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Which Kind of Desktop Is Right for You?
Pro: If you're on a shoestring budget and you just want to send a few e-mail messages, a compact PC can get you on your way for as little as $200 (sans monitor). If high-def video strikes your fancy, you'll want a machine equipped with an nVidia Ion processor, for improved Flash and video decoding, and an HDMI output, for HDTVs. Such PCs start at just over $300.
Con: Sometimes, bigger is better. Gaming, or even heavy multitasking, on a low-power, compact PC can be an exercise in futility. The price-to-performance ratio works against you, too: For $400, you could acquire a budget desktop that offers stronger performance, albeit in a larger package. You may also need to supplement your mini-PC with external peripherals, such as a hard drive or an optical drive, if the model that you've purchased lacks key features.
Pro: All-in-one PCs are self-contained--the innards are mounted behind displays typically ranging between 18 and 27 inches. Many models tout their wireless functionality (wireless keyboards and mice, Bluetooth support, and wireless Internet connectivity). This keeps cord clutter at a minimum, an important consideration in spaces where a rat's nest of cables may clash with a neat, spare décor. You are also likely to end up with a single-touch display--but even multitouch support is becoming more common on budget all-in-ones now.
Con: All-in-ones may flaunt a small size, but their svelte dimensions often require notebook processors, to mitigate heat and power limitations. As a result, PCs of a traditional size generally offer equal or superior performance, for less. All-in-ones priced between $500 and $1000 typically offer a 20-inch screen, but performance will be on a par with that of netbooks and low-end PCs. Paying more will get you a larger screen and superior performance, but often with the trade-off of limited upgrade options.
Pro: A system that is built with the right components will play the latest video games, stream movies and music to every media outlet in your home, store a lifetime's worth of memories, and give you the computing power you need to create rich media content. The right tower is also readily upgradable-an important consideration, as that will let you keep your machine in top shape for years to come.
Con: The Achilles' heel of towers hasn't changed over the years: Their girth, relative to smaller PCs, can make them at once unsightly and ungainly. Noisy fans can ruin the home theater experience, but they are quite necessary to prevent hardware failure in such high-end performance machines. Those large fans will also accumulate dust, especially if you have pets in the house--so keep a vacuum handy (air circulation is vital to a tower computer's health). And then there is the silent nemesis of power consumption: A top-of-the-line computer can generate an impressive bump in your monthly electricity bill.
Next: Compact PCs--Byte-Size Media Machines