How do I chose a good budget desktop computer?

Started Nov 14, 2012 | Questions
Jim Cockfield
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Note that they use laptop processors....
In reply to FNorman, Nov 15, 2012

FNorman wrote:

I still have to make up my mind as to exactly what I want, but some of these offers seem like they're too good to pass up (I can buy 2 or 3 computers for what I was going to spend on one). Another post suggested I go with the Mac Mini, which I like, but I'm not completely sold on the idea that its the best option (as much as I like the form factor). It's also been suggested by various sources that Macs are in some way superior, but the PCs seem like they are a much better value. (No sales on Apple as far as I know, unless that changes with the upcoming holiday season.)

Also note that the Mac Mini uses a mobile processor. For example, the latest model with a Core i5 CPU is using a Core i5 3210M (the M suffix is used for mobile CPUs).

Basically, they're the same type of processors you'd find used in a laptop. Ditto for memory type (they use SODIMMs like a laptop would use) and hard drives (they use smaller 2.5" drives like you'd find in a laptop).

So, they're not going to perform as well as a similar desktop processor, because they're designed for lower power draw, meaning lower performance levels.

For example, the Core i5 3210M in a newer Mac Mini tests at 3878 on the passmark benchmarks:

http://www.cpubenchmark.net/cpu.php?cpu=Intel+Core+i5-3210M+%40+2.50GHz

The Core i3 2120 mentioned in the Dell you could get for $335 after a coupon code tests at a faster 3973

http://www.cpubenchmark.net/cpu.php?cpu=Intel+Core+i3-2120+%40+3.30GHz

Basically, unlike the Core i5 desktop CPUs which are Quad Core, the Core i5 Mobile CPUs are dual core (like you'd have with a desktop Core i3 CPU).

Now, the Mac Mini does have a newer Ivy Bridge CPU model, and it's built in graphics are faster (it uses the newer HD 4000 graphics). But, like a laptop, you've got limited internal expandability, whereas with a larger desktop model, you can easily add another internal hard drive, dedicated video card if desired, and more.

If you're a good shopper, you can also find some Quad Core desktop models that would keep you around $400. For example, I see an Inpiron 620 in the listings right now with a Core i5 2320 (which has 4 physical cores) with 6GB of DDR3, and a 7200rpm 1TB Drive in it for $489. So, after a 20% off coupon code, that would only set you back around $392.

That CPU tests at 5775 on the Passmark Benchmarks:

http://www.cpubenchmark.net/cpu.php?cpu=Intel+Core+i5-2320+%40+3.00GHz

Here's a screen capture showing one like that:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4536228/dell620.jpeg

But, in reality, for what you sound like you need a PC for (browsing jpeg images using Picasa, using MS Office, browsing), any of them would be just fine. You don't need a very powerful PC for those tasks.

Note that the 20% off coupon on Dell Outlet desktops is 48 hour special. So, if you're not planning on buying anything right now, I'd get on their mailing list so you'll get e-mails about future deals like that. They tend to have them on a regular basis (usually around once/month). I'd sign up for both the Dell Outlet Home and Business Deals (and you can buy from either Outlet, even if you're not a business). They just have two different product lines, and have specials that are independent of each other. For example, the Inspiron lineup is Dell Home's value line of PCs, whereas the Vostro line is the value line of PCs in their business lineup.

Here's where you can get on the mailing lists for both Dell Outlet Home and Business specials:

http://www.dell.com/content/topics/segtopic.aspx/subscription_landing?c=us&l=en&s=dfo

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FNorman
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Re: Note that they use laptop processors....
In reply to Jim Cockfield, Nov 15, 2012

Thanks again, I really appreciate all the help.

I will be sure to get on there mailing lists/be checking again the website again today to see what comes up. I did just see an ad on the side of my screen a few minutes ago advertising black Friday "doorbusters" that linked to the Dell website, but that sale is a week or so from now so I'll be taking that into consideration as well (since I'd be willing to wait a couple weeks if its worthwhile, although I have doubts over whether the sales then will be that much better).

