So you're looking to buy a personal computer but feel like a sheep ready to be fleeced when you walk into the dragon's den and have sales people leading you to the most expensive models.
This guide is aimed at helping you choose the right desktop computer. There are different things to consider when choosing a laptop, so I'll write a different guide for that. Here, we'll focus on the computers that will sit on or under your desk. I won't mention price in here, otherwise the article will be outdated pretty quickly…
So, what's the difference between a budget computer and the most expensive ones? First of all, if you think that the very most pricey computer in the shop is as powerful as they come and that it will play all your games fantastically well, you are sorely mistaken. No, the truth is the models for sale in big shops are expensive because of their brands.
Decide what you need the computer for. Actually this is a redundant question because I know what you need it for. I've had more experience helping people with computers than I'd like, and when someone tells you they're not interested in playing games on it, there soon follows a disappointed child or young adult moaning that the computer is so slow. Realistically you should aim for something mid-range, and not go for the absolute minimum you need. You only need a powerful computer if you intend to use software that requires all that oomph (it's very unlikely to be you, otherwise you'd already know) and the latest games. If, like most people you just want to surf the Internet, listen to music, create documents and edit photos, then you really only need to aim just above the cheapest computers.
Now for the revelation. If you buy the cheapest budget new computer today, it will probably run Windows XP very fast and you'll be delighted with it. If instead you run Windows Vista, it'll be painfully slow and you'll wish you could afford something a lot faster. The problem is very few new computers come with XP, and even more annoying the new models sometimes don't have hardware that is compatible for XP (the drivers are only for Vista).
Everything depends on your budget but as I said, the computers just above the cheapest range will probably do a good job for you. So how to choose from the dozen or so at about the same price? There's an old technique that dates back a couple of decades since PCs first started to become mass-market. When you're in the shop and have decided on the price range, make sure to look at them closely, try them and decide… on… your … favourite. Yes, go for looks. It is going to be in your way every day and you can hardly hide it, so choose one that will make you happy to have it in your home.
Having been in computing for over 15 years now, I believe we have already reached the stage where a budget computer can do almost everything you could reasonably want and this represents tremendous value.