Choosing The Right Cheap Computer

August 18th, 2006 | Desktops

Cheap desktop computers are easy to put together or find for yourself. Cheap desktop computers are the lower end of the current range of desktop computers. Cheap desktop computers are away from the cutting edge and benefit from well-tested technology. Cheap desktop computers can also be put together for you, or by yourself from a mix of computer components.

The main aim when choosing a cheap desktop computer is to get the best-valued not-quite-cutting-edge parts. Although low price is the major concern here, I do prefer keeping current with parts. Where necessary I will point out lower priced alternatives as well as the pros and cons of those decisions. Check out the specific parts sections for further details on individual parts.

This Systemax computer can be customized from its base price of $400, you only need to add what you need.

Often the most expensive part in a computer labelled as the best desktop computer is the computer processor. The fastest, most cutting edge processors can be more than $1000, but for a quarter of the price you can get one that is only 20% slower and put money into other parts of the computer. Currently I would recommend an Intel Core 2 Duo, or AMD Athlon 64 X2. Intel Core 2 Duo go for $150 - $550, while AMD Athlon 64 X2 go for $100 - $250. According to benchmarks, the Intel processors are the better choice and offer more performance per dollar in most applications. Even though you can get cheaper deals with AMD, currently Intel is the better choice. In speed per dollar, don’t go any higher than the E6600 2.4GHz model, as the prices jump after that. The AMD range are spread evenly, so the choice is yours, best value is still found around the middle of the range though.

The motherboard should be packed with lots of features. My preference is for motherboards that give tons of features, here is what you should expect.

  • USB 2.0 with 4 slots at the back of the computer and 2 in another location, usually the front.
  • External SATA (not completely necessary, but good)
  • Built-in audio, with 5.1 channel (or equivalent) support as well as mic and headphones.
  • Network port, preferably Gigabit, 2 ports a bonus.
  • PCI express for graphics card upgrades (if not used already). SLI a bonus.
  • PCI-X, which is a faster PCI slot, but still compatible with older PCI cards. Expect 2 or more.
  • Make sure SATA2 is supported, it’s faster and more future-proof.
  • Firewire (IEEE1394) slots, just 1 or 2 (not essential).

This ACER comes with a slightly slower AMD Athlon X2 processor and all the extras I would recommend, including a DVD burner and 1GB of RAM.

Your computer should come with at least 1GB or memory, often called RAM. More memory makes a huge difference and you should get as much as you can when you buy your computer. Remember that 512MB is my recommended minimum for Windows XP, while Vista will run better with 1GB(1024MB) or more. If you can afford it, get double the minimum. This is my same recommendation as for a more expensive PC, and it is not worth saving money here. Rather get a smaller hard drive or slightly slower processor.

The hard drive should be a balance between storage size and speed. Get bigger than 100GB, one DVD movie is 8GB, so you might only get 10 on your hard drive. If you don’t store the movies, no problem. Fast hard drives spin faster, at 10K rpm, like the WD Raptor, but are smaller sized for the price. I prefer speed as I don’t need massive space, I backup to DVDs when necessary.

A DVD writer is essential. Make sure it does dual-layer, DVD+R and DVD-R, and should be rated about 16x. DVDs are great for backing up any data, including your DVD collection.

And that’s it. You should be good to go, with a computer that will stay current for at least a few years and last for many more than that.

The most alarming fact, and the one that makes cheap desktop computers so appealing is that the most up-to-date computers are complete overkill for surfing the net, listening to mp3s, typing documents and running Windows. With cheap desktop computers the core principle in getting the best deals is… you don’t need the latest for killer performance!

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