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Making Sense of CPU and GPU Model Numbers?

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the drowning-in-a-sea-of-specs dept.

AMD 555

b4dc0d3r writes "How do you make sense of the various model numbers or naming schemes for CPUs, graphics cards, and the related chipsets? All I want is something that will run Oblivion and output full 1080 video to a TV. Last time I built my own computer I just went to Pricewatch, made a few easy choices, and everything came to my door. Do I really have to research the differences among Core i5, Core 2 Duo, Pentium 4, Pentium D, Sempron, Athlon, Phenom ...? And that's just the processor. Is there a reference somewhere? In short, how do you buy a computer these days?"

cancel ×

555 comments

It has got silly (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411464)

Only the "IT" nerds who weren't clever enough to understand computer science and instead invested all of their energy into the learning and buying of computer hardware know what any of these things are, and god forbid having to ask any of those DICKS a question.

Re:It has got silly (3, Insightful)

c0mpliant (1516433) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411894)

It's so nice to see that snobbery is alive and well in the nerd world

Set a budget (4, Insightful)

bre_dnd (686663) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411466)

Anything moderately current will do anything you want. It doesn't really matter what you choose. So set yourself a budget and buy something that fits within that. It will probably do fine.

Re:Set a budget (4, Interesting)

ThePhilips (752041) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411686)

I second.

Heck, one can get decent GPU for $100-150, meaning that by going cheaper with the rest of components, one can also get himself a decent gaming machine for about $400-600.

Now I can't even name a single PC component which is a must have and can't be found new for less than $100.

Operating system (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411866)

Now I can't even name a single PC component which is a must have and can't be found new for less than $100.

How about a Windows license so that apps and games that don't work in Wine still work?

Re:Set a budget (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411728)

yeah, apart from the weird names, the prices are fairly representative of their performance by themselves, so follow the price to sort them out - remember that even if those are correlated there is not a linear correlation as you can see in this graph:

http://backoffice.ajb.com.au//images/news/cpu-table-2010.jpg

if you know you want a feature for sure (dx11 for gpu, or vt for cpu, or anything) just filter parts by that feature and you still have their performance stated not only by names but mostly by prices

Re:Set a budget (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411772)

Why even bother giving advice if you don't want to give any?

He wants to get the best bang for his buck, and some idea of how to compare products. Even if he can waste money slopping together something and accomplish his objective (and no, you're wrong, he can't get a high framerate at high res with full effects just picking anything these days with Oblivion), doesn't mean that's OK.

the hierarchy is ridiculous these days. Newegg or amazon or whoever could really fill the niche by expertly picking whatever setups best meet various price points. They could include benchmarks with modern games, too.

It can be confusing... (1, Informative)

JordanL (886154) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411490)

Especially since the series numbers don't track perfectly with performance.

For instance the Core i7-870 has better performance than the Core i7-920, but the 920 uses a socket type that will be future compatible with Intel's next set of chips.

As for the video card... get a Raedeon 4790. It's about 90% of the 5850 for $200.

Also, don't forget: Lynnfield core Intel's are dual-channel for RAM and Bloomfields are tri-channel.

At the moment, because of pricepoint and such, there's no reason to get any AMD proc. A Core i5-750 is better processor for the money than any AMD proc, and if you need the extra performance of a high end AMD, a Core i7-860 is pretty much the best value proc on the market today.

Re:It can be confusing... (1)

JordanL (886154) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411516)

If you're interested, I have a Google Wave where I'm building my new PC. I can add you so that you can see my research, just send me an email.

Re:It can be confusing... (4, Insightful)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411528)

Clear as mud. Thanks for your help!

Re:It can be confusing... (5, Insightful)

SQL Error (16383) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411566)

At the moment, because of pricepoint and such, there's no reason to get any AMD proc. A Core i5-750 is better processor for the money than any AMD proc

A Core i5 750 costs more than any current AMD desktop processor, so that makes no sense. I can get a quad-core Athlon II for half the price of an i5 750. Sure, it's slower, but it's not slow. Also, it drops straight into my old AM2 motherboard (with a quick BIOS upgrade). Try doing that with Intel.

Re:It can be confusing... (-1, Troll)

JordanL (886154) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411574)

The Core i5-750 is only $200. If you're not willing to spend $200 on your CPU, you have no business building a PC instead of buying one.

Re:It can be confusing... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411610)

I disagree. For myself, building my own PC is a way of keeping costs down, primarily by eliminating components I don't need. At one point in the past, I looked at my OTC tower and wondered how much money I wasted by buying an optical drive I literally NEVER used, by buying hard drive space I will never fill. Now, I can put that money into other things. I am on /., so it will still be on the PC, but on enhanced specifications for the components that I do use instead of ones that I don't.

Re:It can be confusing... (4, Insightful)

mcvos (645701) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411642)

The Core i5-750 is only $200. If you're not willing to spend $200 on your CPU, you have no business building a PC instead of buying one.

$200 is too much for a CPU. Unless you're eager to waste money to get more power than you can possibly use, $100 gets you everything you need.

Re:It can be confusing... (3, Insightful)

JordanL (886154) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411656)

Perhaps. To each his own. I'm leaning towards a Core i7-860 myself, because it performs about 90% as well as the $1000 Intel procs for only $280, and I plan on only upgrading my computer every 5-6 years... that is, I'm replacing a 6 year old computer now, that's been more than adequate because I put in just an extra $100 when I bought it, and it has been a net saver of money.

Re:It can be confusing... (4, Informative)

Ecuador (740021) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411664)

Wow, what nonsense!
I personally build almost all my family's and my company's PC's, from simple $300 desktops to $5000 servers and the only cases where I have bought pre-built (hence the "almost all") were towards the latter ($5k) category. I find it much more important to built a cheap pc yourself, because you control exactly where the limited budget goes and you end up with a much better pc for your intended use for the money.

Building your own laptop (-1, Troll)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411882)

I personally build almost all my family's and my company's PC's, from simple $300 desktops to $5000 servers and the only cases where I have bought pre-built (hence the "almost all") were towards the latter ($5k) category.

