Desktop buying guide
The operating system of your PC determines the way it looks, how it works, and the type of software you can use. There are three main operating systems, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.
Windows is the most common operating system in the world, so if you've used a PC before, chances are it ran on Windows.
Windows is powerful yet easy to use, with all your files and important documents within easy access. If you're looking for a new PC for university, gaming or creative computing such as music production or video editing, Windows is a great place to start.
- Well supported: The majority of software, accessories and components are designed to work perfectly with Windows
- The gamers choice: All major PC game releases are optimised for Windows, making it the only choice for a serious gaming PC
- If you've never used a PC before, it can take a while to learn the layout and navigation
OS X is Apple’s exclusive operating system. It is only available on iMac, Mac Pro and Mac mini desktops, along with MacBook laptops.
It features a bright, stylised desktop focussed on ease-of-use and stability, making it the preferred choice of professionals with focussed requirements and casual home users that prefer a simple layout.
- Optimised for design: Some of the most popular design software, such as Photoshop and InDesign, is optimised for OS X and can give you improved stability and performance
- Works best with Apple: OS X is designed to work flawlessly with other Apple devices, so if you have an iPhone or iPad, transferring files, contacts and apps between them is much easier. They share a similar layout too, so you’ll be much more at home and find navigation easier
- A lot of popular software and accessories don't work with OS X, so if you want to use something specific and it’s only available for Windows, you may need to find an alternative
Stereo pairing (also known as daisy chaining) is available on some speaker ranges and lets you wirelessly link two or more
Chrome OS is a web-focussed operating system that's designed to get you to your online content as quickly and easily as possible.
Anything not necessary to your daily computing has been removed, making it ideal for people that want a simple way to get online.
- Easy web access: Chrome OS gives you fast access to the internet and the Cloud, making it ideal for web-based computing
- Google Play: The only operating system that gives you access to over one million apps courtesy of Google Play - the same app store used by Android smartphones and tablets
- Most PC software isn't compatible with Chrome OS, so it isn't a great choice for anything other than web-based computing
Not all desktop PCs are just big boxes that sit under your desk. There are different sizes and types (which are known as form factors) of desktop PC. Each one has its benefits.
Tower PCs are the traditional, under-the-desk style of PC. Although much larger than the latest mini PCs, they are a lot more compact than they used to be a few years ago. The main benefit of a full-size tower PC is that you can fit much more powerful components inside than you can in a mini-PC, all-in-one or laptop.
The extra space in a tower PC gives you the opportunity to customise and upgrade much more easily. If you need a high-performance PC for gaming, media editing, music production or design, a tower PC is a great choice
All-in-one PCs are a combination of a monitor and tower PC. This means you can place an all-in-one anywhere a monitor will fit, making them ideal for keeping an office tidy or fitting into rooms where space is at a premium.
Some all-in-ones feature touchscreens, which open up a whole new way to control your PC. Simply touch, tap and swipe the screen to navigate the web and your software. Windows is designed to support touch control and gives you a simple, enjoyable way to use your PC.
Mini PCs are the smallest desktop PCs available today. Despite their size, they work just like their full-sized counterparts, with the same ports, functionality and software compatibility. However, mini PCs don't have room for high performance components, so are better suited to everyday computing tasks such as typing essays and browsing the web.
Gaming PCs all have powerful processors and dedicated graphics cards which allow them to handle the demands of the latest and most demanding games. All of our gaming PCs will run any game currently on sale today, although the more powerful PCs deliver better visuals and higher frame-rates for a more immersive experience.
The most powerful gaming PCs even allow you to game in 4k if your monitor or TV supports it.
The processor is the brain of your PC. Whenever you click, move your mouse or a program does something, the processor makes it happen. Any software you buy comes with a minimum set of requirements that the processor must meet or exceed. On our product pages we give you all the information you need to check whether a laptop has a suitable processor.
Every PC we sell has at least a dual-core processor. This allows it to process more threads of information at once, so you can move quickly between different software windows and have more apps and tabs running simultaneously.
Quad-core processors are great for demanding software, such as photo editing and music production, as all modern creative programs are optimised to run at their best on several cores.
