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7 Things to Look for in a New Desktop PC

7 Things to Look for in a New Desktop PC If you're not a techie, buying hardware can be an arduous task. Use these tips for buying a machine that best suits your business needs. Does your old clunker make wheezing noises when it boots up? Has your typing become faster than your computer? Tired of looking at the Windows hourglass for minutes at a time? Perhaps it's time for a new desktop computer. Computer manufacturers continue to struggle with weak business. Meanwhile, component manufacturers are making their goods smaller, faster and cheaper. The upshot: You can get a good deal on a powerful machine.

I can't recommend individual machines. They might not be on the market when you read this. Instead, let's go through the components that make up computers. Use these to help decide what you need. Following are seven points to ponder before you buy: The Microprocessor This is one of the most expensive parts.

Microprocessors for Windows machines are made by Intel and AMD. Those for Apples are made by IBM and Motorola. So here's my first piece of advice: Don't worry so much about who makes the chip. All four are good. For Windows machines, you have a choice of the AMD Athlon XP, the Intel Pentium 4 and the Intel Celeron, an economy chip. The Pentium 4 and Athlon XP are upper end chips. The fastest Pentium 4 runs at 3.2 Gigahertz — a very fast speed indeed. It's also very expensive. The comparable AMD chip, the 3200+, is slightly less expensive.

You may need these fire-breathers if you're doing lots of video editing. Ditto if you're working with computer-aided design or playing advanced games. Otherwise, look to chips running at 2.4 GHz to 2.6 GHz (or 2400+ to 2600+, in AMD-powered machines). They're cheaper, and they perform nearly as well as the top-end chips. Intel's Celeron is a budget chip. If you do typical office duties and surf the web, you probably wouldn't notice the difference between a top-end Celeron and a Pentium 4 running at the same speed. But you could save some money. Apple and AMD chips run at lower speeds than those made by Intel.

AMD uses the + symbol, as in 3200+, to imply that its chips are faster than comparable Intel microprocessors, despite running more slowly. Indeed, tests often show that to be the case. Apple claims that its top-end machines are faster than those running Windows. That is a matter of controversy; there are websites devoted to debunking Apple's claims. Apple's chips run at much lower speeds, so they are difficult to compare directly. If you're interested in an Apple computer, test one at a store, then test a Windows machine. Apple computers are more expensive than comparable Windows machines. Both Apple and AMD have new 64-bit microprocessors. They can crunch twice as much data as 32-bit chips. But there are virtually no programs that take advantage of this power now.

That will change in the future, but these expensive new chips don't offer as much value today. The Operating System Windows XP and Apple's OS X are also difficult to compare. But there's really no need. Both are stable and fast. You'll probably be satisfied with either. Windows XP comes in two flavours: Home and Professional. Windows XP Professional has all of Home's goodies, plus some other stuff. Most of it is networking capability. Professional costs more.


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