Including some $5k laptops? Or what do you recommend for building your own laptop?

Re:It can be confusing... (5, Insightful)

ThePhilips (752041) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411830)

The Core i5-750 is only $200. If you're not willing to spend $200 on your CPU, you have no business building a PC instead of buying one.

B.S.

What the point of wasting $200 on CPU when you can get for >$100 a CPU which performs in real world >5-10% slower?? And most applications (even games) are pretty happy even with half/quarter of the performance???

I'm not per se against the Intel CPUs. Some of their CPUs are cheaper and faster than the AMD ones. But for whatever reason, at least in Europe, the MBs for Intel CPUs are on average 10-25% more expensive than those for AMD CPUs. And upgrade-ability of the AMD systems is magnitudes better: one can get cheap CPU today and upgrade it few years later.

Re:It can be confusing... (0)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411638)

The Core i5 is also faster than any current AMD desktop processor, so it makes a lot of sense.

Re:It can be confusing... (2, Interesting)

Ecuador (740021) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411632)

Radeon 4790? Where do you suggest he finds that?
I assume you mean Radeon 4890, which is at around $200 although at limited availability.
Still, I would suggest he gets the cheaper but more future-proof Radeon 5770. He might want to run DX11 in the future, or eyefinity.
Actually, if he really means Oblivion-level games only, and does not expect to start playing any newer stuff, even the 5770 is overkill and he should go for the $80 Radeon 5670 I see on NewEgg right now, or lower still...
Next on, your answer suggest that you don't consider sub-$200 processors as a valid market. Sorry to have to wake you up, but for most people (e.g. those wanting to run Oblivion and output to 1080p) an Athlon II X3 or X4 at under $100 is more than enough. In fact, the entire pc that fits OP's description should cost around $300-.

Re:It can be confusing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411720)

As for the video card... get a Raedeon 4790. It's about 90% of the 5850 for $200.
 

If I can get a 5850 for $210 I get the 5850 thx.

Think about the motherboard (5, Insightful)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411836)

AMD capable motherboards tend to be a lot cheaper, that can easily save you enough money on a highly capable gaming system to replace the HD with an SSD, and that will have far more influence on game performance then the Intel chip will. In gaming, AMD performs a lot better. Always make sure to read the entire review of a CPU for the stats that are relevant to you. For instance, if you once in a blue moon use Office and never use a database on your PC, what do you care about how fast/slow your CPU is at them?

window.openDatabase() (-1, Troll)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411890)

For instance, if you once in a blue moon use Office and never use a database on your PC

If you use Firefox, you use a database [mozilla.org] . If you use HTML5 web applications, you use a database [w3.org] .

what do you care about how fast/slow your CPU is at them?

If you play high-definition video on YouTube, you exercise a CPU.

Re:It can be confusing... (1, Informative)

Verunks (1000826) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411842)

As for the video card... get a Raedeon 4790. It's about 90% of the 5850 for $200.

never ever buy an ati card, they may look more powerful and cheaper than nvidia but their drivers suck, looks at tweakguides.com there is an "ati hotfix" almost every week or look at the ea/ubisoft/steam/whatever forums, there are always threads like "black screen with ati xxxx", "texture glitches with ati" etc..

Re:It can be confusing... (3, Interesting)

Coopjust (872796) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411912)

I had issues back on XP, but on Vista/7, the opposite seems to be true- NVIDIA has the buggy drivers.

As part of some Vista capable lawsuit a while back, it was found that NVIDIA drivers caused the most BSODs. Even if you scaled ATI's marketshare at the time (I forget the month, but I looked it up- the Steam Hardware survey is as reasonable of a guess as you're going to get) to make the crash percentages ceteris paribus, NVIDIA drivers still crashed on Vista 50% more.

On Windows 7, I haven't had any driver related issues...

Re:It can be confusing... (1)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411924)

I can attest to this. I ran NVidia cards for years and they ran every game I threw at them, if not always perfectly. Then I switched to an ATI 48xx and I can't run literally half the games I buy. I bought Red Faction: Guerrilla and have to wait until I buy a new video card, because it simply won't work. Sure, if I wait half an hour for the intro videos to play, I might be able to smack rocks with a crowbar for about 5 seconds before it crashes without even an error message, but that's not exactly ideal.

So, ya, correlation? Causation? Who knows. NVidia sucks [google.com] to ATI sucks [google.com] is pretty even.

Its extremely simple (4, Insightful)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411494)

Even if you know nothing about computers you go look at benchmarks at anandtech and find the one with the biggest bar on the graph that you can reasonably afford.

Re:Its extremely simple (1)

Zsub (1365549) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411506)

Even if you know nothing about computers you go look at benchmarks at anandtech and find the one with the biggest bar on the graph that you can reasonably afford.

QFT

Re:Its extremely simple (2, Insightful)

ZigiSamblak (745960) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411588)

Indeed, just like when you buy a car, or anything else where there are choices to be made the less you know the easier it is. You can just walk into a shop and ask them for a PC that's fast like you can ask for a car that's fast or a TV that's big. The more informed choices you want to make about the product you are buying the more research you will have to do in the specifications of the different options and the pro's and con's of each of those choices.

The problem is humans are not good at coping with decissions that involve more than three different factors. So in the end the best is to boil it down to the three things that are most important to you and rate the choices on those items. Or you can just ask for a fast one.

Re:Its extremely simple (4, Interesting)

mcvos (645701) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411668)

The problem is humans are not good at coping with decissions that involve more than three different factors. So in the end the best is to boil it down to the three things that are most important to you and rate the choices on those items. Or you can just ask for a fast one.

This is very true. First think about what's really important to you. Is it excessive amounts of raw power? Is it cost? Is it noise? (It was for me.) Is it low power usage? How important is compatibility with future components really? (Most likely you'll just buy a completely new PC again, right?)

What are you going to use it for? Web + mail? Programming? Some gaming? Heavy, state-of-the-art 3D gaming?

