7 Things to Know Before Buying a Desktop Computer

Desktop computers offer more power than a laptop and allow users the benefit of upgrading them. Tech is constantly evolving so having the opportunity to upgrade your own computer is beneficial and cheaper than having to buy a new laptop to get the latest upgrades.

Creating a budget and having an understanding of the different parts that make up a desktop computer will allow you to get a PC that best fits your needs. Below I have provided things to know and I have simplified them so that you can have an easier time picking out your next desktop computer.

1. Decide What Tasks You Want to Do on It

Before purchasing a desktop off the shelf it is important to decide what you plan on using it for every day. There are many parts within a desktop computer and you may find that you are spending too much or too little depending on the type of daily tasks you plan to do every day.

If you need a computer to run programs such as Microsoft Word, a web browser for doing research or watching your favorite show, or any other casual task then you may want to look into a PC with cheaper parts. This includes i3 processor or an older generation i5 processor, choose to get a cheap graphics card or none at all and 8 GB of memory.

If you are trying to accomplish power-hungry tasks like high-end gaming, photo editing or video editing then getting a desktop PC with higher end and more expensive parts is what you are looking for. This includes Intel i5/i7/i9 processors, Nvidia RTX 2080 graphics card and 16 GB or more of memory. Keep in mind at this point to get a desktop that fits your needs you are most likely going to want to stay away from pre-built systems to utilize your budget better and get a better desktop.

2. Laptop or Desktop

Choosing between a laptop and desktop comes down to your own personal needs. If you know you are going to be more stationary and need a more powerful system then a desktop is the way to go. Laptops are beneficial because they can be just as powerful than certain desktops nowadays and each generation arere getting more lighter, therefore, they are easier to move around with.

If you decided that you want to go with a laptop then check out my post (click here to navigate to the post) on picking out your next laptop.

3. Budget

Keep in mind a budget for when you buy your first PC. The tiers you will see for a desktop computers are $350-$500 for a low end PC, $500 to $750 for a mid tier PC and $750+ to get a high tier PC.

4. Know the Specs


The motherboard is where other important parts of your computer connect to such as the CPU and RAM. It also allows other peripheral parts to connect to your computer.

There are a few things to consider when searching for a motherboard. Firstly, you want to make sure that you get a motherboard that is compatible with the other parts of your computer. A great place to do this is going to a site called pcpartpicker. Within this site you can pick out the parts you want in your next desktop PC and it only lets you pick out parts that are compatible with one another.

Motherboards use a certain chipset for the processor which in short determines whether a CPU will be compatible with that motherboard. This is why it is important to make sure you are only picking out compatible parts. A motherboard that works for an Intel processor probably will not work for an AMD processor.

Another option is to go into a tech store and have a professional help you pick out the parts.

Central Processing Unit (CPU)

The CPU is responsible for doing massive calculations to run programs on your computer. They come with one or more cores and the cores are clocked at a certain speed, usually measured in GHz, which is the time it takes for the cores to get a task done.

The processor can be one of the costly parts of your PC build, therefore, it is important to keep in mind your budget while picking out your CPU. You will notice that the AMD equivalent to Intel is typically cheaper. For a tighter budget build PC, you can get lower end processors such as Intel i3 and AMD Ryzen 3. For a mid-tier, PC build you can get an Intel i5 processor or AMD Ryzen 5. For high-end PC builds you can go for an Intel i7, Intel i9 or AMD Ryzen 7 processor.

You can find processors that are even higher end than these which cost over $1500 dollars such as the AMD Ryzen Threadripper or the Intel Xeon which is over $3000. These processors are for very high-end builds and not necessary for many tasks. If your goal is high-end gaming or video editing than the processors recommended up to i9 will do just fine.

The two popular processors on the market are Intel and AMD. When trying to decide which one you want to go with you cannot just compare them based on the clock speed and number of cores. These numbers depend on whether the application you use is optimized for the cores or clock speed and how the cores and clock speed work internally.

The best way to get an accurate depiction of which processor is better is by using real-world benchmark test that compares the two processors for the applications you plan to use and tasks you want to do.

The CPU has a certain life span before you begin to see a decline in performance from it. Letting your CPU run hotter than is recommended from the manual will degrade the CPU over time. If you plan on using your computer a lot then investing in a high-performance cooling system may be worthwhile.

Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)

The GPU is responsible for rendering graphics on your computer. This allows your CPU to focus on other power hungry task and for your computer to perform efficiently.

On the low end of GPUs, there is AMD Radeon RX 550 and Nvidia GeForce GT 1030 / 1050. Middle Tier Graphics cards consist of Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 / 2070 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Ti / 1080. The high tier GPUs consist of Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti and Nvidia Titan RT.

If you are on a budget then you do not need a graphics card in your computer. If you do plan to do graphically intensive tasks on your computer then I would recommend atleast getting a low tier one at the least.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

Although applications are stored on your SSD or HDD they do not actually run from there because it would take too long. The memory necessary to run your program is moved to the RAM and it stays there while it is in use. The number of applications you can have open is limited by how big your RAM space is.

It is recommended to have from 8 GB to 16 GB of RAM on your desktop even for lower budget builds. If you find that you are having performance issues while having too many applications open then the amount of RAM you have can be the culprit.

If the applications you use need a lot of memory or you need to have multiple applications open at once then it may be necessary to upgrade your RAM. Keep in mind that there is such thing as too much RAM depending on your OS. Over 32 GB of RAM is when you may begin to see diminishing returns.

