PC Buying Guide

Staff Writer By Staff Writer - updated August 21st, 2023
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When it comes to buying a Desktop PC there are a few key things to take into consideration that will help ensure you are purchasing a system which meets your needs. This guide will give you a greater understanding of the typical things you would want to look for in the ideal desktop PC.

We're not going to drill down too deeply into what each component is made of, instead, we'll be focusing on easily understanding the terms used to indicate a PC's performance such as RX vs RTX, SSD vs NVMe and so on. Despite the recent advances in mobile computing, traditional desktop PCs are still extremely popular due to the higher performance, and lower cost. Desktops immobility often appeals to many parents, businesses and institutions as it helps to ensure the PC stays in top condition. Another point that makes the desktop PC so popular is the ability to add new features, or increased performance, through upgrades.

If you consider yourself a general-purpose user, and just want to watch Netflix and movies or read online news, a smaller PC, laptop or tablet might be satisfactory for you. If you're using your PC for any sort of heavy task though, such as large spreadsheets, design, editing, or gaming for example, a desktop PC is probably the way you should go. It's generally best to begin by assessing whether or not you need a Desktop PC and if you could meet your needs with a laptop or tablet.

How Will You Be Using It?

One of the most significant factors to consider is the intended usage of the computer. Understanding your specific needs and requirements can guide your purchase towards a machine that's fit for your use case. From gaming to general-purpose, design/multimedia, and business use, each category will prioritse different features and components. 

General Purpose

For general-purpose use such as browsing, watching videos, or working on Word or Excel, the requirements are less demanding. A moderate processor, decent RAM, and an average storage capacity should suffice. You might want to invest in a good quality screen for better display and perhaps consider a lightweight model if you prefer portability. Perhaps even an All-in-One PC is all you need and worth keeping in mind.

Gaming PCs

If you're a gaming enthusiast looking to buy a PC, then a high-performance graphics card (a Nvidia or AMD series gaming-focused GPU), a powerful processor, ample storage, and sufficient RAM are crucial. These elements will ensure that you can play the latest games at the highest settings without any lag or crashes. Don't forget to pay attention to the PC's cooling system since gaming can cause the system to heat up quickly.

Design and Multimedia

When buying a PC for design or multimedia tasks, such as graphic design, photography, or video editing, then like with gaming, you should aim for a high-performance PC (though to a slightly lesser degree). Your priority should be on a a robust graphics card and a powerful processor. Some additional RAM could be useful for running design software, and a larger storage capacity to accommodate large file sizes would also be beneficial. 

Business

For business use, safeguarding sensitive data is a key priority, so a PC with robust security features should be considered. The processor speed holds great significance as well, as it ensures seamless multi-tasking, enabling you to use several applications at once without any slowdown. Depending on your line of work, you'll need different software compatibility. Beyond this, look for a PC that can handle multiple peripheral devices, as the ability to connect printers, scanners, extra monitors, or other office equipment can greatly enhance your productivity.

Other Considerations

If you’re budget-conscious, a mid-tower will generally offer the best value as this is the most popular size. Slim form factor PCs are a bit more expensive for the same performance. If you’re looking for cheaper models of either, refurbished or off-lease computers can provide excellent value for money.

You should be selective about the features you pay for when choosing a desktop system. If you’re not going to be gaming frequently, a high spec graphics card is not going to be necessary. If you’re not going to be regularly watching Blu-ray movies, a Blu-Ray drive will have limited value to you.

PCs can be purchased, pre-built and ready to go, in a range of configurations like Home & Office PC or Gaming PC ranges. You can also use an Online System Builder to create a system matching your exact specifications. In order to save yourself time and money, including any common extras, such as WiFi, that you might require later on is often a good idea.

What are All-in-One (AIO) PCs?

All-in-One PCs offer a monitor with the powerhouse of the PC built directly into the back of the screen which makes it a fast-growing desktop category. All-in-one PCs come across a broad price spectrum and come in various screen sizes which have both inclusive and exclusive touch input.