This is measured in GHz, and determines how fast the processor runs. A higher clock speed means your software will load faster and run more smoothly.
Some processors feature Turbo Boost (Intel®) or Turbo Core (AMD) technology, which increases the speed of the processor to match the task at hand. This allows the processor to consume less power and give out less heat when it doesn't need to run at maximum output.
Before tasks are managed by the processor, they queue up in the memory cache. A bigger memory cache allows the processor to work through demanding tasks quickly. You only really need to worry about this if you plan on running professional-level creative software like Cubase or Photoshop - if you do, look for 4 MB and over.
All of our desktop PCs feature either Intel® or AMD processors. If you're looking for an everyday PC for browsing the web and typing essays, there isn't really much difference between the two brands. Instead, make sure your PC has the features, hard drive capacity and design to suit the way you work. If you're more focussed on performance, here are the pros and cons of both brands:
Intel™ processors are typically more powerful than their AMD counterparts. If you're looking for pure performance, an Intel® Core™ i5 or i7 processor is the ideal choice. These processors feature Hyper-Threading technology, which allows them to double the amount of threads they can handle. For example, a quad-core processor with Hyper-Threading can give the performance of an octa-core processor - perfect for running complicated software or the latest PC games.
Most of AMD's processors are known as accelerated processing units (APU). An APU combines a processor and graphics card in one chip, so you can enjoy great-quality visuals without the need for a dedicated graphics card. If you do decide to add a dedicated graphics card, the graphics within the processor works with AMD graphics card for an even better visual performance.
Random-access memory (RAM) is an important spec to consider if you're looking for a high-performance PC. Memory (RAM) has nothing to do with the amount of documents you can save - this is what the storage is for.
When you do anything on your desktop, a request for the process is stored in the RAM, where the processor picks it up and makes it happen. Normally this happens instantly, but if you've ever had a computer stutter or delay before something happens, chances are there wasn't enough memory. More RAM allows the processor to take on more at once, which is vital if you use demanding software or have a lot of different windows open.
PC storage is the place where all of your documents, photos, music, software and apps go when you save them. There are three different types of storage available on desktop PCs; each with their own benefits.
A hard disc drive is the most common type of desktop PC storage. HDDs are available in a range of different capacities, from 500 GB to a huge 3 TB.
Unlike HDDs, solid-state drives have no moving parts. While they have lower capacities than other storage drives, they work much faster, making them ideal for running demanding software or the latest games. On desktop PCs, they usually feature alongside HDDs, so you can install your most used games and software on the SSD for maximum performance without overall sacrificing storage capacity.
Solid-state hybrid drives combine the capacity of a HDD with the performance of an SSD. They work by remembering your most accessed information and storing it in a solid-state memory cache so that it can be accessed quickly. This gives you faster loading, saving and booting, so you can enjoy more responsive computing throughout all your daily activities.
All-in-one screen size
All-in-ones are available with a variety of different screen types.
From a compact 19'' to a huge 34'', there’s an all-in-one to suit any use. Smaller screened all-in-ones are great space-savers and allow you to have the full functionality of a desktop PC without sacrificing the space needed for a tower. Larger screened all-in-ones are great for watching films, editing media and working on several programs at once.
Like TVs, all-in-ones are available with HD or Full HD screens.
Any screen resolution is fine for everyday family computing, but if you expect to watch a lot of films, play games or edit photos, Full HD gives you much more detailed visuals for seriously immersive entertainment.
Touchscreen control gives you a whole new way to use your PC: simply tap, swipe and pinch the screen to intuitively navigate your content and documents. It works just like it does on your smartphone or tablet, so you’ll feel right at home even if you've never used a touchscreen PC before.
From flipping through business documents to playing family games, touchscreen control makes computing fast, fun and productive.
Other things to consider
Once you’ve decided on the main specs, there are a few other things you might want to think about.
While desktops are the functional choice for computing, there's no reason they can't look good too.
Mini PCs are the most design-focussed desktop computers. They've been designed to look just as at home next to the TV as they do on a desk, so if you want a discrete yet stylish way to access your documents and online content, a mini PC is a great choice.