Most likely, you'll want a healthy balance of these things. People who assemble PCs for a living will probably know what you want, because they've sold the same PC to thousands of others already. If you have unusual wishes (noise is too often ignored IMO), then it's wise to do some research into that specific area.

Re:Its extremely simple (1)

wmelnick (411371) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411850)

Read the OP - he wants a machine that will play Oblivion and output 1080p HDMI to a TV set. That sounds like mostly GPU-heavy specs to me.

Re:Its extremely simple (5, Insightful)

grumbel (592662) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411596)

The problem is that this doesn't work when you want to find out if it is worth to upgrade or not, as benchmarks always only compare the newest stuff against the other newest stuff, not against your years old hardware at home. Even worse is the special OEM hardware that you sometimes get (Geforce 7600LE for example), as that doesn't show up in benchmarks at all. And on top of that there are of course also compatibility issues, like will this graphics card work with my old power supply and such.

Long story short: I have basically given, its to much trouble to search for updates, so instead I just run what I have till it breaks.

Re:Its extremely simple (1)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411714)

If your stuff is that old then it's usually pointless to compare it to new stuff because they wouldn't even be meaningfully graphable at the same scales.

Re:Its extremely simple (1)

zlel (736107) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411822)

if performance is the issue and your current machine is at least 4 years old, then the odds are you have to be pretty lucky to buy something that is less powerful than your current machine?

GMA: Graphics My @$$ (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411898)

if performance is the issue and your current machine is at least 4 years old, then the odds are you have to be pretty lucky to buy something that is less powerful than your current machine?

I thought a 4-year-old Radeon outperformed an Intel GMA.

how do you buy a computer these days? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411496)

Find a (good) custom only computer store - look at their current gamer models, buy the intel version (amd if your cheap).

Re:how do you buy a computer these days? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411624)

You mean, AMD if you want something that works well.

Buy a Mac (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411500)

That way it does not matter, as there is hardly any choice when it comes to componants

Re:Buy a Mac (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411578)

Since he wants to play Oblivion, he's after a gaming system, not something to advertise himself to male sexual partners.

Buy Apple (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411504)

This will make your choice much easier.

Online benchmarks (3, Informative)

crazedmaniac (647278) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411508)

I usually have to spend some time on Tom's Hardware: http://www.tomshardware.com/ [tomshardware.com] That allows me to work out what I want, then I do a price comparison to find out what I can afford. It's a nuisance, and most computers nowadays don't come with a decent graphics card, so if you're a gamer, that takes even longer to research.

graphics cards aren't that difficult (1)

freaker_TuC (7632) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411580)

A decent graphics card costs about 70-140$ having dual DVI. Models follow up; mostly even with backwards-compatibility.

Just select one of the latest high-end (known brands like Radion) graphics adapters and you'll be set for the next few years.

Ars technica (5, Informative)

mailuefterl (140499) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411510)

Try the Ars technica system guide:
http://arstechnica.com/hardware/guides/2009/10/ars-system-guide-october-2009-edition.ars

Anonymous (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411512)

Oblivion is four years old. 1080p is not demanding for any computer.

Buy anything.

Re:Anonymous (4, Informative)

sammyF70 (1154563) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411606)

Actually, if you want to run Oblivion with the "must-have" mods (Better Cities, OOO or whichever leveling mod you prefer, some better texture pack), you'll still need a relatively well configured system. The game might be 4 years old, but it can still be very demanding (and IMO still looks and plays great, once mod'ed correctly)

I grew up (-1, Troll)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411518)

I grew up and just started going to this website [apple.com] and bought what seemed about right. Too busy with women, my kid, motorcycle, and work to worry about all that crap any longer.

Re:I grew up (-1, Offtopic)

mo^ (150717) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411598)

You're a regular fuckin Fonzie, take a prize, go on, your ego needs it.

Oblivion in HD on the TV? (1, Informative)

rockclimber (660746) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411526)

if thats all you want, go for:

PS3 [playstation.com]
or
Xbox360 [xbox.com]

Re:Oblivion in HD on the TV? (2, Interesting)

Tapewolf (1639955) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411570)

True, but it's going to be fun if he wants to run the Natural Wildlife mod so the wolves and rats don't all have rabies, or if he wants to add wings to his character or make the levelling system not broken or something. It's not necessarily my opinion, but people do say that Bethesda release the games, and then the mod community makes them playable.

I guess too much "in short", but still... (1)

suffix tree monkey (1430749) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411530)

In short, I'm waiting for Core i7 prices to drop. The reason is, I always like to have my computer extensible in the future, and that's hard when the socket is at the end of the line. Core 2 is probably one of those, and of i5 and i7 socket confusion, my potential money is on i7's LGA 1366. But the current models are far too expensive here (central Europe).

To answer the main question, my computer-buying habits haven't changed, I usually run a DFS from Wikipedia to find information on hardware I'd like to purchase and to compare prices I use my local meta-stores (which are of no use to you, as we live in a different country, most likely).

older sites (0, Offtopic)

Polo (30659) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411540)

Sharky Extreme makes good system recommendations:

http://www.sharkyextreme.com/ [sharkyextreme.com]

The PC Parts picking guide has excellent price/performance explanations... But they haven't updated things in a while (a real shame).

http://shsc.info/PCPartsPickingGuide [shsc.info]

(note: I haven't built a system in a while)

Two comprehensive lists (5, Informative)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411542)

Check out http://www.cpubenchmark.net/ [cpubenchmark.net] and http://www.videocardbenchmark.net/ [videocardbenchmark.net] With a pinch of salt you can make a relevant decision based on those two, even if Googling around would make your decision even better. .

Steps... (1, Insightful)

cbope (130292) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411548)

1. Set a budget.

2. Define the expected result. E.g. you want to run Oblivion at minimum 30fps with all details maxed out at 1920x1080.

3. Research what components will achieve the expected result.

If you don't want to do the research, then scratch all of the above and spend a ton of money to be sure it will be fast enough for your purposes.

