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 Post subject: One4yu2c's Buyer's Guide and Mini-FAQ v2.6 *Updated 3/06/09
PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 7:48 am 
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One4yu2c's Buyer's Guide and Mini-FAQ v2.6

When buying a PC, the very first decision you’re faced with is how do I convince my significant other that I need a faster computer? Unfortunately, that is beyond the scope of this guide, but I do wish you the best of luck. What this guide can help with however, are the common questions builders find themselves asking once they’ve decided to join the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) crowd. The other target of this guide is the builder who has been out of the loop for awhile and needs a refresher.

Like everything else in the world of computers, this guide will quickly find itself outdated. Technology advances at a rapid rate and prices decline seemingly the moment we hit the ‘submit order’ button. In light of this, I will attempt to update as necessary. Also, like any thread in a public forum, opinions are up for discussion and input is not only welcome, but also encouraged for the sake of variety and differing perspectives. No FAQ and/or buyer’s guide can be truly definitive, as everything from component selections to upgrading philosophies are subject to individual experiences and interpretation. This guide is representative of mine based on experience dating back to the Commodore 64 days. So, without further introduction, let us proceed (those looking for specific parts recommendations, scroll to the bottom):

Should I go with AMD or Intel?
This is perhaps the most controversial question that comes up. The particularly mischievous poster will pose this question specifically to rile up members into a flame war. However, it’s a fair question.

Not that long ago, I would have heartily recommended a socket 939 AMD system. The A64 processor lineup simply kicked a**, particularly the dual-core X2 lineup. My how the technological time flies. Socket 939 is a dead socket, and AMD has evolved to socket AM2, with the most notable difference being the move to DDR2.

Looking at Intel, they've been utilizing DDR2 for quite some time now, and are now pushing DDR3. With the debut of the Core 2 architechture, Intel has regained the speed crown and best of all, they've kept their new processors affordable. The only real downside at this point is that the current motherboard options leave something to be desired for those wishing to run SLI. Still, if I was building a rig today, it would undoubtedly lay home to a Core 2 foundation.

Does a 4000+ AMD 64 processor run at 4GHz?
No it does not. It actually ‘only’ runs at 2.4GHz. The 4000+ nomenclature is an attempt by AMD to give the consumer a relative measure of performance that a processor is capable of and dispel the conventional wisdom that clockspeed is all that matters. This is referred to as AMD’s performance rating. Generally speaking, a 4000+ A64 will be competitive with an Intel Pentium 4 processor clocked at 4.0GHz (which doesn’t exist in non-overclocked form). This is made possible with the different approach each company has taken with their processors. The basic premise of an AMD CPU is a shorter stage pipeline with a high IPC (instructions per cycle), whereas Intel has a much longer stage pipeline with a lower IPC but higher clockspeed. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses, but the main point to remember is that there is much more to the performance of a processor than just clockspeed.

Is a Retail processor faster/better than an OEM processor?
When comparing a retail and OEM version of a particular processor, they are exactly the same. Both have been through the same QA testing and there is absolutely no performance difference between the two.

Then what’s the difference between Retail and OEM?
OEM stands for ‘Original Equipment Manufacturer.’ These are intended for system builders that resell their machines. Some bigger OEM companies that you may recognize are Dell, Compaq/HP, Alienware, etc.

With the exception of some hard drives, OEM components generally have a vastly shorter warranty period. For example, both Intel and AMD offer 3 year warranties on their retail processors but if you were to purchase one in OEM form, the warranty would be decided and honored by the vendor you bought it from. Some vendors offer as little as 7 days, others offer up to 1 year or more (and some offer extended warranties for a fee). You should also be aware that OEM components generally do not come with any extras, including a retail box, manual, heatsink/fan (hsf), etc. The upside to buying an OEM component is that they are usually less expensive than their retail counterparts and you can apply the saved funds to a heatsink/fan combo of your choice. This is particularly attractive to overclockers, as a neither a warranty nor a bundled hsf are any more useful than a popular vote or intelligible rhetoric are to our President. Oops, there goes half my readership! Image

Do I need a PCI-Express system?
My stance on this issue is that for any new build (including video card), there’s no compelling reason not to go with a PCI-E foundation. There are options at both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between, whether you’re looking for an affordable budget build, a mid range performer, or a powerhouse rig. If this is your first build or simply a brand new one from scratch, most definitely go PCI-E for the sake of future-proofing.

