Inside the Box

New software slowing you down? Get a high-end Athlon or P4 processor for your new PC, and you'll do fine.

Now you're playing with power. Or you soon will be. Maybe you're doing demanding graphics work. Maybe you have to run powerful database applications. Maybe your job involves heavy use of processor-pounding software. When the situation calls for it, sometimes you just have to go with the latest and greatest. Whatever your reasons, we know you have good business justifications for putting the cash into buying a top-of-the-line computer system.

Most of your employees will do just fine with budget PCs. Nobody needs 2GHz of processing muscle to run just Microsoft Office or connect to the Internet. But when you start getting into the realm of graphics and multimedia, 2GHz can cut down on thumb-twiddling. A computer that actually works as fast as your brain is a real productivity booster.

While Intel Pentium 4 processors have been coming on strong in the hertz war, don't neglect the AMD Athlon side of the equation. Although Athlon chips' gigahertz ratings are often smaller than those of Intel's Pentium 4s, they generate a lot of speed for the money. When it comes to real-world applications of the chips, there's not as much difference as you might think. We included the MicronPC Millennia XP+ Dream Machine in the "Shopping List" on page 47 for comparison. The 1.6GHz Athlon XP 1900+ processor is comparable to a 1.9GHz Pentium 4 and complements the PC's cutting-edge DDR (Double Data Rate) SDRAM memory.

Beauty is more than processor-deep, though. A leading-edge system will include at least 256MB RAM, a 40GB hard drive and a CD-RW or DVD drive. As long as you're making the performance investment, you'll likely want to move up from there. Try customizing systems at manufacturers' Web sites to get a feel for the cost of really loading up your future PC. Bump up the memory, add cards or stock up on hard-drive space to get a PC that can tackle the computing gauntlet you're going to run it through.

One feature that's beginning to appear as standard equipment on business desktops is the convenient DVD/CD-RW combination drive. The Dell Dimension 8200 comes stocked with this two-birds-with-one-stone device. Expect to see it on more and more PCs as we head into 2002.

While you're aiming for souped-up computer performance, don't forget the visuals. If you aren't carrying a monitor over from a previous PC, it's time to step up to a flat-panel display-prices are at an all-time low, and you'll save space and electricity. Quality 15-inch LCDs are available in the $400 range, and 17-inch LCDs can be picked up for about $800.

With the PC industry still in a sales slump, hot deals abound. IDC forecasts a measly 1.6 percent growth in PC shipments for 2002, with revenues actually declining. In the midst of sour outlooks, computer manufacturers are busily undercutting each other's prices.

Case in point: A top-of-the-line 700MHz Pentium III Dell Dimension XPS T700r would set you back about $2,799 in January 2000, while a current leading-edge desktop-like the fully stocked 2GHz Pentium 4 Dell Dimension 8200-will only cost you $1,766. The timing couldn't be better for growing businesses. January marks the start of the new budget year, so do your buying after the turn of the new year to maximize your capital equipment tax credit.

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This article was originally published in the January 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Inside the Box.

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