This is not necessarily a question we get asked that much, but I do have some thoughts about this. This is going to sound slightly controversial, but most of the time, spending big money on a PC (or laptop for that matter) is often driven by ego (assuming the computer is for work rather than playing games). Not spending enough is driven by a poor notion of perceived value.
Well, where do we start?
The first thing to ask is what the computer is going to be used for. The amount of processing power in recent years has grown so much, that most PCs can run most business applications without breaking into a sweat. If you are doing typical office work, such as using Outlook (email), the other Office applications and surf the internet, then a good mainstream PC shouldn’t need to cost more than, say, £350. HP, Dell and a few others make good basic machines with an Intel Core i3 (Intel’s mainstream) processor, 4GBs of RAM, a decent sized hard drive and Windows 7 or 8 Professional. A good 13” laptop of a similar spec will weigh in at about £450.
PCs costing less than this tend to be running “Home” versions of windows, or there are other areas scrimped on such as RAM (you don’t want to have less than 4GB these days), processor or the size of the hard drive (although not generally a concern unless you have a massive iTunes library!).
If you are more of a power user (and I’d say those in finance or graphic design fit into this category), then you should aim to spend around £500. At this price point you’ll get a really good bit of kit with an Intel Core i5 (think performance) processor, 4-6 GB of ram and possibly a bigger hard drive.
Laptops are a slightly different equation as the more you spend (generally) the lighter, slimmer and sexier it is. Not necessarily more powerful but if you travel a lot, then the trade-off between weight and performance may well be worth it. These tend to be at the £800 upwards price point. These can also have features such as SSDs (solid state drive) which are essentially much faster hard drives with no moving parts and therefore more robust if you travel a lot.
You may also need to budget about £180 for a copy of Office 2013 (and the really terrible licensing model Microsoft have adopted with this) plus a bit of time to get it set up and working smoothly. Generally there is a small amount of disruption with an upgrade such as this as some shuffling of data as well as the PC itself but good planning can avoid much of this.
Spending any more than this is generally not necessary. Core i7 sounds good – it is the top of the range after all, but unless you are using Adobe Creative Suite (and you may well be better off on a Mac in that case) or an Architect using Autocad 2013, these are best left to the gamers who can make the most of the performance.
The last thing is how long you should expect it to last? A later blog will explore the cost of technology in the workplace, but realistically you should be expecting a lifecycle of about 3 years – the machine will slow down over this time, the hard drive will be reaching the end of its reliable life (although they can fail at any time). Unless covered by warranty, it’s never cost effective to repair a PC over 18 months old either, as the cost of fixing almost always exceeds the replacement cost.