Is AGP dead? Should I go ahead and upgrade to PCI-E?
In a word, yes. Life support remains in the form of the 7800GS and perhaps we'll see another AGP iteration before all is said and done, but for all intents and purposes, it's a dead formfactor. If you're building a rig today, absolutely be sure you're equipped with a PCI-E foundation. If you're thinking of upgrading your AGP videocard, save your funds instead and look at overhauling your platform.

Is PCI-E backwards compatible with PCI? How about PCI-X?
No it is not. As for PCI-X, this term oftentimes is mistakenly used in place of PCI-E. To read about the differences between conventional PCI, PCI-E, and PCI-X, please spend some time browsing this link – PCI-SIG Specifications

I've seen GPU companies offer lifetime warranties. Is this real?
The three main companies which offer lifetime warranties are BFG, XFX, and eVGA. When looking at lifetime warranties, it's important to note whether the company is refering to the actual life of the product, or if they define 'lifetime' as that by which the card remains in the retail segment. If a video card's lifetime warrany expires once the product is discontinued, then this could potentially be a shorter warranty than the 3 years offered by Asus and MSI.

I upgrade often, should I even be concerned with a long warranty?
This is a common argument against absurdly long warranties, and it does hold some merit. The importance that a warranty plays when making a purchasing decision has no right or wrong answer. Some could care less about a warranty altogether, others are willing to spend extra for the peace of mind. A couple of arguments in favor of a lifetime warranty include:

    1) A lifetime warranty makes for a good advertising bullet if/when selling your card on EBay or For Sale forums. XFX allows you to transfer a warranty to a second owner, provided you both register online. BFG also allows transferring a warranty (or so I've been told by one of their reps) with no registration required. eVGA's warranty is applicable to the original owner and is non-transferrable.

    2) If not selling an 'old' card, a user may opt to throw it in a secondary rig or upgrade a family member's PC. In either case, the benefit of an ongoing warranty is obvious. Back when Gainward was a major player, I had an aged ti4200 go bad on me and at the time, they were great about replacing the defective card. Had that not been an option, my wallet would have been a tad lighter that day.
Who do you prefer out of BFG, XFX, and eVGA?
BFG = in my personal experience, I've found BFG's customer service to be without equal among video card manufacturers. Like OCZ (a major player in both the RAM and PSU market), these folks are enthusiasts and go the extra mile to troubleshoot an issue, as well as backing their products with a true transferable lifetime warranty. It's also worth mentioning that their turnaround time in responding to emails is phenomenal (again, this has been my experience). The tradeoff here is that BFG's offerings are often times priced higher than the competition.

XFX = If the price gap for a BFG card is great enough or if XFX offers an attractive bundle, they become a close second choice in my eyes. Their cards are solid, their warranty is also a true transferable lifetime one, and their lineup usually offers at least one aggressively clocked model.

eVGA = For frequent upgraders, it's worth mentioning eVGA's Step-Up program. If you have an open-wallet philosophy when it comes to staying up to date, this program can be a handy way to have the latest tech. In addition, eVGA competitively prices their product line-up. This value gets increased as they remain active in bundling popular games with their cards. Finally, eVGA takes a liberal approach to your usage of their cards - you're allowed to overclock, flash the BIOS, and swap heatsink/fans if you wish, so long as you never physically damage the video card in any way. My only hesitation with eVGA is concerning their lifetime warranty and which technical support rep you would receive when contacting the company. Rather than comment further, please refer to this thread ---> LINK

