When you buy a desktop, one of your main goals is that you want
it to be upgradeable. That means the following can easily
be removed and replaced:
- hard drive
- CD/DVD drives
- video card
- sound card
If any of the above cannot be upgraded, you are buying into a closed
system like a laptop. All laptops are closed systems because
their video, sound, and CPU generally cannot be upgraded.
Lower Priced Desktops.
Many lower priced (less than $800) Celeron/Duron desktops made
by almost all computer manufacturers should be carefully investigated
Most of these low priced desktops have no AGP video expansion slot,
no onboard dedicated video RAM, no CD-RW drive, and very few empty
PCI expansion slots.
These computers will be very difficult to upgrade, and they have
poorer performance than other desktops that do not have integrated
audio and video chips soldered onto the motherboard. Upgradeable
computers have removable video cards, and sometimes, removable sound
Integrated Audio. Good or Bad?
A few years ago, integrated audio chips did a very poor job of
providing good stereo sound. However, these chips have really improved,
and they are probably more than adequate for the average computer
user. However, if you are an audiophile, you'll probably want a
sound card, so make sure the computer you want to buy has a free
PCI slot for a sound card (or buy the computer with the sound card
Free Expansion Slots
A free expansion slot is a long electrical connector on the motherboard
that is empty. Expansion slots are needed to plug in additional
devices like modems, video cards, sound cards, ect. There are three
flavors of expansion slots: ISA, PCI, and AGP.
ISA slots. The original 8 bit slots from the IBM PC. They
are mostly used now for modems and older sound cards. Soon they
will be extinct. Most new computers no longer have ISA slots.
PCI slots. The newer 16 bit slot (twice the transfer rate
of the ISA slot), should be used for your video card (unless you
have an AGP slot, see below) and any additional hard drive or SCSI
controllers. Basically, any device that needs to be fast should
be in a PCI slot.
AGP slot - Advanced Graphics Port. These are found on all
new computers except for certain low-priced Celeron and Duron computers.
If your system has an AGP slot you should have an AGP video card.
AGP cards can either be double speed (2X) or quad speed (4X). Motherboards
and video cards with 8X AGP have been announced and should soon
be available for purchase.
Make sure any computer system you buy has at least one or more
free PCI expansion slots for future upgrades. Free ISA slots would
only benefit those with older add in devices.
External Expansion Connectors
USB - All new computers have USB (universal serial bus)
connectors. USB connectors are good for attaching printers, scanners,
flash drives, cameras etc. It is possible to add additional USB
ports to a desktop or laptop by buying a USB hub.
USB 2.0 - The updated version of USB. USB 2.0 is about 40
times faster than the original USB (USB 1.0). This allows high-speed
devices like hard drives, fast CD-RW drives, and DVD drives to perform
about as fast as an internal PCI connection.
New computers are just starting to be sold with USB 2.0 connectors.
All USB 2.0 connectors are also compatible with USB 1.0 devices.
Firewire/IEEE 1394 - Invented by Apple, this port currently
has about the same speed as a USB 2.0 port. These ports are very
popular with digital video camera users. While all Apple computers
now have Firewire ports, most PCs do not.
Hint: USB 2.0 and Firewire PCI
expansion cards can be purchased to upgrade your PC.
Free Drive Bays
Free drive bays are necessary to add additional hard drives, Removable
Drives, CD-ROM, CD-RW, or DVD players.
Know What You are Buying
The low priced slimline, integrated, compact, and
spacesaver type desktop systems should be reviewed very carefully
for soldered on components, free slots, and free drive bays. When
in doubt, stay away from compact or spacesaver systems.
Often by spending $200-$400 more for a Pentium 4 or Athlon XP based
system, you can get twice the performance and more features. You
will also have an upgradeable computer that will serve you well
for another 3 years.
If you choose the $700 Celeron/Duron system to save a few bucks,
keep in mind that in a year or two you will probably want to replace
it as it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to upgrade.