All-in-ones suit even the most style-conscious PC users. They don't clutter your desk up with cables and the slim bezels on the latest designs give a clean, modern look that fits into any home or workspace. Apple's all-in-one PC, the iMac, is renowned for its minimalist and distinctive design.
If you want your PC to really stand out, gaming PCs have space inside for you to customise them the way you like. Gaming PCs feature distinctive cases, with many giving you the option to add LEDs and other visual accessories for a truly personalised look.
A dedicated graphics card is a processor with the specific role of handling graphics, visuals and videos. They are available in varying specifications and range from those designed to give you improved multimedia playback to high-performance cards made to run the latest games at their absolute best.
If you plan on gaming, editing videos or creating visual media, a dedicated graphics card is a vital. Gaming or editing photos at very high resolutions (above 1080p) needs serious power, so if you plan on connecting your PC to 4K monitor or TV, look for a PC with a high-end NVIDIA GeForce GTX or AMD Radeon R9 graphics card.
You might also need...
Once you’ve decided on the main specs, there are a few other things you might want to think about.
From antivirus and Microsoft Office to photo editing and education, we have all the software you need to get the best from your new PC.
Our peripherals range has everything you need to make computing easier and more comfortable, from ergonomic keyboards and wireless mice to headsets and stands.
Whether you need large-capacity storage for backing up software or simply need a USB stick for carrying documents to university, we have the latest storage technology to keep your data safe and secure.
If you're heading to university or want physical copies of your favourite photos, a home printer makes creating documents simple. Look out for all-in-one printers, which feature also feature a scanner and copier for maximum convenience.
If you're into gaming, we have a huge range of accessories to help you play at your best. From headsets to mechanical keyboards, we have everything you need.
Bluetooth is a type of wireless connection that syncs two compatible devices together, such as a tablet and a set of Bluetooth speakers.
DisplayPort is a port that allows you to connect laptops, tablets and desktop PCs to a monitor or TV. It is much smaller than HDMI, so is used on ultra-thin laptops, tablets and gaming PCs that support multiple monitors. DisplayPort supports Full HD and 4K video, along with high-definition audio.
DVI stands for Digital Visual Interface. It is a common way to connect desktop PCs and monitors. It transmits Full HD video without audio..
Ethernet is a port that allows you to connect you PC to the internet via a cable. There are two speeds of ports: 10/100 Ethernet and 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet. The numbers refer to the maximum data transfer speeds they support (in Mbps). Gigabit Ethernet is great for streaming HD content and online gaming.
A graphics card is a processor dedicated solely to handling the visuals your PC produces.
The HDD is a standard hard drive - the type fitted to most desktops.
HDMI stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface. It is a port that allows you to connect your device to a TV or monitor. It is capable of transmitting Full HD video and audio.
Random Access Memory (RAM) stores tasks before they’re picked up by the processor. More RAM lets you do more at once.
The motherboard, or main board, is a major component in your PC. All the other components connect to it, including the processor, RAM, storage and graphics.
SThe software your PC runs on: either Windows, OS X, or Chrome OS.
The software your PC runs on: either Windows, OS X, or Chrome OS.
PCIe stands for Peripheral Component Interconnect Express. PCIe ports are found inside desktop PCs and are used for adding graphics cards, sound cards and other internal components.
A power supply can be either external (in laptops and tablets) or internal (desktop PCs). Desktop PCs power supplies are rated in watts.
A core is the part of the processor that processes information.
The processor is the brain of your PC. It controls everything you do, so a faster processor gives you a faster computer.
SSDs give your PC improved performance, but have a lower storage capacity than HDDs.
Solid-state hybrid drives combine the speed of SSDs and the capacity of SSHDs, although aren’t quite as fast an actual SSD.
USB stands for Universal Serial Bus. It is a universal port for connecting peripherals to your PC or tablet.
VGA stands for Video Graphics Array. It is an older way laptops and desktops connect to monitors and TVs. It is has been replaced by HDMI, DisplayPort and DVI. It cannot transmit HD video or audio.
WiFi is a wireless connection to the internet. It is the standard way laptops, desktops and tablets connect wirelessly to the web. AC WiFi is the latest iteration of WiFi and offers a fast, stable connection between your device and router.