Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

The Best CPU? Hardware Upgrade, cont.

Continued:
Welcome back to my series on my new recommendations for those who are interested in maximum computer performance. This series is about a specific, high-end, upgrade path. For more general and generic advice & How To on hardware upgrades, please see Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU.

Recap:
I rebuilt a machine into an i7, X58, DDR 3, SLI ‘rig’ and its performance is impressive. I am quite taken with the combo. In the previous articles I have so far covered:

* Intel i7-920: Hyper-threading, new chip architecture, and easy (stable) over-clocking give this CPU “chip” performance numbers that make it arguably the best CPU available to us “consumers” today. And it has been around long enough now that the price has dropped to “reasonable”.

* I went with the newer X58 chipset because the X58 motherboards have the ICH10R chip, which allows dual x16 (or quad x8) PCI Express 2.0 graphics card support, and supports Solid State Drives.

As I mentioned earlier, if upgrading to an “i-Series” CPU, you will need a new motherboard, and I reco’ a X58. It is fair to warn you that X58 “mobo’s” are rather pricey. I overcame certain reservations and – due to a “clearance sale” – picked up a MSI X58M (the “M” indicates “microATX”). A detailed review of which is here.

MSI-X58M[note: I also purchased a 5-year “replace with no questions asked” extended warranty, which covered the RAM, mobo, and CPU for a very reasonable fee. Ask your retailer what their policies are. (The RAM already had Lifetime..)]

Please understand that while I am recommending an X58 chipset motherboard, I am not necessarily recommending this particular MSI board. I am happy with it, yes, but it was a unique special discount price that was my decision factor. I would not go with a “mini” (or “micro”) ATX board by choice, primarily because the number of expansion slots are fewer.
To help you decide on a board, here are some comparisons/reviews (by date published):
* X58 Motherboard Roundup Review
* ExtremeTech’s X58 Motherboard Roundup
* X58 Roundup: Seven $200-300 Core i7 Boards
* 7 Intel Core i7 X58 Motherboards Tested and Compared
* Intel X58 Motherboard Roundup – What does $300 Get You?

These boards vary greatly in number of slots (including graphics slots), features, performance, and price — so do a bit of pre-planning. Do you need four graphics slots, or will one do (if so, a P55 board may work for you…)

Biggest boost?
In my writing so far, the CPU, motherboard, and dual graphics cards have taken center stage. And one could argue “as well they might!”, but RAM is where you really put the “turbo” in a PC’s performance — upgrading your RAM is the first thing (in terms of hardware upgrades) you look at.

patriot_3pak

Patriot 6GB PC3-12800 kit

Fact is — the primary motivation for me to act, and do this upgrade was I wanted “tri-channel” DDR3 .. and I wanted 1600MHz. If you have read this series this far.. maybe you do too.

The primary benefit of DDR3 is the ability to transfer at twice the data rate of DDR2, enabling higher bus rates and higher peak rates than earlier memory technologies. For best performance, DDR3 should be installed in identical sets of 3, and I definitely advise purchasing a “3-pak” to ensure all three modules are the same.

I happened to find an unbeatable price on a Patriot Gamer Series PC3-12800 6GB DDR3 Kit (review here), but I have no idea what the best deal is today. I’m a “most bang for your buck” shopper. For those of you who are a bit more discriminating:
* Mainstream-Ready? DDR3-1600 Shootout
* The Great DDR3 1600MHz Memory Showdown
* Xtreem.com | Focus on DDR3
* Benchmarkreviews: DDR3 Review Series

Winding down for today…
Since we are talking about cutting-edge hardware here, and “enthusiast”-level performance gear (aka “high-end”) means that these items will not be in the “student” or “budget” price ranges – some “sticker shock” is to be expected. That said, prices have come down on these items enough that you are no longer paying the premium. Still, you can buy a whole new PC for less than an i-Series upgrade…

I was able to use my existing power supply and graphics cards. And at least for now, I am not going to go nuts over-clocking the CPU, so I can stay with the stock CPU cooler and I had a well-ventilated gaming case. This reduced my upgrade cost but your situation might be different — an i7 upgrade path probably will require a more powerful PSU and more efficient cooling, and you should budget accordingly.

