Why buy a desktop PC computer, iMac or Mac Pro in 2016? Well, although standard desktop computers reside at the unfashionable end of the computing spectrum, they have an inherent flexibility that cheap tablets, laptops and all-in-one PCs struggle to offer.
With the features, performance and familiarity of technology that allow home & businesses users to work productively, desktop computers offer a clear & affordable upgrade path, with owners being able to add multiple screens, upgrade graphics, sound and video cards, install additional hard drives and purchase additional memory (at a comparatively affordable cost).
That’s not to say that a single desktop PC will meet all of your computing needs. On the contrary, the popularity of smartphones and tablets has led many of us to become device-agnostic. However, a desktop in the home or office is still a comfortable and convenient base for making such devices work together. Especially in storing, accessing and exchanging common and important files that you may be reluctant to store / share in the cloud.
Do you require a desktop PC for simple tasks such as browsing the web, word processing and basic picture editing? A more powerful machine that will be used to help run your business (inlcuding EPOS touch terminals for retail environments)? Buying a desktop computer with faster CPU, more RAM and a larger (or faster SSD) hard drive will give you a longer window before it starts to feel obsolete. However, a higher specification may not be needed for a PC primarily used for Web browsing. That’s why it pays to be selective about the features you pay for, with dedicated graphics cards being more suited to gaming PCs and intensive graphics applications, while a Blu-ray drive has limited value if you rarely watch movies. On traditional Tower PCs adding additional components post-purchase is a key benefit, so choosing a specfication with good expandability is a smart, cost-effective option. In retail businesses, touch-screen EPOS systems make handling transactions more intuitive than traditional cash-till systems.
Small Form Factor PCs offer a good compromise between power and portability, with most systems being based on Intel's x86 family of CPUs i.e. Core and Pentium processors, along with AMD's Athlon, Opteron and Sempron families. The very smallest - such as Intel’s Next Unit of Computing - are considered to be mini desktop PCs, although here we concentrate on everyday home and office systems.
For this class of desktop, CPUs range from £340 Intel Core i3 based systems - with integrated Intel HD Graphics 4400 and USB 3.0 support - all the way through to £1000 powerfully equipped Intel Core i7 desktops with Intel HD 530 Graphics and optional high-end discrete graphics. SFF PCs can also be positioned vertically on a desktop, reducing their standard footprint still further.
Convenient tool-free chassis designs are a big help to IT staff, especially when upgrades need to be applied across multiple desktops. However, with SFF desktop PCs, expandability tends to be limited to memory upgrades, being less versatile in terms of motherboard expansion slots / bay space than mini-tower or full tower desktops. On our page listings pages, look out for small form factor desktop deals, especially those with cashback offers from brands such as HP.
Intel's quad-core (4th generation) i5 processor is found in many mini-tower desktops at the £300-£400 price range. A typical specification at this price comprises of 4GB or 8GB RAM (often expandable up to 16GB) coupled with a 500GB hard drive, while graphics are handled by Intel’s integrated Intel HD Graphics 4600 controller. At higher price points, either a dedicated entry level graphics card - such as NVIDIA’s Quadro 410 (with 512 MB DDR3 SDRAM) – will feature, or an upgraded processor such as Intel’s i7 4770 or 4790. Tool-less chassis designs, support for multiple monitors and USB 3.0 connections (superior to USB 2.0 specification) are also worth looking out for. For gamers, AMD’s A-Series A8 PRO processors (such as the 8650B) with Radeon R7A graphics offer better performance for 3D titles, although fully-fledged gaming PCs often feature AMD’s A8 7650K APU (as this can be easily over-clocked). If you plan to buy a tower desktop PC with expansion in mind, also consider a full ATX Tower case configuration (see below).
Typically offering the greatest level expandability and the ability to replace components yourself. For a fully-loaded all-purpose desktop, featuring a faster CPU, large hard drive and discrete graphics card expect to pay in the region of £900.
At this price level tool-less upgrades - with the ability to fully configure storage, interchangeable power supplies and graphics cards - are typically available, together with multiple monitor support and more I/O slots. Even more expensive options are generally geared towards graphics design, video editing, CAD or other demanding multimedia tasks.
