Choosing a Desktop Computer: Find the Right One for Your Needs

Learn which system specs to look for when choosing a desktop computer for your home or business with these tips.
July 15, 2020

In this Article:


Learn more about processors, which are the brains of desktop PCs. 


Find out how RAM (random access memory) factors into your desktop purchasing decision. 

Graphics Processing Unit

Interested in a desktop computer that can be used for 3D games, creating models or creating video content? Consider a computer with a dedicated graphics processor unit (GPU).

Physical Storage

Read more about the hard drive, the portion of a computer where permanent files get stored for future use. 

Form Factor

Now that you know how to buy a desktop computer based on hardware specs, consider the form factor, which is the exterior hardware design, of your intended PC. 

Desktop computers are essential for performing tasks for business, entertainment and education. There are thousands of options available, which can make it a challenge to know how to buy a desktop computer. This guide explains what you need for any system, from a top-of-the-line gaming rig to a barebones office model.


Processor Model

The processor, or CPU, is the brain of a desktop PC. This is the component that a computer uses to handle information and to create output based on user instructions. There are two main aspects to a processor to consider when choosing a desktop computer. The first is the clock speed. If your computer was a car, the clock speed would be equivalent to the engine's horsepower, but with power measured in GHz. In general, a higher GHz rating means more computing power.

When buying a desktop computer, you’ll also want to consider the element of multi-core CPUs. A PC with four processors can accomplish more tasks simultaneously, since each core can work on a different process. Depending on your intended use, you may not need a multi-core processor. If you are only planning to use your PC for running simple applications, such as Microsoft Office, then a lower-end economy model will meet your needs.



The other main indication of a system's power is its random access memory (RAM). RAM is a temporary storage space where the processor maintains information during calculations. Multiple processes can run without slowing down system performance when using this configuration. Higher levels of RAM are usually better for desktop performance. You might also consider investing in a desktop computer model with expandable slots. That way, you can improve your system with additional RAM chips if it turns out that you need more capacity.

Graphics Processor Unit

If you are interested in a desktop computer that can be used for 3D games, creating models or creating video content, you should consider a workstation with a dedicated graphics processor unit (GPU). A graphics card with a dedicated processor can handle 3D applications to take the load off of the CPU. 

Physical Storage

The hard drive is the portion of a computer where permanent files get stored for future use. There are two different types of hard drive, hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs). HDDs are the older standard, using mechanical parts to read off a spinning disc. These types of hard drives are less expensive options and tend to offer greater capacity than SSDs. 

On the other hand, the main advantage of opting for an SSD on your desktop computer is speed. Since there are no moving parts in an SSD, it can access existing files and write data almost instantly. SSDs are convenient for gaming rigs and workstations, which by graphic designers and 3D modelers often use.

A third option is to utilize cloud storage. Cloud storage is a remote solution where files are stored on online servers, either those you own or through a subscription service. In this setup, your computer has a hard drive, but you can keep the majority of your data in the cloud. This option allows you to access your files from any PC with a network connection, and it is especially ideal for teams where multiple employees need to collaborate on the same files.

Storage Type Storage Space Advantages
HDD High Economical
SSD Medium Faster than HDDs, energy-efficient
Cloud High Accessible from anywhere
in the world

Form Factor Options for Desktop Computers

Now that you know how to buy a desktop computer based on hardware specs, consider the form factor, which is the exterior hardware design, of your intended PC. Desktop units come in a range of sizes and shapes, with the common feature being that users tend to keep them in one place and work from a fixed location.

Standard Desktop

The standard desktop model is the workstation, which features a full-sized tower case. Workstations are large enough to house electrical supplies that are powerful enough to run top-of-the line, energy-hungry components. They can also hold larger multi-core processors and multi-slot RAM sets. If you are planning to use your PC for gaming or design applications, a workstation is likely the right desktop computer for your needs.


All-in-one PCs are self-contained computers that are built into a display unit. Setup is generally no more involved than plugging in a keyboard and a mouse, and then turning on the device. While all-in-one PCs usually cannot be upgraded, these desktops are available in a range of performance levels, including economy and high-power. This type of PC also takes up less space relative to a standard computer monitor.

Small and Ultra-Small

If you are choosing a desktop computer for an office area with limited space available, consider a small or ultra-small form PC. These tiny computers have small footprints, sometimes as low as 10 square inches. Smaller PCs are typically less powerful than their larger counterparts, but they are usually up to the task for general office tasks. Because of their small sizes, these computers are useful as media library units. You can also set up multiple small or ultra-small desktop PCs as a part of a network server.


The smallest PC type is a compact stick, which is designed to turn any display into a desktop PC. This type of PC is only about the size of a typical thumb drive, but it is a fully functional computer. Sticks feature compact processors and modest amounts of RAM; these will suffice for running standard applications, but they are not optimized for modern games. These types of stick computers can plug into portable projectorsmonitors or HDTVs, and they can be moved from one location to another effortlessly. They are especially useful for casual home use or for bringing work presentations on-the-go. Many of these models come without an operating system (OS) installed. You can go with an open-source OS, such a Linux, or install your own as an additional purchase.

 PC Type  Pros  Cons
Workstation High power, upgradable  Space Required
All-in-one  Compact, easy to set up Higher cost, cannot upgrade 
Compact and ultra-compact  Space-efficient, inexpensive    Lower Power
Stick  Convenient, compatible with modern displays  Low System Specs 

Ready to find the right desktop computer for you?

Lenovo ThinkCentre M70q

This Lenovo compact PC boasts enhanced security, reliability and energy efficiency. 

Dell OptiPlex 3080

The Dell OptiPlex 3080 MLK Micro Desktop takes up less surface area, ensuring an organized workspace.

HP EliteDesk 800 G5

Experience performance tailored for the modern workplace with the compact HP EliteDesk 800 Desktop Mini.

Lenovo ThinkCentre M720s

This powerful yet compact boasts up to 9th Gen Intel processing for seamless multi-tasking.