Cheap computers can be poor computers. So here are a few ideas of technical specs to maximize value-for-money:
Generally go for an AMD Ryzen or Intel Core i3/5/7 processor (or ‘chip’). Ignore Pentium, Celeron or AMD A series as they are old and slow. The Intel Atom is slow but very conservative with power so is good for small hybrids. For the ‘Core’ chips, the higher the number, e.g. i3-8227, the better. AMD chips are a bit cheaper and the AMD Ryzen ‘x’ gives better performance than the equivalent Intel Core’x’.
A Core i3 or Ryzen 3 is fine for most jobs, Video editing can benefit from an i5 and an i7 is for extreme gamers. The chips have one or more letters at the end. K – unlocked, U and Y – optimised for battery life not speed, H – high performance for laptops.
As replacing the chip is right up there with triple heart-bypass surgery, go for the best one you can.
RAM needs to be at least 4gb. It’s easy and cheap to upgrade if you need to keep costs down now.
1Tb HDD (hard drive) is the norm. More can cost a lot more and less saves you little. It can be upgraded and a new 2Tb HDD is about £70 (Aug 2020). There are drives called ‘SSD’ which are much faster but more expensive. A normal SATA HDD drive is fine for most people. Get the biggest HDD or SSD you can – at least 256gb and that still won’t go too far. 32Gb is far too small. Really.
Some computers have dedicated graphics. These are higher quality if you do a lot of graphics work or games. For email and general office work, they are not essential.
Screens vary enormously in image quality (brightness, colour accuracy, etc.)and it is hard to make a recommendation. The resolution varies by size, but 1920*1080 (the same as a High Definition TV screen) is good to have. Again, get the best you can afford. You can also often connect another screen or TV to expand the desktop. Look for an HDMI socket.
Best to put the model you are interested into a search engine and add ‘test’. This will get you some expert reviews, but bear in mind these are from when the computer was first released and quality comments may refer to a much higher price. If you use the word ‘review’ you will just get customer comments, which are much less valuable.
Buying a new pc is a bit like buying a car: there are hundreds of variations (processor, memory and much more). So when reading tests or comparing prices, make sure they refer to the variation you want.
Finally, I never buy any extras like internet security, extended warranties or software when I buy a computer. The ones that are pushed hard at you are rarely the best value, so I’d do my own research at home.