- Spring for RAM. Plenty of memory means a faster, more flexible system, especially when you run more than one task at a time (say, recording a TV show while watching a DVD). You need a minimum of 1GB; upping the ante to 2GB will give you the oomph to run several programs at once without slowing your PC down.
- Buy lots of storage. Hard drives are like kitchen cabinets: You need more space than you anticipate--and whatever space you do have, you'll fill. Accommodate your data and your growing collection of digital media (those 10-megapixel images add up--trust us!) with a large hard drive. We recommend 120GB as a bare minimum; 250GB for a PC with a TV tuner, since recorded TV shows take up a ton of space; and 500GB or more if you have a penchant for archiving multimedia.
- Go dual core. Though you may pay a bit more for a dual-core system (typically a premium of $20 to $50), dual-core CPUs like the Intel Core Duo and the AMD Athlon X2 are faster and more flexible than their single-core cousins.
- Buy a big LCD. Some vendors bundle cheap PCs with a low-cost CRT monitor, but don't fall into that trap. An LCD monitor causes less eye strain, and takes up less space on your desk. On the other hand, if your system comes bundled with a baseline 15- or 17-inch LCD, try to upgrade to a larger screen. A typical 19-inch display costs $100 more than a 17-inch model. If you buy a PC with a DVI graphics port (as is common when you get a dedicated graphics card), be sure to select a monitor that has a DVI connection; you'll get a sharper image by going all-digital.
- Be ready to run Microsoft Vista Premium. At the least, buy a system that carries a Windows Vista Ready logo or that meets Vista's minimum specifications. But we recommend that you aim higher: A PC bearing the Windows Vista Premium Ready logo is configured to meet the demanding specs that Vista's top-end features (such as its Aero interface) will require.
Not ready to buy a new PC? Give your existing PC a boost with these simple upgrades.
- Add memory. Upgrade your system memory to 1GB ($100 and up), and your PC will run noticeably faster. Jump to 2GB, and it will sing.
- Add disk storage. A second hard drive ($50 and up) will prolong the useful life of your computer--and give you more room to store digital media files. Internal drives are the thriftiest route; for more flexibility, purchase an external model or a network-attached drive. See our DVD & Hard Drives Info Center for the latest hard-drive rankings.
- Improve graphics. Make games and graphics applications run faster by graduating from integrated graphics to a dedicated AGP or PCI Express 16X graphics card ($60 and up). Check the latest PC World rankings of value
and mainstream graphics cards for our assessments.
- Go wide-screen. Increase your screen's usable real estate with a new wide-screen monitor. It will give you more room for work and play, and will simplify DVD or television playback. See our Top 5 chart of 20-inch wide-screen LCDs
- Amp up your sound. Most inexpensive PCs rely on cheap integrated audio that supports stereo audio only. Add a PCI sound card (from $30) to achieve multichannel audio for DVDs or games.