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


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March 1, 2010 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, how to, PC, performance, tech, upgrading | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Part 3 | The Best CPU?

This week I started an article series due to my most recent PC hardware upgrade, as I have a new recommendation for those who are interested in maximum computer performance — I rebuilt a machine into an i7, X58, DDR 3, SLI ‘rig’ and its performance is impressive. I am quite taken with the i7/X58 combo.
[note: each of those acronyms is “clickable” for those interested in learning more details. I will try to avoid Geek jargon here..]Intel_Core_i7
Earlier, I wrote a 4-part series on the ‘How To’s’ of upgrading your CPU, and suggest it as a preface (please refer to part 1, Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU).

In the previous Part 2 | The Best CPU? I started discussing this hardware upgrade by focusing on i7-920 CPU. Hyper-threading, new chip architecture, and easy (stable) over-clocking give this CPU performance numbers that make it arguably the best CPU available to us “consumers” today. And it has been around long enough now that the price has dropped to “reasonable”.

  • Turbo Boost technology – To maximize speed for heavy applications
  • Hyper Threading – Intel has brought back its hyper threading technology first seen in its Pentium Processors to allow a new level of parallel performance with 8 threads available for multi-tasking.
  • QuickPath Interconnect – is designed for increased bandwidth and low latency. It can achieve data transfer speeds as high as 25.6 GB/sec.
  • Smart Cache – For better and more optimized handling of cache memory
  • Integrated Memory Controllers – Supporting three channels of DDR3 Memory (1066 Mhz) to produce a whopping 25.6 Gb/Sec memory bandwidth.
  • HD Boost – For improved performance in a wide spectrum of Multimedia and compute-intensive applications.

[a brief aside: to be fair, this thread on Tom’s Harware.com, (GAMERS ONLY) i7 vs 955/ is 300$ worth it?, posits that a particular (over-clocked) AMD CPU is the smarter way to go for gamers.. and I think the writer’s point may be correct.]

But going with an i7 as your upgrade path does mean that you will also need a new motherboard.

The i-Series CPU’s new design and on-chip features require a new socket, chipset, and also the newer DDR3 RAM memory –> the i7 needs to be matched to a “50-series” chipset.

I went with the newer X58 chipset because I was building a “performance gaming rig” with dual graphics cards, in what is known as an “SLI/Crossfire” configuration (the motherboard must have two or more PCIe graphics “slots”) and the X58 motherboards have the ICH10R chip which allows – for the first time really – both cards to transfer data at 16x. The 55’s don’t have the ICH10R.
(Prior to this, the 16x graphics datapath was ‘split’ between cards in an SLI config to 8x, 8x. With the X58/ICH10R it is 16x, 16x.)

The Intel X58 Express Chipset supports the latest 45nm Intel Core i7 processor family at 6.4 GT/s and 4.8 GT/s speeds via the Intel® QuickPath Interconnect (Intel® QPI). Additionally, this chipset delivers dual x16 or quad x8 PCI Express* 2.0 graphics card support, and support for Intel® High Performance Solid State Drives. SLI

Now, I would like to tell you that this effectively doubled my graphics cards’ ability to pump out the frames-per-second.. but if you have been around computers for a while you will know that doubling some performance number or other does not make your computer appear to do things twice as fast. Machines simply don’t work that way.

What it does mean is, the machine is capable of handling a heavier ‘load’ before you notice slow downs. And in computer graphics, ‘load’ means things like driving a larger monitor at a higher resolution. And specific to computer gaming, ‘load’ means ‘features’ — like shading, anti-aliasing, and Vsync, etc. — often referred to as “the bells and whistles”.

I can tell you it is true, if you can run your game on a large screen, with the “bells and whistles” on (or “dialed up”) and you do not experience slow downs, such as lag or a slideshow style framerate, you will have a better gaming experience. Typically that means you become more “immersed” in the game’s environment… mostly because it is more “real looking”.

