How do I pick from a slew of low-priced computers?
May 31, 2011 1:16 PM   Subscribe

Help me replace my dying desktop with something inexpensive and functional!

Our elderly desktop, despite a new harddrive, is probably on its last legs. It has a tendency to reboot itself at random intervals, and although I am very far from a computer expert, I'm thinking it will probably not make it much farther. So I'm looking to replace it, but not wanting to spend a ton of money. My husband actually built the desktop, but due to a health issue is not in a position to build another one at the moment. In fact, he's not really able to contribute too much to the decision about a new desktop, so I'll probably have to pick it out and make the purchase.

A walk around Best Buy shows me that there are a lot of relatively inexpensive laptops and desktops out there, but I don't know how to choose from them, or even if a laptop vs a desktop would be best. My preference is for a desktop because we both prefer the bigger keyboard and mouse as opposed to the touchpad. I'm assuming it would be a PC because of cost - I wouldn't mind a Mac, as I use one at work, but they're so terribly expensive.

So. Are there brands I should avoid outright? Laptop or PC? Should I just go on price, or will spending a little more really improve the quality I end up with? I don't mind buying from an online source, but I'd have to know it was trustworthy. Also, I have access to my university's computer store, so could purchase through them.

Neither of us need the new computer to do anything too exotic. I mostly use it for word processing, internet access, some photo editing, and iTunes (figured iTunes would swamp my little netbook). My husband uses some music editing software and voice editing software, and has a soundboard hooked up, along with a good pair of speakers.

The rest of our tech: currently I have a little Acer Aspire netbook that actually is the primary computer I spend time on. I'm also pondering a refurb. Ipod Touch.

Sorry about the rambling - I wasn't sure how much information would be helpful.
posted by PussKillian to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
Best answer: From your uses, you would probably get along fine with any computer in your price range. Basically unless you're doing 3d graphics, video editing, or gaming - any run of the mill computer does a good job.

If you know you'd be happier with a desktop, then get one. Laptops are great for people who want the mobility. If all you're going to do is set the laptop on your desk at home and use it there - might as well grab a desktop.

You might want to look into buying a decent sound card for it - given what your husband uses it for. I'll leave suggestions for that for people who know more about sound cards then I do, though.
posted by royalsong at 1:32 PM on May 31, 2011

What's your budget?
Do you need to bring it with you, is portability a requirement?
Could you provide a list of stores - web, physical - that you prefer to buy from?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:33 PM on May 31, 2011

Best answer: Newegg and Amazon are trustworthy, and are both much cheaper than Best Buy.

I've bought my last two desktops on Woot, which features an HP or Asus desktop computer about once every three weeks. They're manufacturer refurbs, which means you get a crappy 90-day warranty in exchange for saving a few hundred bucks.

Also, Lenovo Outlet has a sale going on until the end of today for refurbs. You'll probably want something with Windows 7 and 3GB RAM minimum.

If you don't care if it's laptop or desktop, desktop is going to be the best value.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:34 PM on May 31, 2011

This ASUS would be what I'd buy for my parents if they didn't already have a good desktop; it would be a good, fast machine for their use, which is similar to yours.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 1:35 PM on May 31, 2011

Response by poster: Portability isn't a requirement because I have a netbook. In fact, given that it's usually anchored to a soundboard, a laptop probably doesn't even make much sense...except it seems like everybody and their mother is jettisoning the desktop, so I wondered if there were reasons we should as well. My budget is essentially, "As cheap as possible without buying a big paperweight," so...around five hundred? Perhaps a bit more if necessary?

I've bought from Best Buy (only because I had a gift card), Amazon, Newegg, and the university computer store.
posted by PussKillian at 1:45 PM on May 31, 2011

How do you feel about refurbed? This Gateway looks excellent for the price.
posted by toastedbeagle at 1:59 PM on May 31, 2011

My main worry would be the soundcard in your current desktop... do you know what it is? If it's a good (expensive) card, it might be worth it to transfer it to the new PC.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:06 PM on May 31, 2011

Best answer: You might consider a refurbished PC. You can buy a refurbed laptop or desktop for around $300 and possibly quite a bit less. These machines are often available with a warranty as well.

Brands don't matter much, as all of the major PC manufacturers contract out their production to the same small group of companies. Just don't buy the cheapest (new) PC in any given line. Just make sure you get at least a dual core processor and at least 2 GB of RAM, with 3-4GB preferable. Any modern computer will have enough hard drive space for what you want to do. Sound cards and video cards are more or less all the same for general computer users, unless you're doing 3D, CAD, gaming or professional sound work.
posted by cnc at 3:40 PM on May 31, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, folks - there's a lot of good advice here. The husband has reported that he does indeed have a sound card that he'll put on the new one, whatever the new one turns out to be. Much appreciated.
posted by PussKillian at 3:43 PM on May 31, 2011

FWIW, I am a big fan of Lenovo laptops, and presume their desktops are as good. Decent mechanical design.

I might suggest you consider a Mac Mini, which is pretty reasonably priced and can use your display and keyboard. They are tiny, tiny, tiny and run a better OS, as you know. (about $700, and you get a fully operational OS, not some crippled, partially functional, virus prone throwback to an earlier time.) Later, if you insist on running Win7 or Win99 or whatever, Bootcamp will let you do so on that machine.)
posted by FauxScot at 4:15 PM on May 31, 2011

If you want a PC and are interested in buying online I like a place called AVA Direct, they are a custom builder. That is, you choose exactly what you want, and don't want, from a long list of hardware including case, motherboard, operating system, etc. Many custom builders are aimed at enthusiasts, but AVA offers a full lineup and quite a few very budget oriented setups. Desktops start ~$400, and I can vouch for their build quality and hardware. Even the base components are much higher quality than anything you would get from Dell, Gateway or HP. Mac Mini is also no-hassle good choice (~$700 new), especially if you are comfortable with the Mac OS and have all the peripherals necessary such as monitor, mouse and keyboard. I think you could find a good desktop for $500-600 though.
posted by sophist at 8:16 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

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