This has not changed much in the 25+ years I've been working with computers. And it's not likely to change, computers are general purpose tools. You need to know what you will use it for and determine the performance required. Based on this you will know what components you need. This is not rocket science, but a little effort will let you save some money while getting the performance you need.

Or just go buy a console. Seriously, why is this posted on slashdot?

Re:Steps... (5, Insightful)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411902)

Perhaps the point of his question to slashdot....you know, a technical news/information site, with a technically savvy audience...is to get an answer, not to get excoriated for having the question?

You know, your point "3. Research what components will achieve the expected result."

I think his question is valid - it used to be a fairly simple task to equate processor speed with power, to come up with a reasonable expectation of performance for a task. But to everyone (except, apparently, you), it perhaps isn't intuitive that a quad core at a lower speed will or won't perform better than a duo core at a higher speed. (Answer: sometimes it will perform better, sometimes it won't. How is he supposed to know, oh swami of computer tech?)

So you could offer actual advice or click through to the next news article, instead of bitching that someone asked a very valid question.

Quite Easy (1)

freaker_TuC (7632) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411554)

It's quite easy, select your brand (intel/AMD or different) and choose according how hard you'll need your raw cpupower. Don't take your selection lightly; because you'll have a second vacuum cleaner in the house (core 2 duo vs dual core). Gamer machines/video and audio production stations need more raw cpupower than a PC being used for wordprocessing and Internet.

Most CPU models are categorized by date of production. The best advice I can give you when buying a system is to not buy the newest technology for various reasons:

  1. Driver support is mostly flacky/buggy for newest technologies
  2. Often revisions come out (v2, v3) from the same mainboard
  3. Newest technology costs (lots) more money. In the past 33mhz could make a double difference in your wallet.
  4. Same with storage and memory; cutting edge technology costs more; it's mostly cheaper to select 2x2gig instead of 1x4gig of ram.

Maybe a better criteria: first select your mainboard closest to which you want and afterwards choose the cpu fitting on your mobo. Look around for a few suppliers to compare because the same hardware is available in many prices. OEM costs less; although could mean degredation in quality too with some brands. If you really want A-quality material; you'll pay a bit more but it'll last longer too.

Always a good advice to search your dream-machine first on the Internet for reviews; especially the bad ones where people are having trouble installing software because of driver/hardware conflicts. Research in advance to avoid problems afterwards and don't be tempted too much with promotions; mostly containing selections of materials to stay within a profitable budget....

Re:Quite Easy (1)

mcvos (645701) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411726)

It's quite easy, select your brand (intel/AMD or different) and choose according how hard you'll need your raw cpupower. Don't take your selection lightly; because you'll have a second vacuum cleaner in the house (core 2 duo vs dual core). Gamer machines/video and audio production stations need more raw cpupower than a PC being used for wordprocessing and Internet.

True, but at the same time, word processing and internet requires very little power nowadays. PCs could do that 15 years ago. Your phone has enough power to do all of that (it just lacks a decent interface). Heavy 3D gaming requires a lot more power, but still nowhere near as much as some people would make you believe. A single $100-$150 graphics card and a regular above-average dual core CPU is probably more than enough for most games.

People also tell a lot of bullshit about the power requirements for PCs. Those 800W power supplies are only for people who have 4 power guzzling graphics cards in their PC. Most PCs rarely use more than 200W. I'm using a 380W power supply, and it's more than enough. I can easily do heavy 3D gaming without hiccups while having 50 websites open in a browser.

possibly the biggest kdawson fail yet (0)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411558)

there is about 1000000 websites out there that will answer this better then /.

techreport System Guide (5, Informative)

mo^ (150717) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411564)

I usually find the advice from tech report's periodical System Guide to be very useful and relevant.

Their latest report [techreport.com] came out a couple of weeks ago. They focus on a range of options at various price points and requirements.

sorry to attempt to answer your question and not shill Apple.

Don't buy a Mac (1, Interesting)

gtarget (1360439) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411582)

I would not recommend buying a Mac - I bought one because that is the only way to develop for the iPhone/iPod Touch (still haven't gotten around too it). It is true Mac offers little options. Some Mac junkies like to argue that you get the best technology, and you get what you paid for - however, since you are on slashdot, chances are you will not like the 'dumbed-down' approach Mac OS X takes. As with desktops, the only upgrade path is buy a new Mac (unless you have a Mac Pro), limiting your opportunities to add a new video card, or maybe an additional hard drive, etc.

As for the original question, I use Newegg and tomshardware.com for all of my info, with the occasional google usage. I start with a motherboard I want, (taking note of northbridge), and look it up. I always pick Intel, they are much better bang for the buck than AMD atm. Processor wise - last time I made a computer it was all Core 2 Duo, with the option for extreme or not - much easier. But now you have i3, i5, i7 which are the lastest generation, on a LGA 1366 I believe, the i3 is the lowest tier, and i7 the hardcore enthusiast/gamer/video editor tier. I don't know anything about the models, just look for cache size and speed, those are the main specs for a processor. For the video card, I go with Nvidia because its much more compatible with linux (and FreeBSD) if you like to use their binaries vs. open source drivers. They recently changed how they do they naming, the lower 200 series, I believe are re-casts of the some of the 9xxx series.

Re:Don't buy a Mac (2, Insightful)

Malc (1751) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411722)

You haven't heard of http://www.ifixit.com/ [ifixit.com] , eh?

I haven't built a PC in 10 years. I probably won't ever again. Too much effort; too expensive due to getting sucked in to going for higher-end components; too much effort with unreliability; too expensive to buy an OS (no, I don't want to us Linux any more either); and for games, a dedicated console is a better choice.

I'm quite happy to buy a mid-range Dell if I'm worrying about price... at least everything has been tested, and it's one place to go if something fails. If price isn't an option, or I want something that just works really well, then it's a Mac all the way thanks. I don't have the time to spend pissing around doing the research, then keeping on top of drivers, or fiddling with configuring the OS. Give me something that works out of the box thanks.

