While the laptop and tablet market grow the PC market is shrinking but they still have many advantages. PCs can have multiple large hard drives holding many terabytes of data. PCs can have the fastest video performance for gaming. PCs are still cheaper than laptops for systems similar specs - processor, memory and storage. PCs are easier to upgrade. PCs make it easier to attach many peripherals - mice, keyboards, monitors, printers, scanners, label makers, thumb drives, etc.
Most major hardware vendors, Dell, HP, etc will custom make your PC so you don’t need to buy things you don’t want and so you can concentrate on features you do want. Some people will say this is overkill but since I spend most of the time answering questions like – “I just bought my PC why is it so slow?” or “My computers only 6 months old, why can’t it play this game?” or “Why does it take so long just to boot?” Just because a PC is new, doesn’t mean it can do everything or do things well. You can buy a pair of scissors for $10- that doesn’t mean they are suited to mow your lawn. Most people tend to think I’ll only use this for browsing the web and then soon find themselves using their computer for a great deal of things.
To be clear, the ads you see in your Sunday paper for your local electronics/appliance store are often selling vastly underpowered systems with trial software which expires in 60 days and software is not cheap. You may say to yourself but it is only $400 for a new PC at this store – yes and a bicycle is much cheaper than a Honda Accord. A good PC goes for about $1200 with a good monitor and the software you need (Office, etc.)
My default PC for most home users and office users would be the Dell Inspiron. Without any monitor or software, it goes for about $620 when properly equipped with an i5 7400, 12GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive, and a standard keyboard and mouse. You'd want something with a much better video card and power supply for heavy duty gaming but other than that it is an excellent long term solution for most people.
Operating System – Windows 10 is hands down a great choice. If you are going to use it to connect with your work, get Windows 10 Pro – it allows you to join a domain and remote desktop for support. If you are using it primarily for home use, Windows 10 Home is probably fine.
CPU –i5 –or i7 if possible (don’t waste your time on an i3). I5 should be great for anyone except gamers or photo/video editors and should cover you for just about anything for the next few years. The current generation processor is the 7th gen intel. AMD makes processors as well however they are less common in the better known brands.
Memory – 8 GIGs for most people would be a fine, 16 or more GBs for people playing cutting edge games, video editing, picture editing.
Video Card – The integrated graphics on the 7th gen processors is fine for most people unless you play games or do video editing. A good dedicated video card would be essential for people playing high end video games or even photo/video editing. The Zontac 10880ti Amp Extreme is one of the best video gaming cards on the market If you put in a heavy duty video card for gaming, you should put in a reliable, efficient and quite power supply such as an Enermax 500-600 watt power supply.
Hard Drives – I would recommend a 500 GIG or more, SSD (solid state) - (do not ever get a 5400 RPM spindle drive although 7200 RPM are adequate). If you plan on doing a lot of video editing, or storing your movies and music on the hard drive you may want larger. Remember, a hard drive typically slows down once it is even half-full so plan for future growth. You can get an SSD (solid-state drive) for extremely good performance however, they can be a bit of a pricey for large amounts of storage. Many people keep their operating system, programs and documents on their solid-state drive and use a spindle drive to store movies or archives as spindle drives come in 10TB sizes much cheaper per gigabyte. Once you have an SSD for your operating system, you will never want an old spindle drive again. The Samsung SSDs seem to be very dependable compared to some SSDs available from other manufacturers. SATA is the standard on most PCs although some newer motherboards support NVME, which is much faster but once you go solid state SATA after having spindle the performance improvement may not seem as dramatic.
Sound card – for most the integrated sound card will do but if you are planning to play cutting-edge games or want to make your PC into a media center you may want to upgrade to a Creative Labs Sound Blaster Z.
Keyboard and Mouse – most people will prefer a wireless keyboard and mouse so I would recommend the Logitech MK850 performance mouse and keyboard. I like the Logitech Mouse for reliability on most surfaces and comfort. If you do not get a wireless keyboard and mouse to save money, the default ones that come with your PC may be good enough.
Optical Drives – Most systems do not come with one and most people don’t need one. I’d recommend a BD player for backing up your video collection. You can easily stream movies from your computer to newer TVs and BD players.
Case – a mid tower case may give you more upgradeability than a slim case and upgrade features may be cheaper and give you a wider selection.
Screens/Monitors – Don’t skimp on the monitor. Most people get a 23” monitor and always get excited when using someone else’s 30” or 32” monitor. Chances are your monitor will outlast your PC so you might as well invest now in a decent one. I’d recommend a good contrast ratio. I think the Dell’s, BenQ and Asus are a pretty good bang for the buck if you buy their good screens - I DON’T recommend their low end models of the same size – tend to be washed out, seem a little fuzzy and lower contrast. There are a few quality manufactures such as Apple and LaCie as well although many get them made by the same company. Anything 2560 or higher resolution is fine. Most people won’t take advantage of 4K unless they use their monitor to play back 4k movies. Some models I’d recommend considering are U2717 or UP3017 (when on sale), GL2706PQ, EW2770QZ or the PD3200U.
Speakers – I prefer headphones as I don’t want to disturb others and it is more enveloping if you are playing a game but if not you can buy some good quality speakers for a low price. For headphones, I’d recommend Sennheisers as they are well made and extremely comfortable. For speakers just about any vendor will sell some desktop speakers and a powered sub for between $40-$60. If you don’t have space for sub, the Creative Gigaworks T20 II is a good set of speakers.
Software/Applications – chances are you want Office 2016 home and some antivirus/firewall such as Malwarebytes. Most people don’t need Office Professional which includes Access; you can probably save money by getting one of the other versions. If you do find yourself buying PC at a local store you’ll probably find yourself getting very upset in about 60 days (if not sooner) when the trial version of office expires. If you have a student in the house, “student pricing” is usually the best deal. Hopefully, you can get student pricing at the college or university bookstore if it isn’t offered from your computer vendor.
Warranty – I typically go with the standard warranty for PCs unless you live with people who might throw liquids into the PC or try to juggle it in which case accidental damage is recommended. Replacing a keyboard is usually cheaper than extended warranties for PCs. I do however highly recommend accidental coverage if you buy a laptop.
Accessories – Good surge suppressors help you with all the devices you may plug in and help protect them. I usually get a Belkin or APC with 2500 or more joule protection, for only $20. Get a nice fabric mousepad with a wrist rest if you prefer - $3-$12.
You can always call a rep to get the unit if you can’t find what you are looking for online. You can typically get coupon codes and links to deals by going to bensbargains.net. You typically get free shipping and other discounts just by asking.
To improve the performance of your new PC, I would remove the unnecessary software, which starts at boot up. You may find that a support program, trial music software, trial finance software boots at start up. You can go to Start, control panel, programs and features. Some manufacturers offer an option get the unit without any productivity/trialware preloaded.
Your grand total for a very GOOD workstation will probably be between $1000-$2000. Chances are you will have this at least 3 or 4 years so you might as well configure it right instead of cursing it within the first few months and throwing it out within 2 years regretting your purchase throughout the time you own it.
I hope you found the the 2017 PC buying guide helpful.