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Desktop Computer Buying Guide - by Paul Tansey

64-bit technology isn't entirely new - it has been used for commercial- or industrial-scale server applications for years, but only recently has it made it to the desktop computer. As more and more applications or plug-ins are developed specifically for 64-bit systems, any Athlon 64-equipped desktop user can benefit from greatly improved performance and the ability to handle over 4GB of RAM, while still being able to work seamlessly with older 32-bit software.

RAM and Hard Drives: Memory for Managing Your Data
Once you have your processor figured out, you will want to look at memory.

SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory) and DDR (Double Data Rate) SDRAM are two good options for the active, temporary memory that you use when you are working with your files. SDRAM has been around for a few years, and was the standard for speed until the much faster DDR variant arrived. If budget is an issue, SDRAM is still quite capable, and can keep the cost of your system down.

The most common DDR-SDRAM speed is PC2100 266MHz. If your system uses HT Technology, be sure to look for at least the PC2700 333MHZ DDR. For a system that will work very well today and can continue to do the job in the future, it's a good idea to look for RAM capacity that can grow with you. Always start with more RAM than you think you need, and look for a PC that can accommodate RAM upgrades. This can mean the difference between keeping your system and having to replace it in a couple of years. As a starting point, look for an minimum of 512MB of RAM, though it is not uncommon to see systems with 1GB or more nowadays. Generally speaking, upgrading your RAM is the single most cost-effective way to enhance your system performance.

You have a number of choices available for hard drives as well. Each generation of PC is equipped with hard drives that dwarf those previous generations'. The standard now seems to be in the range of about 80GB (160GB), but 160GB (200GB & 250GB) drives are becoming common. 40GB and 80GB used to be considered a large hard drive, and these are still available and less expensive than the larger ones, but you may find them limiting if you do a lot of video and audio editing, or want to store a large music or photo library.

When choosing a hard drive, you will want to keep an eye on the speed rating if you are a demanding user. Speeds of 5400 RPM are common (available in some) in most desktops, but you may want to go for a 7200 RPM for faster access to files. Again, applications like video editing really shine with speedier hardware like this.