What makes a good PC

Buying a PC: What to consider when buying a computer

Sooner or later almost every household has to buy a PC. Fortunately, buying a computer has now become a simple matter: just drive to the nearest electronics store, there are lots of models in all price ranges ready to take away - or wait for the next discount store offer at Aldi and Co. Unfortunately, specialist stores and discounters know exactly what their customers are comfortable with and use it for their benefit. There are therefore a few things to consider when buying a PC

PC blind purchase can be expensive

Many complete computers are put together in a senseless and unbalanced manner. You can't even rely on the classification of the providers. What is offered as a "gamer PC", for example, often only brings tears to the eyes of game fans when faced with lame graphics cards. On the other hand, if you only want to surf the web, email and write a letter every now and then, you get an expensive processor and a lot of bells and whistles. It is therefore worth taking a closer look in any case.

Buying a PC: the right time

Buy your PC when you need it. The often-heard advice to wait until prices will fall seldom helps. The entry threshold for notebooks, for example, has solidified at around 400 to 500 euros. Certainly, individual models fall sharply in price when the successors hit the stores. For the majority of computer electronics, however, the following applies: The general price level is maintained according to the principle of "more performance for the same money".

Buying a PC: Is a cheap PC enough?

Complete PCs are available for less than 400 euros. Computer power and storage space are usually sufficient for the Internet and for simple office applications, but the cheapest of the cheapest often also have glaring weaknesses in processing: roaring fans, rickety keyboards, power supplies that are prone to failure. You also have to cut back on the interface equipment. Bluetooth, HDMI connections and Firewire for digital camcorders are the exception; WLAN is often lacking. We are also happy to save on the number of USB ports that are often required. Retrofitting is often difficult because the Bllig PCs often have small motherboards with only a few or no free slots. The operating system is often missing from the cheapest offers. For Windows 7 you have to add around 100 euros.

At least 500 euros

A solid Internet and office PC is available for around 500 euros. For this you can expect a device with a dual core processor. However, entry-level computers usually lack a powerful graphics card. This is also not necessary at all for common standard applications. Only those who want to play the latest 3D games with their PC will not be happy with them. If you frequently edit photos, cut videos or want to copy your record collection to CD, you should add a little extra for a second hard drive and one of the faster processors. But be careful: the top models of the graphics card and processor manufacturers are disproportionately expensive and power hungry, and buying high-end components is practically never worthwhile.

Buy a notebook or desktop PC?

Notebooks are clearly the trend. More and more Germans are choosing a mobile PC. Safe: Surfing from the comfort of your sofa is a nice thing. If mobility, low energy and space consumption are particularly important to you, you need a notebook. Otherwise, the advantages of the steel and aluminum towers, which weigh up to 15 kilos, clearly outweigh the above: More computing power and storage space for the money, more connection and much more expansion options as well as lower repair and accessory costs. In addition, it is much more ergonomic and convenient to work with a full-size keyboard and a freely placeable (and exchangeable) screen. In terms of noise development, the race is not so clear, because the volume depends on the quality of the built-in fans - and savings are made here with both notebooks and desktop PCs. However, a noisy desktop fan can usually be replaced easily. This is hardly possible with a notebook.

Buying a PC from Aldi, Lidl & Co.?

Computers from the supermarket are generally neither significantly worse nor better than inexpensive branded devices. Both the Aldi computers produced by Medion and the computers offered by Lidl under the Targa brand generally cut a decent figure. Sometimes supermarket computers appear a bit rickety, but branded PCs do not always shine with flawless workmanship. There are mostly differences in the equipment. In the case of supermarket PCs, this is often very generous - sometimes too generous. Many of the software and hardware accessories such as webcam, DVB-T stick or headset quickly gather dust in the corner. Nonetheless, if you use a sharp pen, you will often find that the supermarket PC is cheaper than an equivalent branded PC, even with extras. Even when it comes to guarantees, discounters are not doing badly at all. Some brands only offer a one or two year guarantee, supermarkets often offer three years.

Then what speaks against a supermarket PC? Discounters try to please everyone. That's why you don't get a PC that is ideally configured to your personal needs. In addition, most supermarket PCs are designed as a fixed complete solution. Mainboard, power supply and housing are usually not intended for major modifications and expansions. However, the same applies to most fully configured brand name PCs. With the online giant Dell, you can configure your PC yourself, but only within relatively narrow limits. Anyone who thinks long-term and relies on an expandable system is best off with a specialist dealer.

