posted 10-18-2002 12:42 PM PT (US)
If you want to cut costs, stay with a CRT instead of an LCD flat screen, that will save you an average of $200-$300 per system, and you will get a bigger monitor, too.
We recently purchased Dell machines at my job with 17" CRTs, 2.0Ghz P4's, 256MB of ram, and all the usual trimmings. They shipped at about $1250 each.
One problem with Dell is that you will hardly see the same options day to day when you try to create a machine, they play a shell game with you and constantly fiddle with the options and packages.
By all accounts Dell is a good machine. They are assembled to your specifications, which can be nice. Compaq is also another one that can be trusted, they are mules as far as pre-made PCs go.
but you must ask yourself exactly what you will be using it for.
Internet mostly? Might as well buy a low-cost Duron or Celeron processor if you are going to use it as a web box. 128MB of ram will do just fine. The internet requires only a very modest machine, anybody's basic model would do.
Music Recording? You should buy a G4 Mac, which will cost several thousand dollars to get a good one. By all accounts, these are the only machines that can handle serious sound recording, although a fast PC will do an adequate job providing you get a good sound card, a 7200rpm hard disk, and something like an external hard disk to mix down to.
Gaming? This is where the graphics card becomes a central component- either get an Nvidia GeForce 4, or get an ATI Radeon 8500 card. Sound cards are also going to improve game performance and overall efficiency. Best buy is the TURTLE BEACH SANTA CRUZ, a powerful and versatile sound card for about $99. I would choose that over the more common Sound Blaster Live! card, which is often the same price.
Also, gaming will require you to get at LEAST 512MB of Ram to stay current.
A DVD drive is a luxury. If you have a console DVD drive for your TV already, save a hundred bucks or so and just get a CD-RW drive.
Other options that could trim price:
You might consider the Athlon processor, which is cheaper than the Pentium 4 and because the motherboard is faster, can outslug the P4 pound for pound, in fact, the only thing the P4 does better is streaming video.
The only bad thing about the Athlon is that it runs very hot and the internal fans tend to be very noisy. A small detraction but a noticeable one.
Most Geeks believe that you can build a clone system using select components that will be considerably better than a manufactured machine. You might have a local PC company that will create a clone for you to your specifications using the components you desire. I've gone that route before and it is a good way, but you will most likely pay extra for those select components. Do that if you are very serious about performance.
If this hasn't made it all even more confusing, just remember this: The general rule of thumb is to buy the fastest machine you can afford.