All Rigged Out: The PC Buying Guide for Virtual Assistants

So, you’re looking to buy a computer for work but you don’t know what to get. Laptop or desktop? Intel or AMD? Branded, pre-built or custom? HDD or SSD? How much RAM? What about the display?

I know that there are lots to consider when buying a computer. It can be overwhelming and frustrating. Not everybody has the time or the patience to do the research.

That’s why we wrote this handy guide to help you.

We will not be recommending specific brands. This is NOT a sponsored post. What we’re trying to do share some know-how to help YOU make an informed decision. So you can get the right computer, for the right job, at the right price, and not just buy whatever the sales guy recommends.

Laptop or Desktop?

You would think that this is an easy choice: buy a laptop. Laptops give you portability. The battery will help prevent any work from being lost in the event of a power outage. And you’d look cool working in a coffee shop.

The problem though is that laptops are more expensive and often less powerful than desktops.

If your work:

  • requires more power (4K video editing, vector graphics, 3D rendering),
  • you don’t have the budget for a powerful gaming laptop, and
  • you don’t need or want to travel with your work,

a desktop PC may be a more viable option for you.

But if you have your heart set on getting a laptop, you’ll need to shell out for a gaming laptop.

Gaming laptops are significantly more expensive than other laptops. A basic set-up could set you back at least Php 50,000 but it should give you the portability and power you need. Be advised though, gaming laptops are usually heavier than most consumer laptops as they have more hardware and a bigger screen.

If you have decided on a laptop, my favorite size for general purpose work is 15.6” with a full HD screen. The screen gives you enough space to work and give you the benefit of a full keyboard with a number keypad, ideal for data entry and bookkeeping jobs.

 

PROS
Laptop Desktop
  • Portability
  • Battery allows you to work even without a power outlet
  • Cheaper than an equivalent laptop in terms of computing speed
  • Modular (easier to maintain  and swap parts when hardware issues arise)
  • Easily upgradable
  • Easier to clean
CONS
Laptop Desktop
  • More expensive than equivalent desktop system
  • Fewer options for upgrade
  • The whole laptop needs to stay with repair technician when issues arise
  • Cleaning accumulated dust from internal parts may prove challenging
  • Not-portable
  • Separate UPS/Generator needed to work during power interruptions.

If you’re doing CAD (computer aided design), 3D rendering, video processing and have decided on a desktop, you’ll have to make the additional choice between buying a consumer desktop or a workstation.

Workstations and consumer desktops aren’t the same thing. Desktops are designed to be more powerful than price equivalent laptops, but pales in comparison to what workstations can do. Even gaming PCs are considered as consumer desktops, even if they have the “best” CPUs and GPUs.

Workstations versus Desktops

(Note: There is currently no market for workstation systems available for consumers. We are are just adding this FYI)

What is a workstation? In a nutshell, workstations are more powerful ready-for-purchase desktops. They have fewer downtimes because they use more durable parts like ECC RAM or Error Correction Code memory. ECC RAM prevents crashes by detecting and correcting the most common types of internal data corruption.

And unlike most desktops, where you can easily swap components and most commercially available parts are compatible, with workstations you need to make sure that the CPU and the motherboard you are using is compatible with ECC RAM.

The graphics processor used in workstations are also designed to do better on jobs like CAD, 3D rendering and professional video editing. While gaming graphics processors can do the same things, graphics processors for workstations are just able to do those jobs better and faster.

Fun trivia: Technologies that are now common place in most consumer desktops, like RAID 1 (writing the exact same data on 2 internal drives of the same capacity/model) and multi-core/multi-thread CPUs were first used in workstation systems.

If you are planning to build a workstation instead of a consumer desktop, be prepared to pay a premium as workstation parts are pricier. Workstation parts are difficult to come by if you’re just checking out the usual computer stores. But some may be able to sell you the parts thru order basis.

