Article Author :muckshifter Date : 8th Jul 2004 Comments :
Weighing up the merits of components when buying a new PC can be confusing. Whether you’re trading your old PC in for a newer, more powerful model or looking to buy a second computer for the home or even contemplating a first-time buy, it pays to know exactly what you’ll get for your money. There are few machines you can buy whose performance can be so accurately judged simply by knowing what’s inside it. It might make sense to choose a TV solely on picture quality alone, or a new car on the bases of its reputation for reliability, but to buy the right PC you have to learn to play the “Numbers Game”. This guide will show you how it all adds up.
You may be buying from an advert in a magazine, a manufacturer’s or retailer’s website or a computer superstore, but in every case you’ll end up considering a list of components and trying to make compromises. There’s no one-size-fits-all machine, so the best choice is always a PC that delivers the power and performance you need now … plus something in reserve for the future without wasting money on features you don’t need.
Starting, as most computer specifications do, with the processor, you should choose something towards the upper end of the speed range. Speed is measured in Gigahertz (GHz), with higher numbers representing faster speed.
If you choose the fastest processor out there now, you’ll pay a premium price for what is only a marginal increase in performance, but buy the cheapest and you may find it struggles to satisfy the demands of the latest software.
As a general rule, the best-value processors run a couple of notches slower than the fastest chips, which in current terms means buying a Pentium 4 running at 2.8GHz or an AMD Athlon XP 2800+ offering broadly equivalent performance. Don’t buy a processor slower than two-thirds of the speed of the top-of-the-range CPU, nor be tempted to buy an Intel Celeron or AMD Duron as these CPUs have a severe restriction in there processing power - you’ll be looking to upgrade in a very short period of time instead of the more usual 2-3 years.
When comparing Intel’s Pentium 4 and AMD’s Athlon XP processors always remember that Athlons work faster than Pentiums of the same GHz rating, which is why AMD designates its chips with numbers like 2800+ to make the comparison easier. Simply move the decimal point three places to the left to get a GHz equivalent.
Intel is about to adopt a similar policy of naming its new processors according to performance rather than rated speed, which will simplify things still further when trying to compare.
When picking a processor the choice is not just between Pentium 4 and Athlon XP. There’s also an advanced Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, and AMD offers a choice of two 64-bit processors designated the Athlon 64 and the Athlon 64FX. Standard Pentiums and Athlons are 32-bit processors, so doubling the rate at which they can shift data sounds like a great idea in principle, but until there’s a 64-bit version of Windows on the market that can take advantage of all this high-speed data, the benefits of 64-bit computing will largely remain untapped. A new 64-bit version of Windows is on the cards for next year or the year after … or a year after that … so buying a 64-bit processor now may future-proof your investment. Bear in mind though, that by the time the operating system is ready, processor speed will inevitably moved on and today’s fast chip will seem rather second rate.