Buying a computer you must read this first.
Looking to buy a new desktop personal computer system? First off always do your
research on the internet, check the news paper for sales and compare prices.
Processor choices are a bit more difficult now than they were before. It is still
really a choice between an AMD and an Intel processor. The difference really comes
in how many cores there are in the processor and its relative speed. Each company
now has a performance rating system that isn’t really easy to compare. Due to the
There are a large number of desktop processors available and this list was
generated to point out the two major categories of processors for both the Intel
and AMD product lines. The two categories listed are the top performance
processors, best value processors (<$250) and best budget processors (<$100). This
allows users to select the CPUs best suited to their budgets. If you are looking
at purchasing a fully built desktop computer or building one yourself, check out
which processors you should be looking to fit your price range.
AMD Performance – Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition
Until AMD releases their next generation of processors that feature more than four
cores, those wanting a performance platform using an AMD processor will have to
settle for the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition. The one advantage to this is the
processor can be found for under $200 compared to the $1000 or more price for
Intel’s top of the line chips. Performance is decent from the processor but it
falls well short of what Intel is achieving with the Core i7 platform. Hopefully
AMD will be updating their consumer processors as the release of the six-core
Opteron server processors is soon.
AMD Budget – Phenom II X2 550
AMD has made a number of variations on their Phenom processors cores since its
release. The latest is to release the new Phenom II X2 series that have just two
cores instead of the four typically found in the X4 or three in the X3. The
advantage is that the processor is more affordable and can run at higher clock
speeds than those with more cores. For many people, having four cores probably
does not provide much of a benefit. The Phenom II X2 also uses the AM3 socket
design with the built in DDR3 memory controller for added memory performance.
Also, higher clock speeds mean that it can perform better in applications that
don’t take advantage of multiple cores such as PC games. The Phenom II X2 550 can
be found for around $90.
Intel Performance – Core i7-980X Extreme Edition
If performance is an absolute must have and cost isn’t an issue, then the new
Intel Core i7-980X Extreme Edition is the processor of choice. This is Intel’s
first six core processor providing it with an amazing level of performance in
multithreaded applications or for those who just have to multitask to ridiculous
levels. The base clock speed of 3.33GHz is already high but if less than six cores
are being used, the processor will automatically overclock for addition
performance in the running applications. At this time, the processor can only be
used in select Intel X58 motherboards that have been certified. Check with the
motherboard manufacturer to ensure that the processor will work on the intended
motherboard. Priced around $1200.
Intel Budget – Pentium G6950
With the socket 775 being phased out by Intel, it is in the best interest of those
building a PC system to use the newer socket 1156. Thankfully, Intel has produced
a low cost processor option using the older Pentium name. The G9650 is a dual-core
processor with a 2.8GHz clock speed and 3MB of cache. Like the Core i series
processor that use the same socket, it uses an internal memory controller for
added performance over the previous Core 2 series processors. While it may not
have four processor cores or as many features, it still provides a solid amount of
performance. Prices are just under $100.
Most desktop computers now use a type of memory called DDR3. DDR2 is now only
found in less expensive budget classed systems. In terms of amount, it is best to
have at least 4GB of memory for the smoothest operation. Memory speeds can impact
performance as well. The faster the memory, the better the performance should be.
When buying memory, try to buy as few DIMMs as possible to allow for future memory
upgrades if needed.
How Much memory is Enough?
The rule of thumb that I use for all computer systems for determining if it has
enough memory is to look at the requirements of the software you intend to run.
Pick up the boxes for each of the applications and the OS that you intend to run
and look at both the minimum and recommended requirements. Typically you want to
have more RAM than the highest minimum and ideally at least as much as the highest
listed recommended requirement.
Does memory Type Really Matter?
The type of memory does matter to the performance of a system. There are two basic
types of memory currently used: DDR2 and DDR3. More and more systems are moving to
the faster DDR3, but DDR2 is still found in some budget oriented desktops. Beyond
the type of memory, each memory type also has a related speed to that RAM as well.
One other thing that you might want to consider is how much memory the system can
support. Most desktop systems tend to have a total of four to six memory slots on
the boards with modules installed in pairs (some boards now install in threes for
improved performance). Smaller form factor systems typically will only have a two
RAM slots. The way these slots are used can play a key role in how you can upgrade
memory in the future.
Hard drives really boil down to size and speed. The larger the drive and the
faster, the better the performance and capacity. In a desktop, it is best to have
at least 500GB or more of storage space these days. In terms of speed, they are
pretty much all running at 7200rpm now. A few high performance 10,000rpm drives
are available. Most drives use the Serial ATA interface now for ease of
All hard drive manufacturers and computer systems rate their drives in GB or
gigabytes. This translates to the unformatted capacity of the drive in billion of
bytes. Once the drive is formatted, you will actually have less than this number
in drive space.This makes size comparison really easy to determine as the higher
the number, the larger the drive. Some drives have now reached the terabyte size.
Note that a terabyte from the manufacturers is one thousand gigabytes and referred
to as TB in annotations.
Optical Drives (CD/DVD/Blu-ray)
Most systems sold now feature DVD burners, even the budget systems. It is best to
make sure that you get a multiformat DVD burner that can support both the +R/RW
and -R/RW formats. Speeds should be at least 16x for the recordable speed. Dual or
Double Layer media support is also a common feature although less likely to be
used due to media cost. Options also include LightScribe or Labelflash support for
burning labels directly to compatible media. Blu-ray is an option for those
wanting to use their PC for the high definition video format.
Video card technology seems to change every three to six months. If you aren’t
really doing any 3D graphics at all, then integrated graphics may be just fine.
Beyond this, there are a wide selection of cards. Things to consider include
performance, the amount of memory on the card, output connectors and the version
of Direct X supported. Those looking to do any gaming should really consider a
Direct X 10 card with at least 512MB of memory onboard.
Many upgrades and peripherals to computers now connect through external interfaces
instead of internal cards. Check to see how many and what type of external ports
are available on the computer for use with future peripherals. Look for systems
that have both USB 2.0 and IEEE 1394 or FireWire ports. It should have at least
six USB 2.0 connectors and one FireWire ports. eSATA is useful for anyone hoping
to use high speed external storage. Many times media card readers that support
various different flash memory cards for peripherals are also included.
What good is a desktop PC unless it also has a monitor? Previously users would
need to choose between a CRT or LCD monitor, but LCDs are pretty much the standard
now because of their reduced size and power consumption. The real issue is more
about size and cost of the LCDs. The price difference between 19-inch and 22-inch
models make 22-inch the best overall value although 24-inch models are quickly
dropping in price. Most all screens use the wider 16:10 format but some are now
being released with a near 2:1 ratio best suited for movie watching.