Cheap Desktop Computers

Category: Hardware

I'm looking for a basic entry-level desktop computer to give to a high-school student as a Christmas gift. What do you recommend in the budget category that can handle web surfing, email and word processing?

Three Basic (and Cheap) Desktop Computers

The holidays are a great time for picking up inexpensive computers and electronics. If you keep your eyes open, you can get yourself a great desktop PC for less than $600. Or buy a spare so the kids will stop asking to borrow yours!

HP Pavilion Slimline s3200z For high school or college students who need just a basic system, the Pavilion Slimline s3200z Series might be just the ticket. While this model lacks some of the bells and whistles of some of the other PCs, it is certainly a good choice for reliability and durability. The Slimline offers choices that can be tailored to your needs. But a word of caution, some upgrades will cost you more if you purchase after the end of the year.

For the student who just wants to do some online research, a little YouTubing, and hanging out in Facebook, select Windows Vista Home Basic. In terms of processors there are three to select from, but I recommend the AMD Athlon 64 3800+ (2.4GHz / 512KB L2 cache). I suggest you go with the 64MB NVIDIA GeForce 7500LE video card, with DVI, TV-out, and VGA adapter. When considering a hard drive, go with the 160GB SATA hard drive, or upgrade to the 250MB drive if you need to store large amounts of music, photos or video. HP includes a basic Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition 2007 that will help in writing term papers, creating spreadsheets or presentations. It also has a 15-in-1 digital media card reader for transferring videos, photos, and music.

Here are a few more cool features of the Slimline s3200z... the LightScribe CD/DVD writer lets you burn professional-looking labels right onto your discs -- there's no need to print a sticker. You can also add personality to your PC with Skinit, a free vinyl skin with sports, music, and movies, and cartoon themes. And perhaps the best asset of all in the Slimline, besides its petite size of 13.9 x 4.2 x 10.9 inches, is its starting price of $399.99, sans monitor.

Dell Inspiron 531S For an even lower price point in desktops, it pays to shop around. Many online stores offer free shipping so you never even have to leave home. The Dell Inspiron 531s is currently selling for $349 (without monitor) with free shipping. The base model is equipped with the AMD Sempron 3600 (2 GHz) processor, Windows Vista Home Basic, 1 GB of SDRAM memory, a 250 GB SATA hard drive, 48X CD/DVD Combo Drive, and the NVIDIA GeForce 6150 for video.

This desktop is definitely not a hotrod, but will handle your family's multi-media, word processing, and home-office chores nicely.

The Inspiron 531s comes with a 30-day trial of Trend Micro antivirus, and Microsoft Works 8 for word processing, which is the poor cousin of Microsoft Office. You do get 1 year if in-home support service, (includes parts, labor and 24x7 phone support) 3GB DataSafe online backup for 1 year, and a 6 months free trial of AOL Advantage internet access. I just bought this exact model for a friend, who already has a monitor, and I think it's a great machine for casual web surfing, email and word processing.

Apple Mac Mini If your teens keep telling you how they love their Macs at school, now could be the time to take the Apple plunge with the Mac Mini, which sells for $599. The Mini (which could refer either to the size or the minimalist design) sports a 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 1GB memory, an 80GB hard drive, and a 24x Combo CD/DVD Drive.

Unlike most budget PC's, the Mac Mini does not come with a keyboard or mouse, and you'll have to add a monitor as well. The remote "clicker" allows browsing of movies, music, and images on both the mini and other Mac computers with Front Row software to facilitate the process. The iLife '08 suite will help you turn family reunions into photo books, slideshows, or DVDs. Or you can use it to create your own web site, blog, or podcast.

The mini runs on Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard, and includes applications as iChat, Time Machine (auto-backup and version-control), the Safari web browser, and Mail. There's no word processor included -- just trial versions of iWork '08 and MS Office 2004. Interestingly, you don't have to completely abandon the Windows world if you use a Mac. The Boot Camp software lets you install Windows XP on a Mac in a dual boot configuration, or you can run Windows XP on your Mac desktop with a virtualizer such as Parallels.

The Pro: It's a Mac. To many that means ease of use, freedom from viruses, and a clean, consistent user interface. If you must have a Mac, this is a good low-cost entry point. The Con: It costs about $200 more than most budget PC's, has less horsepower, and a tiny hard drive. And you have to pay extra for keyboard, mouse and a word processor. I'm just stating the facts, let's not get into a holy war... If you order from the Apple Store now you'll get free shipping.

Pick one of the capable but basic home computers above, or spend an hour doing research online to find the best buys on a computer that suits the needs of your family or student. Many sites offer comparisons between models and brands. Just don't pay a lot of attention to the "haters" who say "Never buy a Dell, or a Gateway, or an IBM, or an HP..." or a whatever. It's the same with ANY large company -- you'll find a few vocal dissatisfied customers who make it their mission in life to complain. Look for the features and software you need. If you need help understanding the jargon, see my How to Buy a Computer guide. Got something to say about entry-level desktop computers? Post a comment below...

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Most recent comments on "Cheap Desktop Computers"

Posted by:

25 Jan 2008

You've got a bad link for the HP Pavilion Slimline s3200z Series. Might try this one:

Do you have any non-vista PC suggestions? We'll probably go Linux and add WinXP.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks for the updated link. For a Linux desktop, I'd ask around to see if someone will sell you one without the OS, and roll your own.

Posted by:

Cheap Cruise
17 Jun 2010

Excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks

Posted by:

13 Dec 2010

Very nice info, I need a new computer so this was very helpful, thanks.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Cheap Desktop Computers (Posted: 19 Dec 2007)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved