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Misconception: You need to get the latest xxx MHz Powerhouse

by Terry E. Mercer 1997-1999

The latest craze is the high-end CPU just released. Many salespeople are busy telling people that this is what you, the consumer, need to spend your money on.

FALSE! - Unless you have very specific needs - and a lot of money to WASTE!

Fact: A high-end system with awesome components that is two or three steps down from the top (and usually affordable) will out run MOST of the highest end systems on the retail shelves today! All of the real high-end systems I have seen in retail stores (so far):
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have very few drive slots open - usually 2-5.25 and 1 or 2 3.5. Which is extremely limiting for future upgradability. See the Cases section.
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shipped with DVD - which is "cool" but neither standardized or useful at this point. See the DVD section. Furthermore, the DVD (at least in the Compaq's we tested) eliminated any possibility to run SCSI-2 or SCSI-3 devices. Major conflict, "buffer under runs" and intermittent problems. Although DVD drives are getting a whole lot better, problems still exist.
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a couple (not all) of the new high-end CPUs are on motherboards that run at half the speed required to get the true speed out of the CPU - rather than the full speed available on the more expensive boards - which means that a CPU one or two, sometimes three, steps down from the top with the exact same components can easily compete with the high-end systems in speed, due to the bottle neck of the bus speed the high-end systems would experience. Bus speed is THE MOST IMPORTANT factor on the newer, faster CPU's, because a motherboard that is too slow will bottle neck BEFORE the video card. See the Computer Speed Lies in the CPU section.
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have built-in video, which I personally HATE and advise against 99 out of 100 times (workstations and systems for little kids are the only times I would consider a built in video). The built-in varieties generally aren't as fast as many of the third party modular types (Diamond Viper, Diamond FireGL, Matrox Millennium II, ATI RAGE Pro, etc.) See the Video section for more information.
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with Two of the "big name" brands have USB monitors, which currently eliminates the high-end VIDEO Cards and is a brand new type of device that may or may not be standardized. This concerns me. At this point, I would stay away from that, simply because video speed, flexibility, and upgradability is extremely important to me. Besides, USB ports haven't been completely standardized yet.
The latest & fastest CPU on the market has a couple major problems. 1) there usually is NOT a motherboard that can truly handle it available to the public for 3 to 6 months after it's release; and 2) you are usually stuck with a vary limited selection at a very high price.
If you still want the fastest CPU currently available, and have money to waste. You really need to define what you wanting to do with the computer. What software do you currently run, and are planning to run in the future? The video card, type of RAM, and speeds of the other devices are extremely important - even more than the CPU. The only possible exception  I can think of, which could justify the processing speed and EXPENSE of the latest & greatest system right now, is MASSIVE and major "number crunching" - GIS plotting, or massive Scientific calculations, which would benefit from a faster FPU (Math Co-processor).
Note: You can (today) purchase 2 CPUs that are within two or three steps from the top (within $50), and nearly 4 CPUs that are three to four steps from the top for able the same price as just ONE of the high-end CPUs. Pretty wild, huh?!

Note (about computer techs): Any technician worth their salt normally charges $35 to $150 per hour... only the type charges less is either a beginner, a student in high-school or college, someone that has a full-time "good" paying job, or someone that can't get enough business to justify the price. Note: there are a few really good techs that barter, that are trying to get their foot in the door (of a business), and there are those that are independently wealthy (though the later is very few).
Keep in mind that most GOOD technicians LIVE... EAT, DRINK, SLEEP, and BREATH computers... 8, 10, 12, 16, 18 or more hours a day 5 to 7 days a week. Everything else comes second - sometimes even breathing, eating, sleeping, and showering. It is their life, their passion, their hobby, and the way they are trying to make a living. They didn't learn most of what they know in a school (unless it was OIT or MIT or some truly technical institute)... they learned it in the real world by trial an error. Their knowledge comes from experience, books, and "smart friends." The true "nerd" doesn't make their knowledge and experience a complete secret, they trade their knowledge with other "nerds" that have information, tips, tricks, traps, and knowledge they don't. This is the best way one person can cover so many different aspects of such a fast growing industry.

 

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This page was last updated 02 April 2000
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