I have the money to put together a new system. Should I build now or wait for _____(fill in the blank)?
This type of question seemingly comes up more often than any other when contemplating a build. Frequently, many will chime in encouraging a waiting period, whether it is for a new technology or upcoming price drop. There are a few problems with this approach:

    1. There is ALWAYS something worth waiting for ‘just around the corner.’ I cannot stress this enough. Once you begin the waiting game, it is very difficult to stop.
    2. Release dates often turn into paper launches. Assuming a new tech does get released as scheduled, there’s a high chance the availability will be limited and you’ll find yourself still waiting.
    3. And finally, new tech most often carries a largely inflated price tag. This is a result of the limited availability mentioned above and it’s not uncommon to see pricing of up to twice what a component should be selling for.
There are times when I will encourage a consumer to wait, but these tend to be special circumstances and are few and far between. My opinion is if there are solutions out there to fit your computing needs right now, then go ahead and build right now. At any given time, a machine can be spec’d out that will meet the needs of today, last for several years, and carry some upgrade flexibility. Having been around PCs for some 2+ decades, I don’t see this trend changing anytime soon. Rest assured that whether you build today or wait for tomorrow, your investment is going to drop in value pretty much the moment you hit the ‘submit order’ button, much akin to investing in a stock only to see the price plummet the very next day. Welcome to the world of computers. :)

Should I get a SATA or PATA hard drive?
From a real world performance standpoint, the reality is it doesn’t matter at this point. While the SATA specs look better on paper (particularly the SATA II spec), the real world performance gains are not there.

Beyond paper specs, some key advantages of SATA are the thinner cables for a tidier looking interior, as well as doing away with master/slave jumper settings. The disadvantage is that SATA can sometimes be trickier to get up and running than a PATA drive, particularly for a first time build. In the end, you’d be fine either way. In my opinion, a better spec to look at is the amount of cache a hard drive ships with. Aside from the Western Digital Raptors, a top of the line hard drive will carry a beefy 16MB of cache, twice the amount of previous drives with 8MB and eight times the amount of 2MB drives!

Should I ditch the stock cooler and get a third party heatsink/fan (hsf)?
This depends entirely on what you plan to do with your system. If you will partake in moderate to heavy overclocking, you probably are going to want to replace the stock heatsink as well as invest in some thermal paste (Arctic Silver 5). If you’re looking to reduce the noise in your system, this would be another reason to consider a third party hsf. However, for stock performance as well as some mild overclocking, the stock cooler is plenty sufficient. Keep in mind that both Intel and AMD offer three year warranties on their retail processors and it wouldn’t be financially wise for either of them to equip their chips with a sub-par cooler.

It would also seem appropriate at this point to bring up water cooling. While once strictly an enthusiast option, there are now a wide variety of kits available. Some are still very elaborate and pricey, others are relatively affordable and easy to install.

Do RAM timings matter? Should I spend a premium for CAS 2 over 2.5 or 3?
While ‘tighter’ (lower) latency timings yield a performance boost, the actual difference is very small. Outside of benchmarking, the typical user is not going to notice a bit of difference in most tasks. It is worth mentioning, however, that higher end RAM has a tendency to use better quality chips as well as a higher quality PCB. Still, enthusiast RAM (think of Corsair XMS, Crucial Ballistix, OCZ Platinum, etc) are generally aimed at two types of users:

    1. The overclocker and
    2. The enthusiast looking to squeeze the most performance out of their system, noticeable or not, and regardless of price.
So I should get the cheapest RAM?
Not exactly. Here are some pointers that I recommend:

