iMac 27" 2020
If you're dead-set on buying a desktop PC for your home office or gaming den, there are some important factors to consider.
Make the wrong purchase and you could end up lumbered with a computer that's slow, has a poor-quality screen or is overpowered for your needs.
In this guide, we'll run through the specifications to look for when buying a computer for different uses, along with the pros and cons of desktops versus all-in-one PCs. We also look at the accessories you need to complete your setup.
It's easy to get bogged down in numbers and specifications when looking at desktops, so if you know how much you want to spend and what sort of things you want to do on your machine, the specifications we recommend below should get you on the right track.
If you're looking for a computer to use primarily at home or in the office, the choice will come down to either a traditional desktop PC or an all-in-one PC.
There are big differences between desktop PCs and all-in-ones to consider. Most obvious is the form factor. A desktop PC is what many consider to be the traditional 'tower' computer, where a big black or grey box is connected to a separate monitor screen, keyboard and mouse. An all-in-one is essentially a large screen with the internal components of the computer sitting behind it. You'll still need to plug in a keyboard and mouse, though, but these are more often than not supplied in the box with an all-in-one.
Outside of whether you want a traditional 'box' and separate monitor and accessories, it's the specifications (and what you’ll pay for them) that are the key difference between desktops and all-in-ones.
You'll find that they come in various shapes and sizes, from large bulky hulks that need to sit under your desk, to more discreet and stylish models that can be tucked away.
Gaining popularity in recent years, an all-in-one is essentially a PC with all the workings conveniently placed in the screen. There’s no separate tower to contend with, and they’re easy to set up. They come with a keyboard and mouse, and the speakers are usually integrated into the device.
If you’re buying a desktop PC, then you’ll also have to purchase a monitor to go with it. Modern monitors tend to be slim, power-efficient and crisply detailed, but there are various specs to contend with.
Monitors vary wildly in price, with the top end ‘8K’ models priced highly due to their super-detailed screens. But, you should be able to find a reasonably priced model if you know what you’re looking for.
Screen resolution is key when buying a monitor, and should be your primary concern. Anything that is less than Full High Definition (1920 x 1080 pixels) should be rejected, but you’re unlikely to find a modern day monitor with lower resolution.
Generally speaking, the higher the number of pixels, the sharper the image. If you’re using your desktop PC for mostly office tasks, Full HD will be more than enough, but if you’re doing a lot of graphics work, or playing games, you’ll notice a big difference by stepping up to a ‘4K’ or ‘ultra HD’ screen.
How far away you sit from the monitor is also key, as the closer you are, the more likely you’ll be to spot lower resolution. It’s also important to remember that if you choose a higher resolution, the objects on the screen (such as program icons) will become smaller. You can delve into the PC settings to increase their default sizes, however.
Once you’ve bought your new desktop PC, you’ll need to pick up some accessories, depending on what was included in the box. These will include a keyboard, mouse and speakers, as well as a monitor.
While there are a wide selection of peripherals for all budgets, it’s important to consider your own requirements and not be tempted by flashy products that you won’t make use of.
Wired or wireless - Most of us tend to use a keyboard in the same position, so it may not matter if you’re tethered by a wire. However, it’s always nice to cut out clutter, so one fewer wire can help keep your work station tidy. A good wireless keyboard can be more expensive than a wired option, but gives a freedom that you won’t get with a wired one.
Ergonomic keyboards - Ergonomic keyboards are designed to feel more natural to type on, and can be a boon if you spend hours at a time typing. They tend to put less stress on the wrists and forearms, helping to cut down on chronic pain and repetitive strain. They take some getting used to, as the button placement is slightly different to a traditional keyboard. If possible, try one out before buying.
UK keyboard - Keyboards have different layouts depending on the country they are intended for. This can be as small a change as the placement of the @ symbol, to the ordering of the letters being rearranged. Check that the keyboard is UK standard, especially if you’re buying online.
Media keys - For those using their PCs to play music and movies, a keyboard with dedicated media buttons can be extremely convenient. The inclusion of play, pause and volume buttons saves having to navigate to the program with the mouse.
Wired or wireless - A wireless mouse is arguably more useful if it’s being used with a laptop, but if you want a wire-free work surface, then they can be a great choice for a desktop, too. As the power drain on a wireless mouse is low, you’ll find that the battery life is excellent, with one set lasting you for months. Some models are rechargeable too.
How many buttons - Most desktop mouse designs have two buttons and a scroll wheel. However, with the introduction of programmable buttons on more advanced models, there can be huge convenience to being able to add your most used keys to the mouse.
Ergonomic mouse - You’ll be using you mouse a lot, so it’s important that it feels comfortable. Ergonomic mouse designs pay special attention to the contours of your hand, with natural button placement. They’re not for everyone, and can feel a bit strange initially, but can be useful for eliminating some conditions, such as RSI.
Left-handed mouse - Most computer mouse designs will work with either hand, but this isn’t always the case, especially for specially designed ergonomic models. If you’re left handed, make sure that the one you pick feels comfortable.