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1. Introduction and Index

2. Buying Considerations

3. Computer Hardware Options- CPUs and System RAM

4. Disk Drive Options

5. Video Cards, Monitors, Sound Cards, Modems, etc.

6. Additional Features - Printers, Digital Cameras, Scanners, Networks

7. Recommended Software

8. Recommended Computer Systems

Related Articles

Desktop Computer Hardware Requirements

College Computer Buying Guide

Laptop Buying Guide

Best Selling Laptops and Desktops





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Computer Buying Primer

Computer Hardware Options - CPU and System RAM


The CPU (Central Processing Unit) or processor is the heart of the computer. There are many different types of CPU's and with different types of speeds. The CPU in a large part, determines how fast the computer will be and what capabilities your machine will have.
Older computers might still have 486 CPU's but all new computer have an Intel Pentium, Intel Celeron or AMD Athlon chip. These CPU's come in different types and speeds. You have a choice of Intel Pentium III, Pentium 4 or Celeron CPUs, and AMD Athlon XP, and Athlon CPUs.
CPU speeds in new computers can vary from 1.6 GHz to 3.2 GHz.

What does this all mean and what is right for you?
You should compare this with buying a car. If you do not need the speed, why would you buy a Porsche? And if you can do with a Ford why buy a Rolls Royce? The most expensive CPU's are the Intel Pentium 4 and Athlon XP processors. The greater the megahertz (speed), the more expensive they become.

For just normal use (writing letters, playing basic games, desktop publishing) a 1.8 GHz CPU is very fast. But if you can afford the money, you might be better off buying something a little faster, so that future software that needs more brain power can still run on your computer. Faster CPUs also improve Internet speed and game playing.
We recommend that you buy a Celeron, Pentium 4, or Athlon XP based computer in the 1.8 GHz - 2.8 GHz range.

If you intend to use only the basics of the computer, like typing letters, going on the Internet and doing some basic desktop publishing, new desktop computers can be purchased as low as $450. New laptop computers can be purchased for as little as $750.

Recommended CPU: Intel Celeron based desktop computers for the more cost conscious, Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon XP for the power user. Current new desktop systems are no slower than 1.8 GHz.
For more in depth information on selecting a CPU, please see our article InfoHQ Desktop CPU Rundown.
For current prices of computer systems, see our Sunday Shopping Watch feature found every Sunday in our Daily Computer News. Also see our Best Selling Computers page for information on which computers are the best sellers.

System RAM

Buying system memory (RAM) for the computer is important for the overall performance of the computer. Programs are loaded from the hard disk and stored into the computer's memory upon usage. Whenever a program is stopped, the program is stored from memory back to the hard disk again.

Not enough system memory will result in a state called swapping. This means that the hard disk will be used as additional memory, but since a hard disk uses mechanical parts, the overall performance of the computer will degrade.

It is also important to have memory that has the same speed as the rest of your components (like CPU). Memory comes in many different forms; EDO, SDRAM, DDR, and Rambus DRAM. Your computer will only be able to use one of these types of memory. Memory comes in different speeds, the faster the memory, the higher the price.

More memory makes your computer faster too. To go from 128 MB to 256 MB will cost you about $30 and will increase the performance of your computer.

Recommended Memory. 128 MB - 512 MB for all new computers. Memory is relatively cheap right now, so there is no reason not to have the added speed and convenience of 256 MB or more of system RAM.


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