    1. Match the RAM to your system. If you’re building an overclocking monster, then purchase sticks that are capable of reaching your goals. If building a mid or high end system, then round out your RAM needs with mid to high end RAM. If building a complete bang/buck budgeted rig, then select a kit of value RAM and apply those saved funds to other areas of your system that will result in higher performance dividends.
    2. Except for budgeted rigs as mentioned above, I rarely like to advocate value sticks. With current RAM prices, there is not a big gap between a decent value kit and the next step up (some mid range RAM).
    3. While it is true that low timed RAM in and of itself will generally not yield a noticeable performance difference, it is a piece of the puzzle. Taken collectively with other well researched components and system optimizations, the end result can be a better computing experience.
    4. Above all else, stick with name brand sticks and avoid generic RAM. While you could be just fine running your system with attractively priced generic RAM, you will run two risks. One is that lower quality chips carry a higher chance of failure and/or incompatibility. The other is the gamble you take on customer service and having a warranty honored without hassle.
Is PC4000 faster than PC3200?
In and of itself, no. When you see RAM spec’d higher than what your motherboard advertises as officially being compatible with, it means there is ‘headroom’ in the RAM should you decide to overclock, particularly on a 1:1 ratio. Otherwise, a stick of PC4000 for example would default to PC3200 in a system running a 200MHz frequency (400fsb double pumped or 800fsb quad-pumped).

What’s this about dual/quad-core CPUs? I heard it will kill my gaming experience!!
PC gaming is dead, haven’t you heard? Oops, there goes the other half of my readership. For the remaining 25% still reading (it’s my fuzzy math), both Intel and AMD have shifted their focus towards dual-core solutions, and even quad-core is appearing on the horizon. The performance advantages of a dual-core CPU over a single-core are twofold:

    1) With multithreaded apps, a dual-core processor can show a tremendous performance increase from basically having two CPUs carry the workload as opposed to one. The general user will not find many multithreaded aware apps currently out there, but this will change with the shifted focus by both chip manufacturers.
    2) If you multitask at all (and who doesn’t?), a dual-core processor will benefit your computing experience. The common adjective to describe the experience is smooth. If you’ve ever put off doing a virus or spyware scan because you knew it would make your PC sluggish until it finished, then a dual-core processor is the solution you’re looking for.

With regards to gaming, dollar for dollar you can still buy a faster performing single-core processor than a dual-core one. When looking at benchmarks, a 3800+ Venice (2.4GHz) will outperform a 3800+ X2 (2.0GHz). However, if you couple a dual-core chip with a capable graphics card, your real world gaming experience will be very similar. When considering a single-core processor strictly for gaming, ask yourself whether the benchmark results are worth the real world all around performance tradeoffs that a dual-core chip would provide. Also keep in mind that in time, games will eventually be multithreaded aware as well. Finally, while games are not currently multithreaded, a dual-core CPU will make it possible to rip a DVD and play a game at the same time.

So which should I buy, a dual or single core processor?
Single-Core: If the sole purpose of your computer is to play games at the highest performance possible with an emphasis on benchmarks to compensate for an unloved childhood, than a single-core processor is going to offer the best bang for your buck (at least until multithreaded games begin to appear). There is nothing inherently wrong in going with a single-core processor, as there are some high end performers at very attractive prices. This also gives dual-core pricing a chance to settle down in time for that next upgrade.

Dual-core: For the absolute best all around computing experience, snag yourself a dual-core processor and enjoy the benefits it has to offer. They are a bit high priced compared to their single-core counterparts, but the extra money spent will show a noticeable real-world performance difference the first time you open and run two programs simultaneously. If I were building a rig today, without a doubt it'd be equipped with an X2 processor.

A favorite link I like to show builders that compares single-core and dual-core processors can be found here ----> GamePC: Dual Core Done Right

Do you have any links you recommend?
For everything from hardware reviews to helpful utilities and everything in between, please visit the Links 'O Plenty ( Ultimate Links Thread)

_______________________________________
PARTS BUYER’S GUIDE

This are my personal specific component recommendations at four different price points (budget, mid range, high end, and enthusiast). Treat these as outlines and tweak to your individual needs/preferences. There are many worthy components in each area and it's entirely possible that ten different people would spec out ten very different PCs at any given pricing tier, all of which would be capable.

