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Desktop Computer Buying Guide

A comprehensive desktop computer guide that will give you all the information you need on how to buy a new desktop computer.
Computer Buying Guide For Beginners Video
Computer Buying Guide For Beginners
Computer Buying Guide For Beginners Video Computer Buying Guide For Beginners Video
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Getting Started

Computers are a necessary part of everyday life for most people. Choosing the right desktop for your needs can be overwhelming. Aside from meeting the right price point, you will have to consider size, performance, operating system, memory, storage space, etc. Continue on to learn about each of these features, as well as everything else you will need in order to buy a computer that matches your needs.

Computer Terms

Understanding each of the terms that are used to describe the different parts of a computer is the first step in deciding which computer is right for you. Below is a list of terms that will explain exactly what each part is, as well as its function.

Operating System:

The operating system is the software that as the name suggests operates the computer. Without an operating system you wouldn't be able to do anything. Currently there are two main operating systems: Windows, and Mac OS X. Today there are not too many differences between the two operating systems, so it may be wise to chose the operating system you are most comfortable with.
*Note: If you happen to have preexisting Apple or iOS devices, it may be wise to get a computer with Mac OS X. For Android users it may be wise to get a computer with Windows.

Storage Space: HD vs SSD

Both storage types (HD / SSD) stores your data (files, music, movies, documents, etc.). Typically the saying goes that "bigger is better." This phrase is pretty accurate, however, something to keep in mind is that the larger the hard drive is the more expensive. The storage types are measured in both GB (gigabytes) and TB (terabyte) and commonly range from 500GB - 1TB (1000GB), though they do get as large as 2TB (2000GB).

HD or HDD (Hard Drive or Hard Disk Drive)

Hard Drives were the more common storage type up until the late 2000's, they were constructed with a disk in the middle. They use what is called a "head" (similar to the needle on a record player) to read and write data. These drives are more fragile than SSD's due to the disk in the middle that if bumped or moved can result in the loss of your data.

SSD (Solid State Drive) or Flash Drive

Solid State Drives or Flash Drives are currently the more common storage type. The main reason computer manufacturers have moved towards SSDs is because they do not have any moving parts, which means less loss of data. SSDs typically are a bit more expensive but when comparing how fragile each of the drives are, SSD's always win.

Memory or Ram

Memory is most commonly confused with Storage, seeing that typically memory would translate into long-term stored information. When it comes to computers though, memory would best be described as your short-term memory. To put it simply, the more memory your computer has the faster it will go (to an extent). Memory is also measured in GB's and ranges from 2-16 GB's.


The processor (also known as CPU or APU) is the part of your computer that, as the name suggests, processes data. Most compare this to the computer's brain, since it is responsible for processing all the information. Intel and AMD are the dominant processor manufacturers, and each offer their own line of processors.

Primary Use: All-Purpose User

If you are looking for the perfect computer for a multitude of uses, you will probably need to focus on a few features. These features include Operating System, Storage Space, Memory, Processor, Graphics, Sound, Connections, and Monitor Size.

Operating System:


If you are a gamer, or if you are more comfortable with the Windows Operating System, Windows is the best option for you. It's made to be user-friendly and almost all software is compatible with a Windows based computer.

Mac OS X

If your primary usage for your computer is for photos, music, and movies, a computer with Mac OSX is probably the best option. It syncs well with all apple devices, but is not limited to just that. If you have non-apple devices there are compatible software that will let you connect them to a Mac.
*Note - If you need help deciding which operating system to choose, this may help:
If you have any Apple or iOS devices and have become accustomed to them, it may be wise to get a computer with Mac OS X seeing as it is similar to iOS devices.
For those who have Android devices or non-iOS devices, it may be wise to get a Windows Computer. This is because Windows is more compatible with non-iOS devices, though there is software available for iOS or Apple device compatibility.

Hard Drive (Storage) Space

Now it is time to decide how much storage space or hard drive space you'll need. The Hard Drive is the part of the computer that stores your data (a.k.a. files, music, movies, documents). Depending on the amount of data you are planning on keeping on your computer will determine the amount of space you will need. Typically a safe bet is to get a 500GB hard drive. This standard amount should be more than enough storage if you plan on using your computer mainly for email, word processing, photos, or music. For gamers or those who use large software programs, a 1 TB (terabyte) hard drive may be a better option.


Memory on the other hand is how quickly your computer will be able to run programs and applications at once. The more RAM or memory the faster your computer will be able to "multitask". As an all-purpose user a good place to start would be to have at least anywhere between 4-8GB of RAM, which would work great for emailing, having multiple browser tabs open, word processing, and streaming music or movies.


When it comes to graphics for an all-purpose user the standard built-in graphics card that comes with the computer is more than enough. Unless you plan on gaming with your PC then a powerful graphics card is unnecessary.


