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What makes a great family desktop PC? 10 things to consider before you buy


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Choose a desktop: HP Feature story

by Susan Twombly, Sept. 2009

When it comes to balancing the family budget, you know how to do a lot with a little. So, when it comes to choosing a family desktop PC, finding the best prices and promotions are important. But, you also need to know …
  • How to buy what you need without selling yourself short
  • How to fit the space you have and the lifestyle you lead
  • How to kick the tires on a PC service and support package for the best protection
To help you learn more about getting the most from your PC purchase, met up with Elliott Levine, educational strategist for the personal systems group in the HP Americas region. Here are Elliott’s top recommendations for getting the best buy for your money and the best experience for your family.

Tip #1: Desktop or laptop? Get the best of both. One of the first things you may think about when you’re buying a family PC is whether you need a desktop or a notebook. Today, there are some affordable ways to get the best of both worlds: The mobility of a notebook and the cost advantages and larger monitor options of a desktop.

For example, you can buy a desktop PC for home and a mini netbook for when you’re out and about. Netbooks are very reasonably priced, so they can be ideal as a portable companion to your desktop. And, they synch up easily with your desktop when you get home. Using a netbook around the house can also keep your kids from squabbling over one PC.

Another option is to buy a pocket media drive that stores content to take anywhere. The point is, there are cost-effective ways to meet the needs of your lifestyle and your budget.

Tip #2: Balance price and performance. The thrill of getting a bargain rapidly fades if you can’t do the things you want to do. So, don’t sell yourself short. Try to find a good balance between the performance you need now and a bit into the future, with the price you can afford today.

Remember, higher performance doesn’t have to mean you break the bank. In fact, you might be surprised when you compare the small price difference between a desktop with a single-core processor running Windows Vista Home Basic Edition, and a desktop with a dual-core processor running Windows Vista Home Premium Edition.1

So, for a family desktop PC, consider stepping up to a dual-core2 processor and Windows Vista Home Premium Edition, with a minimum of 3GB RAM.

That can give you the horsepower you need for gaming, entertainment and running multiple programs and applications at once. It can also help ready you for the future, so you have less chance of having to spend money to replace the PC sooner than you’d like.

Tip #3: Size up your workspace. Consider the size of the CPU and where you plan to put it. If you have limited space, there are ‘slimline’ desktop PCs with smaller CPUs that easily fits on a desk next to or behind a monitor.

It’s a more compact option, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend more money. Regardless of your choice, it’s best to place the CPU on the desk, rather than under it, to protect the computer from the dust and the ‘ruff and tumble’ of an active family.

Tip #4: Get more entertainment value with a larger display. Since larger display options are a perk when you choose a desktop model, why not take full advantage of it?

For less than you might think, you can replace your old monitor with a high-resolution, widescreen LCD display that can reduce your energy costs, too. (Older CRT monitors use considerably more electricity and output more heat.) The crisp, clear images on an LDC display can really kick your entertainment experience up a notch, so it can be great for gaming or movie night.

Some desktop promotions roll a larger display into the price, so check that out. With desktop monitors as large as 27-inches (diagonal), you can hang it on a wall to turn your family desktop PC into a family entertainment center – and get even more value for your money.

Tip #5: Consider your connections. If you have more than one PC at home, you can create a wired or wireless home network. With a wireless network,3 you don’t need to run cables between them all. There’s also less hassle if you need to move your desktop PC from one space to another as your family’s needs change.

If you can’t decide between a wired or wireless network, leave your options open. Buy your PC with an optional USB wireless LAN card, so you’re prepared to go wireless when you’re ready. It can be less expensive than adding a card later.

Tip #6: Add portable storage for sharing and backup. Desktops with integrated pocket media drive bays can make it easier take large amounts of data and digital media with you. Just slip a pocket media device into the bay and you’re good to store up to as much as 500GB of data in a device as small as a wallet.

