There are a lot of choices to make when shopping for a desktop computer. Mac or PC? Tower-and-monitor system, all-in-one PC, all-in-one or smart display? Here's what you need to know to buy your next desktop with confidence.
Why choose a desktop computer?
Despite the popularity of laptops and tablets, a desktop may be the right solution for you:
- Superior computing power: In laptops, concessions in computing power need to be made to minimize size and weight and extend battery life. Desktops commonly sport more robust processing chips, more memory (with more room for further expansion) and larger hard drives than laptops.
- Greater flexibility: Traditional tower-and-monitor desktops can be configured and upgraded in a vast number of ways. You can add more memory or swap out your hard drive for greater capacity if your needs change. Since there's more room to work with, a desktop lets you add specialized components, such as an advanced 3D video card for gaming. You can customize a traditional desktop computer to be what you want it to be.
- More bang for your buck: Generally speaking, when you buy a desktop, you'll get more computing power for every dollar you spend.
Alternatives to traditional tower-and-monitor setups
If you're short on space, or just prefer something a little more aesthetically pleasing that can coexist comfortably with your living room décor, there are several alternatives:
- All-in-one PC: A streamlined, self-contained computer with all the circuitry built into a large monitor. Usually includes an integrated webcam and Wi-Fi connectivity. Easier to set up (and easier on the eyes) than a traditional desktop. All-in-ones come with a keyboard and mouse, and many are also equipped with a touch-screen display.
- Smart display: Plug it into a full-fledged desktop and it's a touch-screen monitor. Unplug it, and the Android mobile operating system, battery power and built-in Wi-Fi offer a fully portable, tablet-like experience, great for gaming and apps.
- Compact desktop: A good middle-ground solution If you're caught between aesthetic and performance considerations. Essentially a traditional desktop packed into a smaller, slimmer chassis. Some include solid-state drives and/or quiet cooling mechanisms, adding to their ability to hide amidst their surroundings.
Shopping for a New Desktop
You'll need a basic understanding of the components and features in order to make an informed buying choice. But first, let's go over some important things to think about as you look for your ideal desktop.
How will you use your desktop?
- Light use: Surfing the Web, paying bills online, e-mail and social networking, organizing and sharing digital photos
- Average use: Storing and streaming music and movies, tasks like spreadsheet and document creation
- Demanding use: Serious gaming, sophisticated graphics and photo editing, video production, high-resolution multitrack audio recording
More demanding users will want to invest a bit more in a faster processor, more system memory, and a larger hard drive — and a higher resolution screen for an all-in-one.
Where will you keep it?
If your new computer will live in an isolated location like a dedicated home office, a traditional desktop may be ideal. If, however, your computer will be in a more centralized location for family use, a compact desktop or stylish all-in-one PC may be more suitable. Consider an all-in-one or smart display if you want the option to take it places.
Do you want a touch screen?
Microsoft's New Windows operating system enables a touch interface designed to evoke the type of interaction we've become accustomed to with tablets and smartphones. Touch-screen monitors make getting around on your computer easier and more intuitive. Tap to select, hold and drag to move items, swipe to scroll and pinch to zoom, just as you would on a smartphone or tablet. The inherently intuitive nature of touch control makes it a natural for kids.
The New Windows comes standard on most current PC desktops, and touch capability is featured on an increasing number of monitors and all-in-one PCs. For those who prefer a more conventional approach, the New Windows is also compatible with a traditional keyboard and mouse.
Do you need a discrete graphics card?
Most computers come standard with "integrated" graphics, meaning that the graphics processor is built into the chipset that houses the main processor. This is more than sufficient for general computing, but some applications require more imaging power. If your plans involve multiplayer 3D gaming, video editing or multimedia production, you'll probably want a discrete graphics card to make the most of your experience.
Don't forget the monitor
Most traditional and compact desktop towers are sold without a monitor. This gives you the flexibility to choose each piece separately, but it's important to budget with this in mind. Today's flat-screen monitors range from about 20"–30" diagonal, and almost all feature a widescreen (16:9 or 16:10) aspect ratio, ideal for movies and gaming.
If you'd rather keep things simple, consider an all-in-one or check out our Desktop Packages.You'll find a collection of popular desktop towers paired with monitors for a single (often discounted) price.
This is the heart of your desktop. The operating system manages all software and hardware, including files, memory and connected devices. Most importantly, it lets you interact with your computer and your programs in a visual way (otherwise, you'd be typing a bunch of computer code to get anything done).
Mac OS X
Installed exclusively on Mac computers, OS X boasts an elegant and easy-to-use interface to complement Mac's sleek aesthetics, high build quality and sophisticated ergonomics (hallmarked by some of the industry's best keyboards and mice). Macs have historically had fewer issues with viruses and malware. However, the 21.5" iMac start at about $1,300 (although the entry-level Mac mini — sans monitor, keyboard and mouse — is around $600), and no Mac model to date includes touch-screen functionality.
The New Windows is designed specifically around an intuitive touch-screen interface (though it can be used with a traditional mouse and keyboard), expanding your navigation options. It also features a new task manager, streamlined file management and a suite of built-in apps
Featured exclusively in the Chromebox line of desktop computers, this OS runs custom apps and cloud-based programs rather than traditional software. It's great for surfing the Web, keeping up with your e-mail and social networks, and sharing your photos with friends and family, rather than more demanding tasks like video editing and hardcore gaming.
Your computer's processor is like its brain. Working in combination with system memory, the power of the processor determines which applications you can run (and how fast) and how many programs you can have open at the same time. Most desktops feature an Intel or AMD processor.
Random-access memory, or RAM, is important because it helps your processor tackle multiple tasks at once. A minimum of 2GB is required for basic computing, but 4GB or more is recommended if you're into gaming, graphics, or advanced photo or video editing. Most mainstream desktops come with 4GB, 8GB or 12GB. If you think you might need more memory later, choose a model that lets you expand the RAM.
Your choice of storage is important because it determines how much stuff you'll be able to keep on your computer. The more on-board storage you have, the less chance you'll have to worry about running out. And upgrading to a hybrid hard drive and solid state drive will give you the added benefit of fast start and wake times.
Ports and Connectivity
Here are the most common types of connectivity ports:
- HDMI: Connect a monitor or projector, or display HD media on your flat-screen TV
- USB 2.0: Connects external drives, gaming controllers, smartphones, MP3 players and other accessories
- USB 3.0: Transfers data faster than USB 2.0, but only when used with USB 3.0 devices
- Media card slots: Transfer photos from your digital camera or camcorder
Shop Online or In Store
Find a wide variety of desktops on BestBuy.com. Your local Best Buy store also has a selection of desktops. Plus, our friendly Blue Shirts are there to answer questions and help with choosing the best desktop for your needs.