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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Designing and Specifying PC Systems and Components ]

Key Performance Issues In PC System Design

If you ask anyone buying a PC if performance is important to them, almost all will say that it is. Yet people purchase very different systems, which vary in terms of performance by a wide margin. This tells us that performance is considered "important" to almost everyone, but there is little agreement in what is considered "good performance".

Performance is one of the most often-discussed aspects of PCs but one that is elusive and difficult to define, and usually not very well understood. The companies that sell PCs both exploit and encourage the "need for speed" that many PC buyers have, hawking their wares on the basis of vaguely-defined and mercilessly exaggerated "performance" claims. Much as is the case with automobiles, PCs are sometimes purchased on the basis of "performance" attributes that really have little bearing on the real-world use of the machine, while other essential attributes are neglected.

Understanding performance is sufficiently complex, and involves so many different aspects and issues, that I could easily spend dozens of pages just discussing it. Many people spend months researching PC performance to really understand it fully. However, this isn't necessary for someone shopping for a PC. What you most need is to be able to understand the essentials of PC performance, and how to interpret and evaluate performance claims and benchmarks.

In this section I talk about performance from the viewpoint of someone buying a new PC. I first put performance in perspective by trying to tackle the question of just how important it is. Then I discuss priorities and tradeoffs in PC performance. I then look at some of the dangers in trusting published specifications and benchmarks. Finally, I discuss PC system balance, and overclocking.

Next: Performance In Perspective

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