If you want to know more about what a workstation is, read: https://www.autodesk.com/redshift/pc-versus-workstation/)

PROS
Consumer Desktop Workstation
  • Easy to acquire parts
  • Easier to configure
  • Faster
  • More Reliable
  • Lesser instances of crash/critical error
CONS
Consumer Desktop Workstation
  • No option for ECC support (*Except for Ryzen CPUs)
  • Difficult to purchase parts from regular computer stores
  • Parts are more expensive than consumer desktops.

Intel or AMD?

Once you have decided between a laptop or desktop, you will be faced with 2 options for the brains of your computer: Intel or AMD.

Most people will say, “Go for Intel, AMD is slow.” but that’s not actually true. This is one of those cases where having an established brand doesn’t necessarily make a PC better.

When you Google “ Intel vs. AMD 2018” you’d find independent reviews don’t give top scores to a single brand. The reason for this is that either brand can do the job, it all depends on the specs.

What you will find for the most part is that AMD chips are a little cheaper compared to their Intel counterparts. But it’s easier to buy Intel products as it has dominated the Philippine PC market for ages.

When choosing a CPU, this is what you need to keep in mind: More cores and more threads can perform more tasks.

Also, the power of your processor won’t matter if you do not have enough memory, specifically the RAM or random access memory. Our minimum RAM recommendation, even for the most basic tasks, is 8GB. (More on that on How much RAM?)

If you are working on a budget and most of your work will only involve writing, browsing and similar tasks here are our recommendations:

Intel’s budget line include Celeron and Pentium processors, but out of the two, go for the Pentium. Pentium Dual Core (model numbers available are G4560 [Php 3xxx] and G4600 [Php 4xxx]) can still handle basic tasks without costing too much.

For AMD on a budget, go for Athlon 200GE [Php 3xxx]. This was released on Q3 2018 and is faster than any AMD A-Series processors. You will still see AMD A-Series (A4, A6, A8, A10) being sold but I would not recommend getting them because the latest A-series processor was released 2 years ago.

If want better performance and you have a bit more to spend, here are some suggestions of locally available CPU models: the 3 series, 5 series and 7 series.

 

The 3 series: Intel Core i3-8100 (Q4 2017, Php 7,2xx) vs AMD Ryzen 3 – 2200G (Q1 2018, Php 6,4xx)

(https://cpu.userbenchmark.com/Compare/Intel-Core-i3-8100-vs-AMD-Ryzen-3-2200G/3942vsm441832)

The 3’s are general purpose gaming CPUs which should let you do basic VA work without any issues.

Intel’s Core i3-8100 has a bit of a speed advantage over Ryzen 3 – 2200G but not by much. Price-wise, they’re neck-and-neck. If you’re not getting a graphics card, the Ryzen 3, with an integrated Radeon Vega graphics processor, has better value over Core i3’s Intel integrated graphics.

The best feature of Ryzen CPUs is that you can build a workstation with it, with a lot of the motherboards supporting it, provided that you are able to purchase ECC Memory (Error Correction Code). (What is a workstation? Read: https://www.autodesk.com/redshift/pc-versus-workstation/)

The 5 series: Intel Core i5-8400 (Q4 2017, Php 10,9xx) vs AMD Ryzen 5 – 2600 (Q2 2018, Php 10,8xx) vs AMD Ryzen 5 – 2400G (Q1 2018, Php 8,7xx)

(https://cpu.userbenchmark.com/Compare/Intel-Core-i5-8400-vs-AMD-Ryzen-5-2600/3939vs3955
https://www.techspot.com/review/1627-core-i5-8400-vs-ryzen-5-2600/)

The 5’s are the mid-high level gaming CPUs that provides more power and can do more intensive work. And of course, gaming.

At the moment, the CPUs to be considered are either the i5-8400 or Ryzen 5 2600. But I added the Ryzen 5 – 2400G on the list if you are looking for increased performance but you’re not ready to buy a graphics card.

Fun trivia: You may have noticed, Ryzen chips with a G means it has integrated Vega graphics processor, without G, you will need a separate video card.

With general tasks, you won’t see any difference in the performance unless you run benchmarks or count nanoseconds. The difference will show when you’re running multi-thread enabled programs that take advantage of all the cores and threads of the CPU like video editing and 3d modeling. In this case, the Ryzen would be a better choice.

