Data Centers

An IT manager shops for PCs and considers RAM and CPUs

IT manager Mark D. Gonzales is preparing to replace the desktops in his shop. He likes the Pentium 4 and he's weighing his options on CPUs. What would you recommend?

IT manager Mark D. Gonzales runs a small IT department for Pueblo County emergency services in Pueblo, CO. He is writing several articles this week describing his plans for a PC rollover. Part 1: Itemizing the RFP, including the network card, modem, sound card, and USB port

If an IT manager who likes to work with cutting-edge technology were to visit my shop, he or she would probably think that I work in a PC museum! Here’s an overview:

  • The PCs date to February 1996 and run original Intel Pentium Pro processors.
  • I replaced some of the original monitors that failed.
  • I added RAM to keep up with some of the software applications we are now running.
  • We have replaced most of the hard drives after they failed or reached disk-space limits.

I need to replace much of this hardware because maintenance costs are getting expensive. I’m planning to purchase new PCs for my department, and in this article, I’ll explain what I want to buy when I select CPUs and RAM and seek your advice about my decision.

The central processing unit (CPU)

I want to take advantage of the new Pentium 4 (1.5-GHz) chip primarily because of the 400-MHz system bus. According to Intel, the Pentium 4 has three times the bandwidth of the Pentium III processor system bus, which is a 133-MHz system bus. This means that the CPU can communicate faster to the system RAM and ROM.

Intel has created an informative slide show to explain how Pentium 4 technology works. Here’s how to find it:

  1. Go to the Pentium 4 processor page on the Intel Web site.
  2. Scroll down to the tab called “What powers the Pentium 4 processor?”
  3. Click on the “Advanced technology” tab toward the top of this window to launch the presentation.

I know that many managers in my position might consider Intel’s rival—chip maker AMD, whose Athlon processor also runs at gigahertz speed. The Athlon 1.2-GHz processor performance can be compared to the Pentium 4. A recent article in PC Magazine explains the cost benefit of using AMD’s Athlon and provides the results of comparative performance tests. The Athlon outperforms the Pentium 4 in some test areas.

Some colleagues might recommend that I select the less-expensive Pentium III. TechRepublic recently published a Gartner review that stated “it will take time before Pentium 4 makes sense for mainstream PC users.” Despite the positive reviews for other processors, I plan to buy the Pentium 4 because of Pentium’s proven performance and track record in our shop. I also believe the Pentium 4 is worth the investment because we won’t undergo another hardware upgrade before 2006.

Check out these TechRepublic articles for additional information on CPUs:

RAM

If I am going to use Intel’s Pentium 4 1.5-GHz processor, then I am going to have to use a certain type of RAM. According to a CNET article, “Intel to offer PC makers rebates for using Rambus memory,” the only type of RAM that will work with the Pentium 4 is the Rambus Dynamic Random Access Memory (RDRAM). This is more expensive than the standard RAM—also called Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory (SDRAM).

Intel has announced that the less-expensive SDRAM will be acceptable to use when they introduce their new Pentium 4 chip code named Brookdale in mid-2001. The makers of RAM have promised that the price of the Rambus memory will come down by the middle of this year. But waiting three to four months won’t fit into my projected schedule. You’re probably asking what the difference is between the two types of memory. I found a comprehensive explanation on TechWeb.com. Here is how TechWeb describes various types of RAM that I’ve considered:

  • SDRAM (100 MHz) was first used in 1998. The clock rate for this 168-pin Dual Inline Memory Module (DIMM) is 100 MHz with a bus width of 64 bits. The peak bandwidth is 800 MBps (megabytes per second).
  • SDRAM (133 MHz) was first used in 1999. The clock rate for this 168-pin DIMM is 133 MHz with a bus width of 64 bits. The peak bandwidth on this module is 1.1 GBps (gigabytes per second).
  • RDRAM (Direct Rambus) was first introduced in 1999. The clock rate for this RIMM (module is 400 MHz (x2)—meaning that Direct RDRAM chips can also be built with dual channels, doubling the transfer rate to 3.2 GBps with a bus width of 16 bits). It has a peak bandwidth of 1.6 GBps.

Motherboard requirements

The number of total slots that are available on the motherboard is also a concern. I’d like to have at least four slots—two slots that will each be populated with 128 MB of RAM when the new computers arrive, and I want two empty slots available for future growth. So if I figured this out correctly, I will have 256 MB of RAM being shipped with the new machines (two cards x 128 MB each) and room for two additional cards that can run an additional 256 MB of RAM in the future (two additional cards x 128 MB each).

Should Mark buy the Pentium 4? Is he overlooking any important factors when selecting RAM? Post a comment or send us a letter.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox