With focus shifting to mobile hardware like mobile phones and tablets, the dominance once enjoyed by desktops on the computing market is waning. But Desktops still have an appeal in Ghana and around the world. This buying guide would be beneficial for anyone planning to acquire a desktop in the near future.
General-purpose desktops are the most common you would find in computer shops. They are used for home and office tasks like playing media files, word processing, creating spreadsheets and graphics designing. They are usually "tower" shaped (or standing upright). Sizes can range from a full tower desktop to very slim cases. Hardware components in these machines may vary widely based on the processing and storage needs of the user.
Gaming desktops are made primarily for playing video games. Examples of such desktops are the Alienware and the ASUS ROG line of gaming desktops. They may feature fancy cases with LED lighting, powerful graphics cards, high-end processors, large memory capacities and better cooling hardware.
An all-in-one desktop combines all the hardware components of a desktop in the display monitor. These machines have a much smaller footprint than a full-sized desktop. Some modern all-in-one's have touch screen.
A Mini PC (or a Nettop) is a very small, cheaper computers built for basic tasks such as document processing, playing videos and internet browsing. Because of their low power consumption, some Nettops have fanless processors. Other Nettops can conveniently piggyback your flatscreen monitor.
Stick PCs look as big as a Flash drive or a pen drive and so they consume very little power. Several options on the market include Intel's Compute Stick, Asus' Chromebit and Lenovo's Ideacentre Stick. They usually have HDMI connectivity to plug to a Television or a monitor as well as other connectivity options like MicroSD, USB, Wi-Fi or bluetooth.
Servers aren't technically desktops even though they might seem to have similar hardware. Server hardware, like the Intel Xeon family of processors, is engineered to meet the specific processing needs of managing the resources on a computer network. Servers also run specialised server operating systems like Windows Server or Linux Server.
Processor The faster the processor, the faster you are able to run applications on your desktop. Desktop processors can be loosely classified as Low-end, Mainstream and High-end. Low-end desktop processors are better suited for running basic applications, like web surfing. They consume less power. AMD's FX 6300 and Intel's Atom series fall under this range. Mainstream laptop processors offer the best price-performance combination. They are suited for running everyday applications and most people would find their performance satisfactory for their daily use. Processors like AMD FX-8350 and Intel's i5 series are in this category. High-end laptop processors are found in high productivity machines. These processors consume more power than the other two types but they perform better in computational tasks. Intel's i7 is an example High-end processor.
The most popular desktop operating systems (OS) is Microsoft Windows. There are a several alternative OSs such as Apple's Mac OS X, Google's Chrome OS and Linux Desktop.
Microsoft Windows is the most flexible OS. You will have more options for tweaking and personalising it. Windows is compatible with a wide range of computing hardware and it also has largest software library (office productivity suites, utility tools, security software, entertainment applications, etc). The latest version of this OS is Windows 10.
Unlike Windows, which can be installed on off-the-self computing hardware, Apple is more restrictive on how the Mac OS X is used, which is always released coupled with specific computing hardware. As a result, performance across Mac OS desktops (the iMac) are more stable and predictable. macOS Sierra is the latest OS version.
Google Chrome OS is purposed mainly for running online applications and compatible Android applications. The idea is that many Chrome OS application and files are stored online ("in the cloud"), releasing to need to for installing bigger, more expensive hardware. However, machines built with Chrome are bottlenecked by your internet connectivity.The Google Chrome browser is the main user interface. Chrome OS was built originally for laptops but there are workarounds to install them on desktops too.
For users who are comfortable working with Linux OS, there several free graphical user interface distributions to choose including KDE Plasma and Xfce. Linux is free, hardware resource efficient and has a large community support. Ubuntu and Debian are popular Linux OS distributions.
The main mediums of data storage on desktops are Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) and Solid-State Drives (SSDs) HDDs use the older, slower storage technology. Data is stored on rotating disks (platters) which are coated with a magnetic material. The data is accessed or read electromechanically. On SSDs, data is stored on microchips. Unlike HDDs, SSDs have no mechanical parts in the drive so data access is electronically. Desktops running on SSDs boot faster. It is also faster to copy files or load applications with SSDs. But HDDs have bigger storage capabilities, and they are much cheaper. For both HDDs and SSD, different drives have different speeds. For instance a 7,200rpm (revolutions per minute) HDD is faster than its 5,400rpm counterpart. Similarly, Single-level cell (SLC) SSDs are faster than multi-level (MLC) SSDs.
