Why on Earth would you want to buy a desktop PC or Mac in Kenya in 2016? Simply put, there are computing needs that mobile devices like laptops and tablets can’t fulfill as well as the stalwart desktop. Here’s what to consider when deciding on your next desktop PC.
It’s About the Power
Desktop-class CPUs and graphics processors are simply more powerful than their mobile counterparts for the same money. They give you the power to finish whatever task you’re working on in less time. Desktop components are less expensive in general, so instead of buying a ksh 45,000 laptop with a competent Intel Atom processor, you can buy a ksh 65,000 desktop with a powerful Intel Core i5 desktop CPU in it.
You can get desktops with screens that are already built in, or they can be connected externally to a monitor. In either case, you’re almost guaranteed to have a bigger display than even the largest desktop-replacement laptop, which tops out at about 18 inches in size. Another plus is that expandable desktops can accommodate multiple graphics cards to support more than two simultaneous displays.
For some sensitive situations, buying a desktop gives you physical control of the computer and its use. Limiting access to desktop PCs lets you control who sees confidential business data, and the combination of a desktop PC and a large screen means that parents can monitor what their children are doing online via a quick glance across the room.
Which OS? Windows? Mac? Other?
You probably already know the answer to this question, but here’s a quick rundown of your choices:
Windows 10 is at paleankenya is the latest iteration of Microsoft’s operating system. Desktops with Win 10 and previous versions are what most people typically use, so you’ll be assured of the best compatibility and widest selection of third-party software. This also applies to browser plugins, since some only work with Windows.
Apple’s OS X is currently up to version 10.11 (El Capitan). It’s a great choice if you’re already in an Apple-centric household, since it interfaces seamlessly with devices like iPads, iPhones, and with all your iTunes purchases and subscriptions.
Chrome OS has the best buzz of the alternative desktop operating systems, since it essentially runs the Chrome browser on desktop PC hardware. You’ll need to use always-on Internet service for the best results from this cloud-based ecosystem, but homebound desktops are usually connected 24/7.
Desktops with Android and Linux are harder to finder, particularly in retail configurations, but both have their merits. Android lets you use more than two million apps, but in practice many have scaling issues on desktop screens, and you’ll definitely run into problems with the lack of an accelerometer while controlling some games.
While it has its fans, Linux is more of a do-it-yourself operating system, where you’ll have to rely on your own faculties for installation, sourcing programs, and support. Chrome OS, OS X, and Windows are certainly easier choices if you simply want to buy a desktop and use it right away.
How Much Desktop Do You Need?
If all you need to do is surf the Internet, write word documents, or make simple spreadsheets, then an entry-level desktop is the way to go. You will have to make some compromises in terms of graphics, power, RAM, and storage compared with higher-end systems, but then again, you won’t be paying as much, as entry-level PCs typically cost less than Ksh 60,000.
You’ll find a wide selection of Intel and AMD processors in this category, from the budget AMD Athlon X4 and Sempron, as well as Intel Atom and Celeron up to the slightly more expensive (and much more powerful) Intel Core i3 and i5 processor. You should look for at least 4GB of system memory, while 2GB is acceptable for sub-Ksh 30,000 systems. 16GB of eMMC flash storage is found on the least expensive desktop, but 64GB of flash storage or a 500GB hard drive is a better option for most users.
A sub-category of entry-level desktops, the chromebox (and its all-in-one counterpart, the chromebase) is a desktop that runs on Google’s Chrome OS. Both can be found for as little as Ksh 180,000, utilizing free and paid Google cloud services to store your files, install your programs, and manage your digital life. If you spend a great portion of your computing life online, they’re a great alternative to yet another inexpensive Windows desktop, but given that they typically have scant onboard storage (think 64GB maximum of flash storage), you’ll need a good wireless connection to be able to access the cloud-based storage and apps.
Midrange desktops will stay functional longer, thanks to more CPU power and speed, memory for multitasking, storage, or a larger built-in screen. You will be making some tradeoffs compared with high-end systems, but even demanding users will be able to find a midrange system that will last them for at least five or six years. Look for a capable AMD A8 or A10 processor, or an Intel Core i5 CPU in this category, along with 8GB to 16GB of memory, and a 1TB hard drive or at least 256GB solid-state-drive (SSD) storage.
