Enjoying nearly ubiquitous use in homes, schools, libraries and businesses of all sizes and types, a desktop computer is distinct from a laptop in that it is not portable. There are different types of desktop units, but traditionally, they consist of a tower CPU, monitor, keyboard and mouse. More recently, models featuring slim and ultra-slim towers and all-in-one units have become very popular. With the size of the tower reduced, less space is needed at a work station. An all-in-one desktop features a full-scale computer built right into the LCD display. All-in-one (AIO) computers are not only space saving, but they are also virtually cord free.
Brands, Models and Prices
Home and business desktop computers are manufactured by a wide variety of makers. Among the most well-known are Dell, Gateway, HP and Sony. Models include Dell's Studio and Inspiron series; Gateway's LXX, DX, FX and ZX series; HP's Pavilion and TouchSmart series and Acer's Aspire and Veriton models. Built specifically for gaming are the Acer Predator series and Dell Alienware series. Other models include those from the Sony VAIO L and J series and Apple's iMac, Mac Mini and Mac Pro. As of 2010, prices for desktops without monitors start around $300 and can reach $7,000 or more. All-in-ones range in price from roughly $600 to $3,000 or higher.
Nearly every preassembled desktop is designed to run one version of a Microsoft Windows operating system, whether it's Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional or Windows Vista. Apple desktop products are the exception; they all run the latest Mac OS X operating system, now Snow Leopard. Other types of operating systems, such as LINUX, are available.
Features that are built into a desktop computer include things like USB and firewire ports for connecting printers, cameras, recording interfaces, external hard drives and more. Many new desktops feature a built-in wireless-N LAN card for easy Wifi setup, a Bluetooth device for communicating with a wireless keyboard and/or a mouse and advanced optical drives. While all desktops can read CDs and DVDs, superior multi-use drives are Blu-Ray compatible for added versatility. Some machines even function as HDTVs with built-in TV tuners. Fairly standard as well are built-in webcams and microphones for effortless video chatting.
Desktop computers come in a variety of basic designs. Traditional towers, slimline units and AIO models comprise the basic selection. When shopping, consider what is known as the form factor. This refers to the size of the tower, or the absence of it in the case of AIO models. Standard, small form and ultra-small form factors are common. Small offices manage to save space by incorporating slimmer towers in their work stations rather than the traditionally large CPUs. AIO desktops save the most space and feature a single power cord. Many models are Bluetooth enabled, which allows for wireless keyboard and mouse use.
Memory and Storage
Two of the most important technical specifications of any desktop computer are its memory and storage functions. Memory, or RAM, provides a smaller amount of space to use on the spot. Storage capacity provides far more space, but it is not as quickly accessed. A good analogy to describe the difference is that memory, or RAM, is to hard drive storage what the glove box in a car is to the trunk. Most desktops have a minimum of 2GB (gigabytes) of RAM, with more versatile machines possessing up to 12 or even 16GB. Hard drive storage ranges from about 250GB to 1 or 1.5TB. The average seems to be 500GB of storage. Some gaming machines possess over 2TB (terabytes), a massive amount of space.
Another vital specification of a desktop is its processing speed. This is the rate at which the computer is able to function given the use of particular applications. This is measured in gigahertz (GHz), and the higher the number, the faster the system. Most machines fall into the 2.0 to 3.3GHz range. Faster processors are available for gaming and other high-performance systems where several large applications are used simultaneously. Processors made by Intel and AMD are the most commonly used by virtually all preassembled desktops. The AMD Athlon, Intel Core i7 and Intel Quad 2 are just a few examples. Processors with a greater number of cores feature more speed and ultimately more power.
In addition to the performance specifications of desktop computers, numerous standard and optional features are available. Graphics capabilities, monitor upgrades and accessories are but a few possibilities. Graphics may be integrated into the computer's design. For improved performance, dedicated graphics cards are included with some models. The ATI Radeon and NVIDIA GeForce, for example, feature their own built-in memory, which drastically improves the FPS (frames-per-second) ratio. This is especially important for gamers and users who enjoy multimedia applications. Without a dedicated graphics card, a computer must draw from the standard internal memory, which will slow down other functions.
Whether for everyday computing, Internet use, multimedia, digital content creation, professional use or gaming, desktop computers provide the means. The right desktop in terms of power, performance and storage is dependent on its application. In the home, desktops generally require normal power and performance features. In businesses, faster, more performance-oriented components help with complex applications. Gamers require high-speed, high-powered CPUs in order to effectively play the latest games either individually or peer to peer (P2P).
Gone are the days of heavy, bulky monitors with pixelated, one-color graphics. Backlit LCD displays are the industry standard, with advanced multi-touch screens readily available. Tower desktop models and compatible displays are typically sold separately. All-in-one desktops feature a computer and display in one, and package deals are available through numerous retailers. Desktop displays generally range from about 19 inches to 27 inches in diagonal measurement. Touch screens offer users the ability to easily navigate through photos, Internet pages and more by performing different finger-on-screen movements.
Accessories help to transform a desktop from a standard computer into something more convenient, powerful or versatile. Desktop makers generally offer memory and storage upgrades to improve performance. Speaker and microphone jacks provide an easy way to connect a multi-channel sound system or advanced gaming headset mic to the computer. Other common accessories include battery rechargers for wireless setups, hardware for mounting a display to a wall, supplemental drives and home or business networking devices.