Updated 2nd August 2016.
I’m often asked what to look for in a PC (desktop or laptop).
The basic things to get right are the processor (or CPU), the memory (or RAM) and the amount of disk space.
As at August 2014, I recommend that most people go for:
- CPU: Intel Core i3 or Core i5
- RAM: at least 4GB
- Disk: at least 500 GB (which is 0.5 TB)
UPDATE: In August 2016, for a mainstream PC I’d now recommend:
- An i5 processor rather than an i3.
- 8GB of memory rather than 4GB.
The older spec (i3 and 4GB) would still be fine as a cheaper PC for people who just need a basic, but decent spec, PC.
Expect to pay around £300 to £400 for a decent PC – either a laptop or a desktop PC not including the screen – expect to pay upwards of £80 for a screen for a desktop PC if you need one (you could maybe keep your existing screen if you have one).
There are cheaper PCs, but they would be slow and/or cheaply made. The price of a decent PC (£300 to £400) doesn’t seem to change much over time: you just get a better spec for the same money as the technology evolves.
The laptop above was £309.99 on 31st July 2014 when I first uploaded this article. On checking again on 9th Dec 2014, it is now £369.97. But by 15th November 2015 it was £899.48 (and therefore presumably more or less unsaleable).
This one (above) is not quite such a high spec but is still a very good laptop. Click the picture to go to Amazon to see its current price. On 15th Nov 2015 it was £279.97, which is still good value.
Prices change very frequently, both up and down (often daily) so it’s worth monitoring sites like Amazon for a while to see if any bargains pop up on “Deal of the Day” or similar. This laptop was £300 in October 2014, it’s £380 now. So a good value PC one day may be only average value then next, or vice versa.
I’ve said above that the processor (CPU) should be an Intel Core i3 or Core i5, which is a good rule of thumb, but things are (a lot) more complicated than that. The CPU is the chip at the heart of he computer – it executes all the instructions that make up every program – so the faster the better. There is a vast range of CPUs made by Intel and AMD, so you may be able to find ones that are just as good. There is a list of “high midrange” CPUs here (use CTRL+F on that page to find the CPU you are interested in).
For example, this looks a good bet at £300 (November 2014), even though it doesn’t use an i3 or i5 processor:
That CPU is in the “high midrange” table (admittedly near the bottom) so might be worth considering.
UPDATE: Operating system should be Windows 10. The free upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 has now ended, so if you want Windows 10, make sure it’s already installed on your new PC.
Windows 10 seems to have come in for a lot of bad press, but I find the things people don’t like about it are mostly superficial and easily changed. Once the changes are made, I find it’s pretty much as good as Windows 7, which people mostly liked.
Laptop manufacturers I like: Asus, Fujitsu-Siemens, Samsung, HP, Lenovo, Toshiba.
Desktop manufacturers I like: Zoostorm, HP.
I’m not a fan of “All-in-One” desktop PCs – they look nice, but if anything goes wrong (the screen fails, for example) or you want to upgrade it, it’s much more of a hassle. Generally All-in-Ones can’t easily have their disk removed (which is a handy “last resort” way of getting photos and suchlike off a failed computer), and (unlike a desktop) you can’t change the screen easily.
I buy from Amazon, Tesco or John Lewis (online or from a shop), all of whom sell laptops with this sort of spec for around £360.
You can get cheaper laptops, but something will have been sacrificed – they will have a slower processor, less memory or a smaller disk.
In the end, once you get the basic spec right, the difference probably comes down to nuances like whether it has HDMI (useful for connecting to some TVs), Bluetooth (useful for connecting to some phone, or some external speakers, etc.)
Generally, I’d say spend between £300 and £350 if you can; less than this will buy you a noticeably poorer PC, more than this probably won’t buy you anything that much better.
Here is a list of good-value PCs on Amazon UK which I produced for a customer on 6th November 2015. If you buy something similar now, make sure it comes with Windows 10 rather than Windows 8.1. The original links :
- Asus X555LA 15.6-Inch Notebook (Intel Core i3-5005U 2 GHz, 4 GB RAM, 1 TB HDD, DVDRW, Webcam, Integrated Graphics, Windows 8.1)
Price: £290.00 & FREE Delivery in the UK
Very good value at £290. An i3 CPU, 4GB memory, 1 TB disk.
- Toshiba Satellite C55-C-175 15.6 inch Notebook (Intel Core i5-5200U, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD,Intel HD Graphics 5500)
Price: £359.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK
Faster CPU (i5) but less disk, and £360.
- Toshiba Satellite L50-C-1GN 15.6 inch Notebook (Intel Core i3-5015U, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD, Intel HD Graphics 5500)
Price: £385.91 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
Another i3, but lots of memory and disk. Good value at £385.
- HP Pavilion 15-ab001na Laptop (Intel Core i3-5010U 2.1 GHz, 8 GB RAM, 2 TB HDD, 15.6 inch, Windows 8.1)
Price: £438.24 & FREE Delivery in the UK.
Similar to the Toshiba L50 above, but twice as much disk. £438.
- HP 15.6-Inch Notebook Notebook (Intel Core i5 2.2 GHz, 8 GB RAM, Windows 8.1)
Price: £490.54 & FREE Delivery in the UK.
Fast CPU, lots of memory, lots of disk. Good value at £490.
- HP Pavilion x360 13-s008na Convertible Laptop (Intel Core i5-5200U 2.2 GHz, 8 GB RAM, 128GB SSD, 13.3 inch, Windows 8.1 )
Price: £595.48 & FREE Delivery in the UK.
A quirky one – smaller than the others (13″ screen), has a
detachable screen (so can be used like a tablet), and uses a solid-state disk — would be much faster than the other disks, but has much less capacity (128 GB).