Re:Don't buy a Mac (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411780)

... or just buy a dell.
I'm still using my "outdated" XPS m1530 and it works just fine. Also got a refurb inspiron 545 with a q9400, 8GB of RAM in it for around $350 at Costco... granted still needs/needed a better video card for games and the like, not the biggest and the best, but for the price... :)

No mods on consoles (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411926)

for games, a dedicated console is a better choice.

A console like a PS3 or Wii isn't the best choice if you like to play mods [wikipedia.org] , or if you like to play video games developed by microISVs [wikipedia.org] that are too small to have a "secure business office" [warioworld.com] .

Re:Don't buy a Mac (1)

gtarget (1360439) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411938)

I agree with you on Dells, I had a Dell laptop, and it was, and still is an awesome piece of hardware. I had a hard drive go bad, and Dell promptly sent me a new one. They are made for everyday users - tough, cheap, and good middle-of-the-line components.

Buy a new Mac every 3 years (2, Insightful)

gig (78408) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411590)

> how do you buy a computer these days?

Every 3 years, just before the warranty expires, I sell my current Mac, get half of what I paid for it (outrageous resale value!) and then I buy the updated version of that same Mac at the Apple Store. 3 years later I do that again. They're always smaller and faster and more rugged.

I know Macs have model numbers and I know they have CPU's which also have model numbers. I don't know any of those numbers.

The numbers I am concerned with all have to do with my work, which is music and art. I'm really happy to leave the I-T numbers to Apple.

Re:Buy a new Mac every 3 years (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411806)

I know Macs have model numbers and I know they have CPU's which also have model numbers. I don't know any of those numbers.

"Mine's 'Grape'!" [penny-arcade.com]

Re:Buy a new Mac every 3 years (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411816)

You were so anxious to blather about your macboyism that you missed the most important part of the question. He has specific requirements: "run Oblivion and output full 1080 video to a TV". your mindless consumer habit fails to take into account that some people actually do care whether or not a computer can do certain things, not just that they have purchased a new mac on schedule like a good and proper little apple boy.

For whoever tagged this "notanerd"/"doesntbelong" (5, Insightful)

kieran (20691) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411594)

Remember that this shit completely changes every few years. I used to build PCs for myself and my school as a kid (386/486), then couldn't affort to for a few years, then had to start reading PC magazines when it finally came time to afford a new PC (Pentium 2/AMD equiv). Fast-forward a few years to my next major upgrade, and I'm reading Wikipedia instead of the mags, but I'm still pig-ignorant of the latest tech until I've figured out whether AGP is still current (nope) and which of DDR2/3 will be needed, how many cores are worthwhile, etc etc etc.

Maybe it's easier for those who do hardware support or deal with servers (I mostly deal with routers/switches/firewalls), but I get completely left behind if I ignore the PC components market for more than a few months.

Re:For whoever tagged this "notanerd"/"doesntbelon (1)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411702)

besides, it's rude not to help a fellow time traveler nerd who just emerged from the Past and looks to establish a small base in our times.

Re:For whoever tagged this "notanerd"/"doesntbelon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411738)

Same here, it is absolutely awful that we let them get away with all these horrible naming schemes that show no logical order.
Worse still when Requirements listings for software is so incredibly vague that you have no idea what cards to even search for!

I'm just glad there are a few of those people on Wikipedia who spend the time to compile the lists of the latest cards and hardware.

This is one of the reasons that people are so befuddled with PCs, especially when it comes to gaming.
Most people don't have the patience (or time) to waste searching through lists, installing programs to find out what hardware they have, or even know how to go about that.
I can't count how many people have been pissed off because their laptops can't play Game X, then stand there in absolute confusion when some guy at a PC store is talking about graphics cards.
This is the level of intelligence that hardware vendors SHOULD be targeting, but they never learn, do they?

Re:For whoever tagged this "notanerd"/"doesntbelon (4, Informative)

Tapewolf (1639955) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411742)

This. Also, during the 1990s computer performance increased dramatically, as in it went from 10MHz to 1000MHz. Since then things have sort of reached a level of "good enough". For instance, I kept my motherboard and processor the same from 2002-2007, simply because it was still able to run most current software just fine. The only things which really prompted an upgrade were Oblivion and a desire to play with a 64-bit OS.
And as the parent says, that was a long enough wait to have lost touch with motherboard, memory and graphics card technology.

Your geek-card... (1)

Apotekaren (904220) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411600)

...hand it in, please. Come on now, don't fight it.

What about CPU Coolers? (1)

Tromad (1741656) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411618)

Since we're already on such a weird request for slashdot, does anyone have any recommendations for a silent but effective CPU cooler, preferably under $70? I have a stock core 2 duo which is really loud, and I've tried checking newegg but the noise information they give is vague and the type varies between manufacturers.

Just buy a complete machine (4, Informative)

mcvos (645701) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411630)

Just find a reputable computer seller and order a machine that fits your budget. It'll probably run whatever you need it to run. If Oblivion is the heaviest game you're going to run, you can be done for about $500 probably.

If you don't want the same boring standard machine that everybody else has, then you'll have to do some research. I did that 2 years ago. My main resource was Silent PC Review [silentpcreview.com] because I was tired of my old jet-engine-soundalike. AnandTech [anandtech.com] is also a good source, as is Tweakers [tweakers.net] , if you happen to be Dutch. Lots of articles on those sites will refer to Tom's Hardware, which does benchmark graphs, but really, just get what everybody's recommending.

Two years ago, I went with:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 (brand new at the time, very fast, very low power usage, therefore little heat) with a passive Scythe Ninja cooler,
  • ATI HD3850 (new, powerful, not overly expensive, good for all games expect Crysis, low power usage when not doing 3D stuff) from Peak (cheaper than other HD3850s because they had a badly fitted cooler which I was going to replace anyway) with passive Accelero S1 cooler (very effective passive cooler, and very cheap).
  • Seasonic S12II-380 power supply (SeaSonic has the quietest PSUs, and 380 W is more than enough for a modern PC that doesn't try to waste as much power as possible),
  • Antec Solo case (Antec makes the quietest cases, but stay away from their power supplies)
  • Some new Samsung harddisk that everybody else was using too.
  • Some Gigabyte motherboard with P35 chipset, which was what you needed two years ago

All of this cost me about EUR 1000. Very happy with it. Dead quiet, too. Mind you, this is from 2 years ago. There's probably better, cheaper, quieter, faster stuff around now, but I'm not keeping up.