All prices include shipping from reliable vendors (see ResellerRatings) utilizing a PriceWatch search and are current as of February 12, 2008:

BUDGET RIG - SUB $1,000
AMD Phenom II X4 940 ($219)
MSI K9A2 Platinum AM2+ 790FX ($145)
4GB (2x2GB) OCZ Platinum DDR2-1066 ($60)
Seagate Barracuda 500GB/32MB SATA ($65)
Samsung 22X DVD Burner SATA w/ Lightscribe ($25)
MSI HD 4850 512MB ($150)
BFG 550W PSU ($55)
Cooler Master Elite Case ($45)
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit ($100)
TOTAL = $864 (If needed, add speakers, monitor, keyboard, and mouse of choice)

MIDRANGE MONSTER – SUB $1,500
MSI X58 Pro ($190)
Intel Core i7 920 ($289)
6GB (3x2GB) OCZ Platinum DDR3-1600 ($120)
Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB/32MB SATA ($100)
Samsung 22X DVD Burner SATA w/ Lightscribe ($25)
XFX GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 ($235)
Corsair 650W ($95)
Cooler Master HAF Case ($170)
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit ($100)
TOTAL = $1,324 (If needed, add speakers, monitor, keyboard, and mouse of choice)

HIGH END POWERHOUSE (SUB $2,500)
Intel Core i7 940 ($560)
Asus P6T Deluxe V2 ($290)
6GB (3x2GB) Corsair Dominator DDR3-1866 ($300)
Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB ($230)
Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB/32MB SATA ($100)
Plextor 22X DVD Burner ($48 )
BFG GeForce GTX 285 OC ($355)
PC Power & Cooling 750W ($120)
Antec Twelve Hundred Case ($155)
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit ($100)
TOTAL = $2,258 (If needed, add speakers, monitor, keyboard, and mouse of choice)

ENTHUSIAST DREAM MACHINE (NO BUDGET)
Intel Core i7 965 Extreme ($1,000)
Asus Rampage II Extreme ($399)
6GB (3x2GB) Corsair Dominator DDR3-1866 ($300)
OCZ Vertex Series 250GB SSD x 2 RAID0 ($875 x 2 = $1,750)
Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB/32MB SATA ($100)
Sony Blu-ray Burner ($400)
Plextor 22X DVD Burner ($48 )
EVGA GeForce GTX 295 w/ Backplate x 2 ($535 x 2 = $1,070)
PC Power & Cooling 1200W ($560)
Silverstone TJ10 Case ($350)
Windows Vista Ultimate ($180)
TOTAL = Fuhgeddaboudit
____________________________________

v2.6 changes
Recommended component list and pricing update (long overdue), Quad Core Powerhouse changed to High End Powerhouse

v2.5 changes
Recommended component list and pricing updated, High End Powerhouse changed to Quad Core Powerhouse

v2.4 changes
Recommended component list and pricing updated

v2.3 changes
Recommended component list and pricing updated

v2.2 changes
Recommended component list and pricing updated

v2.1 changes
Recommended component list and pricing updated

v2.0 changes
Recommended component list completely overhauled
Updated some FAQs

v1.4 changes
Recommended component list updated

v1.3 changes
GPU warranties examined
Recommended component list updated

v1.2 changes
ASRock's AGP/PCI-E motherboard info added
State of AGP updated
Added DFI's nF4-DAGF w/ firewire to budget rig

v1.1 changes
ResellerRating and Ultimate Links Thread added
Hard drives added to specs

v1.0
Original Buyer's Guide and Mini-FAQ


Last edited by One4yu2c on Fri Mar 06, 2009 9:00 pm, edited 32 times in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 7:58 am 
Thunderbird
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Wow, One4.

