Buying a PC

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.

Good spec laptop PC.
Good spec laptop PC. Prices change daily – click picture to see current price.

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).

Price £301.57 on 9th Dec 2014

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:

CPU is an Intel N3530
CPU is an Intel N3530

That CPU is in the “high midrange” table (admittedly near the bottom) so might be worth considering.

List of CPUs and their speed
List of CPUs and their speed


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 :

Windows 8 and anti-virus programs

Every PC needs an anti-virus program, but Windows 8 (and Windows 8.1) users don’t need to buy one.

Windows 8 has a built-in product called “Windows Defender” which provides basic anti-virus protection.

Defender screenshot
Built in to Windows 8

You’ll probably be urged to buy McAfee or Norton if you buy your Windows 8 PC from PC World, but it’s not necessary.

If you install Norton or McAfee (or most other anti-virus programs), they will just disable Windows Defender.

If you then uninstall Norton of McAfee, make sure they (or you) have re-enabled Windows Defender.  Go to Control PanelSystem and SecurityAction Center

You can run MalwareBytes  alongside Windows Defender. The paid-for version is an excellent way to suppement the capabilities of Windows Defender (and does a much better job, in my experience, than Norton or McAfee).