Due to the changing nature of the PC Hardware industry, this guide will be constantly updated to reflect the latest in technology. Links are provided below each topic for a more detailed discussion on that subject you might be more interested in.
For processors, there are two basic choices to make: brand and speed. Intel maintains the current performance lead, but AMD is a good selection for those on a budget or looking to do some overclocking of their computer. Don’t buy top of the line or you pay a price premium. For the Intel CPUs, I would currently recommend a Pentium 4 2.4 GHz processor and an Athlon XP 2400+ for AMD.
RAM is important because if you don’t get enough, your system won’t run optimally. The minimum amount of RAM for today’s systems should be 256MB. 512MB of RAM provides better performance. As for the type of RAM, systems that use PC2700 DDR RAM fall in the best price to performance ratio.
Hard drives boil down to capacity and speed. Most hard drives available now will provide you with more than enough storage. I would recommend a 60 to 80 GB drive as the minimum. If you feel you need more space or the extra space doesn’t cost more, get the upgrade. As for performance, 7200 rpm drives are the best choice currently. If you really want performance, look for drives with 8MB of cache.
Most systems sold contain CD-RW or some version of DVD drive. For gaming systems, you will want a DVD and a possibly a burner. There are 3 speeds listed for each CD-RW drive: recordable speed, rewritable speed, and read speed. Select a drive with at least a 40x record speed, 12x rewritable speed, and a 40x read speed. CD-RW drives should have a minimum 2MB buffer.
Video cards change every 6 months, so selecting the right one is difficult. If you want to have a future capability than select an ATI 9500 or 9700 Pro with 128MB of memory. If don’t have to be on the cutting edge of video technology, then any card based on the NVIDIA GeForce 4 Ti line with 64MB or more of memory is an excellent choice.
Check to see how many and what type of external ports are available on the computer for use with future peripherals. Look for systems that have both USB 2.0 and IEEE 1394 or Firewire ports. It should have at least 4 USB 2.0 connectors and 2 Firewire ports.
What good is a computer without a monitor? Consumers can choose between CRT or LCD monitors. CRTs provide a wide range of capabilities at a good price but are bulky. LCDs take up less desk space but cost more and have limited capabilities. Regardless of the type of monitor, look at getting at least a 17″ monitor capable of displaying a resolution of 1280 by 1024 pixels.