Hump Day Hardware: Computer System

October 8, 2008

In my hump day hardware series, I have talked about various components for your computer. Today let’s focus on the brains in your computer. We’ll go over the choices for your processor and the amount of memory you should have installed.

Processor: The first decision is between Intel and AMD chips. There was a timeframe when AMD was putting out chips that made Intel look slow and expensive. Intel felt the threat and has really turned up the heat. At this time, I can’t find any reason to consider an AMD chip. You might disagree and you are welcome to comment with your reasoning.

Then we need to look at the number of cores to get in our new processor. It is getting harder to find a processor with only a single core so I’ll focus on dual-core vs. quad core chips. Most software is not written to take advantage of more than one core. CorelDRAW as an example will not take advantage of multiple cores. There are some effects in Corel PHOTO-PAINT that can run as separate threads and thus would take advantage of an extra core. You also need to look at the clock speed of each of those cores. Typically a dual-core chip will offer a much faster clock speed at less money. As an example, the Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 dual-core processor runs at 3.0 GHz with a 1333 MHz front side bus and sells for $168.50 at Amazon. Intel Corel 2 Quad Q9550 quad-core processor runs at 2.83 GHz with a 1333 MHz front side bus and sells for $319.90 at Amazon. The specs I’ve listed are certainly not the only thing to consider, but I’d go for a dual-core processor at this time because there just isn’t enough benefit for most users to spend the extra money on a quad-core chip.

Memory: Before you can decide how much memory to install, you need to decide if you will be running a 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows. The vast majority of users today are running 32-bit Windows. If you run a 32-bit version of Windows, it is limited to addressing no more than 4 GB of memory. A single process is limited to a total of 3.2 GB. In short, there is no reason at all to install more than 4 GB of memory if you are running a 32-bit version of Windows (XP or Vista). Most likely you won’t even be able to use the full 4 GB.

The limit on Windows XP 64-bit is 128 GB of physical memory. So if you decide to go 64-bit, I’d probably go with 8 GB of memory.

You might think it is a no brainer to go 64-bit given the ability to use more memory. This is where it gets tricky. You might find that not all of your software or hardware will work in a 64-bit system. Hardware will need a 64-bit driver. If you have new hardware that is a popular choice, you’ll probably find a driver available. Mainstream software from the last few years should also be fairly safe. The exception to this would be low-level utilities like disk defragmenters, anti-virus tools and anything else that works closely with the operating system. I’ve not personally jumped to 64-bit on any of my systems because of incompatibilities with software and hardware. This might change with the next computer I buy, but I’d stick with 32-bit if I had to buy a computer today.

Remember, I’ve covered other components in previous blog posts. If you’d like information on these components, I’ll provide links here for those posts. So far I’ve covered sound cards, mice, keyboards, graphics tablets, graphics cards and a free Xerox printer. What other components would you like me to cover? Leave a comment and I’ll do my best to cover the suggested components in future weeks.

Post Discussion


  1. Jodi

    Is there any plan to update this area? Every time I try to purchase a new system people don’t want to sell me enough…over the years it’s changed, but the current thought process is that I just need some juiced up video card/memory solutions & I can handle anything. I doubt that’s true since I need to run two full graphics suite programs. Not necessarily at the same time, but each need plenty of room to roam (or work) so they can play nice together with plenty of space to grow as well. Specifically CorelDraw Graphics Suite x5 and Adobe CS4, Office plus some add-ons as they become useful of course. Thank you for any direction you can offer. I’m looking at HP/Dell/whatever…

  2. Foster D. Coburn III


    I’ve posted quite a bit on new systems and components since this post.

  3. Jodi

    OK…I’m still digging. New to blog layouts, etc…the findings I come across keep leading me to 2008…so I’m now cruising backward through the year(s) …learning lots of other things as I go.
    Thank you for replying.

  4. SusanC

    i am experiencing the same issue. at the top of this page is a drop down under “favorites” and the dream pc is listed there. it takes you to a page with a bunch of links including this page. Could the links be updated to include the current, updated information, please?

  5. Foster D. Coburn III

    This post was written about 3.5 years ago and since that time we’ve had more than 100 other posts on various components for a computer system. The “Dream PC” link in the menus is very outdated and simply needs to be removed. The best place to look for this information is in the blog archives.


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