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Value Desktop Purchasing Guide

Value Desktops are defined by Information Systems & Computing (ISC) as PCs that meet the necessary requirements for a three year life cycle. Value Desktops tend to cost between $750 and $1,000. Low cost PCs, which usually cost between $375 and $750 and compromise some combination of performance, reliability, compatibility, expandability, and warranty period to achieve the lowest possible costs, are not recommended.

Revised January 20, 2021—Specifications are reviewed and updated as appropriate

Operating System Windows macOS

Processor

Intel Core i or AMD Ryzen processor
(quad core)1

Intel Core i or Apple M1 processor
(quad core or above)1

Memory (RAM) 16 GB 16 GB
Mass Storage 256 GB SSD2 256 GB SSD2

Display and Graphics

24-inch LCD
integrated video2

24-inch LCD
integrated video

Sound Built-in audio and speaker Built-in audio and speaker
Miscellaneous 85% efficient power supply 85% efficient power supply
Network Connection 10/100/1000BaseT Ethernet 10/100/1000BaseT Ethernet
Recommended Operating System Windows 10 version 1909 and above4 macOS Big Sur (11.x)5
Support Period Three years Three years
Estimated Price $850-9006 $9006

Footnotes:

  1. For many years, the class of processor (e.g., Core i5, Core i7, etc.) was the primary criterion for selecting a desktop system processor. This is no longer true. For both Intel and AMD processors, ISC suggests four cores while ensuring the processor also has capable integrated graphics. A more detailed University-centric perspective on processors is available from ISC's Processor Guide.
  2. Systems that use network storage for their entire life cycle may be deployed with smaller mass storage (i.e., 128 GB). An option often called something like "Keep Your Hard Drive," allows the retention of defective mass storage when receiving replacement mass storage drive under warranty. This option usually costs about $20 and is a sound choice for many Schools and Centers to avoid possible disclosure of sensitive data.
  3. Displays should be high quality and support at least Full HD resolution—a good display should be usable for two hardware life cycles. See ISC's Display and Graphics Guide for more information as there are often significant variances in features, resolution, and display quality among displays of the same size.
  4. Windows 10 version 1909 and above (64-bit Pro and Enterprise editions) are recommended for new systems. ISC does not recommend but will support all 32-bit versions of Windows 10 and the 64-bit version of Windows 10 Home. Home lacks important networking, security, and compatibility features, such as domain-based authentication, that are essential to many Schools and Centers in the University. ISC does not support Windows 10 S.
  5. macOS Big Sur (11.x) is the only choice for new Macintosh systems as Apple's newly released systems always require the latest version of macOS. Apple's Boot Camp technology offers added flexibility for users of Intel-based Macintoshes who need to use Windows 10 occasionally (it does not function with Apple Silicon-based Macs). It should not be used to turn a Macintosh into a mainly Windows system. Boot Camp requires that both the Windows and the macOS operating systems be patched and maintained.
  6. Pricing is generated using online configurators available from Apple, Dell, and Lenovo and is for general reference only. Support providers may be able to generate significantly more competitive pricing for volume purchases.

Value Desktop manufacturers that ISC has had good experience with include Apple and Dell.

These specifications are revised when major changes in configurations from Apple, Dell, and Lenovo (or the industry as a whole) become generally available.

If your school or center is considering a significant quantity of Value Desktop purchases, ISC strongly recommends a consultation to weigh the pros and cons in today's rapidly changing environment (contact John Mulhern III in ISC, mulhernj@isc.upenn.edu; 3-3567).

Low Cost PCs—not recommended

Price reductions resulting from market competition and continued technical innovation make definition of "Ultra Low-Cost Desktops" a moving target. It is generally true that computers priced in the bottom 40% of the current range compromise some combination of performance, reliability, compatibility, expandability, and warranty period to achieve the lowest possible costs.

Considering that "you get what you pay for" and since total costs of ownership associated with supporting any desktop system always far outweigh the actual purchase price, ISC strongly discourages purchasing "Ultra Low-Cost Desktops" for general use.

Desktop Recommendations