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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Requirements Analysis | Determining Your PC Requirements ]

Software Impact on Hardware Requirements

Even though we are talking about hardware primarily here, it's important to remember that the software you will use is the reason you are getting a PC. The hardware is only a means to an end: running the programs that will let you do what you need and want to do. As such, it's important to keep in mind that some programs are more demanding in terms of its hardware requirements than others. The software you are going to use has an impact on the hardware you require.

Most PC users run fairly standard software that is readily available and inexpensive to purchase. Most programs don't make heavy demands on your hardware, and so most people do not have to worry a great deal about how the software will affect their hardware needs. However, if there is a special piece of software you know you will have to use, it's essential that you be sure your hardware is sufficient to allow it to not only run, but run efficiently.

For example, if you are a draftsperson who is going to be running a specific variety of CAD (computer-aided drafting) software, you should be buying hardware that is appropriate for that software. In most cases, the software vendor or applications integrator will be happy to assist you with hardware requirements and specifications to let you use the software effectively. (This is in their best interest as well, since if the hardware is under-powered, most users will be unhappy with their software.) In fact, many high-end packages will have specific manufacturer models and configurations required for using them. The software maker will have tested these configurations, and other hardware will be left in the "use at your own risk" category.

Another important issue related to budgeting the cost of the machine is to keep the hardware cost in perspective relative to the software cost. Some special software can cost thousands of dollars per seat. If you're paying $15,000 a license for a special software package, worrying about whether you should spend $2,500 or $3,500 on a PC is probably not worth your while. In fact, if you are spending a lot of money on software (presumably for your business or profession) then you are making a statement about the value of your time spent on the computer. You should then spend whatever is necessary so that you are able to make full use of your significant investment, and to ensure that you do not have your time wasted sitting around waiting for slow hardware.

More mundane software will have its minimum and recommended requirements written on the side (or bottom, lately) of the box. Be sure to examine these carefully, and remember that they are often quite conservative. A program may work on a system meeting its "minimum requirements", but it may be dog slow. You are much more likely to be satisfied if your system can meet at least the "recommended" requirements; really, the more the better (to a point). This is particularly true for more demanding software like games.

Finally, bear in mind that hardware demands on the part of software increase over time. (Software gets bigger and slower for two primary reasons: new features are added, and programming is easier when you don't have to be as concerned with size and speed, so sometimes programmers get lazy. But that's a different complaint for a different time. :^) ) If you have a particular use in mind for your PC, plan for the future a little bit and don't try to get just the bare minimum you will need today.

Next: Buying, Building and Upgrading

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