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Making Sense of CPU and GPU Model Numbers? 555

Posted by kdawson
from the drowning-in-a-sea-of-specs dept.
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?"
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Making Sense of CPU and GPU Model Numbers?

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  • Set a budget (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bre_dnd (686663) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @06:25AM (#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 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ThePhilips (752041) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @07:08AM (#31411686) Homepage Journal

      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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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: (Score:3, Informative)

        by eudaemon (320983)

        Please refer to this link http://paulisageek.com/compare/cpu/ [paulisageek.com] if you want to see absolute CPU performance ranked by CPU and a ratio between cost and performance. Yes you do need to educate yourself some, but let's be honest - any modern CPU works great unless you want to do dual head 24" monitors running crysis. I would recommend you check out Tom's Hardware's guides to building balanced machines, and their guides to building $600/$1200/$1800 gaming machines. They explain their rationale for picking every

    • by jonbryce (703250)

      But if you want hardward virtualisation, either buy AMD, or check the Intel model numbers very carefully.

    • by denzacar (181829) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @09:35AM (#31412552) Journal

      Motherboard and PSU. Don't try to save money on these two by buying cheaper.

      Everything else is determined only by how much money you have to spend.
      Also, everything else can be upgraded/replaced without having to replace other components.

      Pay close attention to PSUs 12V amperage - don't buy cheap Chinese ones that have hundreds of theoretical Watts but give only about 20 Amps on 12V.
      12V is for all of your coolers, hard-drives (including external ones), optical drives and anything else you attach to it that has a motor or movable parts.
      Buy ULTRA or Corsair (if you can't afford a ULTRA).

      With motherboards, pay extra for the Deluxe or Pro model - however they call it.
      Compare it to the "regular" version of the motherboard.
      If it looks almost the same with maybe another PCI or USB slot added - the pricier one is the one that actually works as intended/advertised.
      The cheaper "regular" model probably couldn't quite cut it, so it got downgraded from the original intended specs.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ShakaUVM (157947)

        >>Buy ULTRA or Corsair (if you can't afford a ULTRA).

        I had two ULTRA's blow up on me the first time they powered on. No thanks, won't be buying from them again.

        I've had good experience with Thermaltake and Antec PSUs.

  • by Shadow of Eternity (795165) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @06:29AM (#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: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ZigiSamblak (745960)
      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
      • by mcvos (645701) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @07:01AM (#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.

    • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @06:47AM (#31411596) Homepage

      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.

      • 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.

      • by zlel (736107)
        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?
        • 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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by grumbel (592662)

          The problem isn't buying something that is slower, but buying something that is noticeably faster. I am not going to invest $100 when all I get is a little bit more detail in the graphics, but I might care about investing $100 if I could play all the games I am interested in at high details with full resolution.

          On top of that my current graphic card is passively cooled and I have a PCIe TV card sitting right next to it, which I would have to throw away when I want to insert an active cooled card that takes

  • Online benchmarks (Score:2, Informative)

    by crazedmaniac (647278)
    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.
    • 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 (Score:5, Informative)

    by mailuefterl (140499) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @06:30AM (#31411510)

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

  • Tom's Hardware (Score:5, Informative)

    by nutshell42 (557890) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @06:35AM (#31411536) Journal
    Tom's Hardware offers GPU hierarchy [tomshardware.com] charts and recommendations in their Best Graphics Cards For The Money [tomshardware.com] articles.

    Ditto for CPUs: Best Gaming CPUs For The Money [tomshardware.com]

  • by G3ckoG33k (647276) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @06:37AM (#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. .
  • 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 fo

    • by mcvos (645701)

      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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by LordLimecat (1103839)

        Most PCs rarely use more than 200W. I'm using a 380W power supply, and it's more than enough.

        Seconded. I have a rig that was fairly nice several years ago, with a 9800GT, core2 duo, 2 hard drives, and a mobo with onboard wireless. I was sure that it would need a 550 watt PSU, but i recently got a wattmeter and the PC only pulls ~160 watts while browsing the web. Fire up a benchmark program (futuremark) and it shoots up to an astonishing 230 watts.

        Theres lots of misinformation out there when it comes to PSUs (although 550 watt isnt bad in this case, as it means energy efficiency is fairly good

  • by mo^ (150717) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @06:39AM (#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.

  • by gig (78408)

    > 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, whi

    • 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]

    • by machine321 (458769) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @08:26AM (#31412004)

      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.

      You can hand in your five-digit Slashdot ID now.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by cherokee158 (701472)

      It is quite true that they hold their resell value: the G5 towers are still trading hands for the cost of a new midrange PC...which is madness, since they are completely obsolete, and many models were prone to problems with their liquid cooling.

      I've owned Macs since my first Quadra, but this year I'm ditching them for a PC. I feel that Apple is no longer committed to making good computers...they want to make consumer toys. The brand has eclipsed the product.

      IF you take a closer look at the little model numb

  • by kieran (20691) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @06:47AM (#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.

    • by SharpFang (651121)

      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.

    • by Tapewolf (1639955) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @07:19AM (#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.
      • by Narishma (822073)

        But don't you at least follow the news a little? When new stuff (CPUs, graphics cards and so on) comes out there's generally a story here on slashdot with links to benchmarks. It's not difficult or time consuming to read a couple articles a month.

    • Same here. Between 2005 and 2009 I had no need to build a new PC (or even mess about with the innards of recently built boxes), and had to spend a couple of evenings familiarising myself with all the new acronyms and what they meant. AGP, IDE: all but gone. Yet more ram types. Mysterious new slots, with good old PCI going the way of ISA (relegated to a couple of token slots at the bottom). So many "cores" to think about. Gigs of RAM cheap as chips. Etc. etc. It was almost like being a time-traveller who's

    • by Aceticon (140883)

      I have the same experience - in fact I haven't bough a single desktop PC (as a whole) in 15 years - and I second this.

      Before you start researching ask yourself this:
      "Am I going to be playing 3D games on my PC?"

      - If "Yes", then the price tag on your PC will make it worth the while to do a little research instead of just paying up for the best of the best. Go to the usual hardware review websites (such as tomshardware, anandtech) and start investigating CPU and Graphics Cards choices (typically most other dec

  • by mcvos (645701) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @06:52AM (#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 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by seifried (12921) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @06:54AM (#31411636) Homepage
    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.
  • by thue (121682) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @06:56AM (#31411648) Homepage

    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.

    • by cbope (130292) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @07:09AM (#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: (Score:2, Informative)

      by tresho (1000127)
      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 block
  • My Experience (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gaelfx (1111115) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @07:23AM (#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.

  • by Datamonstar (845886) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @07:25AM (#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.
    • by confused one (671304) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @07:59AM (#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

  • 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.

  • by ledow (319597) on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @07:46AM (#31411848) Homepage

    "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 st

  • 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]

  • 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.

  • by rwa2 (4391) * on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @08:04AM (#31411906) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • These helped me (Score:5, Informative)

    by jalefkowit (101585) <jason AT jasonlefkowitz DOT net> on Tuesday March 09, 2010 @09:33AM (#31412538) Homepage

    I have found these resources indispensable in figuring out how modern CPUs and GPUs compare to each other:

    ... primarily because these tables are dynamic: find the part you're currently using (or want to use as your baseline for comparison) in the table, click on it, and then all the other parts in the table are immediately color-coded as to how much of a step forwards or backwards they are from that part, based on a normalized performance rating.

    (It's pathetic that the marketing departments at the companies that make these things are so incompetent that we need tools like these to sort out what exactly they're selling us, but until they get on the ball I'm glad these tools exist.)

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