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I’ve never been one to immediately recommend the latest hardware or software, as both usually are overpriced and don’t have all the bugs worked out. But for some users who are heavily into video, design, storage, or large database application and analysis, having the latest and greatest makes a lot of sense. So if you want to be the envy of all your peers, let’s take a look at what might go into a high-end system, as well as the costs and benefits associated with such a system. Basics and Extras Perhaps the basic component for any PC is its central processing unit, the small, approximately 2-inch square chip that performs all of the calculations of the computer. The two major processing manufacturers, AMD and Intel, are adding more processor cores onto their chips so that more calculations can be done in the same amount of time, thus improving speed. Dual-Core processors are now becoming commonplace, while Quad-Core units are the fastest running units currently available, although eight cores are apparently in the foreseeable future. Storage is the next exponentially growing component of computers these days, and while 250 GB hard drives are the norm in many machines, 1 Terabyte drives (four times the space) are available for the common user. A lot of video and graphics can be stored on a machine like that. The third key element of the big three PC components is memory, which allows you to keep many applications open and running at optimal performance. A GB of RAM is almost standard now, but with a high-end machine, you are looking at 4 GB to keep up your system operating at peak efficiency. Any machine that has the premium units mentioned above also needs the appropriate peripherals, such as graphics cards, sound cards, speakers and widescreen monitors. An external Blue-Ray disc writer for transferring data and watching video is also a nice addition. Pricing So what does a high-end system like this cost? If you go to one of the major PC manufacturers’ Web sites, you can custom-design a super computer (with a super price as well). The following is what I’ve come up with: • Two Quad-Core Intel Xeon Processors running at 2.66 GHz; • A 256 MB PCIe x16 nVidia Quadro FX 3500 graphics card; • 4 GB, DDR2 SDRAM FBD Memory, 667MHz, ECC (8 DIMMS); • 16X DVD AND 16XDVD+/-RW; • Two 500 GB SATA 3.0 Gb/s,7,200 RPM Hard Drives; • A 24-inch widescreen monitor; and • Windows Vista Ultimate. The price tag for a system like this is approximately $6,400, which is quite a lot for something that may not really be necessary. Let’s take a look at what the cost comes to when we start taking away some items. Start Stripping Let’s start with the processors. Two Quad-Cores are overkill. While a Quad-Core does work faster than a Dual-Core, it is not twice as fast � only approximately 25 percent faster. So if we strip that down, we could reduce the cost by $1,000. If we go with a single processor, we save another $800. That second processor probably isn’t needed either. Now take a look at the hard drives. While a second drive is useful to have for backups and additional storage, if that is necessary it can always be added later, probably at a lower price. Subtract another $350, and you can save another $150 by reducing your first hard drive down to 250 GB. Next take a look at the memory. Since we’ve reduced the processors and downgraded the storage, all that memory may not be needed. Cutting it down to 2 GB will certainly give us plenty, so we save another $500 or so. And while we’re at it, do we really need a 24-inch screen? Won’t 20 inches be sufficient for most applications? Let’s save another $400 here. Also, if we’ve reduced the processor, memory and storage, it probably means we also don’t need the added features of Windows Vista Ultimate. Windows Vista Business should suit us just fine, which helps us save another $50. What this leaves us with is still an incredibly powerful system at a cost of about $3,100. The extra processing speeds we’ve lost are most likely not needed, and machine is half the cost. Because there is a level of diminishing returns, twice the cost will not give us twice the power. But remember, if all you are doing is basic word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, Web browsing and some minor digital photography and music, a computer at half the price of our stripped down model is all you need. Don’t waste money on computing resources you don’t need. Brian R. Harris is the director of information technology for the ALM Pennsylvania division and the former editor in chief ofThe Legal Intelligencer . Technology questions can be sent to Harris at [email protected].

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