Last PC user on earth seeks new desktop PC for fun tasks together
January 25, 2014 12:26 PM   Subscribe

I want to buy a new desktop PC, but there is a distinct lack of resources available. What should I be looking for in a desktop machine? Please don't say "a Macintosh."

My enormous 5-year old Dell laptop is getting slow, so it's time to buy a new PC. I already have a recent ultrabook and an iPad, so I don't need anything portable. The problem is that finding good information on new PC desktops in the age of Apple is difficult. Big review sites like C|net and PCMag don't update often, Amazon reviews are useless, and I don't want to build my own PC so component reviews aren't useful.

I want a very robust, fast machine that will last at least five years with minimal bloatware (or I'll just do a clean install of Win7 or 8). I primarily use my desktop for word processing, Netflix, and websurfing, so don't need a gaming machine-- but I don't want something that's going to take two minutes to boot, either.

I'm willing to pay up to $900 without monitor. What should I be looking for in a desktop? What processors are reasonable? Dell's performance desktops have either 4th Generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processors. This appears to be their highest-end basic home machine with a 4th gen i7, 12GB RAM and 1TB HD, on sale for $850. Are built-in PCs OK or should I stick with a tower?

I've had good experiences with Dell, Samsung, and Lenovo, but don't want anything to do with Sony. Thoughts?
posted by alicetiara to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My Dell lasted 8 years. You have had good experience with Dell. Dell still makes PCs. Problem solved?
Check their website.
posted by Cranberry at 12:36 PM on January 25, 2014

This PCMag article was written last week. The number 2 option is in your price range, but probably overkill. Maybe the Gateway or the Lenovos make more sense?
posted by papayaninja at 12:41 PM on January 25, 2014

I have a similar Dell XPS workstation to your link, and it's excellent.
posted by anadem at 12:42 PM on January 25, 2014

900 bux will get you something decent. Commodities these days. HP will let you downgrade (sic) to Win7. Some folks aren't crazy about Win 8, you may have heard.

I like the idea of all-in-ones, but don't have a single friend with a PC that has anything but a tower or a laptop. Maintenance SEEMS to be easier on a tower, of course, especially HDD upgrades. Whenever I DO get one, I plan on a 5 year life, no more.

It's a crap shoot, but if you get a chance to see what kind of HDD is in the machine, Toshibas apparently have the highest reliability and Seagates the lowest. If something is going to die, it's going to be a HDD.
posted by FauxScot at 12:52 PM on January 25, 2014

honestly, i'd just go with dell again. check out their refurbs and you'll probably get more bang for your buck. i have a refurb from them that is still going strong 5 years later (knock on wood i better not have just fucking jinxed myself).

and, if you do an online chat and flirt a little and act indecisive, you might get a percentage off or some free peripherals, but you have to be ready to buy right then because they will have a sales person call you for your cc#.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:24 PM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't want to build my own PC so component reviews aren't useful

You can always look at a system guide for components and then talk to a local system builder or one of the online shops like ibuypower that have lots of component choices.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:24 PM on January 25, 2014

Nthing why not just buy another Dell? All our desktops are Dells and they've been total workhorses.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:36 PM on January 25, 2014

I'm in charge of ordering computers for my workplace. I buy all our PCs from a local mom-and-pop computer store. They build the computers to my specs, and on those rare occasions when there's a problem with the hardware, they fix it at no charge (within the warranty period). They're good folks, and I don't mind paying maybe a bit more than I would have paid if I had mail-ordered the machine from some large, national company.

Maybe there's a store like that in your area? The place I use is very honest -- they don't try to "upsell" you on expensive options that you don't need.
posted by alex1965 at 1:37 PM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

The way I see it, either you build it yourself, or you pay someone to build it for yourself. Pre-built computers are one way of going about the latter option, but they tend to be harder to upgrade, and often have inferior quality motherboards and cooling. That given, why not pick the parts that would best fit what you need done, and ask your friends if they have a nice, trustworthy teenage geek in their family who would be willing to put things together for, say, fifty bucks? I can guarantee that you'll get a PC that runs faster, cooler, and cheaper that way.

Here's a good build for your approximate price-range.

Investing in an SSD instead of a cheap HDD is worth it for performance; just re-use the mass storage drives from your existing computer for capacity. (Laptop drives work too, since this case will handle a couple 2.5" devices with ease.) You could even break down and repurpose any 3.5" portable hard drives you have, and have them put in the case as well. Time your purchases with a price-tracker like CamelCamelCamel, and you could easily get all this for $900. Logical Increments provides a nice table of ways to increase the performance or decrease the cost of this build as well.
posted by fifthrider at 2:07 PM on January 25, 2014

Desktops, especially non-gaming/workstation-class desktops are rapidly becoming such a tiny drop of consumer PC sales, I'm not too surprised you haven't found much on them. Definitely nthing the idea of looking around to see if you can find a local system-builder PC shop, as the off-the-shelf components will tend to last a bit longer and allow better headroom for upgrades. They will tend towards being a touch more expensive for what you get though.

If you do go with a major manufacturer, be aware that getting a non-tower configuration (including so-called mini-towers) will definitely limit future upgradability. HP, Lenovo and Dell make decent desktops, though I usually build my own so I don't have a whole lot of experience with manufacturers these days.
posted by Aleyn at 3:42 PM on January 25, 2014

as far as crapware goes, i had a good experience using the Microsoft Signature program at the Microsoft Store. they remove all the stuff you don't want and ensure that important optional stuff (e.g. Security Essentials) are installed.
posted by bruceo at 5:52 PM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're comfortable snapping it together yourself, Ars Technica's System Guide is a great resource. I just ordered a slight variation on the Hot Rod. Most independent PC component shops will happily put your machine together for you, as well.
posted by Kreiger at 12:23 AM on January 26, 2014

To be honest, looking at the Dell site and what you want to do, the Inspiron Desktop 3000 (Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM and 1TB hard drive) will be more than adequate for $550. The only thing that is a little iffy about it is that it uses the built in graphics card which is not only a bit rubbish but will also steal some memory from Windows (generally 1GB).

Whilst that machine will run just fine, I'd probably recommend the cheapest XPS 8700 for a bit more flexibility. At $699 you get a good processor (faster than the one I have in my gaming machine), a decent amount of RAM and hard drive space and a graphics card that may not be the best but won't be using memory that Windows could use. In addition, if you decide to buy a game in the future, it'll be playable.

A SSD and a replacement graphics card can always pimp it up in the future - but it's not critical to have either of those for a perfectly useable desktop.
posted by mr_silver at 6:54 AM on January 26, 2014

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