Computers come in many different guises; some barely resemble a PC at all. We've had it with plain-vanilla and boring black machines, and we've gone designer. Here's how to get a PC that looks good, both inside and out.
General PC buying advice
Buying a PC can be a confusing process, even if your needs are as simple as a decent processor, generous hard disk, good-sized screen, keyboard and mouse. Knowing where you can afford to scrimp comes with experience – and bitter hindsight.
You may have chosen the meatiest dual-core processor and the latest graphics card, but if you're stuck with 1GB or less of RAM then those fancy programs you've bought will struggle to run. Forking out for extra memory probably wasn't part of your plan.
The same is true of the systems here: they may squeeze a PC into a housing the size of an orange juice carton, but if your size-zero system has a scant gigabyte or two of flash memory then it won't be much cop as an entertainment centre.
If your off-the-wall PC is to be used for work as well as leisure, ensure the basic specifications include a 2GHz or faster processor – dual-core is a near must unless you're choosing a Linux-based model. Several hundred gigabytes of storage will also be helpful although, as long as there are free USB 2.0 or FireWire ports, external storage is an option.
If it's going to be running Vista at any point in its life, a 256MB dedicated graphics card supporting DirectX 10.0 should also be considered.
To get anything done in a hurry, you'll ideally want 2GB of DDR RAM. If it's to be more of an occasionally used curiosity, you'll want to be able to swap screens and plug in or add a supplementary hard drive.
For the meanest system around, you'll want to keep up with friends' super-specced systems and make frequent upgrades to your powerhouse, beefing up the graphics, the power supply and the cooling setup.
Upgrades can be a problem for compact PCs and notebooks; with all-in-one systems there's the added problem of what happens if the screen flakes out or your needs outgrow it. In a fixed environment – a kitchen or somewhere with a finite, inflexible space – a single-unit setup such as HP's TouchSmart can be a brilliant option, but we wouldn't recommend it as the basis of a family home entertainment system. You're sure to want a larger screen.
Opting to buy a specialist system immediately narrows down your options, but that doesn't mean you should content yourself with a standard tower system. And even if you do decide that power and up-to-date specs are more important than quirky design, you can always personalise your PC with a distinctive paint job such as Commodore Gaming's C-Kins.
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