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Hardware: Desktops

Acquiring a new computer can be daunting given all of the choices. Once you have made the decision to get a desktop computer over a laptop, or tablet, the next question should be "from where?", as opposed to "which one?". The difference can be subtle but important.


Most suppliers of computers will have quite a few different models available aimed at different target groups. Choosing a supplier you trust is important even if you never have a problem with your computer because of the peace-of-mind of knowing you have a good support structure behind you. Experience has taught us that access to excellent service, from making the initial choice of model, to technical help when you need help is worth as much as a reliable machine.


Academic Support at the University of Waterloo has always promoted buying "business-class" PCs. Most vendors have cheaper units they aim at the home market where they may not be powered up as often, or as long as they might be in an office. Even for at home, if you can afford a little more money you'd be well advised to do so to get the better machine or choose from the better line.

Sweet Spot

Every month it seems, the "sweet spot", or best value-for-your-money changes when purchasing a computer. Realistically, once you have decided that a 3GHz CPU will meet your needs just fine there is little to be gained by upgrading to a 3.6GHz. If the price were only $30 more though, why not. The same is true of hard drives, video cards and most other components. A reputable vendor will only recommend reasonable alternatives.


The old adage "more is better" has never been more true. If you feel you can get by with 512MB for the life of the computer, it's probably enough. New versions of the operating system always demand more, but it may be time to purchase a new computer by then. Do not purchase a PC with the intent of upgrading the memory afterwards, if you can afford to upgrade the amount of memory now. (You sometimes have to throw away memory to increase the size. The price may also increase.)


Do not buy the cheapest peripherals thinking they are not important. Good quality keyboards (for instance) are cheap. Pay the little extra. You'll be glad you did.

Form Factor

Purchase the size you feel comfortable with. Ultra small desktops are fairly new. Decide if you'd like others to prove them first, or not. Make sure to look inside and have an independent technician tell you the strengths and weaknesses, if possible. We believe the future is with smaller units. They have still to prove themselves.

Ports and Lights

Almost all computers come with the same set of ports now. A must is: at least 4 USB ports (with two on the front), serial, parallel, digital and analog video ports are really nice but only one (matched to your monitor of course) would do. A keyboard and a mouse port are still nice because there are some wonderful heavy-duty.

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Created by: Manfred Grisebach, July 28th, 2005