High-end systems offer top-of-the-line components, like the latest CPUs that will give you all the power you need for multimedia projects, loads of storage (a 512GB SSD or at least 1TB hard drive, but typically 2TB or more), 3D graphics capability for gaming, or a combination of all three. These high-performance machines typically start at Ksh 150,000, and can go up to Ksh 500,000 and beyond for workstations or gaming rigs with customized paint jobs and multiple GPUs.
While sticking to one of the three price ranges, we recommend that you buy just a little more than you need for the tasks you do now if you can. That way, you future-proof your purchase and won’t have to shop for a replacement for a while.
What Do You Need to Do?
General-purpose desktops, which are the kind you typically see in retail stores, are well suited to general office tasks, surfing the Internet, video conferencing, and the like. They’re designed to be a jack of all trades: good at most tasks, but rarely great at specialized functions like multimedia creation or gaming.
Performance PCs, which include multimedia machines and workstations, will give you more power for complex creative or math and scientific projects. Faster processors with four, six, or even 18 cores make quick work of your tasks. More memory (8GB to 16GB) is installed, so you can keep larger images on screen while editing a video, rendering a a 3D model, or processing a humongous spreadsheet full of numbers that you have to graph. You’ll also find extra storage in the form of large hard drives and SSDs that will let you hold a multitude of work documents and program library files.
Workstations are specialized machines made to do the heavy lifting of high-end media creation, scientific calculations, and strenuous work tasks that have razor-thin deadlines. You’ll find multicore Intel Xeon processors and ISV-certified graphics solutions from AMD and Nvidia in this category.
Gaming PCs have even faster versions of the multicore processors found in the performance PCs. Plus, they have specialized 3D graphics cards, so you can smoothly view and interact with the virtual worlds that the game developers create. Flashy designs like automotive paint, multiple graphics cards viewable through Plexiglas case doors, and elaborate liquid cooling are available, for a price. Upgradability is almost (but not quite) a must have. The most expensive gaming systems are priced as much as a car, and are capable of giving you a better-than-real-life experience with multiple 1080p HD or 4K displays.
Business PCs are typically utilitarian in appearance, but offer work-friendly features, like easy serviceability and upgradability, extra security in the form of biometric sensors and Trusted Platform Module (TPM), software/hardware certification programs like Intel vPro, and software support. Some come with onsite tech support.
Size Does Matter
Desktops aren’t the uniform metal boxes they used to be. Even the tiniest PCs have enough built-in components to rival the high performance PCs of the past. Choosing one these days is a matter of space constraints, and purpose.
If you live or work in truly cramped quarters, then an ultra-small-form-factor (USFF) or small-form-factor (SFF) desktop is what you need. USFF, or mini PCs, take up the least amount of room, but don’t have much expandability, if any at all. Even so, they contain a processor, memory, storage, and ports to hook up displays, keyboards, and mice. They are usually the most economical to buy and run, since they use power-saving components and processors. The sides of the systems are measured in the small inches, with total volume rarely being larger than a small jewelry box.
Lately, we’ve seen PCs that are the size of USB flash drives, like the Intel Compute Stick. These have the benefit of disappearing behind an HDMI-equipped monitor or HDTV. You may be limited to one or two configurations and will have to give up expandability and I/O port selection, but stick PCs and similarly sized mini desktops are the most flexible way to play Internet streaming media and access cloud computing in your living room or conference room.
SFF desktops have more internal space, allowing you to attach additional hard drives and possibly even a gaming-grade graphics card. You’ll also find more powerful CPUs here, with their more strenuous cooling requirements.
Traditional tower desktops, including mini, midsize, and full-size towers, have the most internal space, so you can install multiple hard drives, more RAM, or multiple graphics cards, depending on your needs. They are the most flexible, but also the bulkiest.
An All-in-one (AIO) desktop will save you some space, since the display is built in. Some, like the Acer Aspire AZ3-600-UR31, even come with battery power for added portability (although we’re certainly not recommending you haul one with you on your daily commute). However, you will give up expandability, compared with the traditional desktop. Screens come in sizes from 18 to 30 inches, and support up to 5K (5,120-by-2,880) resolution.
Which Desktop Is Best for You?
At Paleankenya, we review hundreds of PCs every year, evaluating features and testing their performance against peers in their respective categories. That way you’ll know which is high-end, all-in-one desktop is best suited to your daily photo retouching tasks, or if your needs will be fulfilled by an entry-level gaming desktop. Hopefully this guide will help make your buying decision easier. Be sure to check out our current favorites below.