Maybe your computer has gotten a bit slow. Maybe it doesn’t handle the tasks it once breezed through with the same efficacy and stability. As computer components age, they degrade and eventually have to be replaced. Everything in your computer will one day need to be replaced, no matter how hard you try to future-proof it. (I’m currently staring down the barrel of a full motherboard and CPU replacement. You can trust me!)
However, what should you consider when purchasing a new desktop computer? Or maybe you should avoid a new desktop computer altogether. There are so many moving parts, jargon, and numbers involved in the production, and understanding these metrics can make or break your next computer purchase. Let’s take a look at what concepts you should consider before you spring for your next computer.
Desktop vs. Laptop: What’s the Difference?
First, you should consider whether you need a desktop computer. Regarding desktops, they’re generally not something a seasoned computer tech will recommend buying from a store. Most geeks will jump on the chance to educate someone about buying and putting computer components together yourself. However, just because building a computer is the better way of obtaining a desktop computer doesn’t mean it’s always superior to buying a laptop. It may be best to avoid a new desktop computer in favor of a laptop with the features you want.
The biggest difference between desktop and laptop computers is the components that make the computer run. Since laptops need to be small, thin, and foldable, their components are built differently than desktop computers. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a stark lack of standardization in many laptop components.
Laptop components need to be smaller and flatter than the desktop variations. So, ultimately, it going to be naturally difficult for companies to fit the same amount of general stuff into laptop components. In CPUs, this means fewer cores. In GPUs, less VRAM, and so on and so forth. As a result, laptops are naturally less powerful than desktop computers; they just have naturally less powerful components that contribute to an overall reduction of power.
Another big difference between the two sectors of computer production is the price. While laptops are generally cheaper than desktop computers, they’re also less powerful (as we covered.) So, you’re paying less money but also getting less power. Now for some people, that won’t matter. For instance, my work laptop didn’t need high specs because it only has to run a few programs; I could get a cheaper laptop with less powerful components because I only use it for Google Drive, WordPress, and Slack.
However, if you want to do big things, maybe you’re a video editor or a gamer, you’ll need an appropriately powerful computer. This is especially true if you want to get into 4K gaming or video. If your computer isn’t powerful enough, it will simply shut itself down when you try to do these things, as the CPU and GPU will run hot and need a mandatory shutdown to avoid damage. My computer can’t handle Call of Duty at the moment, for instance. It will crash, sometimes taking my whole computer system with it.
If you intend to buy a PC with the chops to run a video editing suite or 4K games, you’ll need to shell out the cash for it, and laptops with those kinds of specifications don’t come cheap! Most laptops with the specifications necessary to run graphically intensive tasks will run you upwards of $3,000.
Reasons to Avoid a New Desktop Computer
Still not sure? Keep reading to find out the top six reasons why you should avoid a new desktop computer.
When buying a new computer, you’ll always want to look at the price and compare the specifications online. Now, if you have absolutely no interest in building a desktop computer yourself or paying someone to build it for you (which is typically still cheaper than buying a pre-built desktop computer), then the sticker tax for a pre-built machine is unavoidable. However, even in that case, you should still ensure you’re not paying too much for the company sticker by researching the parts you want your future computer to have.
Buying vs. Building
You’ll also want to consider the difference you can make by building your own computer rather than buying it. While we want everyone to know that it’s very easy and even intuitive to build your own computer, you can easily get by simply by reading the manuals of the components you’ve purchased and watching YouTube videos.
If you’re too nervous to try putting your hands inside a computer case for the first time, plenty of services will do it for you. Stores like Microcenter have a dedicated “Build-Your-Own-PC” section complete with compatibility checkers and trained technicians who have hundreds of hours building gaming PCs. You can also find a personal geek (like me) to keep around and call at all hours of the night to fix your PC when you don’t know what’s wrong with it. (Please don’t actually do this. Personal geeks require ample beauty rest to ensure the efficacy of their fine motor skills when building and servicing PCs.)
Typically building a PC versus buying a pre-built one will cost roughly a few hundred to $1,000 less if you’re building a powerful machine. Less powerful computers — like the ones we typically associate with home family computers for schoolwork and surfing the web — won’t see quite the same amount of sticker tax.
Another thing you’ll want to consider is what kind of components you can get your hands on. When building a computer, you’ll typically be surfing online and physical stores with various components, both on the large and small scale. When buying a pre-built computer, you’re locked into whatever the store has available, and if you were hoping to get your hands on a specific part or specific model, you’re just out of luck.