The advantages of all-in-ones include easier setup and cleaner appearance in comparison to separate tower and display setups. With built-in webcams, you have the ability to video conference without needing a separate camera peripheral device. It’s simpler to bring an all-in-one into non-office environments for example due to fewer wires/cables/plugs required.

The disadvantages, on the other hand, is they tend to be less powerful than desktop equivalents. Lack of upgradeability of all-in-one desktops is also a major limitation. Generally, monitors usually last longer than computing components, however, it pays to be aware that if your all-in-one’s display no longer meets your needs, an entirely new computer may need to be purchased.

If you like the idea of keeping things as simple and streamlined as possible by having both your PC and monitor in one, then an All-in-One PC may be the best choice for you. If you're not gaming or doing multimedia or design work (i.e. using it for demanding tasks), then this should easily cover your needs. Even if you are doing these things, you can get high-spec All-in-Ones anyway, albeit, they often come at a premium price.

Which Operating System? (OS)

The operating system (OS) is another key factor to consider when purchasing a PC. The two primary choices are Windows and macOS. Windows is highly versatile, compatible with a wide range of hardware and software, and is often the operating system of choice for gamers and business users due to its flexibility. On the other hand, macOS, found exclusively on Apple computers, is renowned for its sleek, intuitive interface and robust security. It's often chosen by designers and creative professionals because of its seamless integration with creative software. Remember, your preferred software and apps may dictate your OS choice, so it's worth checking their requirements. Your personal comfort with the OS and its interface should also play a role in your decision. Windows is typically easier and more straight forward to use, while macOS can take some getting used to. 

If opting for Windows, note that there are two mainstream versions of Windows - Windows Home & Windows Professional. The Home edition is the ideal starting point for nearly all users, it's the Windows we know and love and you can install games, office and all the usual software on it without issue. The Professional edition of Windows offers robust security, sophisticated connectivity and privacy tools such as Domain Join, Group Policy Management, BitLocker, Enterprise Mode Internet Explorer (EMIE), Assigned Access, Remote Desktop, Client Hyper-V, and Direct Access. If you are using your new PC for business some of these features might be important to you.

Which Processor? (CPU)

AMD

Ryzen is the latest generation of premium AMD processors and they are available in many kinds to suit your budget. The Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7, and Ryzen 9 series make up the bulk of the range, becoming more powerful (and more expensive) as the numbers escalate upwards. It's important to note that the latest Ryzen 5 7600X, Ryzen 7 7700X and Ryzen 9 7950X now include integrated graphics, but with previous X series you'll need to have a dedicated graphics card within your system or it won't work.

Intel

The latest Intel range consists of the Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 and Core i9 series. Pentium series lower-end chips are available, however, most users tend to avoid desktops that include these parts as the performance gain from going with even just the i3 is massive. Notably, the majority of Intel's series encapsulates integrated graphics, providing a user-friendly solution for those who do not wish to invest separately in a dedicated graphics card. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule, such as the Intel X and F series.

You can use the PB Tech website to easily filter all the CPU options.

How much RAM?

RAM (Random Access Memory) is essentially your computer's short-term memory. It temporarily stores data it’s working with for quick access, which directly impacts your system's speed and performance. Generally, we recommend a minimum of 8GB. However, depending on your use, here are some more precise recommendations:

  • Basic Use: 4-8GB RAM - For basic tasks such as web browsing, checking email, and word processing, 4GB-8GB of RAM should suffice. However, as applications become more demanding and with the advent of more powerful operating systems, 8GB is becoming the standard even for basic use.
  • Intermediate Use: 8-16GB RAM - If you're a power user who frequently multitasks with several applications open, or you actively engage in light photo editing or gaming, then 8-16GB of RAM is recommended. It provides a smooth multitasking experience and ample power for most resource-intensive tasks.
  • Advanced Use: 16-32GB+ RAM - For professional tasks demanding plenty of computational power such as video editing, 3D modeling, high-end gaming, and heavy multitasking, 16-32GB, or more, can greatly improve performance.