I will continue this .. hopefully Monday. I hope you all have a great weekend.

News Item: Microsoft uses the courts to shutdown cybercriminals. See, Cracking Down on Botnets.
Botnets – networks of compromised computers controlled by hackers known as “bot-herders” – have become a serious problem in cyberspace.  Their proliferation has led some to worry that the botnet problem is unsolvable.¹ Under the control of a hacker or group of hackers, botnets are often used to conduct various attacks ranging from denial of service attacks on websites, to spamming, click fraud, and distribution of new forms of malicious software.

¹ emphasis, mine.

Skip to Part 4 The Best CPU? Hardware Upgrade, cont.

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


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February 27, 2010 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, how to, PC, performance, tech, upgrading | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Perfect CPU?

This 6 days-a-week series I write is, for the most part, exactly as I describe in the sub-title — Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice (as well as “Questions Answered”). My writings tend to be Microsoft Windows-oriented because that is what I, and approximately 95% of you, use. I write about the Internet a lot also… because I understand a few of you are using it too.

I also try to keep my readers informed of emerging technologies, developments, and trends (“tech news”, if you will). I do this because personal computers, and “tech”, is out of diapers now, has learned to walk, hopefully is out of the “terrible twos”.. but!, is anything but a “mature product”.. like, say, sailing vessels [ships] are “mature”.

And.. there’s a little thing called “Moore’s Law“, which tells us that tech is ‘growing’ at an exponential rate (evolving is a better word).

My point here is, simply, that I try to provide information here that is useful to you. Tech – for Everyone is not a place where I discuss my hopes and dreams, favorite music, next week’s schedule, or who I think should win American Idol (one exception.. my football predictions).
Like Dragnet’s Sergeant Joe Friday, I try to deal with “just the facts”.

Even in discussing tech, I try to leave myself out of it. I don’t think you care what brand graphics card I prefer, or that I find PowerPoint boring.

But sometimes, my own personal experiences with tech make for the more well-received articles. For instance, my writings on my experiences with the new Windows 7 (click here to see all articles tagged “Windows 7”) and switching to a 64-bit operating system have been very popular.

And I did get a bit personal when I wrote a series on hardware upgrading for my readers after I decided to swap out a dual-core CPU for a quad-core, and load up my motherboard with RAM modules (see part 1, Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU)

Where is he going? Well, I have ran a bit long, but it was my intention to tell you about my most recent hardware upgrade, and why I have a new recommendation for those who are interested in max. computer performance — I rebuilt a machine into an i7, X58, DDR 3, SLI rig.. and it is pretty sweet. I am very impressed with the i7/X58 combo.

But I will need more space — maybe another series — to do the topic justice, so I hope you will return here and read it. It should appear Monday. Have a super weekend folks, and please exercise “paranoid common sense” while online.

Update:
Part 2 | The Best CPU?

Part 3 | The Best CPU?

The Best CPU? Hardware Upgrade, cont.
(part 4)

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


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February 20, 2010 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, PC, performance, tech, upgrading | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Another Way To Install A Program On A Netbook

A Thumb Drive Can Be Used In Place Of An External Optical Drive

Light-weight and small size make netbooks very portable. But, to achieve their compact size, certain items are missing from netbooks — most notably perhaps, internal CD/DVD drives.

This “disc deficit” is usually overcome by the purchase of an external (USB cable-connected) optical drive.

Today I want to point out that should you not happen to have an external drive available, frequently you can substitute, and use a “thumb drive” (“memory stick”) instead.. such as using the following method to watch DVD movies — see, Tech Tip for Travelers – Make Your Movies More Portable!

Tip of the day: Use a thumb drive to install programs on to a netbook.
To install a program (you have a CD for) onto a netbook using a thumb drive, you will need two things; one, access to a computer that has a CD/DVD drive and; two, a thumb drive large enough to hold the contents of the Install disc. [note: CD’s are roughly 700 MB’s (.7 GB’s) and DVD’s are typically 4.7 GB’s]

1) Go to the PC with the optical drive and insert the thumb drive. Then insert the Install disc into the drive tray.
Cancel (stop) any setup/install process from starting, should it try to “autostart”.

