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Welcome to our UK shopping guide for desktop computers. Below we explain the main features of desktop computers, and you'll find links to the leading online computer retailers in the UK.

When choosing a new desktop computer, we would advise giving importance to manufacturer build quality and support levels. Once you have set your budget, don't get seduced by getting the most powerful computer available for the price - it won't be much good to you if it keeps crashing because the manufacturer has used cheap internal components and it is poorly put together. The PC market is fiercely competitive, and whilst no manufacturer is perfect, some manufacturers are a lot better than others, and it is best to be wary of the very cheapest deals as reliability can suffer.

Desktop computer brands we currently think are above average for product quality: Dell, Acer.

What are the main types of home computer available?

The two main types of computer to choose from are PCs and Apple Macs. The rest of this page focuses on PCs.

PCs are the most widely used and run Microsoft Windows. Apple Macs have their own proprietary Apple operating system, Mac OS X. People like Macs for their usability and design features. Macs can run PC emulators which allow them to run PC software as well.

For both PCs and Macs you can opt for a desktop or notebook computer. Desktops offer more power and features for a given price, but many people find the portability of a notebook computer more convenient.

Which processor should my new desktop computer have?

The processor (or Central Processing Unit or CPU) is the heart of your computer and performs the instructions and calculations involved in computer operation. The number of instructions the processor can perform per second is known as its "clock speed" and is stated in cycles per second or Hertz (Hz). So, the faster the clock speed of the processor the better. The processors in the fastest new computers can perform over three thousand million cycles per second and the "clock speed" is therefore over 3 Giga Hertz (3GHz).

For the best value, go for a processor speed slightly below the fastest currently available, because you pay disproportionately high prices for the very fastest processors (and processors are now so fast that in many cases you won't need the very fastest). The two main processor manufacturers are Intel and AMD.

What difference does a new computer's memory (RAM) make to computer performance?

A big difference. The more memory (or RAM) your computer has, the better. Computer memory holds the current programs and data in use, and helps applications run quickly and smoothly. It also helps greatly when you wish to run a number of applications at the same time. Even if your new computer has a fast processor, its performance can be poor if the system does not have enough memory. Furthermore, popular applications such as digital photo editing perform much better with more memory. So how much memory should new computers have? Computer memory (or RAM) is specified in gigabytes (GB) and we currently recommend:

4GB minimum for running Windows, 8 GB or more is preferable, particularly if you intend to use your computer for photo editing, music or video editing.

What is a hard drive and how big does my new computer's hard drive need to be?

This is the computer equivalent to the filing cabinet in your office, and is the storage device on your computer where you keep all your files. The size of a hard drive is measured in Gigabytes (Gb). We would recommend a minimum hard drive size of 160Gb. This would allow you to save thousands of word processing documents, digital photos and mp3 music files to your computer.

Another thing to consider is how fast the data can be accessed from your hard drive. The hard disk in the hard drive spins to allow data access, and thus data access speeds are given in revolutions per minute (rpm). Most users will want a hard drive speed of 7,200 rpm, although budget systems often come with a 5,400 rpm model. For the fastest access speeds, opt for a more expensive Solid State Drive (SSD).

What sort of monitor should my new computer have?

LCD (liquid crystal display) or flat panel monitor - Doesn't take up much desk space, looks cool and is light to carry. Buy an LCD with a good response time if you want to watch video or play computer games on it.

Monitor size is measured across the diagonal of the screen in inches. We'd recommend a minimum of a 20in monitor. Even better, go for a multiple monitor setup, which can be achieved by using a dual-head or triple-head graphics card from manufacturers such as Matrox.

What about desktops by Apple Computers - eMacs, iMacs and Power Macs?

Apple PCs are the main alternative to IBM-compatible PCs. Many people enthuse about Apple computers, praising their great usability and thoughtful design. They're certainly very capable machines, and the internet has increased their interoperability with PCs. They are particularly good for graphic design, music production and video editing.

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