Which processor should you buy in your next PC?

30 03 2007

I have several computers at home. I have a server, two desktops and two laptops. My computers range in age from five years to just over a year old. Not all of the computers are ideal personal use, I’ll explain why.

My server is an old Gateway that I bought about five years ago. I use the server for testing; it features two Pentium III 933 processors, a raid controller with a bunch of drives and a gigabyte of memory. The server is way too slow to use as a desktop but pretty good for testing server products.

The two laptops are my wife’s. She has a two year old Pentium 4 system running at 2.0 GHZ that she uses daily. Her other laptop is an older 1 GHZ or so system that she’s had for years. She keeps it because she has some apps on it that we don’t have the discs for anymore and she may need the data one day.

The two desktops that we have are AMD Athlon 64 based systems. The older of the two is a 3200+ that I’ve had since the Athlon was introduced. It’s a single core system with a gigabyte of ram. This used to be my main workstation until I put together the new system a year ago. I used to think this system was fast but I’ll come back to this story in a minute.

The second of the desktops, my current primary system, is an AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ system. The Athlon 64 X2 is a dual core processor allowing this system to process two commands at a time assuming your software supports multi-threading. Multi-threading allows the program to send commands to multiple processors at the same time to spread the load out and make processing faster.

I’ve been playing games and running my Media Center Edition Windows XP on this system. It’s worked fine but friends of mine have purchased newer systems and the X2 is no longer the fastest system while playing multiplayer games. This hasn’t been a problem but more a niggling bother.

After buying the large screen HDTV I moved my X2 system into the front room to act as a DVR with the MCE software. I reclaimed the old 3200+ Athlon system and began playing games on it again. What a shocker. I don’t remember the 3200+ being slow but then again I wasn’t playing Company of Heroes when I was using that system.

The 3200+ system is so slow that the games would just drag and the game would pause for long periods. The game was actually unplayable. That is when I finally got the parts I needed to be able to play in the front room. I’m now back on the X2.

So, the whole point of this article is which processor should you buy if you’re buying a new system. I think the keys in processor selection are

1) Get a dual core or better system. Single core processors just don’t cut it anymore. Even if your application is not multi-threaded the dual core processors help with multi-tasking and with background services.

2) The processors should be relatively quick, the 3800+ I’m running is ok but I’d rather have the newer 4600+ or 5000+ that AMD has come out with.

3) Get at least 2GB of memory. I didn’t talk much about the need for memory but memory helps processors be more efficient. Not to mention that Vista requires large amounts of memory. If you are going with Vista I’d get four GBs of memory. Two will work but four is much better.

Now I need to go out and build a new system so that I can keep up with my buddies. I’d upgrade my current one but my X2 system is a Socket 939 and AMD is no longer making Socket 939 processors. I’ll need to buy one of the new AMD Socket AM2 motherboards and processors or move over to an Intel system. No matter which I decide to go with I’m going to incur the additional cost of new memory as the newer systems all use DDR2 and my old systems use DDR. Oh well, faster memory helps too.

Intel currently has the better performing CPUs. When Intel came out with the Core2Duo systems they leapfrogged AMD’s Athlon processors for the king of performance title.

Fry’s always has motherboard and CPU combo deals listed in their advertisements. Each week they feature an Intel and an AMD system. I’m not sure which I’ll buy. I’ve heard rumors that there is a big price cut coming for AMD in April, I’ll wait for that before I decide.

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