April is an excellent month to take advantage of sales on car parts, laptops, cookware and more!
Computer Features: Operating Systems.Windows 7 has been nearly ubiquitous on budget computers, but Microsoft introduced a new option with the recent release of Windows 8, which the company calls a 'reimagining' of its operating system. Early reviews of the new OS have been positive, with both CNET and PC Mag rating it 4 out of 5.
So far the Dell Inspiron 660 is the only one of our picks that features Windows 8. Almost all the other systems we researched come with Windows 7. Consumers who buy the Gateway SX2370-UR10P by the end of January 2013 can upgrade to Windows 8 for $14.99 through the end of February. The IdeaCentre Q180 doesn't appear on Lenovo's list of upgrade-compatible models.
The exception to the Windows rule is the Samsung Series 3 Chromebox, which uses Google's Chrome operating system -- essentially the Chrome browser on steroids -- and provides a different sort of computing experience for PC users. Rather than running programs stored on the hard drive, the Chromebox relies on Web-based services and apps. If you're already used to products such as Gmail and Google Docs, this shouldn't be a big adjustment. But Google doesn't have an app for everything, and the Chromebox doesn't run off-the-shelf Windows software. This nettop also requires a constant internet connection (much less of an issue for a desktop than a laptop). Despite the computer's limitations, PC Mag notes its snappy performance when running Web content, including 1080p video clips, and a CNET expert likewise praises the Chromebox for its Web performance. Multiple reviewers point to the Chromebox as a good option for Windows users who aren't inclined toward system maintenance and find their current machines crippled by malware.
Computer Features: Memory.If a PC has too little random access memory, or RAM, its performance will be sluggish. Fortunately, memory is a fairly inexpensive computer feature, so a manufacturer can bump up a desktop's RAM without increasing the overall cost of the system too much. A good, budget computer should have at least 4GB of RAM. The Samsung Chromebox and Lenovo Q180, as well as the Asus Essentio CM6730 (starting at $465, Amazon), meet that benchmark. As nettops, the Samsung and Lenovo don't put as much demand on the system memory as a traditional desktop. In general, though, the more memory you can get, the better. Many low-cost desktops, including our two top picks, come with 6GB of RAM.
Computer Features: Graphics.Don't expect too much from a cheap desktop on the graphics front. Entry-level machines almost always use integrated video chips, rather than separate video cards that are more powerful but add to the price. The built-in video processors on low-cost desktops can handle many basic tasks, such as photo editing, but they may struggle to run more graphics-intensive programs. Virtually every expert review we read included the caveat that low-end desktops simply aren't made for PC gaming. An expert at About.com does praise the integrated graphics on the AMD-based Gateway SX2370-UR10P, which the reviewer deems better than Intel's integrated video and adequate for casual gaming. A Newegg user also reports that the Gateway SX2370-UR10P can run 3D games fairly well on low settings, at least. Still, those are hardly ringing endorsements of the computer's gaming chops.
More typical is an About.com review of the Asus Essentio CM6730, which reports that this computer delivers good performance but, like most budget desktops, can't handle 3D gaming and has limited graphics processing power. At the same time, a user who posted a review at B&H reports that the computer has plenty of juice for photo editing and creating artwork.
If you're not a gamer, don't worry about finding a system with discrete graphics. A basic, built-in video chip can handle most tasks just fine. Serious gamers should upgrade to a separate graphics card (and, likely, a stronger power supply) -- or buy a beefier, pricier gaming computer.
Don't Bother Cheap Desktops
Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180
The Lenovo Q180 is a cheap nettop computer that's marketed as a home-theater PC. The idea is to set up this little box in your entertainment center in order to watch online video or even surf the web on a TV. As an everyday desktop, however, this model falls flat due to its limited Intel Atom CPU and graphics power.Read more »
Asus Essentio CM6730 Review
Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180 Review
Samsung Series 3 Chromebox Review
Dell Inspiron 660 Review
Gateway SX2370-UR10P Review
HP Slimline s5220y
Acer Aspire AX3200-U1790A
Asus Essentio CM1630-05
Dell Inspiron 580s
Compaq Presario CQ5720F
Lenovo IdeaCentre Q150
Compaq Presario CQ5720F
January brings deals on linens and electronics -- and, in much of the country, winter weather that can disrupt power. ...
January is an excellent month to take advantage of sales on Christmas decor, electronics, furniture and more.