Desktop PCs

Buying a PC can be a tricky and finicky experience. Even for seasoned PC veterans it can be hard to keep abreast of the latest technologies. With the constant influx of new interface technologies, faster processors, powerful graphics cards, bigger and better RAM and increasing hard drive sizes, it's a hard decision to know when to upgrade to a new model or invest in that second PC.

As well as ensuring you know exactly what you are talking about and what you need to ask when you go to shop online or in a retail store, this guide will also help you keep your purchase costs down so you don't spend any more money than you need to.

It's worth pointing out that how much you do spend on your PC depends on what you want to do with it. There is no need to buy a souped-up computer with a cutting-edge graphics card or CPU if all you want to do is maintain the finances for your small business. Alternatively, if you wish to use your PC to edit your digital videos, store lots of digital images or download massive files from the Internet, then buying a PC with plenty of processing power and hard drive space makes sense.

The PC processor

At the heart of your PC lies the central processing unit, which is a key determinant of the performance of your system. Street prices of processors can range from $51 for a budget processor to over $1600 for a top-of-the-line processor.

In the past, the speed of a processor was indicated by what is called its clock speed, which is measured in gigahertz or GHz (1000MHz equals 1GHz). The clock speed appeared in the naming of the processor: Pentium 4 2.2GHz, for example.

Most of today's new CPUs, however, are given abstract model numbers that give no indication of the clock speed and are used to determine the speed of the processor relative to other processors. An Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 is better than an Intel Core 2 Duo E6600, for example, although the model name does not tell us by how much. It may have a faster clock speed, a bigger cache or some other advantage over the E6600.

AMD uses a somewhat different method to describe its CPUs. It describes them based on their performance relative to an Intel CPU (Intel being the dominant market player).

The processors you will most likely encounter in desktop PCs are the Intel Celeron, Core 2 Duo E-series, Core 2 Quad-series and Core 2 Extreme-series, and the AMD Sempron, Athlon 64 X2 and Phenom. The Intel Celeron and AMD Sempron CPUs are targeted at budget-conscious buyers, while the Core 2, Athlon 64 X2 and Core 2 Quad, Core 2 Extreme and Phenom CPUs represent the mid-range and performance segments of the market, respectively.

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