The tricky part is that a person in the market to buy a PC for someone has to examine who they're buying it for first. What do they do with a computer? What do they want to, or like to, do with a computer?— Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Research
Buying a computer for yourself is no easy task; you've got to deftly navigate a confusing marketplace and ever-changing technology that risks making today's purchase obsolete in, well, about an hour. It's a daunting, nearly Sisyphean task, because if you rush in and buy today, watch out: Tomorrow morning, there will be something better, faster and cheaper. Worst of all, there are now so many kinds of PCs to choose from. Once upon a time, all computers were grey cubes and we liked them that way. Now there are desktops, laptops, tablets, and more. Which to choose?
The golden rule
Finding that perfect PC takes more than just knowing your options. As much as we want to believe -- the truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all product.
"The tricky part is that a person... has to examine who they're buying it for first," said Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Research, a computer graphics management consulting firm. "What do they do with a computer? What do they want to, or like to, do with a computer? I've answered the 'What computer should I buy?' question for 20-plus years now, and that's always been the case. It always starts with what are you going to do with it?"
So it's "purpose power" over "purchase power," and Peddie is quick to point out that while the technological landscape may seem to change weekly, the fundamental questions remain the same.
All for one, the all-in-one PC
Some say we're living in a "post-PC" world; desktop computer sales are falling as people increasingly buy more computers which aren't glorified desk anchors. But the fact remains that if you're shopping for a hardcore computer gamer or someone who needs multiple hard drives, dual monitors, pushes the envelope with multimedia development or video editing, or launches satellites from their basement, a desktop PC is the logical choice.
And when it comes to desktop PCs, the All-In-One stands as the prime option for those on your gift list who want something desktop-y that's attractive, powerful, and compact.
"In my opinion, a 21-inch all-in-one computer is the best thing that you could buy if you could only buy one thing. Because it could be a TV, it could be a computer, it could be like a tablet because it has a touch screen and it doesn't take up that much space," Peddie said.
Apple users are a relative minority, but for those who like the fruit themed computer, Apple stands near the top of the All-In-One list with its latest offering, the 27-inch iMac. Though still lacking built-in HDMI inputs, it boasts a jaw-dropping 2560x1440 pixel display, the typically sleek Apple design, third-generation Intel Core processors, and NVIDIA graphics. The only drawback to all the wonders it has to offer: A heart stopping price tag.
Shopping for a Windows fan? The Dell XPS One 27 comes more reasonably priced, and was a strong enough entry in the All-In-One market to win the "PC Magazine" Editor's Choice Award. Equipped with a touch screen and a third-generation Intel Core processor (just like Apple's), it is widely considered to be the best of the Windows 8 all-in-ones.
For those looking for the more affordable but still quite capable, consider the HP Pavilion 23-1000z. It may not have the Apple cachet and the performance may be a bit slower than its peers, but coming in at less than £700 has never looked so good. It makes for the perfect gift for the college student in the family because you know that the computer will serve as a work station, entertainment center, napping area and most likely will survive the year.
Why God gave us laps --the Laptop
As powerful as a desktop PC might be, it's about as portable as the desk it sits on. What if you're shopping for someone who still needs a traditional PC power, but has a more mobile lifestyle?
Anyone with a modicum of tech savvy knows that the surface created between the knee and the hips was made for a clamshell PC. Combining form, function and mobility, the ubiquitous laptop is still the standard-bearer of portable personal computers.
"Where space is an issue, most people may choose to have only one device," said Jeff Orr, senior practice director, mobile devices, content and applications at ABI Research. "And it's fair to say that a lot of those first Internet experiences that are now happening are occurring on a laptop and not really on a traditional PC."
They can go a long way, but better still, the laptop has come a long way since it dragged itself from the technological primordial ooze of the early '80s. You will not be missed, Gavilan SC. (Kids: Google it.)
"One of the historical limitations of the laptop has been the fact that it's battery powered and you somewhat take a hit on performance," said Orr. "While there is still going to be that difference, nowadays you really aren't sacrificing that much with a portable computer."
Apple has maintained a zealously loyal following with its laptop line, and the latest offering, the Apple MacBook Pro 15 with Retina Display, garnered more Apple-lytes than it lost.
Those not swooning under the spell of Apple's siren song -- and maybe a bit deterred by price -- can look to the Lenovo IdeaPad Y480, which boasts a 14-inch display, Intel's Ivy Bridge quad core processors, and NVIDIA graphics, all for less than £900.
Thinner, lighter, faster. What's not to love? The ultrabook
Next, imagine a runway model who happens to be a card-carrying member of Mensa, loves gaming, and is willing to go with you wherever your heart desires. That's an Ultrabook -- a super-light laptop that is a modern take on the now largely obsolete Netbook.
"The idea here is very much the message of thin and light," said ABI's Orr. "It's not as heavy as the traditional laptop computer and there's really not that compromise in terms of performance that one would expect for a portable machine."
With little downside and while combining the best features of a laptop and a tablet in one device, the Ultrabook may very well be the closest thing to that elusive one-size-fits-all product for your holiday shopping list.
"I think that the Ultrabooks are going to sell really well because they're the MacBook Air for the everyman, the Volks-Air, if you will," said Peddie. "If you walk into Best Buy, in the market for a laptop and then you see the Ultrabooks, you're going to say, 'I want that!'"
The HP Envy Spectre XT, despite its ominous moniker, has a 13-inch display, is slim, light, easy to use and, best of all, comes in at less than £1,000.
Those looking to impress loved ones or perhaps to flex their purchasing power can opt for the Acer Aspire S7, which starts at about £1,200. The Aspire lives up to its name, as it's an 11-inch dandy with a glass touch screen that runs Windows 8 and also has the speedy, coveted Ivy Bridge chipset.
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