The 7 series: Core i7 or Ryzen 7 (or perhaps i9)?

By now, you should see a pattern. Just like the 3s and the 5s, the comparison between the two brands are minimal. For most tasks, even those that require a lot of computing power, the 5s are actually enough. Even budget conscious gamers go for the 5s.

The 7s (and 9s) are definitely faster than their 5 counterparts. It’s also significantly more expensive. The 7s are priced around Php 20,000. So if you plan to build, you may end up blowing most of your computer budget on a single part.

If your work requires photo, video, graphics, animation or 3d editing, the 7s will give you performance without compromise. Just make sure you allot enough money for other parts that can support all that extra processing power, like additional RAM (8GB minimum), video card, and display. Spending too much on the processor and skimping on the other parts can affect the performance of your PC.

Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3 Intel Core i5 or i7 or AMD Ryzen 5 or 7
Ideal for :

  • Office & Admin VA
  • Project Management
  • English Tutorial
  • Finance Management
  • WordPress (content)
  • Customer Service
  • Marketing and Sales
  • Professional Services
  • Social Media
Ideal for:

  • Advertising (with graphics/video)
  • Software Development
  • Web Development
  • WordPress (with graphics/video)
  • Webmaster
  • PHP Programming
  • Marketing and Sales (with graphics/video)
  • Graphics and Multimedia
  • Social Media (with graphics/video)

The difference between Branded, Pre-built, and Custom PCs

When buying computers, some may beeline to branded PCs or choose from computers that have been pre-configured/pre-built by the store. It’s easier and less complicated than building your own.

But before you buy anything, the first you need to know is what to avoid.

Avoid buying barebone NUCs. NUCs (next-unit-computing) are really small PCs the size of a jewelry box. Sure, they’re cheaper. But because of its size, NUCs are not that customizable. While you can add RAM and hard drive/ssd to them, they’re usually sold without any of those components which adds to your cost. You also can’t add a video card to it so you are stuck with the underpowered graphics unit of the system.

AIOs (All-In-One) PCs can be more powerful options but like NUCs, these are not upgradeable. Another disadvantage to AIOs is repairing them can be too troublesome. This could mean days of no work, negatively affecting your productivity.

The advantage of buying a branded PC is you have the assurance that all the parts are compatible. Warranty servicing that comes with it allows you to bring the unit back to the store you bought it from or to the service center  for repair or replacement without hassle. Yes, branded PCs are slightly more expensive compared to pre-built and custom PCs with similar specifications. But if you don’t have the time or know-how to fix it yourself, branded PCs will give you better value and peace of mind.

Prebuilt-or pre-configured systems are cheaper than branded PCs. Each component has individual warranties. And if you buy from reputable builders, hardware compatibility isn’t much of an issue.

But if you want to choose specific parts, that’s where buying pre-built can get tricky. For example, the package includes a video card with a Nvidia GTX1050 GPU and you want a GTX1080. The store may not give you the system’s price + price difference on just the video card and instead treat it as a custom build rig. Instead of getting the package price plus the price difference for the video card, they get the price of the individual parts plus labor for customizing the build and give you a much higher total price.

Also, pre-built systems warranties can only be claimed through the store you bought it from. So if you got that desktop far from where you lived or that store closed down, you’re in trouble.

Or you could buy a custom PC built by a friend or a reputable builder. Custom PC builders buy the parts and assemble the desktop themselves. If you (and your friend) know what you’re doing, the process can be fun. And cheaper too since it would allow you to shop around and find which stores can give you the best price. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, there are so many things that can go wrong, especially with checking compatibility between the CPU, the RAM (memory), power supply and motherboard.

Custom PCs, just like pre-built PCs have individually warrantied parts. Most parts of custom PCs can only be warrantied by the store you bought them from. But some parts (at least the display and hard drive) can be warrantied through service center or manufacturer.

By experience, Seagate hard drives can be warrantied via their website where you will be asked to send your hard drive to their RMA warehouse for checking and replacement. If you know how to build your own PC or know someone who can help you do a custom build, this will allow you to have a PC that is somewhat future-proofed for the next few years.

