Berek's PC Hardware Guide: Part 1 (Desktop Purchasing Essentials)

The past few months I have studied extensively the computer hardware industry and all the upcoming products through 2008 and into 2009. Ok, I admit it, I always study the computer hardware industry, but particularly now so that I am considering a large purchase of components for my desktop systems this summer.

One of the things you should to consider when upgrading your computer, or building a new one, is what you really need the computer for. Will it be there as as simple web interface with occasional word and PowerPoint usage? Will it be running 24/7 as a server or some graphics processing workstation? Or will it travel to frequent LAN parties where intensive Unreal Tournament 3 style gaming will be played?

The decision really whittles down to "do I need an economy family car, a semi to haul products across the country, or a NASCAR Indy speedster to get from point A to point B before one can say "p0wn3d""?. If you play games or do design work you will want more in the way of graphics horsepower, while servers could care less what graphics you put into your system. The same considerations go for those looking to simply browse the web and check their e-mail on occasion.

The following are the key components you will need when building or purchasing a system on these three basic levels. These are my recommendations based upon price vs. performance. I did not focus exclusively on power saving capabilities, weight and space considerations, and did not keep the budget to an ultimate low, nor too high. Those options I will go into detail in a later article. These components are literally the best bang for your buck, if you are willing to shell out just a little more cash than the bottom-bin "stuff". There are plenty of other options, but you will certainly be satisfied with focusing on the following:

Computer Games (UT3 style, not games like "Checkers")

CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo Penryn E8400
Memory: 4GB of DDR2 800Mhz CAS 5
Video: Nvidia 8800 GTX 768MB

Server-intensive/Graphics Applications

CPU: Intel Quad-Core Q6600, or Q9450 (for power-usage conscious buyers)
Memory: 8GB of DDR2 800Mhz CAS 5
Video: Nvidia 8800 GT 512MB

Browsing The Web

CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo Penryn E8200
Memory: 4GB of DDR2 800Mhz CAS 5 (I would almost state 2GB, but memory is CHEAP, so just get the 4GB and be done with it.)
Video: Nvidia 8600 GT 256MB

Do you notice anything interesting about the combined list? There are two things to note. First, I only listed three different components, because quite frankly the rest do not matter nearly as much as these three. Second, YOU DO NOT NEED THE LATEST AND GREATEST! That's right. Take a look at the following table by Tom's Hardware for an interesting review of whether or not DDR3 memory is worth upgrading to:

http://www.tomshardware.com/2008/04/09/toms_ultimate_ram_speed_tests/

With games the graphics processor (GPU) is the key component above and beyond anything else. Once your CPU tops 3GHZ (and is a duo core configuration) it doesn't need to be the latest "Extreme" processor. You also do not need DDR3 at all right now, or even the fastest DDR2. Hard drives are all slow in general, so pick the best bang for the buck that you can. And finally, graphics cards today, as long as they aren't bottom of the bin bargain deals, will run most games sufficiently as long as you aren't an ultra hard-core gamer that seeks a minimum of 30 FPS in Crysis.

Last, but surely not least, a few things to keep in mind:

1) Ensure the hard drive is at least a 7200RPM speed, NOT a 5400RPM.
2) The motherboard should have a good rating, as bad motherboards can cause all sorts of problems.
3) Having a good power supply will ensure system stability. Get at least a 400watt, but don't waste your money on 800+!
4) A good sized Mid-Tower or Full-Tower case with large (120mm) fans will ensure a nice cool and quiet running system.
5) Get that 24" monitor! While monitor sizes and quality are pure preference, I have found the Dell 2408WFP is the sweet spot for gamers and designers alike. If you're seriously budget constrained, go with the Dell E248WFP, as it is the lower quality version (has significantly less color accuracy, so do NOT buy it for graphics work!).

Stay tuned for Part 2 of "Berek's PC Hardware Guide", Laptop Purchasing Essentials!

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