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FNorman
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I appreciate everybody's advice! I ended up getting a new base model Dell XPS 8500.
In reply to FNorman, Dec 2, 2012

It is expected to be delivered this coming Wednesday. The computer has an Intel i5 processor, 1TB hard drive, and 8GB of ram. It came to $686.60 with tax (which is always ridiculous living in NY). Two day shipping was free. Additionally I will be getting a Dell gift card for 5% of the purchase price for having purchased it through the Dell Member program (Who knew AAA could get you a discount on a PC?) and another 5% Cash back on my credit card.

Based on what I have read on other threads the only thing I'm nervous about at this point is Windows 8. I would have purchased a Windows 7 machine, but they seemed to be in short supply, and some of them actually seemed to cost slightly more.

I think I can learn to live without the "Start menu." The compatibility issues with older programs could be an issue. I see Picasa hasn't released a version specifically for Windows 8 yet. Additionally I bought a Canon Canoscan 9000f to bring some of my family's old photos back to life, so fingers crossed that it works well on the new OS.

All in all, I think I will be happy. I ended up spending a little more (I had been leaning towards a sub $500 model for the past few weeks) but the expandability of the XPS appealed to me and I like that I can add to it if I want to down the road.

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Chris Noble
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RAM is not used just for apps
In reply to BobSC, Dec 2, 2012

BobSC wrote:

I have a bunch of RAM in my 64bit windows7 machines. According to task manager I rarely, rarely use over 3 gb. I run photoshop, illustrator, word, excel, and some other stuff all at once with large files opened.

There are a lot of posts on this forum like this one. The OS uses RAM to cache frequently-accessed pages. Get at least 8 GB.

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skyglider
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Re: I appreciate everybody's advice! I ended up getting a new base model Dell XPS 8500.
In reply to FNorman, Dec 2, 2012

FNorman wrote:

It is expected to be delivered this coming Wednesday. The computer has an Intel i5 processor, 1TB hard drive, and 8GB of ram. It came to $686.60 with tax (which is always ridiculous living in NY). Two day shipping was free. Additionally I will be getting a Dell gift card for 5% of the purchase price for having purchased it through the Dell Member program (Who knew AAA could get you a discount on a PC?) and another 5% Cash back on my credit card.

Based on what I have read on other threads the only thing I'm nervous about at this point is Windows 8. I would have purchased a Windows 7 machine, but they seemed to be in short supply, and some of them actually seemed to cost slightly more.

I think I can learn to live without the "Start menu." The compatibility issues with older programs could be an issue. I see Picasa hasn't released a version specifically for Windows 8 yet. Additionally I bought a Canon Canoscan 9000f to bring some of my family's old photos back to life, so fingers crossed that it works well on the new OS.

All in all, I think I will be happy. I ended up spending a little more (I had been leaning towards a sub $500 model for the past few weeks) but the expandability of the XPS appealed to me and I like that I can add to it if I want to down the road.

Congrats on a great choice of hardware.  (Not so sure about the windows 8 though) 

One suggestion.  When you receive your new PC, maybe consider partitioning the HDD for 124 GB for the system (and programs) partition.  Then if you decide to upgrade to a SSD later, you could get a 128 GB one and transfer the system into the SSD.  124GB would definitely be smaller than a 128GB SSD so the transfer should work.

Also, making a smaller partition for the system and programs will allow you to backup your system easier.  You can make more frequent backups of the data partition without having to needlessly backup your OS and programs.  You can backup your system partition when you install new software without having to backup your data partition.  Lots of advantages to keeping system and programs separate from your data.

However, there's a caveat.  Owning a Dell laptop, I know that Dell says that partitioning the HDD can void tech support from them.  But I think that's just a CYA and they will still provide tech support.  I partitioned the hard drive on my laptop when I received it but never had to rely on Dell's tech support anyway.

Just some things to consider,
Sky

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Paul Belanger
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Re: How do I chose a good budget desktop computer?
In reply to FNorman, Dec 2, 2012

For a PC I would concentrate on 5 factors

1) check to make sure the motherboard supports EUFI. (best to google this up for a review of what it really means) This is the newer standard for 3GB or greater HDD high speed access.

