Buyer's guide to high-performance media PCs
If you want a PC with the power for science, engineering or media work, then a desktop is still the way to go. Ross Twinning puts six through their paces
The traditional desktop PC hasn’t been the height of fashion for some years now. Everyone wants to go mobile, whether that means a laptop, tablet, netbook or Ultrabook. Yet the desktop still has the edge when it comes to performance. If you want an affordable system that can run the most demanding applications, the desktop computer is still the king.
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Of course, in most situations a laptop or even a netbook will do the job. Internet research and office applications don’t actually need that much power. However, if you’re trying to work with video, 2D or 3D graphics, engineering or high-end scientific applications, you need all the performance you can muster. A desktop may not have the looks and convenience of a laptop, but it’s the most effective choice if you want raw grunt at an acceptable price. A capable desktop PC costing around £500 will comfortably outperform high-end laptops costing nearly double that amount.
What’s more, with high-end processors and graphics cards, not to mention multi-terabyte hard disks, desktop PCs can give you more than you might find in any laptop, whatever the price. If you’re willing to spend a little money on a desktop computer, you’ll have an awful lot of power at your disposal.
Another advantage is upgradability. Desktops have plenty of room for future expansion, and you can easily switch from, say, a conventional hard disk to a solid-state drive (SSD) as prices fall. Faulty parts can also be replaced easily, saving the need for a new machine or expensive repairs. Buy sensibly and you can keep the PC going for longer.
What’s more, there’s never been a better time to buy. With new processors and graphics processors launching every year, you can opt for the latest, fastest components, or enjoy last year’s still very speedy options at a reduced price.
Choose your components
To deal with the high resolutions, file sizes and processing power required for HD video editing, high-quality photo editing and engineering and design-related tasks, you need something more than an average desktop processor.
For sheer performance, Intel has the lead, with its latest third-generation Core processors – codenamed Ivy Bridge – providing even faster speeds than the previous-generation Sandy Bridge models. A new Core i5 processor, such as the Core i5-3550, will give you enough oomph to handle any application, with the ability to “Turbo Boost” speeds from 3.3GHz to 3.7GHz when the going gets tough. The latest quad-core Core i7 processors, such as the Core i7-3770T, go even further, and can run several challenging applications simultaneously thanks to Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology, which in effect gives a quad-core processor eight cores.