Pro-tip: Some parts, such as the video card, hard drive/ssd, and display, are often compatible with most system builds

Here is a guide on the pros and cons of these systems.

 

Pros
Branded Pre-built Custom
  • Warranty claiming does not have to be store specific
  • Warranty duration may be longer
  • Parts are already tested as compatible
  • Already has Windows installed
  • Store has discounted the build as a bulk purchase
  • Warranty is on individual parts
  • Certain parts can be warrantied directly to manufacturer
  • Parts configuration is compatible with each other
  • Minimal downtime if a single part breaks down
  • You can choose the parts from your favorite manufacturer
  • Warranty on individual parts
  • Minimal downtime if a single part breaks down
  • Certain parts can be warrantied directly to manufacturer
Cons
Branded Pre-built Custom
  • Pricier
  • You may be voiding warranty if you are upgrading an internal component
  • Whole system will be with the service center  during warranty claims
  • Store has discounted the build as a bulk purchase
  • Warranty is on individual parts
  • Certain parts can be warrantied directly to manufacturer
  • Parts configuration is compatible with each other
  • Minimal downtime if a single part breaks down
  • You can choose the parts from your favorite manufacturer
  • Warranty on individual parts
  • Minimal downtime if a single part breaks down
  • Certain parts can be warrantied directly to manufacturer

HDD or SSD?

HDD or hard disk drive has been around for generations. These are magnetic disks that stores all of your programs and files in your computer.

Hard drives are relatively cheaper compared to SSDs. A 1-Terabyte HDD can go as low as Php2,400, but the more reliable ones are usually a thousand pesos more expensive.

You may have seen people complain how slow their computers are and have blamed everything except the hard drive. The fact is, and as mentioned before, hard drives has been around for generations. It’s really old technology. And because of the limitations of their moving parts, HDDs can’t go any faster without physically breaking. HDDs will still be around for at least a decade because they DO work.

If you want better performance, the best thing to do is choose both. Use HDDs as a storage and SSD as your boot drive.

SSDs or solid state drives has only been around for a few years and is set to replace HDDs. SSDs have no moving parts, which makes it faster than HDDs. Unlike HDDs, there is no need to perform routine maintenance (defragging).

Currently, there are 2 types of SSDs depending on how they’re installed: 2.5” SATA and m.2(NVMe). Some SSD advocates will tell you to get m.2 SSD because it is faster than 2.5” SATA. Technically it is true but the problem here is not all computer motherboards and laptops are equipped with the m.2 connector, even if they are new ones.

SSDs right now are expensive. A 256GB SSD can cost you around Php 3000, same price of a 1TB HDD. The pricing of SSDs is expected to go down in the near future, with the introduction of a slower SSD technology ( which is still faster than HDD).

Aside from the pricing, another drawback of using SSD is the limited lifetime. The chips on SSDs wear out due to repeated write and erase. Wear leveling technology has been placed on SSDs to keep certain parts of the chips from wearing out faster than the rest of the drive. Because of this, higher capacity SSDs usually have a longer lifespan than smaller capacity SSDs.

If you are looking to invest on SSDs, try to get a higher capacity that fits your budget. Also, while we do not endorse specific brands we discourage buying unfamiliar brands, sold especially from online stores. Unfamiliar brands are sold very cheap because they are either knock-offs without wear-leveling or rebranded rejects.

 

Pros
Hard Disk Drive Solid State Drive
  • High capacity at a lower price
  • Longer wear lifespan
  • Better used as backup storage or secondary drive
  • Really fast
  • No mechanical parts
  • Not affected by physical shock
  • Less energy consumption
  • Compatible with either laptop or desktop on the same form factor
  • Better used as boot drive
Cons
Hard Disk Drive Solid State Drive
  • Can be damaged due to physical shock or intense vibration
  • Mechanical parts can break
  • Slow magnetic platter spin affects overall performance of the computer
  • HDD for desktop is different from HDD for laptop
  • Expensive
  • Data degrades faster on SSD than HDD

How much RAM?

