Nov. 7, 2012 at 3:09 PM ET
By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com
Not too long ago, it seems, consumers buying an entry-level desktop could count on it coming with Microsoft’s Windows 7. Windows Vista was a distant memory, Mac OS X a pricey pipe dream, and Linux generally a do-it-yourself proposition. Now, price-conscious consumers looking at desktop PCs will find a few different operating systems, including Windows 8, which made its official debut on Oct. 26.
Cheapism has singled out three well-reviewed desktop computers with three distinct operating systems -- all for less than $500.
So, why consider Windows 7 given the newer and more novel alternatives? Reviews suggest that Windows 8 users face a formidable learning curve -- the new version doesn’t even have a Start menu -- and getting used to it may not be worth your time on a desktop that doesn’t take advantage of the touch-screen interface. Microsoft has said it will continue to support Windows 7 until 2020. If you buy a compatible Windows 7 machine, including the Gateway model mentioned above, before Jan. 31, you have until the end of February to change your mind and upgrade to Windows 8 for only $14.99.
Operating systems aside, the best budget desktops come with at least 4GB of RAM and integrate 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity. Computers at this price point typically have integrated graphics rather than more powerful video cards fit for 3D gaming. Often the price doesn’t include a monitor, and the Samsung Chromebox also lacks a keyboard and mouse. Where most desktops have large hard drives, the Chromebox has a 16GB solid state drive, or SSD, which accounts for much of the computer’s speed. With most everything taking place in the cloud, the Chromebox can get away with less local storage.
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