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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Step-By-Step Summary Guide To Buying A PC ]

Step 2: Design And Specify Your System

You have now analyzed your requirements, and in doing so have hopefully decided on your needs and wants for a PC, whether you want a desktop or notebook, whether you are going to build or buy, and how much you want to spend. The next step is to decide on the particulars of the system you are going to get, to ensure that it meets your needs.

In order to successfully design and specify your new PC, you will want to learn about how PCs are designed and how their subsystems work. You will also want to understand key performance and non-performance attributes. Finally, you will want to learn the important attributes of various system components, so you can make a choice that best suits you.

Designing and specifying a system is difficult to explain as a "step by step" process; to some extent it's more a matter of doing as much research as you can, and as you feel you need, and then picking the system that you feel is best for you based on your knowledge of systems and components. Still, I have tried to break this process into steps, imperfect as they might be:

  1. Choose A PC Type: There are several different basic types of PCs; the most common are new retail PCs, new configure-to-order PCs, new build-to-order PCs, refurbished PCs and used PCs. Each has advantages and disadvantages; you should research these and decide which most appeals to you. This will guide your other decisions.
  2. (Optional) Understand PC Structures and Subsystems: PCs are made of components that are combined into subsystems that work together. These consist of the system processing core, and the video, storage, communications, multimedia and input subsystems, along with other components and peripherals. While it's not mandatory to read up on how these subsystems work and interact, it will greatly assist you in understanding how PCs work, making your buying job easier. This is in part because the components in each subsystem are related and often are specified in tandem.
  3. Determine Performance Priorities and Importance: Given your requirements, determine how much performance you need in your PC, and in what areas performance is most important for you. You can then focus your energies towards those key components.
  4. Research Key Non-Performance System Issues: Before proceeding to buy your system, be sure you understand key non-performance issues, especially quality matters, the advantages of standard designs (compared to proprietary ones), and the key issues of expandability, ergonomics and data integrity. Also understand the important ways that software issues will affect your system decision.
  5. Understand Key General Issues Related to PC Components: When assessing the components in a pre-made PC, and especially when specifying components for a custom or configurable PC, you should understand some of the important issues related to components, such as retail vs. OEM components, "gray market" components, warranty matters, name brands vs. generics, component lifetimes and component revision levels.
  6. Specify Components For Your System: Research and specify the components you plan to use for your system. The exact approach you take to doing this depends on how much detail you want to get into. That in turn depends on what sort of your system you are looking at. In general I would recommend the following:

Here are some general tips to keep in mind as you specify and select your system:

Tip: You may be able to get assistance with designing your new system using The PC Guide Discussion Forums.

Next: Step 3: Select A Manufacturer And Vendor

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