Microsoft is set to release its newest operating system, Windows 7, on October 22. "Oh no," you might be groaning, "not another Windows upgrade!"
Those of us who have been through one or more previous upgrades, from, say, Windows 98 to Windows XP or from XP to Vista, have learned that upgrades can be a painful process, fraught with hardware and software compatibility issues that create ongoing operational problems -- or worse, make a PC nonfunctional.
[ Related: InfoWorld has confirmed a critical Windows 7 bug. | Read the InfoWorld Test Center review of Windows 7 RTM. | Get the overview you need in preparing for Windows 7 with the Windows 7 PDF Report from InfoWorld's J. Peter Bruzzese. ]
It's unlikely that the upgrade process will improve with Windows 7. Upgraders -- especially those making the leap to the 64-bit version of Windows 7 -- will most likely suffer through a slew of hardware, software and driver incompatibilities.
The simplest and quickest way to deploy Windows 7 will be on new hardware, avoiding the whole upgrade process. But instead of buying an off-the-shelf PC, I recommend that you build your own system. Building your own gives you the flexibility to get exactly what you want, and it creates a sense of accomplishment -- not to mention that for many of us, it's just plain fun.
One of the most time-consuming aspects of building your own, though, isn't actually putting the system together -- it's the process of navigating through the plethora of processors, motherboards, storage devices and video cards available today.
Microsoft has provided some minimum specifications for Windows 7 (see box). But minimum specs, as they imply, offer minimum performance -- something most users would not be happy with.
I set out to build a desktop system that will run Windows 7 efficiently, support future upgrades and keep a lid on costs. What follows is an explanation of my component picks that I hope will be helpful to anyone else who wants to build a Windows 7 PC. (If you've got any suggestions, don't hesitate to let us know in our comments section.)
The prices given throughout the story are common "street" prices as shown on shopping comparison sites Pricegrabber, Google Product Search and mySimon in early August 2009. Any good shopper should be able to get the components for these prices or less.
Note: This article assumes you already know how to build a PC from scratch. If you need help, Lifehacker offers a good basic tutorial.
The most important component of a PC is the CPU. Selecting the proper processor can mean the difference between an expensive failure and an economical success. The market is saturated with CPUs, coming in at different price points, performance levels and thermal envelopes (the power required and heat generated by the processor). I took a look at what was available on the market today and combined that information with my experiences with the various CPUs I've tested in the past.