2) Check the motherboard/system for USB 3, the newer standard transfer rates for devices like SD and CF cards etc, many units now offer two or four USB 3 inputs along with more USB 2 legacy inputs.

3) check for higher speed video capabilities, Many motherboards have native 1GB video capabilities and higher speed graphics built right in. Nice if you can find one with a display port connector, I suspect you will have to settle with a DVI type (dual if possible) and and HDMI (which is good)

4) Check for PCIe ver3 card slots. Then if you ever upgrade to a better third party video card there will be no hassles.

5) Check the memory transfer rates. values like 1660 etc will really help. Or terms like PC10600. Google this up as well! The memory transfer has always bugged me. look for DDR3 or better transfer standards.

I wouldn't obsess about the overall amount of RAM. On my computer, an old HP Pavillion Elite I have 7GB of RAM and have never used more than 3GB at any one time regardless of what program(s) I am running (as read by my CPU gadget usage meter.) Most systems offer plenty of RAM today, I would focus on the transfer speed of that memory.

In my opinion it is the transfer  rate that really counts. For me the motherboard buss system is the biggest drawback in most systems. I believe that's where a lot of generic PC makers really cut back to save the bucks.

Most PCs will offer i3 or i5 dual or quad core processors running up 3GhZ or better so no real problem there. Power units will have the newer i7 quad or hex core at 3.4Ghz or so but I think one could avoid the extra expense there without much penalty.

If you get a less expensive system with an AMD  multi core processor ( My HP has a, now old technology, quad core AMD Phenom running at 2.4Ghz which is passable, even with the old slower buss) you can achieve the above requirements in a desktop PC within your 1K budget. With Itel chips it is a tighter squeeze but I bet after Xmas there will be deals out there. This will give you a longer technological life cycle by having most of not all of the future features in place. I would predict a good 5 years before technology would begin to obsolete such a system.

About the MAC world I know nothing1

Didn't mean to run on but hope this will help a bit.

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Paul Belanger
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Re: I appreciate everybody's advice! I ended up getting a new base model Dell XPS 8500.
In reply to FNorman, Dec 2, 2012

Silly me.

Good luck with your new system, it covers everything I mentioned. I suspect most newer purchases are getting fairly standard in that respect

Merry Xmas to you mate.

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calson
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Re: How do I chose a good budget desktop computer?
In reply to FNorman, Dec 5, 2012

I bought a top of the line HP tower business class with Intel i7 processor, AMD video card, 6GB RAM installed, USB 3, 1GB Ethernet, 750GB hard drive, onboard support for RAID, and 3 years onsite support for $800. You can save by getting a i5 processor instead of the i7 and by starting out with less RAM but be sure the PC will support 8GB of RAM on the motherboard and that it comes with USB3 and 1GB Ethernet and 802.11n supported.

Where I would not go is to a second tier computer with terrible tech support like Dell, Asus, and the white box computers. No reason not to go with a top tier company like HP or Lenovo and get great service. Stay away from the refurb units and I would stay away from Windows 8 which offers no performance advantages and distinct support disadvantages.

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jamesdak
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Re: How do I chose a good budget desktop computer?
In reply to calson, Dec 5, 2012

calson wrote:

I bought a top of the line HP tower business class with Intel i7 processor, AMD video card, 6GB RAM installed, USB 3, 1GB Ethernet, 750GB hard drive, onboard support for RAID, and 3 years onsite support for $800. You can save by getting a i5 processor instead of the i7 and by starting out with less RAM but be sure the PC will support 8GB of RAM on the motherboard and that it comes with USB3 and 1GB Ethernet and 802.11n supported.

Where I would not go is to a second tier computer with terrible tech support like Dell, Asus, and the white box computers. No reason not to go with a top tier company like HP or Lenovo and get great service. Stay away from the refurb units and I would stay away from Windows 8 which offers no performance advantages and distinct support disadvantages.

LOL, Just to add to the confusion, I would not recommend HP but would Dell.  My Dells have been totally reliable while my HP has not.  Funny how we see things differently based on our own experiences

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