The other problem is when computer manufacturers build their own parts. While this might sound like a great way to shake up the market, it typically just results in components that do exactly as much as necessary and no more, leaving no room for upgrades or changes without swapping out manufacturer-built parts.
There is also the factor of whether or not you plan to one day upgrade your PC. PC upgrades are an excellent way to dodge a full replacement, bringing your PC experience to new heights. Upgrading your PC depends greatly on what component you plan to upgrade, but upgrading a pre-built computer is typically more difficult than upgrading a computer you built yourself.
The additional difficulty tends to come from manufacturer-built parts, especially power supplies. Many pre-built computers use power supplies that provide unusual wattages because the computer doesn’t need more than that. When building your own computer, you’ll typically overshoot your wattage needs just in case you need to do a quick part replacement like adding an additional PCIe card or swapping out an old GPU.
There is also the possibility that your computer won’t be compatible with an upgrade because the manufacturer used older parts that lacked forward compatibility with newer components. This can result in replacing large swaths of components, turning your PC into a lemon.
Availability of Parts
One thing that can be difficult in building a computer is part availability. In the past few years, we’ve seen tech booms that resulted in large amounts of graphics cards being purchased for the purpose of mining cryptocurrency. As a result, it may still be difficult to purchase some components, especially graphics cards. This difficulty can result in scalpers selling components for several orders of magnitude more than what they are worth, making it far more efficient to buy a pre-built computer, even if you rack up the bill with expensive components.
Finally, you’ll want to consider your specific use case. If you’re buying a computer for your family to use for work and school, you probably don’t need the fanciest computer, and a pre-built machine can be an excellent investment that allows your family to connect to the World Wide Web. However, if you plan on using the computer for intensive tasks, you’ll definitely want to avoid buying a new desktop. You should either buy a more expensive laptop or build the desktop yourself.
Signs You Need a New Computer
So you think you may need a new computer? Here are some signs you might be right.
You’re Starting to Have Component Compatibility Issues
One of the easiest signs that you need a new computer is when you start having component compatibility issues. Components are made in generations, and older-generation parts are not always plug-and-play compatible with newer ones.
To put it into perspective (with personal experience), my computer needs a new CPU. However, at this point, the generation for CPU sockets has rolled over, and I’ll also need to replace the motherboard. Despite this, replacing my motherboard and CPU is still cheaper, bringing my computer into the current generation and future-proofing me for probably one CPU adjustment. However, this could also open me up to needing new RAM since the generation for RAM has changed, and my RAM sticks may no longer be compatible with a new motherboard. If that’s the case, I’ll functionally be rebuilding my computer anyway, and that’s just how it will be!
You’re Starting to Have Software Compatibility Issues
You may also start having software compatibility issues. For instance, Call of Duty: Warzone is technically compatible with all of my components on a surface level. However, my CPU is just not strong enough to run the game and it overheats and shuts down when I try to play the game.
Additionally, and more imperatively, you may start having compatibility issues between your computer and its security software. Now if you have Norton or MacAfee, you’re already behind the curve and need to check your compatibility with better software like AVG or ClamWin.
Your Fans Are Fighting For Their Lives
If your computer’s fans are making a lot of noise, that’s a pretty good indicator that you must upgrade your computer a little. Most computer fans should run relatively quietly, if not silently. If your fans are running high, it indicates that your components are getting too hot and may need to be replaced.
It Would Be Cheaper to Replace Than Repair
If you check the prices of your desired components online, and they’re more expensive than the total cost of your computer at MSRP, your computer is a lemon and needs to be replaced in its entirety. Depending on your use case, you may be able to pick up a pre-built computer that satisfies your needs. However, people who enjoy high-intensity tasks will likely need to look into building or buying a premium machine from a gaming manufacturer.
Everything Takes Longer
If everything your computer used to do smoothly has stopped running smoothly, this is a good sign that it’s time to look into replacement parts at a minimum. Usually, the first sign that a component is getting old is a slowing of the computer’s processes as other components work to make up the distance that used to be covered by the old component.
No matter where you source your computer or your components from, a new machine is an exciting prospect. Avoiding a new desktop computer is your best bet, so if you’re interested in building a new computer, check out our beginner’s guide to computer building. As we’ve mentioned, building computers is pretty easy and intuitive, especially if you remember to read the manuals (and you will have to read at least the motherboard manual!) If a laptop sounds more up your alley, check out our list of the best laptops you can buy today.
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