Buying A PC

8 July 2007 (updated)

This article features information about buying a new PC, including a list of places where you can buy computers online.

First Steps

Before beginning your search for your new computer:

  • - Decide if you want a desktop PC or notebook/laptop PC. Desktop PCs can be more powerful but notebook PCs are portable
  • - Decide how much approximately you want to spend
  • - Decide what you will be using the PC for. You won't need a particularly powerful system if you're only going to browse the Web and send e-mails
  • - Read some computer buying advice magazines such as What PC?, PC Advisor and Personal Computer World
  • - Talk to friends, relatives and colleagues about what make of PC they use, where they bought it and their experiences

Where To Buy From

High-street stores may seem the most obvious place for first-time PC buyers but although they do offer some advantages (such as being able to see and touch example PCs and get an idea of the size of the screen) they are not always good value and you may find yourself spending more than you need to.

Often the sales person will also try to sell you warranty packages. These may provide some peace of mind, including things like health checks and repairs, but if you look after your PC and keep your security software up-to-date, you will most likely never use the service and will have paid a lot of extra money for nothing.

You could try small local computer shops who can often put together a PC package to suit your exact needs, though you may find the price a lot higher than the standard packages offered by high-street stores. For first-time buyers a standard package often seems far simpler than trying to figure out the specific types of components you need.

Buying online is often the best option; though obviously you need to find some way of getting on the Internet (on a friend's PC or at your local library) and then begin the process of searching for online stores and comparing packages and prices. As with any large purchase you make, you will want to be cautious and have all the facts in front of you before you make a decision.

What to look for

Often when reading about PC packages you will be confronted with a huge list of specifications which will mean nothing to you if you don't have much knowledge of computer hardware. Some companies may try to confuse you with technical details, hoping that by mentioning large enough numbers you will think the PC is better than it really is.

Computer specifications change all the time, and your needs will determine what size or speed components are appropriate for you. The following is a general guide with some tips on what to look for.

Desktop or Notebook - the type of PC you need will depend on how powerful you need your machine to be and whether you want to be able to do work on the move.
Desktop PCs are usually more powerful than notebook/laptop PCs for the same price, but the latter have the advantage of being portable and taking up much less space.
Shop for Desktop PCs at
Shop for Notebook PCs at

Monitor - it is important to check this is mentioned as although this may seem like an essential part of a desktop PC system, some packages may not include one.
TFT (Flat Panel) monitors are common nowadays because of how thin they are compared to the old bulky CRT monitors. When buying a monitor you want the highest resolution, which will give a more detailed and sharper picture. A resolution of 1280x1024 should be fine for most users. Response time is also important - the lower the number, the better.
Shop for Monitors at

Keyboard & Mouse - all desktop PCs should include these and there is often little difference between the various models. One thing to note is that some have more than just the left and right buttons on the Mouse - they often also include a Wheel in the center which can be a useful addition. Nowadays you can also get wireless keyboards and mice. If you want to use a mouse with your notebook PC you may need to buy it separately, as many notebooks use a touch pad system instead of a mouse.
Shop for Keyboards & Mice at

Tower - the shell of the desktop PC contains all the components which make your system work including the processor, memory and Hard Disk. You should check how many USB ports are included, as you will need one for each peripheral you connect such as scanners and printers.
Shop for Tower units at

Processor - the heart of your PC, this is the engine that powers your computer and processes all the instructions it is given, therefore you want it to be as fast as possible. The higher the processor speed (in Ghz) the faster your PC should be. Dual-core technology now offers even greater speed. Examples are Intel Pentium or Celeron, and AMD Athlon or Sempron.
Shop for Processors at

RAM - the temporary memory the computer uses to do its calculations. The more RAM you have, the faster and more efficient your programs will run. Look for at least 512 MB or 1 GB of RAM.
Shop for RAM at

Hard Drive - where all your programs and data are stored. As usual, more is better. At least 100GB or more will be needed to store lots of music, games or movie files. Hard disk space is relatively cheap, and there are also external drives available that you can plug in to add more memory.
Shop for Hard Drives at

Graphics Card - handles video and display calculations. A more powerful card means better quality video graphics and smooth-running games. The most popular cards are the NVidia GeForce and ATI Radeon series. Another thing to note is that the graphics card also has its own RAM memory, and again the more the better.
Shop for Graphics Cards at

Sound Card - most PCs should include decent enough sound for playing music or video, but you can opt for better quality sound cards such as the Creative Audigy series which will improve sound quality and performance in movies and demanding games.
Shop for Sound Cards at

Speakers - 2 normal desktop speakers should be fine for most users, but games players may want to invest in larger setups such as 5.1 (5 small Satellite speakers and 1 large Sub-Woofer to handle the bass sounds).
Shop for Speakers at

CD/DVD-ROM Drive - plays CDs/DVDs including data discs, music CDs and film DVDs. The higher the speed, the faster files will be loaded from disc though it will depend on the maximum speed permitted by the disc itself. '16x', for example, means it can transfer data from the disc at 16 times the normal playing speed.
Shop for DVD Drives at

CD/DVD R/RW Writer/Burner Drive - as with CD/DVD-ROM Drives but also able to write or 'burn' discs as well as read them. This way you can create your own data, music or video discs, especially useful for backing up large amounts of data. There are two main categories of writeable discs : Recordable discs such as CD-R or DVD-R or DVD+R are discs that can only be written once and Re-Writeable discs such as CD-RW or DVD-RW or DVD+RW can be written over many times.
Shop for DVD Burner Drives at

Windows - Microsoft's operating system Windows is included with most PCs. Since 2001, Windows XP has been the version for home users but 2007 has seen the launch of its successor Windows Vista.
Shop for Windows at

Software - some packages will include office suites, security programs, DVD creation, games and entertainment software.
Shop for Software at

Internet Access - many packages come with free Internet trials, but you can choose a different provider if you find a better deal. To access the Internet from home you will need to connect your PC to your phone line. There should be instructions with your PC how to do this. There are many different Internet packages available, and with some you will need to buy additional equipment. To learn more, contact an ISP(Internet Service Provider) or visit their web site.

Wireless Internet - modern PCs often come with built-in wireless support, to allow you to connect to any wireless Internet networks within range. If not, wireless adapters can be bought separately.

You can usually replace and upgrade your PC components in the future if you decide you need more memory or a faster graphics card, for example.

And you can always upgrade or buy new software if you find the included programs too limited for your needs.

Web Sites Selling PCs

There are many web sites that sell PCs including:

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