Beginners Guide to PC Buying
May 10, 2012 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Help me purchase a mid-range desktop that plays games besides solitaire and minesweeper.

My current budget laptop seems to be steadily going downhill as time passes, so I'm looking for a affordable replacement. I'm looking for suggestions for a complete PC set-up. My knowledge for building computers is basic, so I'd like to be able to purchase one instead of completely building one from the ground up.

OS: Windows 7

Primary Use: Classwork/ light graphic editing/ general multimedia

Secondary: I'm not much of a PC gamer due to time/money limits but here's a quick example of a game I play time to time. I'd like it if I could play at Max settings but normal settings is fine with me. Right now, I'm running lowest settings.

I have a Steam Account but a majority of the games are unplayable due to my laptop. I'm not looking for HQ settings or anything extreme for any recently released games.

Budget: $1000 ~ $1500 (Less is better, but this is tentative)

Monitor: I'm not really a fan of widescreen monitors. I'd prefer a 4:3 size if they're still available. I'm currently using dual monitors with a very old PC monitor.

Thank you in advance.
posted by chrono_rabbit to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just walk into Best Buy and get something within your price range. Desktops are commodities now, and anything from a major manufacturer is going to likely do just fine, especially now that Windows is stable and robust enough to make tech support less of a necessity.

Non-widescreen monitors are available, but, be careful when you get one, as a lot of the ones being sold now are actually touch screens and ridiculously expensive.

And really, for $1,000 you can get a nice desktop. Seriously, here's an HP with a six-core AMD processor, 10GB ram, a 1.5TB HDD, a decent ATI video card, and a DVD burner. For $790. For $790. Keep your old monitors, and you're done, though you may have to transfer your old video card to run both at the same time. You walk into Best Buy--or wherever, Staples, Wal-Mart, you name it--and you'll find a bunch of equivalent machines for similar prices. You could probably get away with spending as little as $500-600 and still walk out with a nice box.

I'd also direct your attention to Good Old Games, which repackages classic games from the 1980s and 1990s for modern systems. Anything on there your new box will run just fine, and they're usually only like $3-10 a pop.
posted by valkyryn at 9:14 AM on May 10, 2012

7 years ago, in the spring of 2005 I bought a Dell XPS Gen 4 specifically to play Half-Life 2 on Steam. I chose the Gen 4 because it was being retired (Gen 5 was just coming out) and I figured they'd be looking to reduce their stock. I think I used a coupon code from Ben's Bargains and it cost me $1200. I'm still using that same computer and only just now (in the last year or so) is it starting to be unable to play some games released on Steam. I have yet to have a technical issues with this machine and I basically run it 24/7.

This spring I started looking for a new computer again. Since I have a Dell credit card (and can pay it off interest free) over 12 months I've been considering the Dell XPS 8500 or maybe the Alienware X51 and/or Alienware Aurora. My price range is still $1500 or under.

The Dell XPS 8500 isn't getting this greatest reviews regarding it's bang for the buck but you can use Dell's Build Your Own to customize the heck out of it and get only the things you need. In the CNET review they mention a couple of other vendor's models the Origin Chronos and the Velocity Micro Edge Z55 which I would also be interested in if I had other financing available to me. BTW, don't let that $1999 at the top of the CNET review scare you, that's the XPS 8500 with every feature possible; the base model starts at $750 and you can add features from there.

I usually try to get the most computer I can as close to my price point and still leave room to the throw in as much extended warranty as I can get. Even though I never ended up using any of my warranty on my last Dell I still think it was one of the best investments I've ever made. This means you have to ignore almost all of the extras that Dell tries to get you to add on. Skip the added peripherals (keyboards, mice, speakers), monitors, software, etc. You can get all of that stuff for much cheaper. Dell just adds that stuff so they can sell you a complete system.

Also, I believe the Dell XPS 8700 is coming out soon so I'm going to make sure I check around for Dell coupon codes. If they are available they are usually good for knocking a couple hundred dollars off the price.
posted by dgeiser13 at 9:39 AM on May 10, 2012

I would talk to someone at a local computer store (not a large chain) nearby. They can build one to suit your needs, and it they are much easier to talk to if there are problems. I prefer mom and pop shops for things in general, though.

I don't think that extended warranties are a good idea. They're basically a bet against the house where the house knows all the odds (average time to failure, the cost of repair, etc) and you know absolutely nothing about them. The chances that the seller of the extended warranty has priced it in your favor is extremely low. Like any stacked bet, there is always a chance you could win. But you could spend the money on a lottery ticket, too.
posted by Quonab at 10:03 AM on May 10, 2012

Dell also has an outlet store that sells refurbished desktops from their last product cycle. If you don't want the top of the line, you can buy last year's top of the line for a good price. It's a little obnoxious to shop on, however.

On preview, I second Quonab on local computer stores and not getting extended warranties.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 10:04 AM on May 10, 2012

The trouble with dell or big box store computers is that you get a TON of junkware that bogs the system down with them. Components are also usually generic brands and not as efficient or reliable.

My advice: Find a reputable computer store near you and talk to them. They will often have prebuilt systems with quality hardware and Windows 7 pre-installed. Something like this is what's available in your budget (local to me though) and would last you a decade! Alternatively, they will often sell you the parts and then for a modest fee assemble the computer and load windows for you.

You seem to keep a system for a while so focus on the CPU. Absolutely everything else in a system can be easily upgraded by my wifes cats, let alone a moderately capable human being. Right now I'd be looking at an I5 or I7 cpu with a minimum speed of 3.4ghz.
posted by Beacon Inbound at 10:07 AM on May 10, 2012

For $1000 you can absolutely get the top of the line. It's really way more than you need to spend to play new games.

Watch woot for deals on desktops, you shouldn't have to do much more than buy one of those and then get better video card. I spent $500 or so on mine total and it plays all the new games with no problem (though i had to dial the settings back a bit for Crysis 2).

Here's one from about 3 weeks ago.

Get something like that for $600. They usually have one on woot every 2 or 3 weeks, so they're kind of overdue.
posted by empath at 11:31 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Quonab: "3I would talk to someone at a local computer store (not a large chain) nearby. They can build one to suit your needs, and it they are much easier to talk to if there are problems. I prefer mom and pop shops for things in general, though.

Apart from major retailers, I don't know any smaller computer stores but I'll my best to find a few locally in NY.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 2:05 PM on May 10, 2012

If not a mom-and-pop shop, check out the weekly ads from chain stores. Each week, there's a few PCs marked off $100 to $200, and similar deals on monitors. If that week's deals suck, check back next week.

Check ads before the prices take effect, because the best deals can disappear quickly, sometimes before the stock hits the shelves.

Given the specs on Vindictus, you could even get a used PC, but then you'd want to wipe the system and do a fresh install, which might be more trouble than it's worth, especially if you have to buy a new OS. That can tack around $100.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:23 PM on May 10, 2012

Costco is great as far as the big retailers are concerned. I bought his and hers laptops and the family entertainment desktop from them and have no regrets.
posted by Kale Slayer at 4:02 PM on May 10, 2012

It's a few months out of date, but Anandtech's buyer's guides often have a lot of good information about the current crop of computers:

Though as several folks have mentioned, for 1000-1500 you should be able to play just about anything at a reasonable level of graphical awesomeness.
posted by Kolath at 2:33 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

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