As for the dual core/quad core stuff: how many heavy CPU-using applications will you be running at the same time? Will your heaviest applications be able to make efficient use of multiple cores? If you don't know, go with dual core. One for the main app, one for everything else. No need to have to extra cores that are only idling all the time.

Virtualization (5, Interesting)

seifried (12921) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411636)

Another reason to choose AMD over Intel, Intel has some CPUs that support the new virtualization extensions and some that don't. AMD OTOH supports the virtualization extensions across the line. That and AMD quad cores are stupid cheap now. Unless you have a really pressing need for a really high end CPU get the AMD.

Try a few benchmark sites... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411646)

Personally, I'm a fan of www.bluewaffle.net, but other suggestions such as www.sharkyextreme.com and www.tomshardware.com are good.

Hardware virtualization (5, Informative)

thue (121682) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411648)

Make sure that the CPU you buy supports hardware virtualization [wikipedia.org] , for running virtual machines. Every computer enthusiast should want to run virtual machines!

I think all current AMD CPUs support hardware virtualization. But Intel in their infinite market segmentation wisdom has decided to randomly disable hardware virtualization on various CPUs in their lineup, so look before you buy. The funny thing is that very few computer salesmen know for which CPUs hardware virtualization is enabled, so the only result of Intel's market segmentation is confusion and dissatisfied customers.

Re:Hardware virtualization (5, Informative)

cbope (130292) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411688)

Actually, Intel has gone and done something even more stupid than that: They even disable the virtualization extensions within processors of the same model number! Within a model, there may be multiple sspec numbers. Some sspecs may support virtualization and some may not. I don't have a specific example at hand, but I have seen it when using the Intel sspec finder tool on their website.

So you not only need to understand which models "may" support virtualization, you also have to qualify it with looking up the model's sspec. Utter stupidity on the part of Intel for that.

Re:Hardware virtualization (2, Informative)

tresho (1000127) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411800)

The funny thing is that very few computer salesmen know for which CPUs hardware virtualization is enabled, so the only result of Intel's market segmentation is confusion and dissatisfied customers. --- CPUs are not the only factor limiting virtualization. You have to factor in the motherboard, BIOS, graphics, and RAM. Intel offers a utility you can run that will tell you whether or not your system permits virtualization, but it is misleading. If you put an Intel CPU on a motherboard whose chipset blocks virtualization, the utility tells you the CPU is incapable of virtualization, even though it actually is, while it will not tell you that the chipset is the limiting factor. Motherboard manufacturers may capriciously block virtualization at the BIOS level and months later release BIOS versions which allow it. --- Computer salesmen are not the only ones ignorant of which components permit virtualization and which don't. Just go to Newegg or TigerDirect and search for, say, a laptop or a motherboard that will run virtualization under Win7. The information is never provided. I sent an email to Newegg 3 weeks ago asking for this information and have yet to receive a reply. Generally speaking, computer and motherboard manufacturers act as if they don't know and don't care which of their machines/motherboards permit virtualization and which don't. Various forums & boards on the internet which discuss virtualization from a user's point of view often neglect to give the specifics of successful virtualization.

how do you buy a computer!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411690)

well, do as everyone does:
1) ask the tech guy (member of the family, friend ... any relative actually, if you saw him once it's still okay to ask) for a custom build in a very tight price range
2) go to any supermarket and buy the first computer you find attractive
3) complain to the tech guy that computer never works properly and that comp science is bullsh!t

ark.intel.com (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411698)

For intel, I don't think you can beat ark.intel.com for plain info.

How to buy a computer today. (0, Redundant)

3seas (184403) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411700)

Use a credit card.

How to chose a computer is a different question.

All new systems have all there bugs yet to be discovered.
But an older system for which you can search the internet for finding out any issues it may have, is the trade of of getting nearer to obsolete status.

For basic computing including internet usage, there are plenty of older systems, often free if you just look for toss outs. But then that is not buying and does noty qualify for a response to the question.

After a very long time (near twenty years) of using nothing but toss outs, I bought a new laptop. I knew what in needed it to do and i have found out it doesn't do it as well as I'd have expected of it. I suspect buying a not so old desktop refurb might have produced better results in some applications.

ultimately it comes down to a bit of a gamble regarding the buying of a new systems, no matter how much you research.

I recommend Cpubenchmark.net (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411706)

This has a pretty good ranking of most cpus and gpus available. I recommend it http://www.cpubenchmark.net/

There's no substitute for research (1)

SamuelRobinson (323138) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411718)

Personally, I'm in the process of building yet another system for myself. You've done part of the research already if you know what uses you intend to put the system to. In some ways it's getting easier as the general power level of most boxes will do most tasks well. I could load you down with the results of my research, but generally that's not particularly helpful unless you need the same sort of box I do.

Some general observations. You don't need a particularly hot machine for what you're talking about. Any reasonably competent motherboard, processor and ram combination should work for you. I'd go with a highish end graphics card since you game even though Oblivion series doesn't require a frame monster. I'd pay attention to what's on the board and make sure it has the right peripherals. I actually need a serial port, do you? The various system guides (I tend to use Ars Technica's system guide) are a good place to evaluate components. I build my boxes to last about three years and often get about five, but I tend to go as close to the bleeding edge as I can. I've had a couple of cases where this has caused problems. There are a number of boards with integrated everything that just need a hard drive, dvd/cd, ram and CPU to get off of the ground. I've built several of these and they work fine for the sort of thing you're doing. I'd probably upgrade the video if I played a lot of games on them, but so far it's not been needed. Since you're thinking about movies I will mention that I've found fan noise really annoying, and you probably want an enclosure that manages cooling well without a bunch of fans (no overclocking...)

