Well, time to add my quarter staff worth. (actually, its a buck and a quarter quarter staff, but i'm not telling him that.)
Kendall, your have and are going to hear alot of stuff about what is out there.
It depends on where you live, how much your willing to pay, what you use your computer for primarily, and if you are somewhat knowledgeable about the inner workings of computers. Answer those questions, and you'll have an idea of what you want and/or need in a system. I'll show ya.
1. Where you live - this is important to find out the local system dealers. States, you have stuff like Gateway, Dell, Compusa, etc.etc. Canada - Future Shop, Leon's etc. Britian - Packard Bell. Where you live figures out who are the big players.
2. What do you use your computer for primarily - Is it a business system? More Internet? Heavy Gaming? DVD and music? A little of everything? This is something that will tell you what kind of system you need. If its mostly business and internet, you don't need a 400 dollar 64 meg 3d video gaming card. Stuff like that.
3. Are you knowledgeable about the inner workings of computers - do you know what a 40pin IDE cable is? The difference between a motherboard and a controller card is? AT or ATX? If this is greek to you, you would probably be more interested in a system made by a brand name(dell, packard bell, gateway, etc). If you know how to change systems, add components (like another hard drive) and know your way around the inside, then perhaps look around at a local private computer store. They can put together a good no-name system with parts made by ASUS, Intel, Creative Labs, Western Digital, Micron, Viewsonic, etc. You can talk to the owner and hash out, geek to geek, what you need in a system, and probably get you a cheaper system than what you get from a major label.
4. How much? - This is the last question you ask. Find your supplier, a system to fit your needs, and then a system that fits your pocketbook. If you need financing, some private stores can get a financing deal for you. But that's on a store by store thing.
Like some others who have written before, I bought a complete first system when I was young, tinkered around with it, and nowadays, I buy all my own parts and do my own thing. I put systems together for friends, and have a closetfull of old parts. Sometimes I root to find an old sound cable to run from a friend's computer. If you smile and nod to that, you should probably look into doing it yourself. But if you don't feel comfortable with that, go for a namebrand system, that has 24 hour customer service, and a good warranty.
My system is a no-brand name system. I do the work myself and unlike some major brands (compaq as an extreme example of garbage) who make parts only to fit their system, ergo you must buy their parts... a no-name system uses good parts and it sets your system up for easy upgrades down the road. Its better than buying a new system every two to three years. I bought a brand new system way back in 1992, and I've only upgraded since. Upgrading is a continual process. I'm never finished. Next will be probably a new motherboard and a P4 processor.
Anyways, hope that helps. Steve