It should look good and be ready to tackle any of the latest games, but it shouldn't cost you so much that you can't afford to buy any of them. And another thing...
In fact, the perfect PC means different things to each of us. Search hard enough and you may find a factory-made machine that matches your ideal, at a reasonable price. But if you'd rather not wait for a PC vendor to read your mind, consider building your own.
It sounds pretty daunting, but putting together a PC is a lot easier than you might think. And there are plenty of good reasons to do it.
Do your own troubleshooting
If you've ever had to return a computer for repair, the experience may have encouraged you to think seriously about rolling up your sleeves and doing your own troubleshooting. Lengthy turnaround times and hours spent on hold with customer service are maddening enough. But if your machine is out of warranty – or didn't have a very good warranty to begin with – the cost of getting a part or the entire system replaced could be more than you bargained for.
What's more, building your own system is fun. Technology has become increasingly complex, but PCs are modular and, with our step-by-step guide, you can put together a dream machine that's just right for your needs and budget.
Note, though, that the do-it-yourself process is a double-edged sword. Whether or not you've had positive customer-service experiences in the past, having a single seller to turn to for help if your equipment goes haywire can simplify troubleshooting (and makes replacement parts easier to find). Getting a faulty component replaced on a home-built machine entails working with individual product manufacturers, which can mean extra hassle.
What do you want from your PC?
But, caveats aside, you'll be hard pressed to find a computer that suits your needs better than one you build yourself. The first and most important step in building a PC is to know exactly what you want it to do. The only thing worse than wasting time assembling a sub-par system is spending far more money than you need to. There's little sense in cobbling together a quad-core behemoth that you'll be using only to check email and browse the web.
Once you've identified the functions that you want your PC to perform, decide how much you're willing to spend. A system designed for gaming or video editing will require a larger investment than one intended for nothing more demanding than surfing the web.
The parts lists we've provided for our sample builds reflect what we were trying to achieve – a budget build in the first example; a more entertainment-focused PC in the second. We've also added some suggestions of how you might tweak the basic component list for each to give you more graphics grunt or slicker everyday performance. Only you can decide what you think is a reasonable amount to spend on a graphics card or processor and how much you're prepared to lay down overall.
NEXT PAGE: The parts list