5 questions to ask before buying a desktop computer for school and uni



When you’re choosing a computer to last you through university, a desktop can be a solid choice. What they lack in portability, they more than make up for in power and versatility.

When you’re choosing a computer to last you through university, a desktop can be a solid choice. What they lack in portability, they more than make up for in power and versatility.

Here are five questions to bear in mind when making your choice:

1) How much processing power do you need?

Desktop Father And Son

Generally speaking, the more complex the tasks you need the computer to do, the more powerful the processor needs to be. The processor is essentially the computer’s brain - faster processors are generally made from multiple cores which can handle multiple jobs at once. 

  • Everyday computing: If you just want to browse the web and stream Netflix, work in Office applications and email, then a dual core processor like the Intel Core i3 will be fine
  • Advanced multitasking: If you like to do all of these things at the same time, as well as basic photo editing, you want something faster such as an Intel Core i5.
  • Video editing and serious gaming: If you plan to do intensive video editing or serious gaming you want a powerful quad core processer such as the Intel Core i7 

2) What operating system do you want?

Windows Or Apple

The two big players are Microsoft Windows and Apple’s OSX.

Windows is the most widely used operating system in offices, schools and other organisations. So if you're expecting to use your desktop to produce work that’s easy to transfer to the family computer or the computers in the library, it's worth considering. It can also integrate with Windows phones. Check out our guide to the latest version, Windows 10 here.

Macs use OSX, which is compatible with iOS on iPads and iPhones. If you already have other Apple devices, it might make sense to go for a Mac. The interface is very smooth and easy to use, although Macs tend to be more expensive than their Windows counterparts. It’s worth noting that many OSX-based word processors, spreadsheets, etc, allow you to save in a Windows compatible format.

3) What kind of storage do you want, and how much RAM do you need?

Desktop

A hard drive is your computer’s long term memory. It’s where you’ll store all your coursework and programs, so you need to work out how much space you’re likely to need before you buy your computer.

There are two major types of hard drive:

  • HDDs are larger and heavier, and are made out of moving parts. They're usually cheaper and have more storage capacity than SSDs.
  • SSDs are, smaller, faster and quieter than HDDs and contain no moving parts, which may mean they're less likely to break down.

A third option is the hybrid drive (SSHD). These are a combination of both types of drive and offer the larger storage space of an HDD with a smaller, faster SSD section for frequently used programs.

The amount of storage space you’ll need will depend on the type of work you’re doing. Tasks such as video editing or music production are likely to take up lots more space than essay writing. You’ll also want to consider all the other things you might want to store on your system, such as music, photos, games and movies.

At the very minimum, we would suggest 500GB storage space for a system that will last your whole course. Most users would probably be best considering around 1TB, with heavy users looking at 2TB or more. Remember you can also buy additional external storage to back up data if you start getting tight on space.

RAM is your computer's short-term memory. All the programs and files you use get loaded into RAM. Along with the processor, it affects how fast your desktop can run.

The more complex the software you’re running, and the more tasks you need the computer to do at once, the more RAM you’ll need.

At a minimum, we would recommend 8GB RAM. Taking into account the increasing requirements of software over the entire course many users could require 16GB, and users of complex programs such as video editing software or the latest games will benefit from 32GB or more.

4) Do you want an all-in-one system or a separate desktop box and monitor?

Allinone

If you’re stuck for space, you might want to consider an all-in one system. These offer many of the benefits of a full desktop, but take up much less space. All the components are kept hidden inside the monitor, so you don’t need to find space for a big bulky box.

However, with a separate box and monitor it's easier to upgrade your screen and computer separately. A desktop box might also be easier to upgrade in the future if you want to pep up your RAM, hard drive capacity or processing power. 

Another thing to consider would be a small form factor PC. These are desktop systems in a much more compact package, almost the size of a games console. While they’re not always as powerful as their big brothers, these are good for basic tasks and many can be customised and upgraded.

5) Do I want to play games on it?

Boy Desktop

If you just want to play a bit of Peggle or Solitaire, most desktops will be able to handle it with ease.

However, if you’re serious about gaming and want to play more spectacular recent titles like GTAV or Witcher 3, you’ll need to invest in something a bit more powerful.

Gaming PCs are usually more expensive than your average desktop, due to the more powerful components they need, such as processors, extra memory and graphics cards.

Good systems also tend to have plenty of USB ports for plugging in your controller, mouse, headset and other peripherals.

The best gaming PCs are made to be easy to upgrade with new and more up-to-date components as gaming technology advances.

For a dedicated gaming system, you should look at a high-end i5 processor at the very least. For a more futureproof system consider an i7. 16GB of RAM would be an absolute minimum, with 32GB or more producing much better results. The more powerful your graphics card, the better your frame rates will be. In addition, we’d recommend getting a large SSD in addition to a large HDD for faster loading times.

Browse our range of PCs and Macs.

Whatever PC you choose to take to university with you we're here to help. Discover everything you need for your studies at Currys.

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