Buying a PC: The Processor

The importance of the processor to computer performance is often overestimated. A fast processor is definitely worth its weight in gold for multimedia applications such as photo, sound and video editing. Fans of 3D games shouldn't skimp on this either. However, a fast processor does not significantly reduce the loading time of programs or websites. Fast processors also require a lot of energy as soon as they are required. A cheap processor is therefore the better choice for surfing and office applications. Unfortunately today there is an unmanageable number of processor types and variants. The models often only differ slightly in terms of their names, but sometimes drastically in terms of performance. The clock rate is only an indication of the processor speed, but not the only one. Depending on the design, a higher clocked processor can run slower than a lower clocked chip. The number of processor cores plays a further role in addition to the size of the cache memory. Multi-core processors (two cores = dual core, four cores = quad core) are preferable to single-core chips, even if they can only exhaust their power reserves in certain cases.

Buying a PC: The right graphics card

Anyone who has nothing to do with computer games beyond small browser games can save a lot of money on the graphics card. A simple model for 50 to 80 euros in PCI Express format (PCIe), preferably fanless (passively cooled), is sufficient for practically all situations in life. Smaller 3D tasks, such as those performed by the popular Google Earth satellite program, don't make graphics cards work up a sweat. In any case, the graphics card should have at least one DVI output, ideally also an HDMI connection for a flat screen TV. Even the even cheaper "on-board" solution, in which instead of a separate plug-in card, only a chip built into the main board provides the picture, is tolerable. The main board of the computer should then be equipped with a free PCIe slot so that a separate graphics card can be retrofitted later if necessary. This is mostly, but not always, the case.

3D power for games

If, on the other hand, you like to hunt virtually over race tracks or through monster caves, you can't avoid a powerful model. In view of the barely manageable variety of models, the price is the best reference point for assessing the performance. You should budget at least between 200 and 300 euros, but there is a mid-range card with usually at least 512 MB of memory - that's enough for almost all purposes. But be careful: Fast graphics cards require a powerful power supply and a lot of space in the case. The latest cards support DirectX 11 and are therefore ahead of the gaming world. So far there are only a few games that use the new effects of DirectX 11.

PC purchase: how much RAM?

2 to 4 gigabytes of RAM are considered the standard today. Storage is cheap and speeds up multimedia applications in particular, so you shouldn't skimp on this. If you have more than 3 GB of RAM, you should use the 64-bit version of Windows, as the standard 32-bit variants cannot manage more than around 3.5 GB. The type and speed of the main memory play less of a role. With "particularly fast" overclocking modules you can easily get rid of a lot of money without achieving a noticeable effect.

Hard drive: this is important

Hard disks have been cheap for a long time, there is not much potential for savings here. On the contrary: there is even space to invest in a particularly fast hard drive. The following is important for the speed: the speed - 5400, 7200 or even 10,000 revolutions, the access time in milliseconds (the less the better) and the size of the cache (usually 8 or 16 MB). You are well served with a 7200 disk and 16 MB cache. You do not need to worry about the type of interface when buying a complete PC, it has practically no effect on the disk speed anyway. Smart buyers pay attention to the price-performance ratio when buying hard drives: with certain storage sizes, they get a particularly large number of gigabytes per euro. An additional 100 GB may cost just a few euros more. If one day the hard disk space is insufficient, almost all desktop computers can easily be upgraded with an additional hard disk. In certain cases, for example for video editing, it is worthwhile to use two or more disks from the outset. However, electricity consumption and heat development then increase at the same time. This may also mean more noise. Many people find the typical high-frequency whirring particularly unpleasant. Modern hard drives offer an "acoustic management" system as a way out. The volume can be reduced by software at the expense of speed.

PC purchase: carefully review all-inclusive offers

"... and the printer for free!" - Some dealers combine PC offerings with peripherals such as printers and monitors. Here it is important to take a closer look: These bundle offers are by no means worthwhile for everyone. The printers are often simple inkjets that cause high follow-up costs. With the monitors, too, the quality differences are too great and the savings effect too low to be accessed without hesitation.

PC purchase with expensive follow-up costs

Finally, you should also consider the computer manufacturer's warranty. Notebook repairs in particular can be very expensive, as can long phone calls with an expensive hotline. A distinction must be made between the statutory warranty period - this is two years and secures your claims against the dealer - and the manufacturer's voluntary guarantee. "Three-year guarantee" alone does not mean much. Since the manufacturers are free with regard to the scope of the guarantees, some conditions are teeming with exceptions. With notebooks you have to expect shorter warranty periods for the display and the battery. A new battery can be due after a year and can cost 150 euros and more. The retailer's statutory warranty period of two years cannot be relied on, as the burden of proof lies with the buyer after just six months.