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CD-ROM readers and writers are pretty well obsolete. DVD drives which read and write everything including Dual Layer (DL)  are about the only way to go. 

High Definition DVD drives are starting to be affordable but come in two, so far incompatible formats, HD DVD and BluRay.  The discs for one will not read in the other. Dual format drives are bound to appear soon, so probably best to hold on until then.

Likewise CRT screen (monitors) are very hard to find.  The newer, thin LCD screens have just about forced CRT (old TV style) screens out. 

Amazingly, the much older floppy disk drive survives! Many systems now do not have a floppy disk drive, bootable CD/DVDs have replaced the need for them. And as most modern PCs wil boot to a USB drive even software which needs to write back to the source can be used.

Faster SATA hard disk drives have displaced older IDE hard disk drives, but DVD drives are still IDE. 

DualCore CPUs (Central Processing Unit - the part which has the biggest impact on performance - it decodes the program instructions and works out what to do) and Quad core CPUs are just about the only ones available now. 64bit CPUs are now the norm. 

Intel has pegged back AMD's performance lead, but not the rice/performance ratio. Intel may have the fastest CPUs, but at a price. For a given $ value AMD still delivers more grunt.

But the custom of naming the CPU by the "clock speed" alone (previously the best indication of performance) has gone. Now each manufacturer uses a model naming system which indicates the position within that manufacturer's range of CPUs.  This makes it hard to compare Intel with AMD (what a surprise!) and even within one manufaturer.

Windows Vista has been available for one year now, but is still not well supported by software or hardware.  Many older products will either work after a fashion or not work at all.  Most newly released products are OK but not necessarily perfect.  The 64 bit versions of Vista are more problematical than the 32 bit version.

Also, Vista has changed the way a number of things are done, not always for the better in the short term at least. A period of familiarisation is required.  Frankly, there is little in Vista which makes it a compelling choice vs XP and certainly not enough to consider upgrading from XP to Vista at this time.  Vista does (at last) know about DVD writers but not HD DVDs.

That said, a new PC with all new software and hardware is a reasonable bet for Vista.  Within 18 months to 3 years Vista will become more or less mandatory, so you might as well jump now.  But if you lots of older software or hardware you want to use without having to upgrade, first person simulator games in particular, maybe stick with XP.

PCIexpress (PCIe) have replaced AGP as the fastest way to connect a graphics card. PCIe cards and  motherboards are now mainstream. Now coming into reach are "SLI" motherboards and graphics cards. SLI, from nVidia allows two PCIe cards to be used in one system, sharing the workload between them. Like Dual Core CPUs this significantly increases the processing power allowing software developers to code ever more realistic graphics.  Expect games to be the first to fully exploit this.

Dual Layer DVD burners have completely replaced single layer drives. DL burners offer nearly twice the capacity of single layer, about 9Gb.  Most movies are on DL discs so now a full copy (if you have copyrights) is possible. A Dual Layer (or double layer to be technically correct) disc in really two discs in one, with one layer of data above the other. The laser cleverly focuses on the higher layer "looking" past the lower layer or focuses on the lower layer. Likewise burning.

Fancy a Media Centre PC but put off by the high price? Most of the features are available as add ons to either a new PC or your existing one.  

Windows Media Centre is basically Windows with an extra application built in which gives a big chunky menu so you can use a remote control from the sofa to select from the display on your TV or large PC monitor (LCD of course). Neat but not compelling.  Media Centre comes as part of higher end Home versions of Vista.

The two major "features", TV/radio on the PC and PC file playback on TV can be yours!  TV tuner cards with remote are just over $100. Many graphics cards now have TV out allowing anything you see on your PC screen to be shown on TV.  But if you really do not want your PC in the lounge room (and who would?) a wireless media player can be hooked to your TV and receive files from your PC equipped with a wireless network card.  The wireless media player uses a remote control and a menu on your TV from which you choose the file(s) off your PC.

This gives you all the functioanlity of a DVD Hard Disk (HD) recorder for your lounge room. DVD quality recording to hard disk is a feature of most TV tuner cards allowing "time-slip" - you can watch what you recorded whilst still recording. Great if the phone rings. Start recording.  Take the call.  When you finish the call press play and watch from the start of the recording whilst it continues to record.

Wireless networking is now at a price point where using cable is probably going to be more expensive except for short cable runs. The speed is not as good as 100Mbs cable, but the full bandwidth of that is rarely used so the user experience is the same either way.  And security is not so much concern now.

On the security front virus are the least of your worries.  There are all sorts of other threats, mostly aimed at getting your money, to worry about. Fortunately the security suites (as anti-virus software is now called) are up to the task.  Trend Micro still provide the best solution in their Pc-Cillin Internet Security suite.  There is now a free upgrade from the 2007 version to the 2008 version.



Last modified: November 02, 2009