Walking into a resonably competent store and buying something in the top third of their system offerings will also get you something decent. I've told friends to just go get a Dell box and that worked too. They even had support and haven't had me over to fix their computer yet. It's all a matter of budget, preference, and how much time you want to spend. I've got about 30-40 hours in the design of the box I'm building.and I'm about eighty percent done. I'll use it for at least five years if my guess is right. YMMV.

My Experience (4, Interesting)

gaelfx (1111115) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411754)

I recently built my own computer for similar purposes. I needed a box that would download things all day and output via HDMI to my TV, but I placed an extra constraint on my system: Linux compatibility, or at least a reasonable degree of compatibility. So, I researched available parts, using price as the first method of siphoning all the dreck. I live in China, so, for example, the processor's price ranged from a few hundred yuan (about 50 bucks) to about four thousand yuan (closer to $500). I decided not to pay more than 400 yuan for my processor, and right there, I cut out about 90% of the processors I had to research. I decided from then that I wanted a 64-bit processor and I would only look at the top 3 FSB's out of those processors, and I chose Intel because my previous experiences with Linux and AMD procs was somewhat dubious. Everything else kind of fell into place after simply choosing the proc, save for the GPU, which I chose for it's Native HDMI port, high-ish (1GB) dedicated memory and driver support in Linux. So that part was even easier.

Your situation seems a lot simpler than mine though, since you only have two constraints: Oblivion (don't know what it is) and 1080 video to a TV. Basically, what you need is any computer matching the requirements for playing Oblivion (I would go a little beyond recommended specs for running it) and with a NATIVE HDMI port. If you spend time worrying about complex names for different series of nanometer sized pieces of wire hypersolderized together, you will drown in the hopelessness that is marketing and advertizing and general rhetorical BS. Find out what specs you need to do what you want, if you're using Linux then check for compatibility issues in the forums of the distro you use or plan on using, and what you need to buy should pretty much be spelled out for you in pretty simple choices. If you're using Windows, you have a lot less to worry about since you don't really have control over those sorts of things, just take whatever has an HDMI port and enough RAM and cycles per second to run your game.

AMD's don't confuse (3, Insightful)

Datamonstar (845886) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411762)

I don't have this problem with recent AMD processors, but I certainly do with Intel's. With Athlons it basically comes down to Athlons in 2 and 4 core variety, upper end is Phenoms with 2, 3 or 4 cores the Black edition of those which are supposedly for better overclocking, Opterons for sever and workstation, Semprons for budget computing. there's different dies and configurations But Intels, I can't even begin to name. I guess there's Celeron Pentium and Core. All of those have vastly different configurations, but b with Core it got really confusing cause they went from core2 to I7 and then I5 and now I3. WTF, Intel? Can you make this easier, please? This is a large part of the reason I completely over look your processors.

Re:AMD's don't confuse (3, Informative)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411886)

I hate to say it (being an AMD fan) but the Athlon part numbers are confusing if you don't know what you're looking at. The older K8 family processors go as "Athlon 64 x2" with a 4 digit part number. The newer K10 family, derived from the higher performance Phenoms, go by "Athlon II x2" with three digit part numbers.

They have become more consistent recently; but, if you haven't been following along you might confuse the difference between 3 and 4 digit part numbers. I have seen numerous examples where the vendor will leave the "64" or "II" out of the description and simply call it a "2.8GHz Athlon", for example, so it's not immediately obvious it's a K8 or a K10

Slashdot is so boring anymore. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411774)

blah blah blah faggots blah blah blah aids blah blah blah linux.

Generally Speaking (1)

l0stmage (1268502) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411794)

There are generally two choices after setting your budget: The easy way: Ask some knowledgeable people. But be prepared to spend some time sorting out opinion and fact. Your end result: Depending on how knowledgeable your sources, you will usually wind up with a PC that generally suits your purposes, but may not be what YOU want. The harder way: Ask around, and then back up your findings with research. Sometimes a bad end-user experience doesn't mean a bad product. Once you've researched, made your decisions, and marked your budget then you can begin the process of building. Your end result: Barring any manufacturer or installation errors you will usually wind up with a PC that does what you want and will live up to your expectations. I've tried both ways and that was my experience, and has been the experience of most people that I talk to. Just remember to build your computer to what you need. If you don't need the big flashy CPU, or the water cooling system, or the high-end GPUs then don't get them...Although I must say I was sold after seeing the pretty lights inside my case! 'the burden of proof is yours to carry'

Oblivion has been out for a while (1)

phrostie (121428) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411824)

Oblivion has been out for a while. my game box is build out of friends left overs. the graphics card is a ati hd 3870. not a sloucher, but rather out dated. btw, i have two but oblivion doesn't benefit from crossfire.

anyway most new cards will crunch it just fine.

A good guide..... (1)

cb95amc (99589) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411826)

Tom's Hardware post a regular guide to the best CPU & GPU at various price points....

Decide how much you want to spend on each component and see what is recommended.

CPU - http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/best-gaming-cpu,review-31815.html
GPU - http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/best-graphics-card,review-31829.html

Realistically any CPU/GPU combination from the last year or two shouldn't have a problem meeting your requirements, as most GPUs now decode 1080 video in hardware, and Oblivion shouldn't prove too taxing unless you are trying to run in very high resolutions.
It will just depend what your budget is and how future proof you want it to be.

you meant to post this at digg.com (1)

xtracto (837672) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411828)

Or reddit maybe... or google groups

I won't ask you for your geek card... as I assume you do not have one of those.

Open source freak shoots up the Pentagon! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411832)

Oh, the humanity! [wikipedia.org]

how do you buy a computer these days? (2, Insightful)

ledow (319597) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411848)

"how do you buy a computer these days?"

