One of the primary mistakes made when buying a new desktop computer is how much you spend.
If you spend too little in an attempt to save some money, you will likely get a machine that is not what you want or need. Economy machines, $ 300 or less, will end up costing you more to upgrade in the long run as your computer skills and needs increase, if upgrading them is even possible. Then again if you get a machine with all the bells and whistles you will likely never use the power offered and will have wasted a lot of money. This is what too many people mistakenly do in the hope that more is better. Remember computers do not appreciate in value. In 2-5 years your high end machine, which can cost well over $ 1000, will probably be almost obsolescent anyway.
Set yourself a realistic budget, $ 400 – $ 700 should be enough. Then compare the specifications and prices of different machines from various manufacturers before you considering buying. Most importantly never let someone pressure you into spending more than you want and always ask questions if you do not understand something; the only dumb question is the one you do not ask.
First you need to look at the operating system (OS); the program that allows you to make the computer do what you want. Vista is the newest version of Windows and comes installed in most new computers, but do not discount XP. Windows XP is a few years older but that means Microsoft has had a lot of time to work out the bugs. Some machines still come preloaded with XP, which could save you up to $ 100 depending on the manufacturer.
Next you should look at the computer's processor (CPU). The base level processor in many new machines is 2 Gigahertz (GHz). For someone who main interest is surfing the net, emailing and possibly buying a little music on line a 2 – 2.4 GHz processor is ideal. Keep in mind that upgrading is not cheap and going from a 2 GHz to a 2.4 GHz CPU can cost up to $ 250.
The hard drive (HD) is the place where your computer stores all the programs, pictures and other stuff you put on it. Choosing one, while important, can be a very expensive. If you buy a lot of music online, download a lot of videos, or install numerous programs you are probably going to need at least 160 gigabyte (GB) of storage. You can still buy machines with an 80 GB HD, but you will be amazed at how fast it fills up. Just keep in mind that each step up you take will run about $ 50 more than the one below it. A 500 GB HD can cost $ 100 more than the 250 GB HD. I recommend staying in the 250 – 500 GB range. Going with a big, but not necessarily the largest HD, will keep you from having to upgrade or buy an external hard drive in the near future, so it still saves you money.
Next you need to look at the memory (RAM) for your machine. RAM is one of the most overlooked aspects of a new computer purchase. This is the one area where more is generally better. If you decide to get a machine that is running Vista, I recommend nothing less than 2GB. With XP I would get no less than 1GB. Each 1 GB of memory you add to your machine, before you buy, will probably cost around $ 50, so staying in the 1 – 3 GB range is satisfactory. The memory helps determine how quickly your machine can process information, which is handy for making sure your brand new machine does not run slow.
All new computers come capable of producing fairly high quality graphics and sounds, so unless you're a true audiophile or plan to play a lot of graphically detailed games on your PC sticking with the cards that's come in the base model of the computer is generally a good choice. This is also a good place to save some money as upgrading the graphics / video and sound card can cost $ 100 or more.
DVD +/- R drives, which will play DVDs, CDs, and give you the ability to burn both, come standard in new machines and are included in the price. If not, I would recommend buying from a different company. DVDs hold substantially more than CDs and allow you to save more data (pictures, music, etc) on fewer disks. You also have the option of upgrading to a Blu-ray drive (DVD +/- RW BD-Rom) for about $ 200 or less. While this is much cheaper than buying a Blu-ray player for your living room, I recommend using the extra $ 200 to get more memory, a faster CPU, bigger HD or take your family out to dinner.
Flat screen monitors are pretty much the industry standard and come with most new computer purchases, but not all. If you already have a monitor that you are happy with, then you could save $ 200 or more if you buy a machine without the monitor. If you do not have a monitor already, or want a new one make sure that it is included in the price. If not, you are going to be very upset when you have to spend a couple hundred dollars to get one or you open that box to find a machine that you can not use.