It's essential to remember that while excessive RAM won't speed up your computer, having less than required can significantly slow down your system. Therefore, it's best to plan for your current and potential future needs to ensure seamless performance. Also, ensure your chosen PC allows for future RAM upgrades if necessary.

Which Graphics Card? (GPU)

Nvidia GeForce GT, GTX, RTX, and Ti

When looking at specifications for PCs you'll notice the graphics cards from Nvidia start with either GT, GTX or RTX.

  • The GT series provides a low-cost option for those using a CPU that doesn't have integrated graphics, these also are great for adding additional monitor connections as the graphics cards will often include multiple DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort options.
  • GTX is the gaming series from Nvidia and starts with the GTX 1050 which is great for games like League of Legends, Overwatch and other popular titles. The numbers signal an increase in performance - so a GTX 1050 is less powerful than a GTX 1650. 
  • RTX graphics cards are much the same as the GTX series, but include a new technology that will allow you to turn on special settings in specific games (such as Cyberpunk) for additional lighting and reflection effects.

The numbers escalate (as does the price) to signal the increased performance that comes from a graphics card. With 1650 being the current entry-level option, and the 4090 being the highest end. The additional product tags Ti are used to signal an increase in performance for each model too, but performance gains won't exceed the numbers, so a RTX 4070 is still not quite as fast as the RTX 4070Ti, but faster than the GTX 4060Ti.

For those looking to play in Virtual Reality with the HTC Vive VR you'll want to look at systems featuring the RTX 4060 or above, to make this all very easy you'll find a handy filter option (shown here) to show only VR Ready systems at PB Tech.

AMD Radeon RX & XT

The AMD RX series behaves in much the same way, the RX series is suited to gaming and right now it starts around the RX 7600, going up in power through the new RX 7700, RX 7800, and RX 7900 series as the graphics cards become more & more powerful. Adding an XT onto any of these, such as the RX 7900 XT vs a regular RX 7900 signals a little extra performance from the graphics card.

You can use the PB Tech website to filter our range of Desktop PC so it only shows the specific graphics cards you are looking for, perfect for those who are buying a new PC to play a certain game.

What Storage? (Hard Drive & Solid State Drive)

In terms of hard drives and storage, your desktop will come with either of the following options. A traditional spinning-platter hard drive (HDD) or a solid state drive (SSD) also known as flash memory. Hybrid drives, a small SSD paired with a larger HDD, are also available on desktop PCs. A hybrid drive enhances faster boot time and helps apps open quicker as well as being able to store bulky music and video files on the standard hard drive.

HDD

Platter hard drives offer inexpensive storage and used to be the most commonly found storage drive on desktops. Most drives run at 7,200rpm, an ideal rate (revolutions per minute) and some more slowly at 5,400rpm. If you are using your PC for day-to-day use, you may not notice the impact of a lower rpm on your computer; however, if you are going to be using your PC for transferring large files or loading games and rendering video files you will benefit from a faster hard drive.

SSD

SSD drives are a lot faster (often 4x faster to boot up your PC!) than conventional mechanical hard drives and thus come with a higher price tag and smaller capacity. However, they are now what you will commonly find on most laptops and desktops. On some desktops, you may also find SSDs are used to install the operating system on, with a secondary HDD also installed for storing media and programs.

When it comes to how much space you want in your PC you can use the PB Tech website to show the storage capacity for each too, using the slider to filter down our many options to quickly show the ones that are right for you.

NVMe M.2 SSD

NVMe stands for Non-Volatile Memory Express and it's crazy fast. These SSD drives are smaller in physical size and connect via a M.2 port, which can be found on modern desktop PC & laptop motherboards. Just because you've got an M.2 port doesn't mean it's NVMe ready though, some will say SATA and they have speeds like the SSD above, but if it says NVMe or PCIe NVMe, it will provide extremely fast read/write speeds (Often 6x faster than a traditional SSD).