Bigger memory (or RAM) make applications run faster because it is faster to run an application from RAM than from a hard drive. The minimum RAM size on a modern desktop should be about 2GB although 4GB is more desired. RAM sizes of 6GB and over is better suited for gaming, video editing, and other RAM intensive applications like Photoshop and AutoCAD.
A computer graphics hardware is that part of a computer that creates computer graphics (movies, images, animation, etc) to display on a monitor or television. There are two types of desktop graphics hardware: Integrated and Dedicated. Integrated Graphics hardware do not have their own memory but share the processor's memory. The graphics hardware may be either embedded in the processor itself or integrated with the motherboard of the desktop. They are not as powerful as dedicated graphics hardware (graphics card). Graphics cards have their own memory and even cooling system. They are connected to the desktop motherboard through expansion slots like PCI Express slots. They are used in used mainly in gaming and other high-end graphics computing environments like video editing and graphics designing.
Unless you would be assembling your desktop computer yourself or you would be adding additional hardware capabilities to your desktop you need not worry about the power output of your power supply unit (PSU). Most desktops would averagely have a 450-watt power supply but you may need a bigger supply if you are, for instance, adding a graphics card or overclocking your machine.
Desktops can have varying input/output ports. The most common port is the USB (Universal Serial Bus). These ports enable communication and power supply with various electronic devices like keyboards, mobile phones, printers and cameras. USB 3.0 ports have faster data transfer speeds than USB 2.0, and are backward compatible with USB 2.0 ports: both use the USB Type-A interface. Having a combined minimum of three USB 2.0/3.0 ports is essential on every desktop. USB Type-C is a newer type of USB. It uses a different connector shape, and it is meant to be compatible across several hardware devices including Notebooks, Tablets, Smartphones, Hard drives, USB flash drive, Hubs and Monitors. Some modern desktops may have a USB Type-C port. HDMI, DVI, and DisplayPort are video and audio output ports, such as connecting the desktop to a television or a monitor. The Ethernet port is used for connecting the desktop to a network such as the internet. Ethernet is an essential port on a desktop as many desktops may not have an integrated Wi-Fi interface. FireWire, Thunderbolt and eSata ports, which are less commonly used, are meant for connecting peripherals like an external hard drive or a camera to a Desktop.
- Monitor: Some desktops are sold bundled with a monitor whiles others aren't. Desktops can also be connected to television sets via HDMI or other display ports. - Motherboard: This is the main circuit board which enable communication between other computer components and peripherals. - Optical Drives: Several desktop brands may have a pre-installed optical drive, like a DVD writer, although these drives are used less frequently these days. - Keyboard and Mouse: These are essential on every desktop An exception is an all-in-one with touchscreen functionality. - Sound: Most desktops may not have integrated speakers. You may need to purchase computer speakers. - Computer case: It should be big enough to contain all the components you want to connect.
Although mobile computers like laptops, mobile phones and tablets are getting more powerful and are capable of "replacing" a desktop computer, there are reasons to choose these "huge" machines over its mobile counterparts. Desktops still dominate the consumer computing market with their raw processing power. Mobile computers are mostly built with energy efficiency in mind. But for intensive computations, high multi-tasking, detailed graphics environments the desktop is the most capable machine. Intel's Core i7 Extreme Edition 6950X is unparralled in mobile computing as it has 10 processor cores, supports 20 threads, and can directly connect 40 PCIe lanes. Gaming enthusiasts too can use as many as four graphics card in a single desktop. Desktops are also much more expandable than mobile computers. A single desktop case can hold as many as six hard drives and other expansion cards like a TV tuner or a USBi card. Its internal components, like the mother and the processor, are easier to swap from off-the-shelf hardware stores.
Mac OS X desktops are generally more expensive. For many desktops, the price range is varied ranging from very cheap to very expensive machines. This price would depend on the type of manufacturer, the quality, quantity and size of the desktop components.