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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.
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 Buying Guide.

You should look for these key features when buying or upgrading a computer:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 system.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 cards.

    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 available.

    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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. Computer Case. ATX mid-tower or tower case (at least a couple of free drive bays)

  9. 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.

 

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