The original IBM PC started at $1,565 in 1981 which is equivalent to more than $4,000 today after adjusting for inflation. While you can still pay that much for a high-end PC, you can buy a perfectly good computer for much less than that today.
But when you start shopping for a new computer, you’ll quickly realize there’s a range of answers to the question “How much does a computer cost?”
Let’s look at what you need to consider when buying a new computer and how much you’ll reasonably need to spend for a PC that meets your needs.
Types of Computers to Choose From
There are two types of computers to choose from when buying a new PC — desktops and laptops. They both come in various shapes and sizes but the fundamental difference is in their portability.
If you need to take your computer with you to meetings and sales calls or you just want to be able to work from anywhere, a laptop is the best choice.
If you do all your work in the same place and never need to take the computer with you, a desktop
Desktop systems come in several form factors, including:
The best-known all-in-one design is the Apple iMac but other manufacturers make them as well.
If expandability is important to you, a tower design is the most flexible. All-in-one and compact PCs don’t have much space to expand, if any at all.
It’s important to remember that you may need to buy certain peripherals along with a desktop computer, such as a monitor and webcam. We’ll get into some more detail on those below.
Desktop systems start in the $400 to $500 range and prices of computers go up from there, depending on the type of processor, amount of memory, and other specifications. Machines in that range won’t be all-in-ones so you’ll need to buy a monitor and a few other peripherals as well.
The total cost of a reliable desktop system will be in the $800 to $1,000 range to start.
Laptops typically have everything you need built into the computer. The monitor, trackpad, keyboard, webcam, and other peripherals that are external to desktop systems are all part of the computer.
This is part of the reason laptops are more costly than desktop systems. The miniaturization of some of the components is another factor. Making things smaller tends to cost more.
Laptops are less expandable than most desktops and some can’t be expanded at all. When comparing laptop choices, look for one with enough memory, storage, and other components because that’s all you’re going to have.
Laptops running Google’s Chrome OS, known as Chromebooks, start as low as $200. These laptops are designed to use web-based apps like Google Docs so they’re more limited than something running Windows or macOS but if everything you do is online, they’re a good low-cost option.
How much does a laptop cost? If you need a fully-featured operating system, expect to pay $500 to $1,000 for a good entry-level laptop. As you move up the price scale from there, you’ll get faster processors, more memory, more storage capacity, and larger screens.
If you move up to the $1,500 to $2,000 range, you’ll get a powerful laptop with plenty of storage and capacity to last for several years.
Tablet or Convertible
If you’re considering a laptop computer, you may also want to look at a tablet or convertible laptop. Tablets like the Microsoft Surface Pro work as both a touch-based tablet and a full-featured Windows PC.
They run the full Windows operating system so you can run all your applications. Just connect the keyboard if you want to have a more traditional laptop setup.
Convertible laptops also work as tablets but instead of having a detachable keyboard, they’re designed so the keyboard will fold over to the back of the screen to get out of your way.
These specialized types of laptops cost a bit more than a standard model. You can expect to spend $1,500 to $2,000 for a PC that also works as a tablet.
Should You Buy a Mac or Windows PC?
Mac and PC users have been debating about which is the better computer for decades. It’s not as difficult of a choice to make as it used to be though.
With so much of what we do on computers being online, it doesn’t matter which system you use — they both support anything web-based. And popular applications like Microsoft Office and the Adobe Creative Suite are available for both systems.
Mac computers have also been able to run Windows for the last 15 years but that may soon change with Apple’s move to their own custom processors.
The bottom line here is that if you use specialized software that only runs on one or the other operating system, your choice is already made for you. If not, choose the system that best suits your budget and the way you like to work.
How Do You Use Your Computer?
The price of a computer is mostly determined by how powerful it is. Faster processors, more memory, and faster graphics cards all add to the cost.
If you don’t need the extra power and don’t expect your usage to change, there’s really no point in spending more. The extra power and capacity will go to waste.
How much power you need in a computer depends on what you use it for.
If you use applications like Microsoft Word and Excel, you don’t need a particularly powerful computer. Unless you’re working with huge documents, these apps don’t push the computer very hard. A computer at the lower end of the price scale, say $400 to $800, will be plenty.
It also depends on how many apps you’re using at the same time. If you regularly multitask and have several applications open or a bunch of different document windows in the same app, it will push the computer harder.
Web Browsing and Internet Apps
Basic internet usage — web browsing, social media, email, and so on — doesn’t need a lot of power. In fact, the most basic Chromebook laptops are perfectly fine for this type of work. A computer price in the $200 to $300 range is quite capable.
If you prefer to stick with Windows or macOS, an entry-level computer provides plenty of capacity for anything you might do online.
Photo, Video, or Audio Editing
Working with photos, audio files, and especially video needs a more powerful computer. These files tend to be quite large and these types of applications are memory and processor-intensive.
You’ll need more RAM, more storage capacity, and possibly a bigger monitor. Expect to spend upwards of $1,000 for a capable desktop and upwards of $1,500 for a laptop that’s up to this task.
Gaming is one of the most power-hungry applications on modern PCs. The latest 3D games need a lot of power to run smoothly.
When you’re shopping for a computer, you’ll see some models that are considered gaming PCs. These systems have faster processors, more RAM, and more storage capacity than lower-end systems but one of the biggest differences is the video card.
Gaming computers use a dedicated graphics processing unit (GPU) that frees up the CPU for other things. The amazing graphics on modern games are possible because of these GPUs.
A good GPU can cost as much as an entry-level computer on its own, however, so gaming PCs typically start in the $1,000 range and go up from there. Expect to pay closer to $2,000 for a gaming PC with the latest components.
Don’t Overlook the Service and Support
Another factor to consider when pricing out a new computer is the service and support that’s included. In many cases, you’ll be better off spending a little more to buy from a well-known manufacturer that stands behind its equipment.
If you ever experience a hardware failure or some other problem that requires service, you’ll be glad you’re working with a company that supports its customers. You’ll have less downtime and less hassle about getting everything sorted out.
How Much Does a Computer Cost?
Hopefully, we’ve given you some insight into the question of how much does a computer cost. You can spend anywhere from $200 to $10,000 (or more) on a new PC but unless you have specialized needs, you’ll likely end up spending somewhere between $500 and $2000.
Make sure you consider what you need it to do and spend some time researching the different brands and models in your price range. Spending a little extra time planning your purchase will help you get a PC that will last for years to come.
Be sure to check out the Technology and Gadgets section of our blog for more helpful buying advice.