How to Buy a Desktop PC

Desktop PC Shopping Tips

Ready to buy a desktop? PC shoppers can save money and avoid unnecessary hassle by following these tips.

Consider the warranty and tech support: Because most PC problems tend to crop up in the first year, a one-year warranty should be fine. A two- or three-year warranty will add about $150 to $200 to your cost. Businesses can get options like 24-hour on-site response, but they must pay dearly for it.

Check PC World's Reliability & Service survey, where readers collectively determine which PC makers provide the best and worst technical support and warranty service. Most PC makers offer multiple tiers of service, so you can get--and pay for--the level of service you want.

Don't buy additional software unless you really need it: Purchase an operating system, an office suite, and an antivirus package. But if you need more, look for vendors' software bundles to upgrade your software. For as little as $100, you can often upgrade from Microsoft Works Suite or a similar package to a full office suite like Microsoft Office XP Small Business Edition--a great value considering that Office XP runs more than $300 off the shelf.

Look for connectivity up front: Many PCs now offer a pair of USB ports on the front of the case, so you can connect multiple peripherals without having to fumble around in back. If this is important to you, look for PCs with up-front FireWire (IEEE 1394) ports, audio and video connectors, and USB 2.0 ports.

Don't get caught up surfing price reductions: If you need a new PC now, don't wait a few months to see whether prices will drop further and whether upper-end performance will improve. Some shoppers find themselves stuck in an endless price-drop waiting game. Instead, decide when you need the system, and go for it.

Buy above minimum specs for the longest useful life span: If longevity is a priority (and if you can afford it), get something closer to, but below, the current top of the line. This will extend the useful life of your PC.

Check an LCD monitor's interface: Depending on the brand or model of LCD monitor, it could have one of several interface connectors--the part that plugs into the PC. These include the well-known VGA and the superior DVI connectors. If you're buying a nonbundled display, make sure it will work with the system you want--or that you at least have a money-back guarantee.

Upgrade at the time of purchase: Often, you can get a better deal on a larger hard drive or a superior monitor when you first order your computer. Even doubling the size of a hard drive may add very little to the cost, and upgrading to a higher-quality monitor may add only $100.

Avoid gimmicky keyboards to save money: Many vendors tout fancy keyboards with extra buttons for launching apps. Save some money by choosing the cheapest option unless you have a specific need for the fancier one.

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