There’s “no one-size fits all” answer, prices range from the low hundreds to over £10k. It depends what you need to do, for example high-performance graphics cards can cost well over £1000 but are only needed for tasks like professional video/image editing and some demanding computer games.
The main drivers of high cost are CPU (processor chip) and graphics card. If you don’t need high performance and advanced graphics, a “bare” computer (without screen, keyboard, mouse) expect to pay £500-£1000.
High street outlets give far less choice than online specialist retailers like pcspecialist.co.uk, palicomp.co.uk, chillblast.com A high-street retailer will have a relatively small stock of pre-configured PCs, the mail order providers can basically “build to order” not only because they hold extensive stocks of parts but also they have the expertise to help you specify the best setup for your needs – but they do have a range of ready to ship models optimised for a variety of typical requirements.
For example Palicomp currently offer a “bare” computer (without screen, keyboard, mouse) for £400 (https://www.palicomp.co.uk/amd-cobra-review-ryz10) with 16GB memory, 1TB M2 solid state “disk” and several USB 3 connections. That basic computer is a great specification at a very competitive price but they offer scores of additional options. It’s all a matter of personal preferences or needs, you might want webcam, headset, speakers, faster processor, better graphics card. Those I’d consider are WiFi card (£30), a writeable CD drive (£30), a 2TB hard disk (£55).
You may want to use the screen, keyboard, mouse from your current PC, if not that will add at least £100 to the price.
Any off-the-shelf PC in the price range £500-£1000 should have graphics and CPU adequate for basic domestic and office purposes.
A portable in that price range will be significantly less powerful and will need replacing sooner.
The future Windows 10 expiry (although the upgrade is free, some older PCs won’t support Win11) raises another question:
How long should a personal computer last?
When I worked at HSBC the guideline was 5 years for a desktop PC, 3 years for a portable. That said, a PC used for undemanding work may last a lot longer. On the other hand some more demanding requirements call for upgrade sooner than 5 years. If your PC can’t take the Win11 upgrade then you are advised to replace it before the deadline (October 2025) to ensure you keep receiving updates. A new PC will be faster, use less power, and be more reliable.
What are the benefits of switching to Win 11?
When it was first released (2021) the only real benefit was a security enhancement. Microsoft issue periodic upgrades to all their products (up to their designated “end of life”). These are a mixture of bug-fixes, UI (user interface) changes, performance enhancements, new features, support for additional languages and, most important of all, security enhancements. Win 11 is no exception, in the year since first release many tweaks have been released. Many of those have been in response to user feedback.
A more significant package of upgrades released in late 2022 was described by some as “the version of Windows 11 that should have launched last year”, in other words a big step forward. For most users there’s no “must have” benefit from Win 11 – yet. It’s a bit faster, it has a new video editor, integration with Android mobile phones/tablets is steadily improving and there are loads of UI (user interface) enhancements. The real issue is that these improvements will keep on coming. Microsoft release a monthly bundle of minor fixes, on or around the second Tuesday of the month. They also occasionally issue intermediate (out of band) fixes for serious issues such as newly discovered security challenges. Whatever version of Windows you run, you should accept any updates Microsoft offer as soon as practicable.
What are the reasons to stick with Win 10?
- There are users with obsolete software that will only run on Win 10
- Any new software version inevitably comes with new bugs often specific to a limited number of hardware and software configurations. Affected users needed to revert to Win 10 but if the issue is reported to Microsoft, there’s a realistic chance it will be fixed in a future update.
- Some don’t like the new UI
- Win 11 doesn’t include some applications formerly bundled with Win 10, these were not popular with end users and in at least some cases, have been replaced by a better alternative.
- Your PC can’t take the upgrade.
Many users grumbled about the lack of significant new features and the changes to the UI in Win11. Many more complained when they found their 3 or 4 year old PC couldn’t take the upgrade, that’s why Microsoft undertook to continue full maintenance of Win 10 until October 2025. After that they are unlikely to abandon it entirely, continuing to release critical security fixes at least, but in the past, they’ve sometimes extended the end of support date.
Microsoft issue periodic upgrades to all their products (up to their designated “end of life”). Microsoft are not alone in this approach, software develops at breathtaking speed and very few software products have a long life without updates. The same applies to hardware and software needs to be updated to make best use of hardware developments. With an old PC that doesn’t apply so Win 11 is irrelvant if your PC can’t handle it (most pre 2018 PCs). That’s a very good reason to stick with Win 10! However any new PC you buy will probably be shipped with Win 11, so at that point it’s no longer a choice (it is possible to “downgrade” the new PC to Win 10).
There were complaints that when Win 10 was announced, Microsoft said that there’d be no further versions of Windows, just continuing incremental free updates. The release of Win 11 contradicted that undertaking. While that is true, the life of Win 10 has been longer than any previous release of Windows and in the past users had to pay for new versions. The fundamental problem that arose was that it was not possible to make Win 10 take advantage of some new hardware features.
