How to Buy a Motherboard

The Specs Explained

In the end, the key to building the right system is to understand how you will use your PC. As we mentioned before, the needs of an office worker are totally different than those of a video editing wizard or a gaming fanatic.

Important consideration: Processor. When it comes to performance, the sweet spot for most users is Intel's dual-core CPUs, as there aren't yet enough advanced applications to make a quad-core a must-have. We recommend a 3-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, specifically the E8400, unless you use applications (video editing, for example) that are better suited to a quad-core processor.

Somewhat important: Chip set. The best companion for the Intel E8400 is a motherboard based on the P35 chip set. You should choose the specific motherboard according to your desired storage, audio, and memory options.

Important consideration: Memory. A modern desktop PC should have at least 2GB of memory, possibly 4GB for more demanding applications (not to mention Windows Vista).

Important consideration: Graphics. Even if games aren't a consideration, you might want to spend a little ($100) on a midrange GPU such as the ATI Radeon HD 3650, which offers a nice variety of video-output options. For gaming, a more powerful graphics card, such as something from nVidia's 8800 GT family, would be appropriate.

Somewhat important: Storage. Building a nice system but running out of storage space is frustrating. Given the way hard-drive pricing works, using a 500GB hard drive makes sense. Larger models cost much more, and smaller models won't save you enough money. Make sure your DVD drive employs SATA so that you will be able to use it in the future.

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