Depending on the desktop model you are looking at, some desktop towers do not include a sound card or speakers, in such cases external speakers would be necessary if you plan on watching or listening to anything with audio. However, external speakers will undoubtedly improve your multimedia experience, especially if you plan on watching a lot of videos or movies and listening to music. If you do not plan on doing any of these activities frequently (or at all in some cases) then the basic speaker system built-in with most computers and their corresponding monitors will work just fine.


USB connections are the most common way to connect peripherals to your computer, such as mice, keyboards, digital cameras, printers, personal media players, flash drives, and external HDD. You would benefit from having no less than four USB ports. Decide how many you will need and make sure that your computer will accommodate your needs. For instance, if you need a USB connection for a mouse, keyboard, printer, portable media, external hard drive, and game controller, you will need most definitely need more than four USB ports.
Graphics cards have built-in ports (HDMI, VGA, or Displayport). They will connect things like your monitor or LCD TV to the computer.

Computer monitors can have multiple types of inputs. An analog input is a 15-PIN VGA which is standard on all computer monitors. There are three different types of digital inputs: DVI, HDMI, and the newest input by Apple called a Display Port. The Displayport supports a higher bandwidth than the DVI and HDMI input. All three support hi-definition.

Monitor Size

Whether you are purchasing an All-In-One (AIO) computer or a tower with a separate monitor, the size of the monitor you need depends on what kind of tasks you plan on utilizing it for. Monitor sizes go as low as 19 inches and up to 34 inches wide. As an all-purpose user the recommended and most popular size comes anywhere between 23 - 27 inches wide. These sizes are perfect for those users who need to write up documents, search the web, or maybe stream some movies.
So to put it simply, if you are an All-Purpose user, the following recommendations should be perfect for you:
  • 8GB Ram or more for speed when multitasking, depending on your line of work
  • 750 GB or 1 TB HDD storage space
  • Built-In Graphics card is fine (unless you are in Graphic Design a dedicated graphics card is recommended)
  • Solid State Drive if possible - no moving parts less prone to getting damaged and losing valuable work

Primary Use: Working From Home

When you work from home you have different needs from a person looking for a day-to-day computer. On a day-to-day computer, you will want to have the ability to perform tasks that you don't need to on a work computer, like managing mp3s, photos, or DVDs. On a work computer some of your main focuses may include things such as being able to multitask, making sure business software is compatible with the OS, and having lots of storage space.
The recommended amount of RAM for a work computer would be to have at least 8GB of RAM, or more, this will help when having multiple programs running and will not slow you down. 750GB or 1TB would a good place to start with storage space, to make sure you have enough room for important documents over the course of a few years. A solid state drive would also be a recommendation due to it having no moving parts and being less prone to damage, however you must consider that the higher storage amount the more expensive they run. You will also want to get an external hard drive to back up valuable information.
Saving money on a graphics card will enable you to get better software, a larger screen, and a good warranty. On the other hand depending on your line of work, for example, if you are in the graphic design business you will want a dedicated graphics card.
When it comes to the hardware side of things when working from home, the following are recommendations that should be perfect for any and all types of businesses.
  • 8GB Ram or more for speed when multitasking, depending on your line of work
  • 750 GB or 1 TB HDD storage space
  • Built-In Graphics card is fine (unless you are in Graphic Design a dedicated graphics card is recommended)
  • Solid State Drive if possible - no moving parts less prone to getting damaged and losing valuable work

Primary Use: For School

Before students start shopping for a school computer, we encourage them to double-check their school's website and determine if they provide recommendations as to which operating system they should use. Many students consider Apple computers, as they are immune to most viruses and bugs. It is also due to the fact that many students share files amongst each other and Mac computers offer a program called AirDrop, which makes it easy.
Business students may want to stick to Windows, seeing as it is the platform of choice in most business environments. The same goes for engineering students; most programs are tailored for Windows, unless otherwise specified by your school. Art and science majors are safe with either Windows or Mac OS, however many drafting programs are only available on Windows.
*Note: There is the option of running Windows on an Apple computer; using "Boot Camp", or other software such as Parallels. Inquire with one of our computer specialists in the Connect Store here at Abt.
When it comes to the hardware side of things for students, the following are recommendations that should be perfect for any and all types of schoolwork.
  • 8GB RAM or more for speed when multitasking.
  • 500GB HDD or more for storage purposes such as documents, pictures, and music.
  • Built-in graphics card is fine, unless you will be working with programs that involve editing of photos, videos, etc. (film-makers) ATI or NVIDIA graphics cards with at least 512 MG of memory.
  • Solid State Drive recommended for students, due to the fact that there are no moving parts. Without moving parts, these hard drives are less prone to damage.