The Fastest PCs

by Bob Seidel

The PC world has changed. PCs are now commodity items; one of my clients just picked up a perfectly acceptable PC with an Intel dual core processor, 2GB of RAM, a 500GB (yes, five hundred!) hard drive and extra goodies such as a camera card reader, for about $350 after rebate. These days if you pay more than a grand for a PC you are getting into rarefied air. But could you pay even more than that? Yes, you can!

The really high end of PCs is a fraternity where only the gamers go. Since I am not a gamer (it's a generational thing) I don't include myself in the list. But I do read the reviews and watch the ads and so I try to keep up with it. The only application that can rival gaming requirements for speed is video editing; but here you only need a fast processor - you don't need the multiple fancy high-end video cards.

So what makes a gaming PC and how much do they cost?

The latest processors on the market are the Intel Quad Penryn processors - the QX9650 and QX9770. They use Intel's latest 45 nanometer integrated circuit technology and combine more transistors than ever onto the chip. This enables faster processing, larger caches, and new instructions. Just to set you to the price, these processors currently cost about $1,000 just for the processor.

The latest batch of speed demon PCs uses the new, faster DDR3 memory. Four gigabytes of this stuff would set you back about $700. Of course, the Penryn and DDR3 prices will come down in the future.

Simple hard drives are now being replaced with RAID arrays. It was fairly common to have two drives in a RAID 0 array for better performance, but now I am seeing four drive RAID 0 arrays in these high end machines. Since a high end, 10,000 RPM drive will cost you about $250, there goes another grand for a RAID 0 four drive array.

Another mark of distinction for the gamer PCs is the high end graphics card. These can cost around $500 or so each. But, again, one is not enough. High end gaming machines support two or three of these - another $1,000 to $1,500 to the cost of the PC.

And to power all this stuff you need a high end power supply - the latest ones provide about 1300 watts of power; traditional PC power supplies are around 400 watts. I don't have prices on these, but you can probably bet they are in the $300 range or more.

But just a fast processor isn't enough. You have to overclock it - that means running the processor at a higher frequency (i.e. faster) than the factory recommends. You can do this, but that makes the processor run much hotter. The result is that you need more extensive cooling, so liquid cooled processor systems are now common. Yes, you actually add the cooling fluid through a port in the top of the PC - just like adding anti-freeze to a car radiator!

And, to top it all off, you need a fancy case. No gamer would be caught without a fancy case with a show-car like finish, fancy lighting, and lots of cooling fans.

So you put it all together, and these systems are now selling for around $5,000 to $7,000! The latest Penryn system review in one of the PC magazines did show one system for about $3300, but that had slower DDR2 RAM. You wouldn't think that anyone would pay that much money for a PC, but apparently it is fairly common. Well, I guess it's still a cheaper hobby than a car!

(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)