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Desktop Computer Buying Guide - by Paul Tansey

Ever-advancing desktop computer technologies can leave many of us scratching our heads about which system to buy. Desktop computers have moved well beyond simple systems that help us write letters or manage our households - they can now do almost anything we ask them to, from connecting us to the online world through email, instant messaging, and Web browsers, to unleashing our creativity with video, photo, and audio editing software, and entertaining us by playing movies, TV, and music.

For many users, the decision about what kind of system to buy comes down to how you want it to complement your lifestyle. Whether for business or household management applications and the occasional email, or demanding gaming, video, or audio uses, you will need to decide on processing speed, the amount of memory and hard drive space, sound and video cards, and peripherals like monitors and input devices. A quick look at the various components you will need to consider, along with some recent advancements, will help demystify the key points for choosing your new system.

It All Begins With the Processor
For any computer, its ability will depend on the type and speed of CPU (Central Processing Unit), or processor, you choose. If you are into gaming, or high-quality image or sound editing, you will want to make sure not to cut corners here. Each processor offers unique benefits.

The Intel® Celeron™ is the lowest-cost processor offered by Future Shop, and can be found in many base models. It is well suited to basic computing, basic office productivity software, and most online use. Many modern applications will really test the limits of Celeron-based systems.

The Intel® Pentium® 4 is designed for the demands of such applications, and can handle more data at a higher speed, up to 3GHz and beyond. Processors that offer HT (Hyper-Threading) Technology can handle two data threads simultaneously, which is much better for gaming and the serious number-crunching needed by many multimedia applications.

AMD's Athlon™ XP processor is similar to the Pentium, with nearly the same processing speed under certain conditions. While not an absolute match of the Pentium 4, it is very popular as a less expensive alternative.

Then there's the Athlon™ 64, which has set a new industry standard for desktop computer processors. Building on Athlon XP foundation, it makes use of the AMD64 platform, which includes 64-bit processing and HyperTransport™ technology. This means much faster processing, fewer data bottlenecks, and drastically reduced latency, most noticeable with cinema-quality DVD or other video entertainment, or when using data-intensive applications for music, video, or image editing.