PCIe 5.0 M.2 SSD

A PCIe 5.0 M.2 SSD is a high-speed solid-state drive that uses the fifth generation of the Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) interface for faster data transmission. M.2 refers to the small, direct-to-motherboard form factor. The SSD uses flash memory for its operations, providing superior speed and reliability. However, to fully benefit from the speed of PCIe 5.0, a compatible motherboard is required (such as the X670 series AMD motherboards or Z790 series Intel Motherboards along with new generation CPU).

Which Ports, Cables and Connections do you need?

When purchasing a PC, it's essential to understand the types of ports, cables, and connections required for your specific needs, as these will determine how you can interact with peripheral devices and the internet. *

USB Ports

USB ports are fundamental for connecting a wide array of devices to your PC. They're used for everything from peripherals such as keyboards and mice, to external storage devices, printers, or even recharging smartphones and other gadgets - USB ports are extremely versatile. Typically, there will be a minimum of two USB (Type A) ports on desktop PCs, with most sporting 2x on the front with an addition 2x on the back. Take a moment to think about how many of these you will utilise to save you from having to plug and unplug things frequently - and if you also require a USB-C port (becoming the new standard).

USB 2.0 (Type A), while older, is still common, but the newer USB 3.0 and 3.1 versions offer much faster data transfer rates, reducing the time to move files or load information from these connected devices. The latest USB-C variant, with its reversible and smaller plug, is becoming the standard due to its high-speed data transfer capabilities, increased power delivery, and the ability to support various protocols for outputting video to monitors. 

HDMI, DisplayPort and DVI

These ports output video and audio signals to external displays. Much like the USB above it's good to have a quick think about what you'll be connecting your new PC too - if you're planning on running a multi-monitor setup this is of particular importance. HDMI is common and versatile, supporting audio and 4K video. DisplayPort can handle higher resolution displays and multiple monitors from a single cable. VGA and DVI may still exist on some older hardware but they are becoming less common as they don't support as high resolutions or audio transmission. 

Ethernet Port

For a fast and stable internet connection, especially for high bandwidth activities like online gaming or streaming, you may want to ensure there is an Ethernet port. Ethernet offers a reliable, wired internet connection for bandwidth-intensive activities. Connect your PC directly to a modem or router for optimal speed and lower latency than Wi-Fi. This may not be necessary for all types of users, so consider the importance of a lower latency internet connection for you. 

Audio Jacks

PCs generally have a 3.5mm audio port for connecting speakers, headphones, or microphones. Some PCs might also feature digital or optical audio outputs for higher quality sound.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

These aren't physical connections, but vital wireless technologies. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are essential for wireless communication and connectivity on your PC. Wi-Fi enables wireless internet access and network connectivity. Bluetooth is another essential wireless technology, responsible for connecting peripheral devices like wireless mice, keyboards, headphones, and speakers. It can also be used for transferring files between devices, or for connecting to mobile devices and certain smart home appliances.

Many PCs come with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. However, if your PC does not include these features, additional devices such as a Wi-Fi card or Bluetooth adapter can be added. Keep in mind that depending on your usage, the range, speed, and reliability of these technologies can be important considerations when buying a PC.

Thunderbolt 3 & 4 Ports

Offering double the speed of USB 3.1 Gen 2, Thunderbolt 3 & 4 ports support fast data transfers, dual 4K displays, power delivery, and daisy chaining devices. Not necessary for everyone but something to keep in mind if you want even faster USB speeds.

SD Card Reader

For photo or video professionals, an in-built SD card reader is handy for importing content from cameras to PC quickly.

Check out our range of PCs!

We hope this quick guide helps, we'll continue to improve it as we get asked more questions so be sure to use the comments section below to let us know what you would like to know more about! Now that you have an idea of what the different specifications mean, you can head over to our Desktop PCs department to check out our full range of PCs! Be sure to swing by our Off-Lease PCs for cost-savings or our All-in-One PCs if these sound like a good fit for you.


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Staff Writer

For the words, not the glory!

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