Q1: I don't even want a brief explanation, what computer should I buy?
A: If you have a steady, middle-class job or better, I can quite confidently say you should get a computer by its price. You should get a Sony, Gateway, Dell, or whatever, but if you're buying by price, you probably don't want to go no-name. The price range should be something above US$1,500, or below US$2,000$400, or below $800. The RAM industry has been caught fixing prices, AMD, and intel have been in a pricing war, hard drive manufacturing has always been one of the tightest competitions, and they've gotten to the place where a large group of their customers will never use half of the entry size hard drives. Motherboards, power supplies, cases, and monitors have been relatively stable though.
Q2: Ok, so now I know all I need to buy a new computer, now, I'd like to know more... why?
A: To answer that, I'd like to sing a song called my howto.
Q3: I've read through your article, but for some reason, I still think that all this advice will go down the toilet by the time the sun rises.
A: As I may have stated elsewhere, in all cases except RAM, I have based my suggestions on price. This will be an adequate guide for several months at least, and probably several years, or, through the foreseeble future. Why? The computer industry has been this way since about the advent of the Pentium some decade ago. It's been true for about a decade, you just see if it won't last the next one.
Q4: Knowing the price is all well and good, but still, one of the things about IBM compatible computers is that there's such a variety. What shapes do they come in?
A4: Here's a list of formfactors that computers come in:Q5: So why do you say buy from a known brand when I could get the same computer, cheaper, from a company that doesn't warranty their products, or provide service contracts?
A5: Because, although you can get a better deal in the short term, computers are very dicey propositions. If you buy from a well known brand, they will have a large pool of customers who they cannot blow off when they call for tech-support. Along those lines, I've heard from people in charge of buying decisions for large groups that service contracts are very worthwhile. If I understand correctly, Dell for instance, will charge you something like $250 for a 3 year same day (weekday probably) service contract that allows you to call a Dell subcontracted service technician to your door to fix your computer if there's a hardware problem.

To start with, depending on your level of knowledge of computers, I'd probably go over all the components involved, it's a straight list, so people unfamiliar with computers, goto appendix 'A'. So you know what makes up a computer, but that hasn't answered the why of this how to. There are certain things that change at an almost constant speed, an acceleration of technology. The things most affected by this include the motherboard, processor, and video card, some things that change as well, but not as quickly include Random Access Memory, hard drives, portable media, and Operating systems. Things, that in general do not change, are things like speakers, power supplies, cases, monitors, sound cards, and input devices. The price of a decent processor, as well as the price of any of the acceleration technologies, is going to be fairly steady. A processor these days, could range from $20, to more than $500. It's important to note that those prices are the figures of most commercial processors, in a original purchase state (no e-bay or swap meet stuff).

To explain, the $20 processors and the thought that what you need is a relatively recent processor, I give you the example of Morotolla's MC68k line of processors. They were around with the first macs, and they're around today. the chips that once drove the first personal computers after a few years were introduced to the video game market, and these days, you find a $20 RISC chip in your DVD player, or your portable MP3 player. These chips, have spanned decades, and still are chips you can base a web-browsing word processor on. When I say that you should choose a computer in the 1.7K dollar range, I mean you will get a stable, well supported computer, that will, in all likelihood, come with an absurd operating system(see Windows ME (I'm sure other corporations have made similar mistakes, but they aren't as well documented, I'm not attacking Microsoft in this article, it's probably the OS you'll end up using), and be fast enough to do the calculations necessary to launch a number of objects into orbit equal to two to the power of the last two digits of the year, plus ten. E.G. 03+10=13, 2^13=8,000. A bit complex, but the Space Shuttle uses 286's from the '82. What you are getting will be able to calculate pi to a ridiculous number of digits.

Now, an itemized list of the expected prices of the components of a computer. As you see now in the marketplace today with monitors, the average price of a good CRT before the LCD's came, was about $200, and the prices of LCD's are gradually going down to that level as the CRT's are phased out.

