Once you've figured out how your family will be using your computer, then you can focus on your options. If you're on a limited budget, want to surf the Web and check e-mail, but not much else and you definitely don't want to spend a fortune, get a compact PC. They cost about $300 to $600, plus they take up about half the space of a regular desktop. The disadvantage is that they don't offer much processing power, but you should be able to add memory. Or, look into buying a tower computer with a lower-end processor or older hardware. You can spend as little as $500, but still get good speed out of your processor. The disadvantage is that you may have trouble playing back high-resolution graphics and videos, and older PCs are harder to upgrade.
If you have a little cash to spend, but don't need all the bells and whistles, buy a desktop computer with a dual-core CPU and 4 to 8 gigabytes (GB) of memory. You'll spend in the range of $800 to $1,500, but for that you'll get enough power to play games, watch videos and organize your photos [sources: PC World, CNET]. You'll also get decent media playback, plus a Blu-ray drive (in most computers). If you're serious about photography, movies or video games, go for a performance PC with a quad-core or six-core CPU and 8 GB or more of memory. Although it will set you back $1,500 or more, you'll get a processor that can handle the most detailed graphics. Serious gamers can add a large hard drive and a graphics card. For a lower-cost solution, just buy extra RAM and a graphics card. If you're not computer-savvy, get an all-in-one desktop PC, which incorporates the monitor and CPU in one unit. Plug it in and you're pretty much ready to go. A PC with a touchscreen makes computing even easier.
An all-in-one PC can also save space, especially if it comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse to cut down on the cords. Busy professionals should go for a laptop. They've got enough memory to use at home, plus they're portable enough to take with you. You can upgrade the laptop's processing unit if you want to use it to play high-end games, or get one outfitted with a Blu-ray drive so you can watch high-def movies. If you want to save money, however, you could buy a netbook (which can cost up to $400), although it won't have much functionality beyond letting you surf the Web or take notes in class [source: PC World]. Netbooks are better for taking with you than for using at home, which makes them ideal for students or busy professionals.
- "Computer Guide." Consumer Reports. (Nov. 8, 2011) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/electronics-computers/computers-internet/computers/computer-buying-advice/computer-getting-started/computer-getting-started.htm.
- Cross, Jason. "Laptop Buying Guide: Shopping for the Right Notebook." PC World. July 20, 2011. (Nov. 8, 2011) http://www.pcworld.com/article/211000/laptop_buying_guide_shopping_for_the_right_notebook.html.
- Derene, Glenn. "Mac vs. PC: The Ultimate Lab Test for New Desktops & Laptops." Popular Mechanics. December 8, 2009 (Nov. 11, 2011) http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/tests/4258725
- "Desktop Buying Guide." CNET. March 24, 2010 (Nov.8, 2011) http://reviews.cnet.com/desktop-computer-buying-guide/
- McCracken, Harry. "PC vs. Mac: The Straight Scoop." Technologizer. Feb. 27, 2010 (November 11, 2011) http://technologizer.com/2010/02/27/pc-or-mac/.
- Nate, Ralph. "Desktop PC Buying Guide: Choosing the Right Desktop PC." PC World. March 15, 2010. (Nov. 8, 2011) http://www.pcworld.com/article/191580/desktop_pc_buying_guide_choosing_the_right_desktop_pc.html
- "Printer Buying Guide." CNET. November 12, 2009 (Nov.r 8, 2011) http://reviews.cnet.com/printer-buying-guide/?tag=contentMain;contentBody.
- Santo Domingo, Joel. "How to Buy an External Hard Drive." PC Mag. March 10, 2011 (Nov. 11, 2011) http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2358135,00.asp#fbid=ST9fTyoz2hx.