General Hardware FAQ - (March 31, 2008)
This is designed to provide a broad overview of the most commonly asked questions pertaining to hardware. Again, as with the recommendations above, this is by no means an exhaustive compilation and is constantly subject to change, depending on the state of the computer industry.
Which is better: Intel or AMD?
Quite possibly the most oft-asked question not only in enthusiast circles, but by everyday users and novices alike. The short answer is: Intel, by virtue of its line of Core 2 Duo/Quad chips which consistently outperform their AMD counterparts in almost every benchmarking test undertaken.
Intel chips are fast, consume a conservative amount of power and run cool. This is not to say that AMD chips are not viable options as well; they are generally cheaper and many casual users and enthusiasts still use them, especially the Black Editions which are pretty much designed for overclocking. However, Intel has AMD beat in almost every way performance-wise.
Which is better: Nvidia or ATI?
Probably the second most oft-asked question by computer users. However, unlike Intel vs AMD, this one isn't so cut and dried. Nvidia has had the fastest cards on the market (GeForce 8800Ultra and 8800GTX) and a slew of high-end offerings at competitive prices (8800GTS, 8800GT) for quite some time now. ATI has recently released its latest high-end offering, the HD 3870 X2, that actually gives the 8800Ultra a run for its money
and has had some very good mid-range offerings (HD 3870, HD 3850) that appeal to those looking for cheaper GPU options. So, it's really up in the air right now. Nvidia and ATI are working feverishly to one-up each other, and that's a good thing for the industry.
Should I get a quad-core processor?
Not unless you do a lot of heavy video editing or some other function that takes full advantage of four cores. If you're just looking to do some gaming, then stick with a dual core as most games today still do not have support for quad core CPUs.
Should I get DDR3 memory?
Not at this point in time. It's ridiculously priced and not worth splurging for when DDR2 800 and 1066 are more than enough.
What is overclocking?
Simply put, it is making your processor run at a higher speed than it is rated for. This causes an increase in perfomance at the expense of possible instability and/or decreased part life. It's a simple enough concept, but takes a bit of practice and preparation to do. Tech Report has put together an excellent guide to overclocking
that addresses pretty much everything you need to know.
What is the difference between OEM vs. Retail?
You may notice that the parts in the lists above have either 'OEM' or 'Retail' listed at the end and you may wonder what that means and what effect it will have on your purchase. Basically, OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts are products that are sold by manufacturers without retail packaging to retailers for purchase in or with a complete system. For example, an OEM hard drive will probably come wrapped in anti-magnetic plastic, with no retail box or cables or software CDs or instructions. An OEM processor will come much the same way, without a heatsink and fan. Why are they sold without retail packaging? Because this makes them a lot cheaper and therefore more attractive to those looking to save a bunch of money when putting together a system.
So why would anyone buy Retail when OEM is cheaper?
The big difference is with warranties. Retail products come with instructions and well-defined service and support options. OEM parts often have limited instructions (if any at all) and shorter warranties, since they are meant to be sold as part of a complete system. Also, as stated above, OEM products are usually just the part you order, nothing more, nothing less. This means that you will have to provide any peripherals that you may need to hook it up to your system, like cables, connectors and the like. This is particularly important when purchasing OEM processors, as you MUST
also purchase an aftermarket heatsink for them.
In the end, it is completely up to you whether or not you choose retail or OEM. It may give you peace of mind to know that your parts are backed up with a warranty and that you get everything you need, but your wallet might thank you more if you go OEM.
Why are some older components more expensive than newer ones?
This is a bit of an oddity in the computer hardware market. As newer things come out, one would expect for the older products to go down in price in order to liquidate inventory, right? For the most part, PC components do not follow this trend. A good example is that of the Intel Core 2 Duo E6600
and the E6750
. The E6600 came out in early 2006 as the first chip in Intel's Conroe line, priced competitively around $250. After about a year and a number of improvements to the architecture, the E6750, also based on the Conroe core, came out in mid 2007 at around $190. It is a faster, better chip than the E6600 in almost every way, but yet is cheaper than its predecessor. Why is this? Nobody is really sure why retailers still choose to sell the older products at the same price point, but it's important for consumers to know, as they may be choosing pricier parts that are inferior to newer technology. So when shopping around for PC components, make sure you're getting the latest technology and not overpaying for outdated hardware!
These are all the questions I can think of at the moment, but I'm sure Astro, stingerhs and our other tech-heads will be able to contribute more later on. And maybe if there's enough interest, we can start another thread for peripherals/software/whatnot.
(I would like to thank stingerhs for tutoring me [read: putting up with my many stupid questions] about computer stuffs and providing me the inspiration to make this thread. He's my geeky computer hero.