Nice.

I thought that the AMD preformance rating was that a 4000+, lets say, would preform on par with an AMD Thunderbird running at 4GHz..?


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 8:14 am 
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Kyl3 wrote:
Wow, One4.

Nice.

I thought that the AMD preformance rating was that a 4000+, lets say, would preform on par with an AMD Thunderbird running at 4GHz..?


At one time this was true. The original performance rating (when the XP procs debuted) was based on how it would compare to an equally clocked Thunderbird (great memory Kyl3!). At least, this was AMD's official stance. In reality, they were always compared and priced in line with a Pentium III and today a Pentium 4. This is in part why you'll see some AMD critics refer to the PR as 'price rating,' and it's not completely inaccurate.

With the A64 processors, AMD doesn't really have an official statement, at least not one that I'm aware of. For someone new to building computers, it can be difficult to discern between a Sempron, socket 754 AMD64, socket 939 AMD64, and X2 processor when several may share the same performance rating but different clock speeds:

Sempron s754 3000+ = 1.6GHz
AMD64 s754 3000+ = 2.0GHz
AMD64 s939 3000+ = 1.8GHz

And then there's the mobile chips and core revisions...


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 8:19 am 
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nice
should get stickied.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 9:31 am 
Little Foot
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Very very nice, you forgot to add the price of hard drives to your mock systems though, that'll bump their prices up a little.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 9:40 am 
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LegendZ28 wrote:
Very very nice, you forgot to add the price of hard drives to your mock systems though, that'll bump their prices up a little.


Thank you much - I cut them out last minute to play with pricing and forgot to put them back in. Specs now updated. :P


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 10:10 am 
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Quote:
nice
should get stickied.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 10:56 am 
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Excellent guide, and very well written! I think that if stickied this could help alot of people. Impressive as always One4yu2c!


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 11:09 am 
Thunderbird
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Thanks but I don't have a great memory... I didnt really know what a Tbird was before these forums.. aside from the car... this may shock all of you but I'm as old as Gamer


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 11:49 am 
Little Foot
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Very nice guide and links.

As one who has benefitted from One's assistance on my first build, I totally endorse his recommendations and wisdom.

Sidenote: On the GamePC link I priced out the build I completed June 05 (with One's help) through GamePC's "modify system" tool.

GamePC: $4251.00
My build: $2460.00

If that doesn't get you to try your own first build, I don't know what will.

Well done One4!


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 12:06 pm 
Willamette
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I would suggest throw in a link for ResellerRatings.com regarding vendor information and price comparison as well as the pricewatch one.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 12:32 pm 
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maxime29 wrote:
I would suggest throw in a link for ResellerRatings.com regarding vendor information and price comparison as well as the pricewatch one.


Done, as well as the Ultimate Links Thread added to the FAQ portion. Welcome to v1.1 ;)


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 1:00 pm 
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maxime29 wrote:
Quote:
nice
should get stickied.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 2:33 pm 
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Beautiful! It's very comprehensive, and I also agree that it deserves a sticky!


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 4:29 pm 
Willamette
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Your a champ for that.

After reading some of your other posts, and seen what you have done for people around here, I feel that you should have your own column in MAXPC.

Really.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 4:33 pm 
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keep posting so we can keep this thread to the top!


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 4:36 pm 
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wow. I agree with everything you said. I know not much of it is up for debate but I agree with the reasons for singlecore/dual core. well done my friend, well done.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 4:56 pm 
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 4:56 pm 
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speech·less
adj.

1. Lacking the faculty of speech.
2. Temporarily unable to speak, as through astonishment.
3. Refraining from speech; silent.
4. Unexpressed or inexpressible in words: speechless admiration.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 5:24 pm 
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This is what seperates you from all the other PC members! I enjoyed the little tid-bits you've shared throughout the forums, and now it's in one grand post. Should be stickied ASAP! :D


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