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Processors

This is currently split between two camps: Intel (Pentium) processors, and AMD (Athlon) alternatives. AMD have stated a company strategy as offering equivalent, lower cost processors as Intel, with at least the same performance. Intel used to have the market more-or-less to itself. Nowadays, although it still reigns supreme AMD must be making huge in-roads into that market, especially in the non-corporate sector. Cyrix, once the alternative choice to Intel, lost its way some time ago and now makes lower performance, cool-running processor for the specialist market.

Athlon CPUSo what will you choose. If it's just down to price then AMD win hands down. They can allegedly match each Intel offering with one of their own. They maintain their processors are more efficient than Intel's so actually run slower, in terms of Mhz, but in real terms are faster. The newest offerings by AMD, the XP2100+ and above are constructed on a even small scale allowing them to run faster in Mhz terms and thus in real world terms too. It's worth mentioning that Intel Pentiums run cooler, and don't self-destruct if the cooling fan ever comes off, or, more likely, stops spinning. AMD processors will go up in a puff of smoke within a few seconds of the processor fan failing unless the motherboard has some kind of heat detection built in specifically to prevent this.

Intel processors support RAMBUS memory too; AMD have to stick with allegedly lower-performing DDR (although the new DDR 400 is pretty fast). Whether you would notice the difference between the expensive former or cheaper latter is open to question anyway. Intel motherboards also run with DDR memory but Intel have made it clear where their strategic path lies.

All processors require a fan/heatsink combination. They can be a source of a lot of noise so reading up about the quieter options (see http://www.quietpc.com for details) is worthwhile. Just to show you how important this is, I replaced my box-standard fan (turbo jet sound level) with a quiet alternative; I can now hear my music playing above the whispering of the processor fans.

Noise
Whilst we're sidetracked about noise: the power supply that comes with your computer case can also be very noisy, so much so that I replaced mine again with one from www.quietpc.com. It all depends on how much the noise level affects you - personally I want total quiet and I'm nearly there.

Recommendation: Buy an AMD processor and suitable fan and don't forget the thermal grease/paste/pad that goes between the fan and the processor. Don't even think of the cheaper Duron processor from AMD, they are old technology and you can get an Athlon for much the same price. You get more bangs per buck and it's unlikely your fan will stop spinning.

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