Making the right decisions while buying a PC

November 24, 2006
With the speed with which advances are made on the technological front, I sometimes wonder if buying an electronic product now is a good decision. Especially since if I choose to wait for a couple more months, I could get an even better product with more features at more or less the same price as the product I intended to buy now.

This truism is especially valid while buying a PC. On the one hand, the applications that are being developed demand more and more processing power and memory to run at their optimal level and on the other, the hardware prices are coming down at a steep rate. So if I go out to buy a PC, I have to make sure that it will be able to meet my purpose for atleast the next one and half to two years... after which it will be time to either upgrade - if I am lucky enough to have taken the right decision of buying a PC which was designed with expansions in mind, or just discard the PC and buy a new one.

So what are the things you need to watch out for if you are seriously considering buying a PC now? Thomas Soderstrom has written a very informative article which throws light on the components that one should select to be included in ones PC. He touches on the cases to be used such as full towers, ATX, mini ATX, shuttle form factor and so on, the best processor (CPU), the type of interface slots on the motherboard, the memory, the capacity of the hard drive and so on.

The gist of his choice filters down to the following:
  • ATX tower case - is capable of holding a full size motherboard with space for several optical drives and is ideal for home users and gaming enthusiasts.
  • CPU - As of now Intel core duo provides the best power-performance-price ratio. Enough applications have been optimized for dual-core chips that these should be considered for any moderate to heavy use, especially when multitasking.
  • Always go for motherboards that have the PCI Express slots over the now fast becoming outdated ordinary PCI slots.
  • And with respect to memory (RAM), your best bet is to go for atleast DDR-400 and above though ideally DDR2-800 is recommended. And don't even think of a machine with less than 512 MB RAM. The article strongly recommends a choice of 2 GB memory if you can afford it as near future applications and OSes will demand that much memory.
  • On the storage front, if you are in the habit of archiving video or hoarding music on your hard disk, do consider atleast a hard disk of 150 GB. The article recommends Western Digital's Raptor 150 GB drives if you are on the look out for better performance and Seagate Barracuda 750 GB for those on the look out for larger capacity drives. Both are costly though.
  • And do go for a DVD writer over a CD-RW/DVD combo.
I remember reading an article on the best value Desktop PC in the most recent print edition of PCWorld (Indian edition) magazine. And they selected the "HCL Ezeebee Z991 Core2 Duo" branded PC as the best buy from among a number of other branded PCs. This PC sports the Intel core 2 Duo E6300 processor, 512 MB DDR2 RAM, An optical DVD-RW drive and 160 GB SATA hard disk.

Something I have noticed is that in India, the PCs that are advertised sport just enough memory for the current needs. In fact, it is the habit of these people to skimp on memory while selling a PC. Every day, I see atleast 3 to 4 advertisements selling PCs with just 256 MB memory and in one or two cases with a measly 128 MB. The rule of the thumb to follow is the more memory the better.


  • Just wanted to say, it's great to see pretty constant updates again. I missed new stories here, and your blog has moved up to number 2 on my blogs to visit list on my site.

  • Just wondering if there are any things to avoid if you are going to build a Linux only PC? Does all new hardware work without trouble under the newest Linux Distros?

  • Ravi

    Ones best bet is to stay clear of cutting edge hardware while buying a PC intended for Linux. Even though the support for various hardware has improved considerably, there are devices such as certain wireless cards which do not have drivers for Linux yet and even there, people have been able to use a round about method to get these devices to work. You can find a collection of links to laptop manufacturers who sell laptops loaded with Linux.

  • More than the paucity of RAM in these pre-built systems, what really bugs me is that *most* of them use smaller form-factor (read micro-ATX) motherboards which support only one or two PCI/PCI-E slots at the best.

    What bugs me even more is the kind of RAM they use. At 400 MHz DDR CL3 (talking slightly older pre-built machines here - for the K7 and older K8 platforms specifically) you're really pushing up daisies.

    What bugs me the most, though, is the abysmally low quality of power supplies they use. If you think of adding an add-on graphics card and want to indulge in some more than moderate gaming you're in all probability going to experience random freezes and crashes, because the system is not beefy enough to power all components at full throttle.

    With quality control and easy warranties on pre-built systems, this is probably not *that* big an issue as it is when it comes to self-assembled (or local store/vendor-assembled) PCs. People continue to be penny wise pound foolish - spending enormous amounts on fancy cases, keyboards and speakers, but not on more essential stuff like UPSes, power supplies etc.

    Anyways, thanks to everyone for listening to my rant. I shall go back into hiding now.