Computer Buying Advice
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Computer Hardware Requirements - What to Buy Today
We recommend you buy a computer system with these specifications
to get the fastest, most reliable, and upgradeable desktop system
for you money. Our recommendations incorporate the latest technology
available and reflect what we would buy today.
You should look for these key features when buying or upgrading a
Please see our article, Computer
Buying Primer, for an in-depth discussion of all computer features.
Also see our article, Is it
Cheaper to Build or Buy a New PC?, to see the computer we use
to run our website.
If you are interested in laptops and notebooks, please see our Laptop
- Processor. Power users should consider Pentium 4 CPUs
at speeds of 2.0- 3.06 GHz or an AMD Athlon XP 2000+ - 30000+.
If you must save money, the Intel Celeron at speeds greater than
2 GHz is a good second choice.
Please see our article InfoHQ Desktop CPU
Roundup for additional information on current and future processors.
- Motherboards. Buy a motherboard that supports the speed
and functions that you want to have. Those buying Celerons should
make sure their system is upgradeable to the Pentium 4 (requires
Celerons at speeds 2 GHz or faster). Duron buyers should make
sure they can upgrade to an Athlon XP.
- System RAM. We recommend 32MB of system RAM absolute
minimum for Windows 95. For Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows 2000,
and Windows XP, 64MB is the minimum amount of suggested RAM, with
128-256 MB or more as the preferred amount (as memory is currently
cheap, there is no reason not to have at least 256 MB). Some new
games and programs require 256 MB or more.
We recommend that new computer owners upgrade to 512 MB as soon
as possible, as more RAM will improve the performance of your
- Hard Drive. A 20 GB (ATA 100 or ATA 133) hard drive is
about the smallest drive you would want.
If you are upgrading to a second IDE hard drive, IDE drives with
8 MB cache are 20% faster than IDE drives without cache.
Only those that have computers with a Serial ATA bus should purchase
serial ATA hard drives, as drive speed is capped by bus speed.
So if you have an IDE ATA 133 bus, you stick a serial ATA controller
on it, you put a nice new serial ATA drive that has a top speed
of 150 MB/sec, you will still only get 133 MB/sec performance
because of your slower IDE bus.
- Video Card. Those not wanting to use 3D applications
should pick a good name-brand AGP graphics card with 16 MB or
greater of video memory. The GeForce 4 MX series, the Matrox Parhelia-512
series, or the Radeon 9000 represent good mult-imonitor business
For the more casual gamer, business graphics user, or 3D enthusiast
on a budget, the Radeon 8500 with 128 MB of video RAM or the GeForce
4 TI 4200 with 64 or 128 MB of RAM are good choices.
Those interested in serious gaming should buy an AGP video card
with 128 MB video memory (128 MBs of RAM will be used in upcoming
games). Graphics cards recommended for serious gamers include
the GeForce 4 TI (4600, 4400 -- 4X AGP) and the Radeon 9500, 9700,
and 9800 which are the fastest graphics 8X AGP cards currently
Note 1: NVidia graphics cards that support
8X AGP should be coming out soon.
Note 2: Computers
costing less than $1,000 usually have a soldered on video chip
rather than a graphics card. While cheap, these chips are not
as fast, or as powerful, as graphics cards.
- Firewire or USB 2.0 ports.
Firewire and USB 2.0 ports are great
for connecting high-speed external devices. These ports are about
40 times faster than USB 1.0 ports found on older PCs. These ports
are usually not available on entry level PCs. Firewire 800 ports
are just starting to appear, and promise to be 50%-100% faster
than USB 2.0 ports.
- Modem, High Speed Internet Connection, Wireless Modem..
A 56K modem, that meets V.90 or the V .92 standard. A high-speed
cable or DSL connection would be nicer -- if you can afford it.
Wireless cards are nice if you have, or want, a wireless LAN or
you will be able to access wireless Internet services.
- Computer Case. ATX mid-tower or tower case (at least
a couple of free drive bays)
- Power Supply (usually bundled with case). A 250 watt
power supply or better. AMD recommends 300 watts for Athlon systems.
Pentium 4 systems can sometimes require 300 watts or more.
Make sure the power supply is certified for the processor you
want to use.
Basically, it is always better to have a faster CPU,
more system memory, a huge hard drive, a bigger case, more power etc.
You will have to decide how much money you can afford to sink into
your system. Additional information and articles are available on
our Computer Buying Advice page.