2) If the AutoPlay window opens, select “Open folder to view files” (which should be the bottom choice).
If you have disabled AutoPlay: Click Start > Double-click Computer (My Computer in XP/older) > right-click on the optical drive (CD-ROM) and choose Explore.

3) Drag the entire contents (all the files) of the CD/DVD to the icon for “removable drive” that is the thumb drive. Take mental note of what the installer executable’s name is – typically, it is setup.exe.

4) Use “Safely remove” and remove the thumb drive, and then insert it into your netbook. If the AutoPlay window opens, select “Open folder to view files” (which should be the bottom choice), if you have disabled AutoPlay: Click Start > Double-click Computer (My Computer in XP/older) > right-click on the removable drive (your thumb drive) and choose Explore. Find and then double-click the setup.exe.

That will “launch” the set up process and install the program on to your netbook, just as if it had been run from a disc.

Bonus tip: When you’re all done, you can drag all those setup files to the Recycle bin.

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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January 22, 2010 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, Portable Computing, tech, thumb drives, upgrading, USB storage devices | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Upgrading the CPU pt3 – Selecting A Processor

In the preceding articles in this series I described how receiving my copy of Windows 7 triggered in me the very geeky impulse to upgrade my machine’s hardware capabilities — to go along with my first (good) 64-bit OS. If you are new to this series of How To’s, please click the provided links and read the first two before reading further here.
1) Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU
2) Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU – Pt 2

In those articles, we established the three things we need to know before shopping for a processor (so that the CPU will fit and function), namely — Manufacturer/socket type/motherboard’s chipset. (The instructions for how to do that are in pt2.)

* In my RL case, that was: Intel/Socket 775/G33.
* In my hypothetical Pentium 4’s case, that was: Intel/Socket 775/915G

By consulting the chipset/CPU compatibility tables on the Intel website, we discover that the:
* G33 chipset can accommodate: pretty much any socket 775 processor.
* 915G chipset can accommodate: Pentium 4 (up to #672) and Celeron D (#351)
So that latter is a no go. I would reco forgetting an upgrade. Leave it as is and/or new machine is the way to go. So let’s keep going, but assume that we have a chipset more like the 33G — and we can choose from any of the Intel Socket 775 CPUs including the “Core” series duals and quads. OK?

Since I’m thinking quad-core, I see that there are more than a dozen “Core 2 Quads” to choose from (the Core 2 Extreme editions are too pricey for me) … and if I mix in “extreme” dual cores.. it’s a lot to pick from!

(AMD users will follow essentially the same steps but on the AMD website. AMD has a “wizard” to help you narrow down your search too, based on some answers you provide. Click here to see that. AMD has at least as many to choose from — Phenom vs Phenom II and X3 and X4 as well as different model #s.)

CPU “Factors”

| # of cores | Speed | Wattage | Performance |

There are a lot of CPU’s to choose from and it’s easy to get confused by all the specs. There are many websites that are dedicated to nothing but hardcore Geeks trying to squeeze the maximum performance from each and every component, and they have published many CPU comparisons (and tricks). Sometimes these Geeks call themselves “gamers”.. and they like the word “extreme” (a couple of clues for you, there).
There are also many reviews posted (sometimes.. conflicting).

sample_chrtI am going to save you some trouble. I am simply going to point you to two of my favorite sites which have CPU comparison charts which will look like the sample shown and tell you that the longer bars are better.

These are “standard” benchmark scores. (If you are thinking of overclocking, you can find benchmarks and scores for those too, but I don’t discuss OC-ing here. UltimateExtremeGamer.com is more the place for that.)

The two places I look for these scores are:
* Tom’s Hardware (in particular, the 3DMark Vantage 1.0.2 CPU)
* Passmark
I put Tom’s first because you really can “drill down” into CPU performance scores, as several different benchmarking tests are run, and videographers might decide on a different CPU than a gamer will (for example). Also, you can get a feel for pricing, and read reviews and recommendations there. Anyone considering an upgrade (of any kind) should make a stop at Tom’s.

