but CPUs are much more difficult and costly to upgrade. For this reason, choosing the best CPU you can afford is where you should always start when looking at a desktop PC.

Memory (RAM) and Hard Drive
We've grouped these two specs together because of all the confusion that arises between the two. It's easy to see why, since they're both referred to as "memory" (which is only correct when referring to RAM), and they're both measured in gigabytes (GB), but that is where the similarities end. While this can be explained in technical terms, the easiest way to understand RAM, hard drives, and their functions is to use a kitchen analogy:

If your computer was a kitchen, the RAM would be your available counter space. When you're working in the kitchen and preparing a meal, the more counter space you have, the more room you have to work with, and the more tools and food can be out at once without your counters becoming over crowded. Computers with more RAM allow you to run more programs at once and more easily multitask and switch back and forth between activities without your computer slowing down or forcing you to close certain programs.

If your RAM is your counter top in this scenario, your hard drive would be the cupboards, pantry, refrigerator, drawers, and anywhere else in your kitchen where you keep your tools and materials when they're not being used. When you're ready to prepare something in your kitchen, you take the items out of your storage and place them on your countertop, and on your computer, programs and files are taken from your hard drive and loaded into your RAM. The more cabinets and drawers in your kitchen, the more you can store, just as with your hard drive space. The larger your hard drive, the more room you have to store programs, photos, music, etc. on your computer without running out of storage.

So how much RAM and hard drive space do you need? The more you've got the better, but if you're buying a PC with Windows 10 the bare minimum you should consider is 4GB of RAM and 160GB hard drive space. Yes, there are computers that will be on sale this Black Friday with less than those specifications, and they are bound to be the lowest-price models out there. However, these are machines that will immediately seem slow out of the box and you'll be looking to try and upgrade them almost immediately.

Hard Drive Type

Hard Drive Type

Now that you know about hard drives and what they do exactly, it's important to know that the hard drives found in PCs have become a bit more complicated, with four different types appearing in new model computers.

Hard Disk Drive (HDD) - Hard disk drives are the traditional type of drives that have been in computers for decades. They offer the largest amount of storage space for the money, with decent performance, and most PCs on the market today will feature a standard hard drive.

eMMC - Embedded MultiMediaCard, or eMMC, is a term for storage that is found in some of the lowest-priced budget machines on the market, particularly in low-cost tablets, laptops, and micro-PCs. They are basically low performance, non-replaceable SD cards that are embedded on the motherboard of the machine and used as storage space. Of all the storage types, they offer the smallest storage space and poorest performance.

Solid State Drive (SSD) - Solid state drives are the fastest available storage devices on the market, but are also the most expensive. An SSD gives a computer a massive performance boost, and many computers with an SSD can boot windows in under 30 seconds. The trade-off here is that the size of most SSDs is small compared to similarly priced hard disk drives, with most SSDs found in consumer desktop PCs being under 300GB in size.

SSD Hybrid - SSD Hybrids are a combination of a SSD and a standard hard drive. They are really just standard hard drives with small integrated solid state storage built in. These are a great option as most manufacturers will install Windows on the SSD portion, giving you the performance of a SSD but with a large total amount of storage.

Form Factor

Form Factor

If you've got a good idea of the specifications you'll need, the next step is to choose a form factor that's right for you. Desktop computers currently come in three distinct categories, each with their pros and cons, and there isn't one that is head and shoulders better than the others.

Desktop Tower PC - This is the traditional form factor that most of us are used to seeing when we think of a desktop PC. The advantage here is that these offer the most room to grow, and they are the least expensive of the bunch. There's usually room to add components like video cards, additional hard drives, optical drives, or even add internal card readers for your SD or compact flash cards. The drawback is that PC towers tend to be large and unattractive.

Small Form Factor - Small form factor PCs look like the desktop tower PC's little brother. They're still towers, only smaller. They're more attractive and more easily concealed in a living or family room setting if you don't have a dedicated office or computer room. The downside here is that there is less room for expansion since there is physically less room inside the computer. When you do want to expand, you may need to buy parts specifically designed to fit a small form factor PC.

All-in-One PC - Just as it sounds, these computers are a monitor and desktop PC all rolled into one. These are by far the most elegant and attractive looking of any desktop PC, and without a ton of wires as are required with other types of computers, they look great in bedrooms or family rooms. In addition to being the most expensive option, the drawback here is that aside from RAM and HDD expansion, there are no other components of the computer that can be upgraded or replaced. Plus, if you decide you want a larger or better monitor, or if the screen is damaged, you'll have to buy an entirely new PC.

Other Factors to Consider

Other Factors to Consider

Now that we have covered all the basics, you're almost ready to go out and get your hands on a new desktop PC. Before you head out the door, there are just a few other factors to consider when purchasing your new computer.

Monitors - Unless the advertisement you're reading specifically states that a monitor is included, they are always going to be sold separately. This can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. If you buy a bundle, there are usually price savings, but getting to choose your own monitor means that you'll get the exact size and style that you want. Just make sure to check the product listing for both the monitor and PC and make sure they have compatible video ports, usually listed as VGA, DVI, HDMI, or Display Port.

Optical Drive - The DVD/CD drive is slowly becoming extinct as broadband and digital distribution take hold. Because of this, not all computers on the market include them, particularly small form factor and All-in-One models. If this is a necessity for you, make sure the product listing specifically states that it's included. If you've got your heart set on a particular PC that lacks an optical drive, but you occasionally need one, consider purchasing an inexpensive USB external DVD/RW drive and just plug it in as needed.

USB Ports - Something that may be an afterthought for most people can be a deal breaker in certain households. USB ports are used for just about everything these days, including scanners, printers, thumb drives, and even just a place to charge your phone. Take a look at the PC you're purchasing and take note of how many USB ports are built in, and also where they are located. A PC may have a ton of USB ports in the back, but if you plan on tucking the PC away behind the monitor or under a desk, you're going to want a model that has multiple ports in the front as well.

Final Thoughts

Desktop PCs, like many other tech items, suffer from a similar fate each and every Black Friday. While they receive heavy discounts, many of their accessories do not, and accessories can be some of the worst buys year in and year out. Particularly with cables of any type and antivirus software, there is almost always a better deal to be found online from sites like Amazon, Monoprice, or Newegg. Of course, if you want to find the best bargain this holiday on a new desktop PC, keep your current PC locked in on BFAds.net, where we will be doing what we do best: delivering you the leaked ads as they break and giving you buying advice you can rely on! While you're at it, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to receive up to the minute updates, giveaways, contests, and more!

October 26, 2015
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