The thousand-dollar PC: What to look for
Dec 15, 2007, 3:45 GMT
Washington - PC makers are always targeting price points - or levels beyond which consumers are more reluctant to lay out their money for a new computer.
Right now, the thousand-dollar price point is magic.
All box makers know that they can lure potential computer buyers with models that cost no more than a thousand dollars - or roughly 670 dollars - including monitor.
And that's why every manufacturer from Dell and HP to the local mom-and-pop computer store on the corner have models to offer in that price range.
There's just one problem: with so many different computers being priced at or around the thousand dollar mark, how can you decide which computers represent the best value? The answer is by knowing the minimum configuration that you should expect from a PC at that price level. Read on for the details.
--- The processor
Virtually every PC and notebook today comes with a dual core processor. But a computer at the thousand dollar price point should include a higher-end dual core processor, such as Intel's Core 2 Duo E6550 or E6750 or AMD's Athlon 64 X2 5600 or 6000. These processors will run rings around just about any computer sold even a year ago, and they have enough power to be useful for the next three years, which is how far out you should think when purchasing a new computer.
If you can budget for a thousand dollars not including the monitor, then you should even expect that a PC at this level could include the Q6600 quad core processor from Intel. As their name implies, the quad core processors sandwich the brains of four central processing units into one, making them extremely fast.
--- The operating system
A thousand dollars should get you a PC with a licensed copy of Windows Vista Home Premium, which is the minimum edition you should accept in order to the full Vista experience, complete with the Aero interface. Do not buy any PC with Vista Basic, at any price level.
The Business editions of Vista will be important if you need to run Remote Desktop to log on to your computer at work. Otherwise, Home Premium will get you all the features you need to standard home use.
--- The monitor
For a thousand dollars, expect a PC with no less than a 20-inch widescreen digital flat panel, although you may have to settle for a 'budget' level model at this price. Budget-level flat panels will generally have a lower contrast ratio - somewhere in the neighbourhood of 800:1 - and perhaps not look as good at an angle as they do when viewed directly from the front. But otherwise, most flat panels today are more than good enough for word processing, e-mail, Web surfing, and video watching.
If you're buying a computer package without viewing the monitor, make sure you can return it if it's not to your liking. Otherwise, try to view the monitor in person before handing over your cash.
--- The memory
If you're not seeing a minimum of two gigabytes (GB) of DDR2 memory (RAM) offered in a thousand dollar PC, look elsewhere. RAM is cheap these days, and two gigs is the minimum that you need to be able to run Windows Vista effectively.
Another thing to watch for: be sure that in addition to the two gigabytes of RAM provided, the machine has room for at least two more gigabytes of RAM without your having to throw out the existing RAM. Most computers have four slots internally that accept RAM. No more than two should be filled with the RAM you get with your machine.
--- The hard drive
Expect a Serial ATA hard drive with at least 320 GB of storage in a PC at this price point. If you know you'll be storing lots of digital photographs, videos, and music files, consider moving up to the next level of hard drive, which would be a 500 GB model. You shouldn't have to pay much of a premium to move up in hard drive size - 50 dollars or so should do it.
On the street you can find 500 GB hard drives for under 100 dollars now, so an upgrade from a 320 GB model to a 500 GB one should cost just a fraction of that.
--- The video card
For a thousand dollars, your PC should come with an 8000-series NVIDIA graphics card with at least 128 MB of memory or an ATI Radeon 2400 or 2600 card, again with at least 128 MB of memory. Cards with more memory - namely, 256 MB of RAM - generally support higher resolutions, which you'll need if your intended monitor size is above 26 or 27 inches. If you never expect to be using a large monitor, the base amount of memory should be fine.
Your PC should come with a DVD burner, which will also burn and play back CD disks, and potentially a memory card reader. Integrated sound should be 5.1 or 7.1-compatible, and computer speakers should probably be part of the package as well.
Although you can find PCs these days for less than a thousand dollars, they'll likely be hobbled by technology that's already well on its way out.
The thousand dollar price point will get you cutting-edge machine with respectable graphics performance, processor power, and hard drive space - exactly what most people will need to run software of today and tomorrow. Just remember that because the field is crowded, you should expect a lot for your money. Use the guidelines here to be sure you're getting the most computer that you can.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur