Desktop buying tips

Updated: 07/13/2023 by Computer Hope
Dell XPS 8950 desktop computer.

Purchasing a home or business computer is a big and sometimes costly decision. Below is a list of helpful suggestions on what to look for when purchasing a new computer.


If you're unsure if a desktop is right for you, see: What type of computer should I buy?

New vs. refurbished or used

If you need to save money, buying a used or refurbished computer can save you money. A refurbished computer is a returned computer the company has checked over, but cannot be sold again as new. All major computer manufacturers have a refurbished section showing all their available refurbished products. Buying one of these computers instead of a new computer can save you hundreds of dollars.

In addition to refurbished computers individuals, buying a used computer is another option. When buying a used computer, consider the following.

  • Verify it has no physical damage by inspecting the ports, and the inside and outside of the case.
  • Make sure you pay for what you are getting. See the scam section below for additional details.
  • Make sure computer comes with any CDs (compact disc) or flash drives for the operating systems or programs that are installed.
  • Realize that many computer manufacturers do not transfer the computer warranty from the old user to you.

Mac vs. PC

The decision between buying an Apple Macintosh and PC running Microsoft Windows is always a heated debate. See our Mac vs. PC page for a list of advantages and disadvantages of both systems if you're still undecided.

What to look for

When purchasing a computer, you may have a general idea of what you want. Below is a list of computer components, and some recommendations and tips when considering them.


The case or chassis is often overlooked when buying a new computer. Below are some things to think about regarding the case.

  1. Do you want a desktop or tower case?
  2. Will the case fit on top of or below your desk?
  3. Will the drives (e.g., CD-ROM) and ports (e.g., USB (universal serial bus) ports) be accessible.
  4. Does the case support the latest motherboard standard, for example, the ATX (advanced technology extended) motherboard standard? Knowing the motherboard standard helps with future upgrades.

CD media

Most newer computers today have an included disc burner in the computer. To make CDs or DVDs (digital versatile/video disc), make sure the computer supports it.

Hard drive

The hard drive is the destination of all your files and information. Make sure you get a hard drive with enough space and runs at speeds that don't slow down the overall computer performance.


Memory is an important purchasing decision on a computer. The more memory the computer has, the more efficient it's at running software.

Network card

Almost all computers today have a network card or an onboard network card on the motherboard. The network card lets you share files between computers in your home and connect to the Internet.


The computer processor is the most important consideration when purchasing a computer. Today, with multiple CPU (central processing unit) manufacturers, it may be more confusing, but more cost efficient to look at all options for computer processors.

Sound card

Today, the standard sound cards included with a computer are sufficient for almost all computer users. However, if you plan to do sound editing or mixing, make sure to look at the sound card's capabilities.

Video card

For computer gaming, the video card is one of the most important factors behind memory and processor. If you plan on gaming with your computer, make sure the video card GPU (graphics processing unit) and video memory meets game requirements.

Brand of computer

There is no such thing as a computer manufacturer who has a perfect history with all its users. Therefore, when recommending one brand over another, it is impossible for us to say who's better than the others. Instead, we'd suggest relying on the considerations below.


All computer manufacturers give you the option to buy additional accessories when buying a new computer. Keep the below in mind before buying these add-ons.

  • Make sure you're buying accessories you actually need. For example, almost all new computers include a keyboard and mouse. Also, if you're upgrading from an older computer, many older peripherals and accessories are compatible with the new computer.
  • If you're buying a computer online, check other online electronics retailers. Many accessories available through the computer manufacturer are sold at a premium price.


Most manufacturers today are reducing how much documentation is included with their computer and substituting that paper documentation for online documentation. Make sure the documentation available online appears to be sufficient and that software and driver downloads are available.


As mentioned above in the what to look for section, make sure the hardware included with your computer meets your needs.


If the computer is purchased at a local retail store, can the computer be returned to them or only to the computer manufacturer? If the computer is purchased online or through mail order, can it be returned if unsatisfactory?


  1. Is the service onsite, meaning a technician comes to your location to replace or fix a bad component? If the service is onsite, is it for the entire warranty period?
  2. If onsite is not offered, what is offered, and for how long?
  3. Can the computer be taken to a local service center? If yes, what is the closest authorized service center?
  4. What is the time frame the service takes to occur? For example, if the computer has a bad component, how long would it take to be replaced? If that time frame is not acceptable, what is the company willing to do?


  1. Does the software include Microsoft Office or Corel Suite? These packages allow you to have a word processor and a spreadsheet. For most users, this types of software should be an important consideration.
  2. Is it the full version of the software or is the software a demo, trial, or shareware? Many companies include programs that expire after 30-90 days and require you to purchase the full program.


While you can always contact Computer Hope for support, manufacturer support is also an important consideration if an issue arises with the computer.

  1. Is support open 24 hours, 7 days a week? If not, what are the hours?
  2. Is support open on holidays? If not, what days are they closed?
  3. What support options are available? Phone? E-mail? Web? Chat?


While this option may not be considered at first when purchasing a computer, it is an important consideration. When purchasing a computer, make sure the hardware you may want to upgrade can be upgraded. Common upgrades for most computers today include RAM (random-access memory), GPU, and SSD (solid-state drive).


Does the computer manufacturer offer a warranty? How long is the warranty? Does the warranty cover both hardware and software issues?

We recommend a computer only be considered if it has at least a one-year warranty. Many cheap computers only come with a 90-day warranty, meaning if a part goes bad after 90 days, you pay for the part and the service. A warranty may not be an issue for those wanting a cheap computer and are willing to service the computer themselves.


Watch out for these scams and tricks when buying a computer.

Make sure you pay for what you are getting

A common tactic is to overclock the processor, memory, or other component. Overclocking can be done by anyone with a little computer knowledge. For example, you may think you are buying a 733 MHz processor, but instead get a 500 MHz.

To determine the processor speed, open the computer and look at the processor itself. Do not look at the processor through a software program or the BIOS (basic input/output system), as these values can be changed or tricked.

Legal software

When purchasing a computer, make sure it was legally purchased and the software installation media and product keys are included. Many end-users or small computer companies may install software on multiple computers without licenses, which is illegal and may prevent you from getting updates.