Thoughts on a PC Purchase
In my daily travels at work, I often get asked "I need new computer at home. What do you recommend?" Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Peter Norton (who created Norton Utilities) said that your money spent should go to "raw computing horsepower," and he delineated four areas. This principle still holds true today and it allows you to hold on to your hardware longer.
This is an obvious area, one that most people understand. The faster the processor, the better. Dual core is better than single, quad core is better than dual. With processors, there is a point of diminishing return and in my 17 years in IT, a generally safe bet is if you're building your own machine, the processor two notches from the top one will give you the most bang for the buck. The top two notches of processor will always be very expensive. Anything below the third one from the top speed will usually be too slow and only have to be upgraded in a short period of time.
If you're like most people and run a 32-bit OS, your machine should have 2 GB. A 64-bit operating system can access 4 GB. The faster the RAM is, the better.
Hard Drive (HDD)
Disks fill up very quickly. When I started in this business, a 20-MB drive was standard. Today, we are working with 1.5 and 2 TB drives. If you do videotape editing, you should consider having a machine with one main HDD and a hot swappable HDD slot that will allow you to add and remove additional drives. For the average user, a 750-GB drive will more than suffice in a desktop.
If you are involved with gaming, flight simulation, AutoCad, video editing, heavy duty photo and graphics work, this is an area you need to invest in. Since I do flight simulation and video editing on my machine, I have two 1 GB cards connected with an SLI bridge to act as a single 2GB video card. A fast processor does little good when your screen is taking an unacceptably long time to redraw.
For the average user doing Internet surfing and office applications, built-in video is sufficient.
One item Peter Norton did not mention in those early days but should be added is:
The bus on a computer is the pipe through which data flows. The wider and faster the bus, the better. A super-fast processor is not worth much when coupled with a slow, narrow bus.