  • Case
    • Range-$40... This is six pieces(top, bottom, front back, and sides) of thin metal per FCC electromagnetic emission standards, in the future you could see cases that owe their structural stability to the plastics used, and inside somewhere is a Faraday cage that blocks EM input and output through the atmosphere) to contain the EMI, but I haven't seen even the inkling of that in the market, so expect to see much of the same. There is the speculative entrance of the chibi(comically misproportioned, usu. small) PCs, like the shuttle PCs, There is great resistance to them because of the enormous precedent of PCs to expandability, and versatility, but they are so useful, and compact that they may edge into the hearts of middle America.
  • Power Supplies
    • Price range=$40 These are where a lot of manufacturers will cut costs. If you want absolute stability, and $50 can drop into a hole and disappear and you won't mind, it's usually a good idea to get a very well manufactured Power supply. As I mentioned, a mainstay of the x86 architecture is its' expandability, and versatility, so if you buy a cheap computer and throw in a top of the line graphics card, it'll be as if you're powering twice as many processors, and twice as much RAM. Adding additional hard drives, and portable media drives all factor into the total power draw, and you need to be sure that that's not going to be a problem.
  • Input peripherals
    • Both keyboard and mouse should run about 10 bucks, it might go as far as 30 for the both of them. To combat carpal tunnel syndrome, Microsoft has put out their 'natural' keyboard, which runs about $60, then for your pointer, there are mechanical, optical, mice, and trackballs. It's all subjective. it's true, that mechanical pointers will degrade more quickly over time, but you're still good for at least a decade with a $10 dollar mouse. Mouse or Trackball is subjective as well, choose what you're used to, or not. You're probably good either way.
  • Monitors
    • You can probably get a nice 17" CRT monitor for $150 that'll probably be better constructed and have a better actual screen output than a LCD of a comperable price. What you want is a small 'dot pitch' and a flat screen. If you like the much smaller, and generally more advanced LCD monitors, the measuring scheme for CRTs, and LCDs is different, so a 15" LCD is larger than a CRT, these days 15"s are sorta cheap, and 17"s are probably the best buy, but they cost easily twice as much as a competing CRT, and the gain isn't worth it in my view though space can be a killer for CRTs depending on the situation.
  • Motherboard
    • The motherboard will mostly cost between $60, and $300, good commercial models will run around $120. You have to match up your RAM, Processor, and Power supply with the Motherboard you buy. Once you've decided on the Processor you want, that will have to plug into a motherboard somehow, so far, you have the abilities to choose processors that connect via a expansion bus similar to how you attach expansion cards like disk controllers. You will see this sort of thing in SUN systems for instance, where you can put 4 processors into your system. Slot architecture, where you have a large green epoxy slab on which the processor is situated. this is similar to SUN's method, but is more common. It has currently been pushed aside for cost considerations, to match slots, your processor will be described as connecting to a slot type. So far there have been slot 1, slot 2, and slot A types. Socket: This is very popular. It is an almost direct connection of the processor to the motherboard. These days you'll see a plastic board which holds the actual silicon which is the processor, generally a large number of gold plated pins enter into a plastic 'socket' which is fastened by a bar that has two positions. In general, the layout of the pins on the underside of the processor prevent it from being put in the wrong orientation, or socket, but you must have a processor and motherboard of the same 'socket' these are designated by number. Be careful.
  • processor
    • The Processor is the heart of the system. Everything feeds into it, in the x86 architecture, they do this in the manner of the North bus, and South bus. One is traditionally faster and wider (bandwidth), and one is slower, and more narrow. The processor can only do one specific operation at a time, in general, though processors do many many operations, in general, everything funnels through the processor. This leads greatly to the amount of focus there is on the processor. This comes though, with a few caveats. Video performance, is almost independent of the processor. The difference between the performance measured in FPS of a modern first person shooter on machines with the same GFX card, will vary maybe 10 frames when going from a 2 gig processor to a 3 gig processor (I am estimating, but read on) the total number of frames usually goes above a hundred, sometimes they are more than 200, so if you want a good gaming computer, and a 2.5 gig processor is 200 dollars, and a 3 gig processor is 500 dollars, do the math. Several factors decide the relative success of a processor. Right now, in the public view, there are three. Two fake RISC processors, and one that's unabashedly RISC to my knowledge. The x86 standard harks back to the '70s when there was a barrier of file transfer performance that could be crushed by using a new type of processor, with the CISC instruction set, and every processor in the x86 line has been required to have some CISC operations. The Apple chips don't have this problem, they run under a newer architecture, and that problem had been solved before apple's current architecture was formulated. So whether it's RISC or CISC makes a small difference. This, is primarily why you see things like the IA-64 architecture. It's all RISC goodness with an Intel name. The other three mainly public features of processors, are the clock speed, or how many times a second the process runs through one sequence of calculations, the size of the L2 Cache, and the size of the front side bus. You can read the nodes on them.
  • RAM
    • The prices of RAM have recently contracted, and expanded. Several years ago, INTEL introduced the RD type ram. They found that the public was unwilling to pay so much for such meager performance gains, and then, true to the Moore's law (ty LJ {or is it I}) processor performance growth was exponential, doubling in 18 months. Leaving the once speedy RAM in the dust, the same RAM that the public had so embraced now suffered scorn, and loneliness. To combat this, the then favored flavor of RAM, Double Data Rate ram started expanding its' capabilities. Now in a dead heat, you should probably choose whichever is priced better. Here alone, is it good to choose by size. Mostly a user will want 128MB, Serious users will want 256MB Error Correction Code, and users of Video Editors will want more than they have, and more than they are allowed... the bastards (whether this refers to the users or the people only allowing them so much, is up to you).
  • HDD
      The size of your Hard Disk Drive can range from 40,000,000,000 bytes (1 byte = 8 bits) to two hundred and fifty Billion. An operating may take up as much as one gig, your sundry applications will probably add a second gig to that, and figure about 500 MB for each game, 5 meg for each MP3, and 50 images per 10 MB. It's important to note, that you don't want to fill more than 50% of your hard disk, and you will experience significant performance loss at about 60%. You should spend about $100 on this item.
  • Operating System
    • Expect to get one gratis with a system that you buy as a unit, but if you assemble your computer, when purchasing your motherboard or processor, ask the vendor about operating system package deals, and what OEM software you can buy. in some cases you can get a operating system whose list price is in the triple digits for about $40.

Appendix A

List of PC Components