Convoluted Computer Hardware

Published on February 8, 2006

I have recently been toying with the idea of upgrading my personal computer (although I don’t use it near as much as I used to). I’d like to double my system memory, get a faster processor (a new motherboard as a result), and replace my SATA hard drives (which have been surprisingly disappointing).

The problem is that computer hardware is complicated, and it’s getting more so all the time. I remember spending weeks researching various options for my last major upgrade; and that was well over two years ago! Since that time, processor model numbers have become increasingly complicated and motherboard options seem to have multiplied several times. Adding to my frustration are hardware review sites such as Anandtech and Tom’s Hardware, both of which make the assumption that readers spend each and every day staying up to date with hardware trends. Don’t they realize that there are those of us who look at hardware on an incredibly infrequent basis? Thankfully, Tom’s Hardware has some charts that they keep updated on a semi-regular basis for graphics cards, processors, and hard drives. The benchmarks within them are handy for people like me, who just want to get a feel for where things are.

I am thinking about moving to an AMD processor this time around. I’ve always used Intel Pentium chips, but the AMD solutions seem way more affordable. Can anyone recommend an AMD CPU / motherboard combination that would work well for gaming? It clearly needs to be faster than my current setup (P4 – 2.8GHz), but I don’t want to pay thousands of dollars for it. Why can’t any of this stuff be easy?



Also adding to the problem is that there are people willing to drop obscene amounts of money on hardware. Especially with processor and video cards (HDDs and RAM are comparatively cheap, even in higher-end). You could drop $1400 on a processor, and get a motherboard with SLI (nVidea’s latest thing – two video card slots, so you can connect two SLI-capable graphics cards together) and you can drop another $1600 on two $800 video cards. That’s a $3000 system already!

Having built a new PC recently, I know that the latest and greatest in processors is Dual Core.. two processors on one chip.. but those all seemed to be in the $800+ range. I went with a $200 P4 with hyperthreading (one processor, but looks like two to the OS.. 2-3 year old technology I think). AMD chips are currently more bang for the buck, especially for gaming. Make sure you get a 64-bit processor (I think all the new ones are anyway), they’ll still run 32-bit OS, but in a few years I think 64-bit will be standard (I plan on installing 64-bit Vista, but I’ve been warned not to use 64-bit XP b/c there aren’t many drivers yet).

Anyway, I totally agree, the hardware industry is catering to the ‘hardcore’, alienating people who know enough to build their own pc, but don’t want to take out a loan to do so, and don’t feel like buying a Dell or Gateway or something.

This is also the reason why I play console games instead of PC games (except for simlation-type games like SimCity and Roller Coaster Tycoon). I can’t stand having to tweak my settings so that they look just right on my particular hardware, especially in FPS’s where there are usually like five screens of graphics options. With a console game, generally I only have to worry about stereo vs. mono sound and making sure it runs in HD. But then again, I think the hardcore people enjoy spending hours/days testing the settings and overclocking their GPU and CPU as much as possible. I have better things to do.

Great points, Kip. The options are just incredible for motherboards. My GeForce 6800 GT works great in all the games I have, so I’m not looking at SLI (I may do that kind of thing when PCI-E support improves).

I have seen that the 64-bit AMD processors are apparently top of the line in lots of today’s games (according to Tom’s CPU Charts), but their product numbers are so cryptic. The following law used to hold:

Higher clock rate = faster processor

But that’s not the case any more. The amount (and types) of cache on the chip, the front side bus speed, and other parameters are all involved now.

I’m doing my best to start with the processor. Once I get that down, I’ll select a compatible motherboard (that supports my memory requirement), and then get the proper memory. I just hate having to work for it.

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