- Set myself a minimum requirement (run this app, boot up in this amount of time, perform so-many I/O operations per second, etc.)
- Look at the specifications available from a range of my usual suppliers. Don't bother to look elsewhere - if you can't buy it, it doesn't exist. If you have to hunt for it, it'll be rare, expensive, not as well supported and probably far too specialist for your needs.
- Narrow things down by a sensible budget.
- Compare the specifications there against each other and, by looking them up on the net if necessary, find out which one is more suitable and best value-for-money for your needs (Is an Atom faster than whatever is in the other machine? Can my game take advantage of a second core?).

Basically, look at the "recommended" spec on those games you want to play, then go on about 10-12 large websites that sell computers to the market you're in (e.g. gaming) and see what they offer. The chances of being able to build anything comparable for the same / lower price are minimal - those days have gone and you're more likely to balls things up if you don't know what processor socket or PSU you need to run things properly.

Seriously, how hard is it? Ignore ALL of the marketing... see what you can afford, see what you need, see where they match (if at all), then do your research on those 2-3 models of machine (including their major components) that are good for you instead of trying to research every component that's currently available in every model that ever existed. I've managed to sort through a hundred models of PC to get to three in a few minutes, and then I just researched those three and actually spent nearly five times as long doing that last bit of thorough research properly.

If you want to know, I do this for a living for mainstream businesses / schools and that means everything from high-end CAD-stations to netbooks. It's *still* cheaper to buy the right thing from a large retailer's website than it is to mess about trying to cobble things together, whether you're buying one or hundreds. I have no idea what "name" processor is in 90% of the desktops I've bought... I can barely remember if they were Intel or AMD. It really doesn't matter at all what the codename is, I have no idea what the latest interfaces, cache sizes, socket-sizes, memory technology etc. even are. I just look it up when I have already narrowed things down to models with those components and make a decision based on what I can easily buy, how much I want to spend and what I *need* the computer to have / do.

You don't *need* to know all that rubbish, it's all just marketing anyway. What you need to do is see what's available and then check how well it's likely to run your games (e.g. benchmarks on similar games for the individual components, whether the processor is multi-core or not and whether the game can benefit). Let the assembly guys at a large company worry about whether the sockets are compatible, whether the memory timings are right, whether the PSU is powerful enough etc. If they mess it up, it costs them money. If you mess it up because you built it yourself or deviated from their normal bundles, it costs you money.

And no, you do *not* end up paying a premium to do things this way. You save money even before the things arrive on your doorstep due to the wonders of bulk-buying (Ever wonder *why* those bundle deals are so cheap? Mass purchasing by ordinary businesses, usually, if you ignore the holiday seasons), let alone the savings in not having to worry about destroying a card or PSU because you ordered a standard bundle and a "Super Duper Turbo Hyper Fighting" graphics card and put them together yourself because you heard it gets 1fps better on some random website.

Set yourself a specification (e.g. dual-core or not, speed in GHz, whether you are worried about the power it saps, X amount of RAM, etc.). Set yourself a budget. Find out how much stuff matches those. If it's a lot, set yourself a stricter specification or smaller budget. When it's down to only a few models, research the differences *there* and buy. And by the time you come to buy the same thing next month, all the codenames, sockets, etc. will have changed anyway and your computer will be "obsolete".

Yesterday (1)

vikingpower (768921) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411854)

Buying computers is soooooo 2009 !

Re:Yesterday (2, Funny)

Antiocheian (859870) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411916)

Your comment is soooooooo 1:48 PM

Wake up and smell the coffee of 2:07 PM

How do I make sense of it? NOT AT ALL! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31411868)

Because there is no sense.

There is no sense within the lines of different manufacturers CPU/GPU or within different lines of the same manufacturer CPU/GPU.

There are different versions from the same reference layout from different vendors, there are different versions of the same model (memory, clock speed), there are different steppings out there at once.

I don't make sense of it because there is none. I'm following the development so I know what is going on and when it's time to buy something, I do a thorough catchup-session with reviews of all kinds.

All in all you can sum it up: chaos.

Tom's Hardware BestConfigs (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411892)

All I want is something that will run Oblivion and output full 1080 video to a TV.

They do the legwork already. Pick a budget [tomshardware.co.uk]

how do you buy a computer these days? (2, Insightful)

Antiocheian (859870) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411900)

By informing yourself. Use search engines, find reviews, read hardware sites. The more time you invest on improving your awareness, the better your system will be for the money and the better use you'll make out of it.

More GPU bound than CPU bound nowadays (2, Informative)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 4 years ago | (#31411906)

Any CPU with more than 2 cores, should be able to handle most of what you want... I've been testing a dual core Atom 330 at work, and it's actually easy to forget it's not a "real" CPU (unless some FPU-intensive screensaver comes on).

For mid-to-low-end systems, GPUs are really the discriminator ... what makes a difference with running games at decent resolutions and playing back video. The model numbers are nuts, but I tend to cross-reference a few places:

http://www.videocardbenchmark.net/ [videocardbenchmark.net] - a good comprehensive list that boils down and ranks just about every card out there into a single (artificial) benchmark number.

Wikipedia also has surprisingly good coverage of every family of chip, and what products are based off of them and tables of supported features - crucial for system building. So I use it primarily to figure out things like: which nVidia Geforce is equivalent to which Quadro FX branded model, what is the fastest memory my "Barton" core Athlon would support, what the hell is the difference between a 2.2Ghz "Williamette" vs. a 2.2Ghz "Prescott", etc.

I've also taken a liking to checking with http://www.phoronix.com/ [phoronix.com] for Linux benchmarks and support for new hardware features and drivers... such as nVidia vs. ATi vs. Intel, which distribution has better VPDAU or audio support, etc.

And definitely once in a while read up on http://anandtech.com/ [anandtech.com] and http://tomshardware.com/ [tomshardware.com] if it's been a while and you need a comprehensive explanation of new tech, such as SSDs or long-term price vs. performance investment strategies... those can really help you plan ahead (Intel & nVidia's tick-tock release cycle, finding the best value, and just generally knowing which buzzwords are important and which are just marketing rubbish.

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