In a category of their own are the latest Apple Mac Pros which, as far as desktop systems are concerned, look like nothing else on the market. Described as “reinventing the class from the inside out”, they are widely regarded as being the most powerful and expandable Mac Pros to date.
While standard desktops are often decidedly uncool, all-in-ones are the exception. Typically minimalistic, iMac-style PCs have the practical advantage of large screen size and resemble a high-end computer monitor, but with a full computer built into the back of the screen or stand.
Since the arrival of Windows 8 (and now with the introduction of Window 10) touch screen all in one computers have become more popular, although in general terms, the core components of such computers are far more important.
Aside from a sleek appearance and easy set-up options, many all in one PCs feature built-in webcams and vendor specific applications for using the device as a secondary home entertainment centre.
One drawback is that, with their streamlined dimensions, all in one desktops tend to use laptop versions of their listed CPU and graphics cards, making them less powerful than standard tower or desktop equivalents. And when it comes to upgradability, options can be limited and / or difficult to undertake by the user themselves. What’s more, if your all-in-one's display develops an issue, the downside may mean replacing the entire machine.
Desktop terminals which have an embedded operating system and specific configuration settings stored in flash memory are called thin clients. Connecting to applications in a virtualized shared data (server) environment - using a keyboard and mouse - they are designed to serve users within a client / server architecture. Thin clients do not process data, but rather receive screen output in return, handling it within the UI / operating system. The benefits are improved maintenance and security, with the update of software applications handled centrally to ensure that all users work within the same client environment. Specifications to look out for are the size and type of solid-state drive (SSD) used, whether the thin client has integrated dual display ports, the onboard processor and installed RAM (including whether shipped memory such as 4GB, can be expanded to 8GB).
Zero clients - as known as ultra-thin clients – differ slightly in that the device has no local memory. This minimizes the risks of company data getting into the wrong hands, as your intellectual property / business critical information stays safely on a central server.
Traditional mechanical (platter) hard drives are still installed on the majority of desktop computers, with a 500GB SATA hard drive (running at a spindle speed of 7,200rpm) being the recommended base configuration. Mid-priced desktops are usually shipped with a larger capacity drive (1TB) also running at 7,200rpm. A faster hard drive pays dividends when transferring large files or when rendering video. That said, the price premium for a solid-state drive (SSD) is well-worth paying if speed, rather than overall capacity is your priority. These flash memory based drives are much faster than traditional mechanical hard drives. The downside is that mid-priced SSD equipped machines ship with smaller capacities (128GB) though in higher-end PCS this will increase to 256GB or more.
Many desktop PCs still feature optical drives within their core configurations, as the technology used is well-established and cheap to produce. However, as software vendors increasingly move away from full-packaged software to cloud based subscriptions, the answer is trending towards "no". Moreover, as storage media such as DVDs and Blu-ray discs are losing favour to flash based storage and online streaming services, the need to read / write-data in this way is rapidly diminishing. Of course, external USB-powered DVD drives are available if you choose a desktop computer without a factory installed optical drive.
Newer USB 3.0 standard ports feature increasingly on desktop PCs, with a popular configuration being four USB 3.0 ports (2 front, 2 rear), coupled with up to six USB 2.0 ports.
Mid-range desktops also feature DisplayPort and / or DVI-I connections over a standard VGA port, with the DisplayPort standard outputting up to 1920×1080 resolution, plus 8 channels of audio on a single cable. DVI-I on the other hand, can stream up to 1920×1200 HD video.
For all in one desktops, many models will include an HDMI input / output (allowing you to turn your machine into a home media hub), while Thunderbolt 2 is an alternative fast data-transfer standard allowing up to six peripherals, like storage devices and monitors, to be daisy-chained together. Developed by Intel and Apple, Thunderbolt 2 is roughly twice the speed of USB 3.0. As such, it is beginning to find acceptance on higher-end PC desktops as well as Apple Macs.
Our range of desktop PCs for both home & business usage covers cheap desktops, all-in-one PCs, desktop workstations, thin-clients, zero clients and Chromebox systems, as well as hardware components for building your very own desktop system.
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