How to Choose the Best PC Home Computer
While the computer CPU, memory, graphics card and storage components may all sound familiar. The fact is that your needs have evolved well past the capabilities of the devices in your existing trusty dusty dial core PC.
It’s a simple fact that we are all doing a lot more with our desktop computers than we were 5 years ago. Where a 19 inch monitor was then the norm now it’s a 24 inch monitor and in many cases productivity enhancing multiple monitors that are becoming more commonly required.
Because we have more browser tabs open and we are watching video clips while we’re browsing the web, checking out our social networks while we check out the news while we are working in Word. We need more CPU processing power, higher speed memory, better graphics and more storage.
Therefore the task of finding the next PC computer which will meet our ongoing requirements has become more complex.
The Best PC Computer:
CPU The Basics:
The best PC computer should include a higher clock speed multicore processor (CPU) and as much (DDR3 RAM) memory as you can afford.
The processor is the most important component for any new PC. All other components are then chosen to maximize the performance of the available processing.
Deciding which processor to opt for is not an easy task for the non-technical buyer who will likely not appreciate the difference between Intel core i3, i5 and i7 processors.
Understanding the differences between Intel cores, threads and hyper-threading can be confusing.
Processors have evolved from having a single core where higher clock speeds defined the processors performance.
To today’s processors have multiple cores with 2, 4, or 6 processors in a single package.
Intel processor cores can have either one or two threads. If they have two threads they will also have hyper-threading which is designed to turn one core into two operating system (OS) virtual processors.
The advantage of a virtual processor is to be able to increase processing capability while limiting the power consumption.
The obvious benefit of this technology can be found in more powerful laptops and netbook PCs where a 2 core 13 watt processor can have 4 virtual processors.
For desktop PC computers where power consumption is not so much of an issue single thread quad cores are a reasonable alternative.
More costly higher performance computers use 4 or 6 hyper-threading cores which have 8 or 12 virtual processors running at higher clock speeds.
Having all this processing power is like having an exotic sports car that has to be set up correctly to be able to transfer the power to the road. Sports cars are impractical for everyday use.
It’s memory that puts the CPU’s processing to practical use. Having it included in the processor core makes it more efficient.
Motherboard memory and storage facilitate high speed read/write access to processes, executable’s and files. It’s pointless having high speed processing only to find that there are bottle necks in other PC components.
So how much of this processing power should we have to meet our daily computing needs?
Read my Intel i5 Computer build post for my component selection and build process for the ultimate PC computer choice for most user applications.
Intel CPU Choice Examples:
Intel processors cover a broad range of performance starting at the low end with 2 cores, 4 threads, 3MB cash and a base clock speed of 2.6GHz for an entry level i5 (3230M) Ivy bridge product. At the higher end is an i7 (3770K) Ivy bridge processor with 4 core, 8 threads, 8MB cash and a clock speed of 3.5GHz.
Both of these processors include on board HD graphics 4000 supporting the same high quality graphics for up to 3 monitors. While the graphics may be identical the user experience between these two processors under load conditions will be very significant.
The key ingredients if you want to run multiple tasks at the same time on your computer are the number of threads allowing you to run multiple processes at the same time, combined with the necessary amount of memory and higher processor clock speed.
This clearly differentiates the Intel i7 which for the additional cost of around $100 (component retail cost) is vastly superior to the 2 core i5 in every way.
The low end processors for desktop PC’s are becoming less available. However if you’re buying a PC from a box store you should be aware that not all i5 processors have similar performance and to be careful to check the processor clock speed and memory that is included in the pc package.
For example the i5-3570K processor with 4 cores, 4 threads, 6MB cash and a clock speed of 3.80GHz is a very respectable alternative to the i7-3770K for most users and is around $75 cheaper.
It’s the third generation i5 processor which is included my blog post which has more than enough processing power for most users. The fourth generation i5-4670k chip is slightly more expensive and almost identical to the i5-3570K but with a slightly more advanced graphics chip.
Again most users are not going to need high end graphics capabilities. The Intel on board graphics chips provide both excellent value and comparable performance to many plugin graphics gaming cards.
Memory and Storage:
I recommend at least 4 gigs of dual channel DDR3 memory per core for providing ample overhead to ensure optimal processor performance. Here again speed is important, CPU’s and motherboards support a range of speeds currently typically 1066/1333/1600MHz dual channel (4 SIM slots) up to 32gigs.
