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High-Tech Specs, Part 1 - Desktop PCs

Computer stores and shopping sites bombard us with details about a device's speed, resolution, format, and other important-sounding information. Much of that data is less important than it may seem. The following are some specifications that are worth paying attention to if youíre in the market for a new desktop PC:

I recently heard from a subscriber who was in a computer store and made a casual comment about wanting to make fast edits to home videos on his computer. In a heartbeat, a salesperson materialized out of nowhere and tried to convince him to purchase a super-expensive, high-end computer, suitable for creating Hollywood productions. Trust me: You donít need a supercomputer for simple video editing. For a system capable of handling most basic tasks, you shouldn't have to spend more than $750 to $1000, but letís take a look at a few components that are worthy of consideration:

CPU - Vendors love to highlight GHz (gigahertz) numbers (processor speeds) because those numbers go up constantly and are sure to look better than what you have on your current system. The fact of the matter is that just about any current PC can handle the basics. Adding processing power simply because itís available, if you really donít need it, is a waste of money. Often the performance gain after a certain point is minimal, anyway. If you'll be working with lots of multimedia files, AMD's Phenom 9600 Quad-Core CPU, for example, goes toe-to-toe in price with Intel's Core 2 Duo 8400 and will provide more than enough horsepower for most computing tasks. Only the most demanding multimedia users need heavy-duty hardware like Intel's quad-core Core 2 Extreme QX9770.

RAM - This quick-and-easy upgrade for your desktop comes with a catch, that being the maximum amount that your operating system can accommodate. Common 32-bit versions of Windows XP and Vista can utilize no more than 4GB of RAM, even if your system has more than that. So unless you're using the 64-bit version of Vista (or 64-bit XP, for that matter), 2GB to 4GB of memory is the right target. I recommend at least 1GB of RAM (memory) for XP. Iím running 2GB of memory in my XP computers; 3 and 4GB in my Vista boxes.

Graphics Board - In bygone days, a high-quality graphics board (often called a ďcardĒ) mattered only to gamers. Today, just about everyone with digital photos, or movies to download, or a TV show to watch wants optimal graphics performance. Even so, premium cards don't offer enough of a boost to justify their high-end pricing unless you are a serious gamer. Instead, look for a PC configured with a decent graphics card, such as nVidia's GeForce 9800 GTX or ATI's Radeon HD 4850. Only hard-core gamers and big-time video editors need to spend $600 on a super-duper graphics card. Most manufacturers and computer builders match an appropriate card with a given system so you wonít even have to think about it unless your graphics needs are greater than the average user.

Expandability - No, Iím not talking about my pants after a big meal, though there is something to be said for that, as well. Expandability within the context of computing refers to a desktop computer that you can upgrade at a later time, without having to rebuild it from scratch. Few retailers provide complete documentation about a system's upgrade options, but don't let that discourage you from asking. Determine how many open PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) slots and available internal and external drive bays the system has. If you think you might need to expand your system at some point -- though most users do not -- it pays to think ahead. Also, look for easy access to FireWire and USB ports, while youíre at it.

Click HERE to read High-Tech Specs, Part 2 - Laptops

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