To give you an idea of what that can equal: A 500GB drive can hold about 85,000 images, 100,000 songs, and more than 300 hours of video.4 Personal media devices are also a great way to backup data, so you can add another layer of protection for those photos and videos of your kids.

Tip #7: Economize with software bundles. Check out the deep software discounts that may be available as add-ons when you buy your desktop PC. If you need to open files from work or school, you may want to upgrade to Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition, which includes many of the programs you may need. It’s also a good idea to add Norton’s Internet Security software to your purchase to help protect your PC against viruses or malware.

Tip #8: Don’t scribble, Lightscribe. Lightscribe technology gives you another great way to share your family memories. Instead of scribbling something on a disc with a marker, you can burn colorful, personalized silk-screen quality images directly on the top of a CD or DVD – and without a printer.5

Tip #9: Think proactively about service and support. Two factors to consider are an extended warranty for normal hardware problems, and accidental damage for drops, spills and other unexpected problems. Compared to just one repair charge, you can save a considerable amount by proactively adding these services now.

Asking a few questions upfront about coverage can save headaches later. Ask the salesperson how you get tech support for setting up, using or troubleshooting your PC. Ask if you have to take the PC back to the store for repairs or, if you have to ship it somewhere, who pays for the shipping.

If you want your PC to be covered by someone who knows it best, ask about support options directly from the manufacturer. The store’s plan may be a bit cheaper, but the savings may not be worth it when you have a problem. Spend a few dollars more for peace of mind and do it at the time of purchase – because you can often get the most coverage and value then.

Tip #10: Get ready for Windows 7. Windows 7 is scheduled to release in October, but you don’t have to put off your PC purchase until then. Some manufacturers are offering free upgrade programs. But be careful, because the upgrade only applies to certain versions of Windows.

To make the switch easier, it’s a good idea to choose Windows Vista Home Premium Edition when you buy a new desktop PC now. That way, you can be more ready to bring the benefits of Windows 7 home to your family when it becomes available.

To pick the desktop PC that’s right for your family, go to your local retailer or visit the HP Home and Home Office store today.

1 Certain Windows Vista product features require advanced or additional hardware. See site Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor can help you determine which features of Windows Vista will run on your computer. To download the tool, visit site

2 Dual Core is a new technology designed to improve performance of multi-threaded software products and hardware-aware, multi-tasking operating systems and may require appropriate operating system software for full benefit. Check with software provider to determine suitability.

3 Wireless access point and Internet service required and not included.

4 HP pocket media drive: Photo capacity based on average compressed .jpg size of 5MB/image @4MP. Music capacity based on 4 minutes per song and 128-Kbps AAC encoding. Video capacity based on standard NTSC recording format on ‘fair’ mode, recording times may vary.

5 You must use LightScribe CDs and DVDs in order to burn a label onto your discs. LightScribe creates a monochrome image. LightScribe media required and sold separately.

6 Shipping and handling fees may apply depending on retailer/reseller. Program terms vary by country. Systems may require upgraded and/or separately purchased hardware and/or a DVD drive to install the Windows 7 software and take full advantage of Windows 7 functionality. See Microsoft non-hp site for details.

Pick the PC that’s right for your family

Use the HP Desktop PC Buying Feature Guide
Don’t miss the latest desktop PC promotions at the HP home and home office store
Check out the deals of the week on Compaq desktop PCs

Get the best of both worlds
Value-priced performance

HP Pavilion p6120t series
Buy yours today

Compaq Presario CQ5110f
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Affordable mobility
HP Mini netbook
Get a companion PC for your desktop

Rightsized for your desk space and budget
HP Pavilion Slimline s5100z series
Fit your space

Boost your entertainment value
Upgrade your monitor

Get ready to go wireless
Make it easy with a step-by-step guide

Backup and store what’s important
HP 500 GB Pocket Media Drive

Personalize your CDs and DVDs
HP Lightscribe

Extend your service plan, directly from HP
HP Total Care House Call

Free Windows 7 upgrade on qualified PCs6
Windows 7 Upgrade Option Program from HP

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