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What's New in Computing


Stan Gelber

As usual, confusion reins when it comes to understanding what's available when considering the purchase of a personal computer. Processors by AMD and Intel dominate the market place, and trying to make a decision is somewhat like going to the dentist, scary and apprehensive!

Before beginning to evaluate the variety of machines in the marketplace, I suggest you decide what you want to use the machine for!

More computer manufacturers exist than Carter has liver pills!, each claims to offer the best price/performance for your money. Today, you can buy a decent machine for as little as $400.00, or you can spend $4,000.00 depending upon your needs.

Machine use falls into several categories:

1. Home office Use

You will want a good performing machine but not necessarily the fastest machine in the marketplace. A home/office computer should be able to perform all of your typical business functions at an acceptable speed. The question is "What is an acceptable speed?" If the amount of time it takes to perform a specific task is excessive (you have to wait a long time) then I suggest your machine is not fast enough. How do you determine what is fast enough? Check with co-workers, read reviews in the leading PC magazines and/or see a demonstration of the software on comparable machines at your local computer store. Machines that operate in the 1.4 to 2.6 ghz range are usually acceptable for home - office use.

2. Family Use

Family use usually includes some finance capability, gaming capability, Internet access and low end graphics creation. This would be considered a general purpose machine and falls within the 2.0 to 3.2 ghz range.

3. Graphics and Video Editing

This is a processor and graphics intensive environment and you had better know a little about PC's and video editing before you purchase a computer. I suggest purchasing one with the fastest disk system and processor available. This would include Ultra SCSI disk drives, Serial ATA drives and a processor speed of 3.0 ghz or better. You will also need a good video and graphics board.

4. Games

For gamers, I suggest a 3.2 ghz (intel) or a AMD 3200 processor machine with a high-end 3d graphics board such as an ATI or Nvidia. I don't know how many times I purchased a game, and taken it home only to find out that its performance on my machine was less than acceptable because my machine was either too slow or my graphics board would not handle the complex requirements of the games.

5. Desktop Publishing

For DPT, I suggest purchasing the fastest machine possible because DPT requires good graphics, composition and layout capabilities. This type of software is quite complex and demands a very fast processor based environment.

Now that I have defined general usage, what's available?

All computer manufacturers basically build identical devices, that is they use a processor from either AMD, or Intel, disk drives from Seagate, Quantum, IBM or other disk manufacturers, etc, etc. The thing that sets them apart is in how they configure their systems and what they add to increase performance. Things to consider include:

1. The amount of on-board cache (sometimes called L2 cache). 256k is standard, 512k is better.

2. The speed of the disk drive, this should be less that 12 milliseconds.

3. The speed of the processor. 3.2 Ghtz is the high-end however most people do not need this level of high-performance and can do very nicely with processors ranging from 1.4 Ghtz to 2.4 ghtz.

Also consider a laptop, they have come a long way and many our as fast or faster than desktops with great graphics, large capacity disk drives and CD - DVD recorders.

4. Price and service.

The following represents a summary of what's available and its intended audience:

Pentium IV

This is the current state-of-the-art chip from Intel. It comes in a variety of speeds and will be around fro a long time. Systems using this chip include Dell, HP, IBM, Gateway, Micron and a host of other third-tier vendors. High-end systems from Alien and ABS provide state-of-the-art components and while they are more costly than many others, they are considered very high-end.


AMD rates their systems a bit differently than Intel and rather than using a mghz or ghtz speed rating, they use a number system such as the 1800 or 3200. These are very good processors and usually less expensive than Intel based systems. Most vendors offer both Intel and AMD in their systems so if it is price - performance you are looking for, AMD is a good choice.

A Typical System configuration/

  • Processor from AMD or Intel
  • 256 kbytes of RAM (512 is better)
  • Disk Drive capacity of at least 40 gbytes. (more if you are doing video or audio)
  • CD-RW to read and write CD's
  • DVD-RW for creating or reading DVDs
  • Network board for connection to a DSL or Cable Modem line
  • Modem for Dial-up activity
  • USB and Firewire ports for connection of the printer, mouse, digital camera, etc.
  • Soundboard (a good one is Creative labs audigy)

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