Even wonder why your brand spanking new laptop or desktop seems to be slow, despite its latest specs? You may not have enough RAM.

Most consumer PCs and laptops right now are pre-configured with 4GB RAM and a lot of people think that is enough. That used to be enough …. 4 years ago.

But with browsers, browser extensions, websites and web apps getting “heavier,” 4GB RAM just isn’t enough.

Here’s a screenshot of the RAM usage of Facebook on my browser. As you can see, it’s already using up 1.64 GB of my RAM. And that’s just Facebook! That leaves me just 2.36 GB for my other stuff and Windows already uses a big chunk of that. Imagine if you only had 4 GB of RAM and how much traffic that would cause in your computer.

When there’s not enough RAM, your computer slows down. That’s because Windows uses your hard drive as “virtual memory.” When it does that, it makes the hard drive work harder and slower.

Adding more RAM allows you to create additional “roads” for your data (browser, software, apps, files) to travel to and from the CPU.

Even older computers can benefit from additional RAM upgrade. I have an old laptop (core i7 3rd generation) which has 12 GB of RAM and it is still running great!

 

At least 8 GB At least 12 GB
  • Office & Admin VA
  • Project Management
  • English Tutorial
  • Finance Management
  • WordPress (content)
  • Customer Service
  • Marketing and Sales
  • Professional Services
  • Social Media
  • Advertising (with graphics/video)
  • Software Development
  • Web Development
  • WordPress (with graphics/video)
  • Webmaster
  • PHP Programming
  • Marketing and Sales (with graphics/video)
  • Graphics and Multimedia
  • Social Media (with graphics/video)

How about the display/monitor?

Whether you are on a desktop or laptop, a good display should:

  • be able to give you proper color rendering,
  • resolution that gives you enough screen space to work
  • and be large enough so you can see everything you need to work with.

Resolution and refresh rate

When choosing a resolution for your display, look for one that has at least 1080p resolution for laptops. For desktops, choose an external display that can give you higher resolution to take advantage of the performance.

Fun Trivia: 1080 resolution is 1920×1080 dots

If you’re not a gamer, a 60Hz refresh (flicker) rate is enough, even for video editing. It’s only when you are gaming that you’ll need a higher refresh rate (120Hz and up).

Display type

If your task doesn’t require photo/video editing or graphic design, any type of display panel type would do. But if you are, you should opt for an IPS type display. IPS display, while pricier, will give more accurate colors so that your images and videos will look good on screen or on print.

TN Display panel minimum IPS Display recommended
  • Office & Admin VA
  • Project Management
  • English Tutorial
  • Finance Management
  • WordPress (content)
  • Customer Service
  • Marketing and Sales
  • Professional Services
  • Social Media
  • Advertising (with graphics/video)
  • Software Development
  • Web Development
  • WordPress (with graphics/video)
  • Webmaster
  • PHP Programming
  • Marketing and Sales (with graphics/video)
  • Graphics and Multimedia
  • Social Media (with graphics/video)

Bonus: Color calibration

There are display color calibration tools available so that you can produce the most accurate colors on your display. However, some of those tools may require hardware that could get really expensive. The way to calibrate your screen on the cheap is to print out either an RGB or CMYK pattern on a photo paper and compare it to what is on your screen. This way, you can adjust your screen by sight. Some displays can be adjusted via software and some via hardware buttons so results may vary.

Video card

Video cards right now are expensive because of the demand created by crypto mining. However, not everyone needs to have a separate video card unless you’re doing a lot of photo/video editing, visual effects or animation.

If you need a video card for work, get one with at least 4GB of video memory (VRAM). Graphics processing will do most of its work on the GPU (Graphics processing unit) and enough VRAM will allow the work to be done more efficiently.

Buying Second Hand

When buying second hand computers and computer parts, you will need to take some things into consideration:

1. Make sure that the computer or components are, at most, 2 years old. As mentioned before, you should have RAM (memory) of at least 8GB.

