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Finding the right desktop spec

Like most consumers, you probably have an idea of how much you want to spend on a desktop. But how do you ensure that you get exactly what you need? The different shapes and sizes, the wide range of configurations, and the seemingly constant arrival of new and faster technology all make for a difficult decision. To help you find the right mix, we've outlined the four basic types of PC user.

 

These days, $500 to $1,500 will net you a desktop with a dual-core CPU and enough power to run productivity apps, view and edit vacation photos, manage MP3s and videos, and even play many of today's games--the core activities most common to families, students, and the general purpose PC user. At $1,000 and up, you should easily be able to perform those tasks. Spend around $500, and in most cases you'll still be able to run common tasks without delay, although 3D gaming becomes a stretch.

You will definitely find a dual-core chip in a $500 PC, and you're likely to encounter a quad-core processor near this price point as well. (Entry-level Nettops--the desktop version of a Netbook--are really the only PC you'll find using a single-core processor; they often feature the Intel Atom processor, the energy-efficient chip used in many Netbooks.) A good low-end to midrange desktop will feature 4GB of memory at minimum, and as you climb closer to $1,000, PCs will offer 6GB or 8GB of RAM. Integrated graphics are the norm for PCs hovering around the $500 mark, but a midrange graphics card from Nvidia or ATI with 256B or 512MB of video RAM is common as you move closer to $1,000.

Things to look for when buying a workstation either for business or home.

Quad-core CPU (Intel Core 2 Quad, Intel Core i5, AMD Phenom II X4, AMD Athlon II X4) or Dual-core CPU (Intel Core 2 Duo, Intel Core i3, AMD Phenom II X2, AMD Athlon II X2)
4GB to 8GB of DDR2 SDRAM or DDR3 SDRAM
Integrated graphics chip from Intel, ATI, or Nvidia, or discrete ATI or Nvidia graphics card with 256MB to 1GB of video memory
500MB to 1TB hard drive
Dual-layer DVD burner
DVD burner
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) or Mac OS X Snow Leopard