Okay. That’s it for today. Go have fun looking at some charts. In Part 4 I will explain the “factors”, and how they will help you have a smooth installation of the CPU you decide to go with.

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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November 6, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, how to, PC, performance, tech, upgrading | , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU – Pt 2

cpu Welcome to the second part of my tutorial on how to “upgrade” or replace your computer’s processor. If you have not read Part 1, please click here and read it before proceeding.

(I am going to repeat that I cannot think of a way to write this article without using those durnded Geek Acronyms; so, I will make them ‘click-able’ to the relevant Wikipedia page.)

Yesterday we accomplished two important steps in determining which type of CPU we should be shopping for, because you cannot just stick any old processor in your machine, any more than you can stick a Honda engine in your Dodge Ram.

* AMD or Intel?
* CPU socket type

asus_a8n_mobo It is also a very good idea to determine your computer’s motherboard make/model; and consult the computer manufacturer’s documentation online. In some cases (such as HP) it will tell you what types of CPU you can install.
(The best way to do this is open your computer cases and look for printing on the board itself. If the idea of opening your computer’s case – and/or looking up technical specs – bothers you (or intimidates), please stop reading. A D-I-Y processor swap is really not for the novice.)

Yesterday, in our hypothetical example, we established that we would be upgrading an Intel Socket 775 (our two primary factors), but you may be working with an AMD Socket AM2 or AMD Socket 939 for example. (AMD will be covered in Pt 3.)

3) The next step is to determine our motherboard’s chipset.
Since I have looked at my mobo (“motherboard”) and know the model number, (In my real life case, the mobo inside my HP a6317n desktop is an IPIBL-LB), a search engine search will be very useful. In my case, a search for “IPIBL-LB” produced this page — which told me everything I need to know for selecting a new processor.
Alternatively, you can download and run a system information tool like BelArc Advisor or Sandra Lite

Here is why the chipset is important:
We determined (using one of the the methods above) that our hypothetical sample Pentium 4 Socket 775 computer has a 915G chipset motherboard (let’s say). The Socket 775 can accept many types of CPU (from the P4 to the Core quad), now we need to narrow things down by determining what type the 915G chipset will work with.

4) To do that, we go to Intel.com’s product information page here.
* Click on the “Chipset” tab.
* Find your chipset on the list and click it.
* Scroll down to the bottom to the Valid Processor Combinations table.

This shows us what CPU’s we can install.

P4 Looking at the table we see that here we have again (hypothetically) stubbed our toe a bit. The 915G motherboards will only accept Celeron D and Pentium 4 processors. On the bright side, we could upgrade to a much faster Pentium 4… if we can find one. A quick search showed that I can still find 3.8 GHz Intel® Pentium® 4 Processor 670 with prices ranging from $89 to $629 (that latter made me LMAO).

So in review.. by determining Manufacturer/Socket/Chipset, we know what CPU’s will work in our machine. In my hypothetical example, our “upgrade path” was not all that great, and we learned that if we want a dual core or quad-core CPU, we would have to also upgrade our motherboard.
This is fun! Right?

(The lesson here is, don’t wait too long when considering upgrades. After a certain age, machine replacement is more cost effective.)

Tomorrow I will look at AMD, and CPU comparisons.

update:Upgrading the CPU pt3 – Selecting A Processor
update:Upgrading Your CPU – Conclusion(s)

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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November 4, 2009 Posted by | add device, computers, hardware, how to, PC, performance, tech, upgrading | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU

When my Windows 7 upgrade disc arrived in the mail last week, it triggered in me an urge to do a more extravagant upgrade to the machine I intended to install Win 7 on. (See, the Law of Unintended Consequences.) An urge that I had previously been able to suppress– even though I am a capital “G” geek.
(We here at T4E Headquarters use “geek” as a compliment.)

