Holiday Buying Guide: Finding Your New Desktop PC

The holidays are upon us, and it's a fine time to consider replacing your aging desktop PC. Much has changed in the past year, with and from AMD, Intel, and delivering performance enhancements at every price point. And you still have a wealth of options to choose from, whether you're shopping for a fixed retail configuration or customizing a system from a boutique PC vendor. Colorful cases of all shapes and sizes have long replaced the humble beige box, but indecipherable naming conventions aren't making shopping any easier.

Presented with so many possibilities, you need to narrow the field by considering what you want to use your new desktop for. Are you an avid photographer looking for a speedy but cost-effective platform for editing high-resolution images? You'll benefit from buying a machine with extra RAM and a discrete graphics card. If you've acquired an extensive media collection, and you want an inexpensive and efficient way to pipe it to your HDTV, a compact PC tailored toward media sharing and playback may be your best bet.

Whatever your needs, you can find a desktop configuration to fit the bill. If you're the tinkering type, or simply interested in learning more about the inner workings of your PC, check out "" for a step-by-step guide to constructing your next desktop yourself.

Desktops fall into three major categories, each with its own range of price and performance: all-in-one PCs, compact PCs, and tower PCs (which we further divide into budget, mainstream, and performance subcategories). Each style of machine has different strengths and weaknesses, and choosing the one that's best for you depends largely on how you plan to use it.

Once you've picked the appropriate desktop category, our guide to will help you select a system that delivers the performance you need, while staying within your budget. And when you're ready to buy, check our for advice on how to get the most from your investment.