HOME Technology Nov 2006
PC performance pumping
Duo chips ease load
The performance of desktop computers has improved dramatically in the past 18 months with smarter processors and wider system buses streamlining data throughput without pushing up the cost.

However, breakthroughs in efficiency and grunt havenít necessarily translated to greater sales. While the major brands have been pushing highly configured models for hosting music, videos, movies and managing TV channels, and Intel is branding media-ready machines under the Viiv logo, home PC shipments have been in dramatic decline.

Shipments slipped from just over 29,000 units in the first quarter of 2005 to 23,860 in the second quarter of this year, according to research company IDC. Demand remains strong in the commercial sector; among gamers digital homeí early adopters wanting premium performance, but strong growth in notebooks has taken the shine off mainstream sales.

Hewlett Packard which also sells under the Compaq brand, continued to dominate the market in both the laptop and PC arena with Acer and Dell retaining second and third placing for the third year.

Itís a buyerís market, with most brands offering similar configurations and pricing. Those wanting an all round machine that meets the needs of all the family are in luck with entry level prices better than ever.

If you only want to write letters, do the accounts and surf the internet then you could get away with a truly basic 1.8 Ė 2GHz PC for as low as $700 but youíll most likely be stuck with a 17inch cathode ray tube (CRT) screen, a 40Gb hard drive and 256Mb memory. About four years ago that was top of the range.

For a decent performing 21st century PC, expect to spend anywhere between $1200 and $2800. If members of the family have different needs such as music downloads, games, photo manipulation, publishing and regular internet research, youíll need more memory, disk space and processing power.

For around $2000 you should be able to get a 3GHz machine with a 17 inch LCD (liquid crystal display) screen, 60 - 80Gb hard drive, Windows XP Professional, 512Mb RAM and a CD/DVD combo drive compatible with new double layer DVDs.

PCs are often sold with far less memory than is optimal, so adding memory is the best way to boost performance. For another couple of hundred dollars you could double the RAM and broaden the LCD to 19 inches. If you store a lot of multimedia files you might like a bigger drive, possibly 200Gb. If youíre in a bargaining mood ask the retailer to throw in a multifunction printer or DSL router to sweeten the deal.

As far as power and efficiency goes you canít go past Intelís new Core 2 Duo superchip which offers up to 30 per cent better performance for recording or ripping audio and video files, and 40 per cent improvement when multi-tasking. Itís also 30 percent less power hungry and doesnít need a noisy cooling fan.

The new chipset and its cousin, the Dual Core 2, feature two processors on one chip to share the workload. These new chips certainly feature in new high end PCs which are trying hard to score a premium location in the lounge as the media hub serving up music, movies, photos and streaming internet to your LCD or Plasma TV set and sound surround system.

These media ready machines typically have high performing graphics and sound cards, a TV tuner, heaps of memory (1Gb Ė 2Gb) and disc space (200 Ė 350Gb) with a wireless connection to your broadband modem. Early adopters have been playing with these for two years but the price is finally coming down so more people are likely to experiment.

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