Memory is used by the operating system processes, browsers and other open applications and services.
You will see in the image of my Windows Task Manager Performance tab that my Windows 7 i7-3820 PC uses 2.5GB of memory during the minimal load conditions on my computer.
Solid state drives (SSD) are becoming available on higher end PC’s which use them for the local C:\system disk and also include a 1TB disk for non-core program applications and file storage. PC boot up can be up to four times faster with an SSD compared with a hard disk drive, system drive program boot-ups and file access speed are also greatly improved.
PC Computer Buying guide:
When buying a brand name PC Computer from a box store medium priced systems between $800 and $1200 (monitor not included) seem to generally provide the best value. These systems often include a keyboard and mouse but not a monitor.
iMacs are very popular however while they may look very attractive and run on a slightly different operating system. Performance and hardware wise the lower end ($1250 to $1500 + tax) PC’s are about the same or slightly inferior to other higher end entry level desktop products.
iMacs seem to be a compromise, opting for medium priced plugin graphics cards while using lower clock speed CPU’s, missing optical drives, HDMI out, E-SATA and uninspiring video memory.
Low End Medium Priced Desktop PC Example:
An ASUS CMS6730 i5-3330 with an ASUS VS248H-P monitor would compare very favorably performance wise at less than $700 +tax in comparison with the more fashionable 21” iMac product at $1500 +tax many “non-technically savvy” consumers would choose.
It can also be upgraded with a high end gaming graphics card and still come in under the cost of the iMac.
High End Medium Priced Desktop PC Example:
A high end medium priced PC is the i7-3770K/128GB SSD 2TB Pavilion HPE Phoenix h9-1387 gaming PC. At around $1400+tax it’s performance is light years ahead of the iMAC brand similar price point alternative.
The 128GB SSD although it’s a small drive it sets apart from all hard disk system drive PC’s . The i7-3770K CPU is overkill because this PC includes an AMD Radeon HD7770 GHz PCI graphics card.
High i7 processors are only necessary where systems are used as servers or for compiling large amounts of data. For example for video editing during the compiling of high definition video.
High End High Priced Desktop PC’s:
Generally, for high end PC’s, box stores do not provide good value. High end computers often include a more expensive graphics cards, larger SSD storage and higher priced processors. With Prices going up to $4K, store profit margins on these are substantial, particularly when many of the component parts are very similar to higher end medium priced systems.
It’s worth having a custom system built to meet your personal needs.
The Best PC Computer Conclusions:
There are always compromises when buying a desktop computer. The biggest temptation is to settle for looks and ownership kudos over value and performance.
High quality PC components are readily available and not expensive. It pays to shop around for a high performance 4 core i5 processor like the 3570K. The HP Pavilion HPE h8-1427 at around $650 + tax is a great value example.
Incorporating the right components, processing performance translates into having sufficient processing, memory overhead, and clock speed for the occasions when it’s needed.
It’s worth spending a little extra for a PC package that includes a solid state system drive. These SSD’s are just now becoming available in some slightly more expensive box store PC packages. SSD’s greatly improve system/program start up and file read/write times.
For high end gamer’s, investing in a more expensive graphics card is better value than putting money into a very expensive processor package. The i5-3570K processor is plenty sufficient for most gamer’s.
Today, computer components are very reliable. If a component failure occurs, it’s most likely to be within the warranty period. The useful life of PC’s can be between eight and ten years.
The biggest issue with PC’s is the overheating of components which will prematurely age them and in many cases cause them to fail prematurely. It’s important that the processor and other components are kept free of heavy dust build up and that there is unrestricted air flow around the PC cabinet.
My Desktop Computer’s:
I have built five quad core PC’s both AMD and Intel systems with the most recent being a i7-3770K and a four channel i7-3820 with GTX 670 graphics cards water cooling and multiple ASUS VS248H-P monitors.
I use my PC’s for image and video editing/production, code and website development and other administrative purposes. They have Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Fedora Linux operating systems and multiple servers installed.
PS. If you have questions about this or any of my other posts please comment. I read all comments but be warned persistent spammers get automatically redirected to a spam box where they are deleted.
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