By Louis DeNicola, Cheapism.com
Laptops and particularly tablets seem to claim most of the attention these days, as tech writers and consumers debate the merits of the new Apple iPad or Microsoft Surface. For less than the price of one of these devices, though, you can buy a full-fledged desktop computer. If you value power over portability -- or just need an inexpensive desktop to supplement a stable of gadgets -- here are three well-reviewed desktop PCs to give you a sense of what you can get for under $500.This Dell Inspiron 660 desktop computer tops our list.
- The Dell Inspiron 660 (starting at $480) comes with Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system. Reviewers comment that this machine offers a decent amount of power and solid hardware for the price you pay. Included are a 1-terabyte hard drive; 6 gigabytes of RAM; a memory card reader; a second-generation, dual-core Intel i3-2130 (3.1 GHz) processor; and integrated Intel HD graphics. Among the eight USB ports are four faster USB 3.0 ports. The slimmer Inspiron 660s normally costs more than a regular 660 with similar specs, but right now Dell is advertising a discounted price of just $400. (Note that the slim version provides less room for upgrades such as a bigger hard drive or a more powerful video processor.)
- The Gateway SX2370-UR10P (starting at $430) has a quad-core AMD A8-3820 (2.5GHz) processor, which experts suggest is similar to the Intel processor in the Inspiron 660; it just comes from a different manufacturer. However, with the quad-core chip and integrated Radeon HD 6550D graphics, you may see better video performance. This computer comes with the more familiar Windows 7 Home Premium operating system, 6GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive, and a memory card reader. Users have six USB slots at their disposal; two are USB 3.0.
- The Samsung Series 3 Chromebox (starting at $330) stands out for its budget price, but it's a bit of an oddball. It's built on Google's Chrome operating system, which functions as a gateway to online apps and services instead of relying on software installed on the machine. Because it operates primarily in the "cloud," the Chromebox has less impressive hardware than other budget desktops: an Intel Celeron B840 (1.9 GHz) processor, 4 GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. It employs a solid state drive in place of a conventional hard drive, which allows for much faster boot times (less than 10 seconds) and speedy access to your apps.
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Each of these computers offers users a different experience. For those reluctant to switch from the classic Windows interface, the Gateway with Windows 7 is a good choice. You can always upgrade to Windows 8 for only $14.99 if you buy before by Jan. 31 and upgrade by the end of February. PC World and others provide guidance for consumers getting used to the new OS.
If you spend most of your time online, the small, inexpensive Chromebox may suffice. While you can't install familiar programs such as Microsoft Office, iTunes, or Photoshop, expert reviewers are hard-pressed to find anything a casual user can't do with this machine using the available apps. The Chromebox also boasts built-in virus protection, with no software requiring constant updates -- a welcome respite for consumers looking to replace a Windows machine bogged down by malware.
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All the budget desktops listed above can handle basic day-to-day tasks. The Gateway may even accommodate many new games, according to reviews, although the most graphics-intense games require users to upgrade to a separate, more powerful video card. One other potential cost to consider: The prices for these machines don't include a monitor. The Chromebox also comes without a mouse or keyboard.