Storage – Solid State Drive (SSD) / Hard Drive (HDD)

Within the storage device of your choice will be your operating system, applications and all other important data you save within there. Hard drive disks are older and are a cheaper type of storage because they have slower read and write speeds. Solid state drive is newer and is faster at accessing your data. The downside is that it is more expensive.

It is not necessary to run your entire desktop computer on SSD but it is recommended to at least get 100 GB of SSD to run your operating system from and maybe other applications that you want to open quickly. You can then buy a cheap HDD drive with a lot of space, such as 1 TB, to store the rest of your data like other apps, photos, videos, and other important data.

If you can only go with HDD that is fine but look to upgrade it in the future so that you can have a faster experience on your desktop.

Cooling System

Various parts within your computer produce heat which over time can destroy those parts if not addressed. These components include the CPU, graphics card, storage, etc. The cooling system dissipates the heat produced by these parts to keep your computer at an optimal temperature.

The cooling system will keep your CPU at an appropriate temperature to avoid throttling and to help prevent the PC from degrading over time.

The different choices of cooling systems are fans and liquid cooling. Liquid cooling typically costs more money. A fan quality fan cooling system will do fine in cooling most desktop PCs. Liquid cooling systems are great but if it does break then it is harder to detect and takes more effort and money to fix.

Power Supply

The power supply converts alternating current from your outlets into direct current which powers the rest of your components within your computer. Your power supply will hook up to your motherboard and GPU to power the rest of your computer.

When picking out a power supply you need to make sure to pick out a power supply that provides more Watts than the parts of your PC produce. If not then your PC will not turn on. Power supplies typically are around $40 or over.

Out of all the parts in your desktop, they are not that expensive and you really do not want to go cheap on a part like this. A cheap power supply can short the rest of your parts and make them useless.

5. Operating System

The two popular operating systems on the market are Windows by Microsoft and Mac OS by Apple. Both of them have their pros and cons but choosing one over the other really comes to personal preference. If you would rather stay in the Apple ecosystem and still have access to a powerful system then choose Apple. On the other end, you can choose a more customizable OS like Windows and have more flexibility to upgrade the parts within your PC.

Microsoft Windows

If you are looking to build your own PC then the OS you will most likely use is Windows. This OS is compatible with a variety of different hardware which will give you more freedom in designing your PC build.

Advantages of Windows include:

  • more customizable when it comes to its software and its hardware,
  • it is better for gaming and other graphically intensive tasks,
  • it gives users more freedom on the hardware they use, and
  • is generally cheaper than Mac.

Disadvantages of Windows include:

  • Its security and ability to prevent viruses is not as good as apple
  • Some may find the number of customizations too daunting and may prefer a system they can just use out the box
  • Takes a bit longer to learn your way around the OS

You can boot Windows 10 to your PC for free but it will be an unactivated version of Windows. The only difference is that you will have a watermark on your screen telling you to activate Windows and you will not be able to customize some aesthetics of the OS such as changing the wallpaper and turning on the dark mode.

Apple Mac OS

Apple’s OS is user-friendly and can be easier to learn out of the box. They created the OS in a way so that there will not be many customizations needed which some may prefer and some may not. If you are choosing the Mac OS then you are most likely choosing a prebuilt PC.

Their current desktops currently go for over $2000 but you can find their older PCs for around $1000 used. If you are going the used route make sure to really test out the product before purchasing to make sure you are not getting a faulty PC.

Advantages of Mac OS include:

  • Better security and anti-malware detection
  • Requires less maintenance
  • If you are an Apple user, you will have a computer that can communicate with your devices and stay within the Apple ecosystem
  • Since it has fewer customizations and it focuses on giving users a pleasant user experience, users can be productive with this OS sooner

Disadvantages of Mac OS include:

  • Typically more pricey
  • Limited hardware upgrades


Linux is a free open-source operating system. This OS is popular among programmers and offers even more customizations than Windows, therefore, it can be a bit difficult to use at first. Linux is similar to Windows in that it can run on many different types of hardware. This means it also works well with pre-built PCs.

6. Build Your Own vs. Pre-Built

When picking out a pre-built PC it most likely will cost more which is not entirely a bad thing. If you do not feel comfortable building your own PC and want a PC with higher end parts then maybe paying a little extra to have it come pre-built would be a good idea.

If you want to build your own PC then make sure to do research on how to build your own PC. Also, look for help from professionals or friends that have done it before. The task can be more tedious than you think.

I personally went the route of building my own PC but it did take a lot more time than I thought. Although there are guides out there the problem is that there are many different variations of motherboards, CPUs, cooling systems, power supplies, etc. therefore the way they put together their PC may be slightly different than how you put it together.

If you decide the go the route of building your own PC then you need to make sure that all parts are compatible and to take your time during the process to make sure you are doing everything correctly.

7. Purchasing Peripherals

If you are primarily a laptop user then keep in mind the extra peripherals you will need to buy to have a similar experience to your laptop. The first peripherals to get are a quality mouse and keyboard. I wrote a post on choosing a keyboard which you can find here.

Depending on the keyboard you get you might also want to get a keyboard wrist rest because some keyboards sit at a higher angle which can leave your wrist in an awkward and uncomfortable position.

If you are looking to get into gaming then I recommend getting them from companies that are known for making gaming mouse and keyboards like Logitech, Razer, Corsair, Alienware or other gaming companies of your choice. The keyboards and mice they make have better response times than the cheaper alternatives that you can buy for $10.

The next peripherals are not necessary but will definitely enhance the experience you have with your desktop PC. The first one is speakers because it can get a bit tedious to always have to grab a pair of headphones when you want to listen to some sort of audio content from your desktop PC. The next is a mic and camera for communicating to others over apps like Skype, WhatsApp or any other communication app.

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