How Powerful a Computer Do You Really Need?

In the market for a new PC? Here’s what you need to know to buy the right PC for you depending on what you do with it. Find out how much RAM you really need, what graphics card you should buy, what kind of CPU works best for your applications, and more. Don’t know what any of that means? We cover that too.getintopc

But if you’re finally on the market for a new one, you’ll quickly hit the wall of indecision when faced with the endless different options available to you: Do I go with a laptop or a traditional desktop? What kind of processor do I want and what’s the difference between a Core i9 7980XE and a Core i3? Do I need 4, 8 or 16 GB of memory? Do I really need an SSD?

And that’s before you even get hit with price, which can range anywhere from a few hundred bucks to something you’d need to sell a kidney to afford.

It doesn’t have to be this complicated. We’ll show you what PC is best suited for your personal needs. And don’t worry, we won’t be explaining every single processor generation or every single graphics card out there. But we will:

  1. Give you clear recommendations based on what you do with your PC so you’ll get the best experience (at every budget).
  2. Help you understand what all the weird words and acronyms that power your PC really mean

There’s just one thing you really need to know to get started.

What do you do with your PC?

This is the single most important question you need to answer in order to figure out exactly what kind of PC you should be purchasing.

And be honest with yourself here. Future-proofing your PC for an activity you haven’t picked up yet is like purchasing a gym membership thinking that will force you to get fit. It won’t, and you’ll just be throwing money out the window.

We’ve broken down the different kinds of activity below, but you may find yourself somewhere mid way through.

Light browsing, Office & video streaming

Budget: $300-500

If all you do is browse the web a bit, stream content online like Netflix, and do some basic text editing — and if budget is an issue — then go with a computer that has:

  • an Intel Atom/Celeron or a AMD A6,
  • 4 GB of RAM
  • At least a 64 or 128 GB SSD.

Remember, this is the bare minimum. You will still get the occasional lag and built quality isn’t exactly top notch in that range. It gets the job done, though!

Got a bit more budget? Then step up and treat yourself…

Photo editing, Office, more intense web browsing

Budget: $500-999

If you’re comfortable in the $500-999 range and need to work a lot with Office, browse the web (with dozens of open tabs), and work with photos, you’ll get a nice computer:

  • Any laptop or desktop with a Core i3.
  • At least 4GB of RAM will do the trick, but you should be able to get 8 GB in this price range.
  • Make sure you get a 256 GB (or more) SSD or a larger traditional HDD with more than 500 GB of storage.

The closer you get to the magic $1000 mark, the likelier it is you’ll get a decent graphics card and a nicer screen.

Programming, video editing, rendering, multitasking

Budget: $1000-2000

This is for your business folks who need fast performance on a day-to-day basis:

  • Make sure you get an Intel Xeon with at least 8 cores or a Core i9 7800x (at least).
  • 16-32 GB RAM and an NVIDIA Quadro graphics card. Also look at DDR4 RAM with at least 2666 MHz to maximize performance.
  • On the hard disk side, go with an NVME SSD which is the fastest SSD type available today and gives you even better performance. Excellent models include the latest Samsung 970 EVO/Pro or even Intel Optane 800/900p for absolute blazing fast performance.

You may want to pair this with some heavy-duty external storage solutions, so you can afford a bigger SSD card.


Budget: $1000- THE SKY’S THE LIMIT

Do you game until your fingers bleed? Then you’re my people. This is my favorite part of this article, but also not the easiest to answer. When people ask me about gaming PCs or gaming laptops, I usually ask the following 2 questions:

What games do you play?

If your answer is “browser games” or “Minecraft”, then any home or office PC will do (see the PCs capable of more intense web browsing).

However, if you’re playing recent blockbuster titles like Far Cry 5, you need a decent gaming PC. Grab a Core i5 or Core i7 at the very least and make sure you get the “K” versions, which are overclockable.

What resolution do you play at?

  • 1008p resolution: If you’re rocking a 1080p display, you should be fine with Intels entry-level GTX 1050 or GTX 1060 graphic card models. They should give you decent frame rates (30-60fps) at medium details levels. Activating all bells and whistles at Full HD requires a GeForce 1070.
  • 1440p resolution: Moving up to 1440p, a very common and popular gaming resolution, you need that 1070 at the very least or (if you’re in camp AMD) a AMD RX 580 or Vega 56/64.
  • 4K resolution: Moving on to 4K…well, get ready to dump some serious $$$ on graphics cards. The $800+ GeForce 1080 Ti is the bare minimum for 4K and even then you’ll have issues running 4K at High Details at a smooth 60fps. That’s why, as of mid 2018, you definitely need a SECOND 1080 Ti or even a Titan Xp to play at 4K.

Making sense of the components
Let’s walk through what all of the PC buzzwords mean, and explain what are processors, memory, storage and so forth…and cover what kind you need.

What processor (CPU) do you need?
The Central Processing Unit (CPU or Processor) is the “brain” of your computer. The two main makers are Intel and AMD with Intel leading the pack by far. All of them have different classes and performance levels, just like your typical car maker, ranging from the lower-end one that gets you from A to B and the luxury-class super-car for the top 1%.

On AMDs website you can find the latest generations for each category, such as “AMD Athlon™ 5000 APU” or the A-Seres for mainstream usage (office, video playback, basic online gaming). Then there’s the FX series, the “middle class” which gives you decent performance for photo editing or more demanding games. On the top end, there is the “Ryzen”, which is AMDs newest and fastest generation.