When you get to the point where you need a new desktop PC, you’re not limited in choice and you’re not limited to Windows as your operating system. Because I’m going to be making some choices of my own soon, here are some of the choices you can make.
Pre-Built Desktop PCs
This is the first and only choice for many consumers but it doesn’t have to be that way. Sure, you can get a desktop PC built by Dell, HP or a number of other manufacturers, but there’s one thing you can’t do: Other than additional RAM, you can’t specify what components to put in or remove from that PC.
The reason the major desktop computer manufacturers can offer low prices in a variety of models is because they buy the parts wholesale, distribute the computers to retail chains with a mark-up and then the retail chains sell them at a smaller mark-up. The retail chains merely remove most or all of their own mark-ups when they have clearance sales (or when a specific model is being replaced by a newer model or as specific model is being discontinued altogether).
You can find pre-built desktop computers at other places besides retail chains and I’ll get to that it in minute when I focus on Linux-based desktop PCs for sale. Pre-built desktop computers usually come with a 1-year warranty which can be upgraded most of the time. You can’t open the case and clean it during the warranty period – you have to take to a service center or you’ll void your warranty. In an extremely humid climate, you’ll definitely want it cleaned before you reach the 1-year mark and a can of air isn’t going to clean out the gunk between the CPU fan blades or the other fan blades. I write from experience.
Build your own PC
It’s really not that difficult to build your own PC, but the problem is you’re going to be paying retail prices for the parts. You can find every part you need online at Amazon.com or offline at places like Fry’s Electronics. You can still find good deals on parts if you’re willing to either sacrifice on the latest models or wait for specific parts to drop in price.
Before you start on a project like this, you need to compile a list of the parts you need, from the tools required to do the job to the monitor you’re going to use for display.
- Computer tool kit. The most important tool is the small Philips screwdriver, so don’t get the most expensive kit. You don’t want to buy tools you’ll never use.
- Barebones computer case. You need to be careful to buy only what you need. Some cases come with motherboards and some with motherboards and power supply units. Check the specs because you don’t want to buy two of anything.
- Motherboard. You want the right motherboard for the right case. If your case calls for a mini-ATX motherboard, then that’s the type of motherboard you need to buy. You need the right motherboard for the CPU you’re going to buy. It doesn’t make sense to buy a motherboard that only works for Intel processors, for example, if your CPU choice happens to be AMD. You also need a motherboard that will hold as much memory as you want to install. Don’t limit yourself to 4 gigabytes if you’re going to be running a 64-bit processor.
- Memory. It doesn’t matter what the chips are called, just make sure they’re the chips that can be used with your motherboard. Don’t buy the cheap chips because they’ll fail on you within a year or two, trust me.
- Power supply unit. Make sure it fits the case and make sure the wattage isn’t below 400. With all the things we tend to plug in by USB or whatever, a beefier PSU can handle what the others can’t (before failing).
- Keyboard, mouse, trackball or other pointing device. If your motherboard includes PS/2, USB, Firewire and other various input ports, you have a lot of choices. Be careful not to buy PS/2 input devices if you don’t have PS/2 ports. You can’t go wrong with USB.
- Video and audio cards. Most motherboards support shared memory for video and audio, so whether you add them or not depends on what you’ll be using your PC for in the first place. From experience, I can tell you that adding them will make watching high resolution videos and high bitrate audio a much more pleasant experience.
- Monitor. There are so many choices available. Your best bang for the buck, right now, is an LCD monitor. The newer models don’t have as many pixel-related problems as the older models and if it still bothers you, the next step would be an LED monitor. Even then, you have to remember that bigger isn’t always better.
I didn’t list every possible component you might need (like speakers or headsets). I merely listed what you need to buy as a minimum and even then video cards and audio cards are optional. Unlike pre-built computers, you won’t have to worry about voiding any warranties just by opening the case. Chances are, each component has its own warranty.
Pre-Built Linux PCs
No, I’m not going to get into the Apple or Windows computers because you can find them anywhere and you can get some smoking deals if you look hard and long enough. I’m going to concentrate on what you can’t find easily: Pre-built Linux PCs.
You can search on your own and find places that sell pre-built Linux computers online, both desktop and laptop, but you need to steer clear of any website that doesn’t give you all the specs and doesn’t allow you to choose some of your components.
I like how Eight Virtues is set up, but it’s only one of many such sites. From what I can see, you save a bit by not buying Windows whatever bundled as OEM and you can save more by making sure you don’t buy what you don’t need, even if it’s listed as the top choice.
Don’t be afraid to wander into uncharted territory. If you build your own PC, you know what’s inside and you know what to replace when something fails. When you buy one already built, you’re taking a chance on poor workmanship, regardless of how small that chance may be.
Don’t limit yourself to one of the Windows operating systems. Most of the applications that run on Windows have a counterpart in other operating systems. While running Linux, I only had one application that couldn’t be replaced. In a case like that, there’s nothing wrong with simply installing virtual machine software and running Windows whatever as a guest operating system. Of course, that means you actually have to buy Windows.
If you find a good deal on a pre-built Windows PC, there’s a good chance that it will run Ubuntu Linux. Just make sure you get a copy of the OEM CD for Windows (or build one from the restore partition or something) so you don’t have to buy it again.