How to Buy a Desktop PC

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The Big Picture

Most people buy a PC to browse the Web, to check and send e-mail, and to juggle the occasional Word document or spreadsheet. Today, even the least-expensive, lowest-of-the-low-end system can perform any of those jobs admirably--and do it for well under $1000. See our Top Value Business Desktop PCs chart for our current picks.

If you have particular needs, many PC vendors allow you to customize and upgrade their base-model PCs with a mind-boggling selection of features. Require extra storage? Pick a larger hard drive. Want extra memory? Load up with 4GB of RAM. Ready to burn Blu-ray Discs or to watch HD DVD movies? Choose an optical drive that supports your preferred format.

We recommend that you take your time and select only what you need today, based on the following guidelines. If your budget allows, buy what you anticipate needing within the next year.

If you're into editing digital video or managing a large database, you'll need to set your sights a little higher. Look beyond the basics for systems starting in the $1500 to $2000 range. Feel the need for speed? Check out our Top 5 Power Desktop PCs chart.

The gaming-PC market continues to grow at an exponential rate. Devoted gamers won't balk at spending more than $3000 on a computer to ensure that they enjoy maximum performance. Such PCs usually feature overclocked CPUs and dual-graphics-card setups. Don't be fooled though: Gaming isn't just a bleeding-edge hobby anymore. Originally the domain of niche companies producing high-end machines, the gaming-PC market is now the battleground for bigger companies craving a piece of the action. That means you'll find a larger number of capable gaming computers at cheaper prices. See our Top 5 Gaming PCs chart for more.

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