How much is enough?

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Q: I’m considering purchasing a new PC to handle mostly word processing, e-mail and the Internet. What speed and make of processor is best for me?
— K. Hooks
Los Angeles

A: There are a couple of considerations that come into play when deciding what speed machine will best suit your needs. The first is price. How much are you willing to spend? There are bargains to be had at the below-$1,000 level, and certainly with your minimal computing requirements, you seem to be an excellent candidate for a bargain PC. If your estimated usage is correct, you should be fine with a machine with a processor running at 400MHz regardless of the brand name of the chip. Intel’s Celeron/466 and the AMD K6-II will likely be sufficient.

However, let’s go back to the usage consideration for a moment. Many people buy a bargain-basement PC because they don’t take into account the processing power they’ll need for some of their common tasks. For instance, if you’re a heavy-duty gamer or plan to videoconference via your PC, you should look at chips with speeds of around 450 MHz. A Pentium III 450 will do the trick. However, you can expect to pay a premium (over $2,000).

Barring all-night Quake marathons, you should be fine with the first option. It’ll also be a lot lighter on your wallet. Whatever machine you decide on, make sure you get as much RAM as possible (at least 64 Mb) and a generous hard drive (no fewer than 6 Gb). This may seem like a bit much for your simple tasks, but prices for memory aren’t very high and you’ll regret not getting the extra capacity when your system’s resources run low.