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Deciphering the specs



Is a single 64-bit processor better than a dual-core 32-bit processor? What is the difference between DDR2 Memory and regular SDRAM?

Technology moves fast, and no longer in any kind of linear way where the latest version is always the best. In fact, technology seems to be moving in all directions at the same time.

It didn’t use to be this complicated. There was a bit of insanity in the early days with 50 different computer companies building their own systems and software, but the consolidation in components and operating systems brought about a brief period of unity through the mid-90s and early part of this decade. If you were shopping for a new computer in those days all you really had look at to measure a computer was processor speed, memory, hard drive capacity and what software was included. Maybe you’d invest in an additional graphics card or sound card.

Now customers are forced to choose between several different types of processors that belong to the same generation (32-bit, 64-bit, dual core 32-bit, or 64-bit dual core "quad"); different types of system memory (SDRAM, RDRAM, DDR2 RAM, Dual Channel DDR2); as well as different types of hard drives, graphic cards, motherboards and more.

Here’s what you need to know:


Every CPU is constantly tested against every other CPU, usually by lining up a selection of different processors and timing them as they perform complicated tasks on various types of software. The bad news is that there’s never any clear winner – while 64-bit chips are better for projects like editing video, dual core 32-bit and high speed 32-bit processors are still better for some activities. That’s largely a function of the software, however, as companies are slow to release operating systems and programs that make full, efficient use of the 64-bit architecture.

When they do get around to it, a 64-bit processor can crunch at least twice the amount of data compared to a 32-bit system at standard clock speeds, and sometimes a lot more because the 64-bit architecture also makes it possible to use more memory and handle large files.

That’s why the best option these days is the 64-bit dual core solution, which is forward compatible (or "future proof" as they say in the industry) for the day companies finally get around to upgrading everything to 64-bit – although that solution is prohibitively expensive for most users.

The dual-core 32-bit solution is probably your next best bet. Dual core essentially means that you’re running two interconnected processors simultaneously off the same chip. Performance ratings differ in tests, but some say dual core is 40 per cent faster (and more energy efficient) than single core processors. The only limitation is that your motherboard has to be pretty new to allow you to upgrade to a dual core from a single core processor (or from a dual core 32-bit to a dual core 64-bit), and that companies have been slow to optimize operating systems and software to make full use of the dual core architecture.