Recently, Gene Shekhtman, an IT consultant, spoke with the Remodeling Industry Technology Group based in the Washington, D.C., area about workstations and servers. These are Shekhtman's rules of thumb when buying new hardware:

Do not skimp on RAM. The more random access memory your computer has installed, the better your experience will be. Although more memory won't make the computer faster, per se, it will improve multitasking. Shoot for one gigabyte of installed memory as a minimum. Two GB of RAM is even better, since it will increase the computer's performance while running Microsoft's soon-to-be-released operating system, Windows Vista. Those who are into heavy 3-D modeling, video editing applications, or Photoshop, could use even more memory. Most computers that you can buy today support up to 4 GB of RAM, sometimes more.

Unless budget is not an issue, buy the “sweet spot” processor. Usually a few hundred megahertz slower than the “cutting edge.” For example, the price difference between Athlon 64x2 4800+ and Athlon 64x2 3800+ is close to $400. The real life performance differences (in terms of everyday use) are minimal.

Carefully consider what you will be using your computer for. Spend more to get the right video card. Modern high-end video cards with more than 256 megabytes of onboard video memory will greatly speed up applications that rely on a graphics processor unit (GPU) for rendering. The extra several hundred dollars will result in increased productivity. Conversely, if all you do is word processing and spreadsheet crunching, get the computer with the most basic video. Extra video horsepower will be wasted on business applications.

Do some online research to find out what others are saying about the machine you're buying. For example, noise is an often overlooked aspect of one's computing experience. Finding out if the computer you are about to buy is noisy will save noise-sensitive users many hours of frustration. Check out these sites for reviews:,