Technology moves fast. My car was written off in an accident when it was less than 4 years old. The other guy’s insurance paid for a replacement, same make just a newer version of the same model. I was taken aback by the number of technical enhancements over that short period. I’m not complaining that Toyota couldn’t add those features to my older car and I’m not complaining that Win 11 doesn’t work on my older PC but grateful that I can upgrade my newest PC to Win 11 at no cost. Why do people expect a £100 copy of Windows or a £1000 PC to last far longer than a £20,000 car?
Our household is home to half a dozen PCs of varying ages, only one can run Win 11. Between now and 2026 we’ll probably retire or replace one or two and stick with what remains as long as we can get security upgrades.
That raises the question: Desktop or portable PC?
There is a view that portability is a benefit. True but there are also very significant down-sides and, on balance, I don’t consider the compromise to be worthwhile.
There are some circumstances where a portable PC is the best option but there seems to be a widespread belief that they are a good first-choice. If you really need portability consider a basic tablet computer or mobile phone for use away from base and a far better desktop PC at home/work. A perfectly good Android mobile phone can be bought for as little as £100, that can be your constant companion in pocket or handbag, so much more portable than a laptop PC and with always-on battery life measured in days rather than hours. It will run the same (or at least file-compatible) office applications as your desktop PC but it’s also a phone and camera. It’s not great for typing but have you tried speech-to-text recently? it’s improved immensely. Or if you need a bigger keyboard then a small tablet computer may be the answer.
A desktop PC costs far less than a laptop with the same specification, in particular processor chip and graphics capabilities of a laptop ar commonly much poorer than the desktop equivalents. It’s far easier and cheaper to repair/upgrade desktops and they’re less likely to suffer damage or be stolen.
Some desktop PC processor units are quite big, if that’s an issue try one with mini-ITX case. Another very compact option is an NUC (about 5x5x2 inches), that has the benefit of separate screen, keyboard, mouse (and any other extras like CD, headset, speakers, webcam) but it has the compromised graphics and processor similar to a laptop.
Separate screen, keyboard, mouse, speakers, webcam are inexpensive easy to use/repair/replace and will normally still be OK when next you need to upgrade the main processor box. Alternatively if one of those develops a fault or you’d like to upgrade to a better alternative you can probably buy a replacement same-day. Compare that with a laptop, a broken screen or keyboard (spillage) is not an uncommon problem. That’s expensive and time-consuming to fix and for older devices spares can be impossible to source. Laptop screens are relatively small, seldom 17 inches or more, a “small” desktop screen might be 22 inches with some much bigger.
Desktop PCs have plenty of room for upgrades. You can easily add extra memory, disk-storage, and a variety of plug-in cards. Older PCs are often given a new lease of life by replacing the HDD (hard-disk drive) with a much faster SSD (solid state disk) and more memory. That’s why many Desktops are still quite adequate for several years, and the more limited upgrade options contribute to the shorter life of laptops.
The problem with performance of portable PCs is largely down to cooling and battery life. Fast components need more electrical power. Desktop PCs commonly come with a very sizeable heat sink and fan to cool the processor chip. There’s no room for any but a single tiny fan in laptops so they use a less capable processor that uses less electrical power so it needs less cooling but at the cost of perfomance. The processor chip is the primary key to high performance, even a basic desktop PC will be an order of magnitude more powerful than a typical laptop processor.
There’s always the consideration of whether you need the high performance of a typical desktop. What does it mean in practise? It’s largely about cumulative speed, a program will take fewer seconds to start-up, it will be more responsive to your commands. Think about motor cars, typically manufacturers quote the 0-60mph speed. Do you need that to be 4 or 5 seconds? The average is close to 10 seconds and for most drivers that’s fine but put them in one that takes 15 seconds and they’ll be grumbling. A laptop will run the same programs and perform the same tasks but all just that bit slower especially if you have several tasks running at the same time or even multiple tabs open in a web browser.
Laptop PC Ergonomics (the ability to arrange things you use to be efficient and safe) are poor. For example a screen should be adjustable for height, distance from user and rotation in 2 axes (viewing angle). A laptop PC is attached to the processor/keyboard unit so the only adjustment is tilt. That compromise is fine for light use on-the-move but if it’s your sole PC and used on the desktop for more intensive typing the poor ergonomics can lead to bodily stresses and lower productivity.
Another problem with laptops is their associated external components. In addition to the main unit there will be at least a mains cable, possibly an external transformer, maybe cables to connect to an external screen and a separate mouse. That means the laptop will probably come in a carry case both to protect it in transit and to keep all those cables etc together so it’s become a substantial piece of baggage. Those extra cables etc are easily lost, left behind at a customer site or conference.
What about older versions of Windows?
A rather alarming 11% of PCs still run Windows 7, released in 2009 and no longer supported (Microsoft usually provide support for ten years from first release). The reasons to keep running an old version are such as compatibility with peripherals (printers, scanners) and software. That’s understandable but unsustainable. At some point a problem will emerge for which there is no fix other than upgrade. Best to preempt that, take whatever steps are needed to address the problem before it becomes a crisis situation. That might mean replacing old devices and programs. The worst case arises with specialist or bespoke software, there may be no upgrade path and writing new program code is a specialist, time consuming and expensive process.