Intel dual core CPU on mobo I had long ago decided that I was going to install Windows 7 in the 64-bit version (my machine is not too old, and so it has the required 64-bit hardware) as my trials with the beta versions of 7 had been so stellar. 64-bit computing is officially here for us Average Folk, and it has many advantages. One of the nicest is the ability to “access” more RAM memory.
(I cannot think of a way to write this article w/o using some of those durnded Geek Acronyms; so, I will make them ‘click-able’ to the relevant Wikipedia page.)

So.. in celebration of Win7, I decided I would pack in as much RAM as my board would hold. (I wrote about that here, Windows 7 64-bit Adventures.) That gave me 8 Gigabytes and a certain amount of bragging rights.
(When I started computing, way back in the day, I honestly never dreamed I would one day have this much.. 64 Megabytes was ginormous! See, A trip back to the land of Mega.)

That went well, so.. I decided I would pull out my low end Intel dual core E2200 CPU and replace it with a quad core CPU of the higher end variety.
And I found a good price on an Intel Q9550. So..

CPU Replacement – First Things First

The first step in the process is to determine what kind of processor your machine has now.
Why? When you’re intending to replace it?
Because this will tell us the manufacturer (AMD, or Intel), and by inference it will tell us the the type of socket our computer’s motherboard has. Knowing those two things are vital for shopping for a replacement that will fit and work properly. There are scores of CPU’s to choose from, but only certain ones (or “families”) will work in certain sockets.

1) Right-click on “My Computer” (just “Computer” in Vista/Win7) and click on “Properties”.
my-computer-properties

A window will open which tells you your system’s basic information.

Sys_props2

In this sample, we have just determined that the computer in question has an Intel processor (not AMD), and that it is a 2.4 GHz, of the type “Pentium 4“, which was a very common chip, and the last of the Intel single-processor (aka “core”) chips.
(As an experienced Tech, it also tells me that we [probably] have just stubbed our toe.. but, let’s play it through.)

2) Now that we know the make and model of our processor, we need to learn which type of socket it uses. You can use a search engine, or simply click on the “socket” hyperlink three paragraphs up, and consult the table on the Wikipedia page. (Let’s say we did that) Look for the CPU name and find the matching socket.

Most CPU’s only use one type of socket, and so our Step 1 task is now done, and we know what type of CPU to be shopping for.

But, here, we have a “problem”. On the table we can find “Pentium 4” in the table next to Socket 423, and Socket 478/Socket N, and LGA 775/Socket T.
Hmmm… eenie, meenie, miney, moe? In this instance, I would open the computer’s side panel, and look at the motherboard for large lettering that told me the make/model of the motherboard. Or I would look in the computer manufacture’s documentation (usually found online) for the motherboard type. Looking up the motherboard specifications will also tell you the socket.
(Sometimes, the speed [GHz] will provide a clue. Wikipedia’s tables on the P4 indicate that the 2.4’s used Socket 478)

Knowing the socket determines our CPU “upgrade path”.

In wrapping up for today, we are going to pretend that we have determined that our hypothetical machine has a Socket 775 version of Pentium 4.. because then it might be feasible and/or practical to upgrade the CPU, and we can proceed to Step 2.

Because if it were Socket 423 or 478? I would not even think of doing an “upgrade”! I would be looking at a whole new machine. The overall cost saving and performance gain of a new system – in this example – is hands down the winner over “upgrade”-ing. Right now, stupendous deals can be found on the remaining inventories of dual-core, and first-gen quad-core, machines in the stores as they need to make room for the new “i” series and Windows 7 machines. (I humbly suggest you grab one while you can, if you are on a P4…)

So I will continue this tomorrow as if we had a “good” socket  …

update: See, Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU – Pt 2
update:Upgrading the CPU pt3 – Selecting A Processor
update:
Upgrading Your CPU – Conclusion(s)

Related links: If you are considering upgrading your current machine, you may want to look at ZDNet’s Hardware 2.0 ‘Very Best Kit List’ for Nov/Dec 09 for some recommendations and ideas.

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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November 3, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, dual-core processors, hardware, how to, PC, performance, tech, upgrading | , , , , , | 1 Comment