2. Second hand computers will have parts that can (or need to) be upgraded. Older PCs are often sold cheaper. And  the older the 2nd hand computer, the harder (and more expensive) it will be to find compatible parts for. You might be better off getting a new one.

3. Make sure that the internal parts are clean. Whether it is a laptop or desktop computer, dust can accumulate inside. As dust collects, the cooling efficiency of the fans inside the computer is reduced. Desktops are easier to clean. You just need a can of CO2 spray to blow most of the dust away. Laptops can be more challenging since you’ll need to know how to open it up to remove the dust from the cooling fan. And not all laptops can be opened to easily reveal the parts that need cleaning.

4. Batteries usually lose 50% charging capability within the 1st 2 years of continued usage. So when buying a used laptop, you’ll need to consider replacing the battery. Take note though that battery replacement can be difficult. Batteries of some brands and models are expensive and difficult to come by. And even if you do get the replacement battery, you’ll need to know how to open your laptop. It’s easier to do on most older models, the batteries can be removed with locks or a few screws. But with newer laptops, you may have to remove the entire back panel and the screws (if there are screws) may not be standard.

5. If you are looking to purchase a used video card for your computer, avoid those used in crypto-mining. The video card itself is fine but since crypto-mining is done 24/7, the video card cooling fan would have higher chances of failure.

5. Always test before buying. It is difficult to return items on 2nd hand sales. To test 2nd hand PCs, what I usually do is bring a flash drive of files similar to what I would use for work and run then on site. This can help avoid most of the problems that might arise once you bring that computer home.

When To Buy

The holidays are usually the best time to buy. If you received a bonus, you may be able to get your dream computer using cash, where most computer stores have a “discounted” cash pricing.

Some credit card companies have also partnered up with establishments to provide 0% installment rates for up to 12-24 months. There are even some which has a “Buy Now, Pay Later” program, where the first installment starts 2-3 months after your purchase. Check your credit card company’s website for information on their onoing promotions and their partner establishments.

For non-credit card holders, buying computers have never been easier. Computer stores have either in-house credit or partnered with credit providers. If you will be going this route, make sure to bring 2 government IDs with you when you plan to make your purchase.

 

 


About Jae Manuel Sta Romana
Jae Manuel Sta. Romana is Onlinejobs.ph’s social media administrator and resident tech geek. He’s been working on computers since the1980s and is a tech support veteran. In his free time, this work-at-home dad likes to game, cook and arrange music for band instruments.

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Comments

  1. Dark says

    Great article! As a computer rig enthusiast myself who have custom built PC over the years, I suggest never to buy pre built and branded desktops. Always go for custom built. Assembling is easier like playing Lego. There are also a lot of youtube videos on how to assemble your own (popular example is the channel LinusTechTips).

    Kinda disagree on the availability of AMD though vs Intel though. When the AMD Ryzen CPU line up was released, it became popular as it was almost as good as the pricey Intel processors thus it is now easy to buy them in computer stores.

    I have been asked by a lot of people AMD or Intel. My simple answer is always:

    Content creation + cheap (Video editing, photoshop, autoCAD etc) = Go for AMD (ex: Ryzen 5 2600)
    Content creation + gaming + extra money (if you have gaming as a hobby) = Intel (i5 – i7).

    Ryzen has better performance when it comes to rendering and is bang for the buck but it doesnt beat the overall better performance of the pricey Intel processors.

    Mining has died down. I bought my GTX1060 for 18k due to mining but right now the price of the same card is now at 12k – 14k. Many miners are already selling their mining cards so people should look out to never buy 2nd hand cards used for mining as they were used 24hrs a day, fully loaded and they might broke as soon as you buy them.

    • says

      Thanks Oni! Regarding your comment on availability, yes, AMD Ryzen right now is getting traction in the Philippine market, however, going to a lot of computer stores, especially those a lot of people go to (not everyone has the patience to go to Gilmore), Intel dominates the market, and that includes motherboard choices.

  2. Karen says

    Thanks, this article was very helpful. I am a first time VA and am considering purchasing a new laptop as my current one doesn’t seem to be able to support the work I do.

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